The Tsarnaev Brothers Are Many Things. But Cowards? Not So Much.

It Usually Takes Courage To Be a Murderous Terrorist

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By Philologos

Published April 28, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
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If only the terrorists would stand up and fight like men instead of sneaks, the implication is, they would be given a good thrashing. The fact that men have always fought as sneaks when they could gets forgotten. Planting concealed bombs, and before them concealed traps, is as old as the history of warfare, as are suicidal attacks on the enemy. We can regard Japanese kamikaze pilots as madmen if we wish, but cowards they weren’t.

And to take a page from our own Jewish annals, what’s the difference between a suicide bomber and Judah Maccabee’s brother Eleazar, who threw himself under a Syrian cavalry elephant — the tank of its day — and speared it in the belly as it crushed him with its falling weight?

It can be objected, of course, that the cowardice we are speaking of is not physical but moral: Morally brave men, we are saying, kill other men in battle, not innocent spectators at marathons. But this is silly, too. If you think it is right to do something, such as stand up for a principle or fight for a cause, and you don’t do it because you are afraid to, you can rightly be accused of moral cowardice.

But if you do stand up for a principle and risk or lay down your life for it, why should you be thought a coward just because that principle happens to be that human beings can legitimately be killed in order to get American troops out of Lebanon, that no part of the Land of Israel should be surrendered to an Arab government or that everyone should be forced to live by the laws of the Quran?

Let’s not try to make things so comfortable for ourselves. Evil is extremely difficult to defeat precisely because those enlisted in its cause are as capable of being brave as those enlisted against it. Yes, they also have fewer moral scruples. Having moral scruples, however, is no guarantee of bravery. There are cowards who have them and brave men who don’t. Life is more complicated than we’d sometimes like it to be.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


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