(December 22, 2002)
Recently, a friend of mine, reacting to my suggestion that there are certain moral or ethical norms that need to be met before we invade Iraq, seems to have answered to the effect that since we are morally superior to our intended target, that there really was no ethical problem to be faced. Quite the contrary.
First there is the mistake of
trying to assert one's own righteousness — which I believe the Bible reminds us
is gone the moment we think we are better than others. But even given that common human failing, I
think we need to be reminded that, even aside from the folly of judging our own
perfection, that how we judge another culture's moral standards is not
necessarily the standard (correct or not) with which they judge us. For example, for Muslims, only one glance at
our movie posters, as seen in the streets of
But it goes a lot deeper than that. We in the West tend to rank our individual rights and privileges (our "freedoms") above everything else. To a Muslim, as it would have to a Jew in ancient times, this sounds like idolatry, the worship of self in the place of God. To them, the highest value (even as reflected in our own "Lord's Prayer") is the realization of God's will or kingdom on earth. In fact, the Muslim code of conduct is remarkably close to the Ten Commandments as they were originally understood (including not forbidding polygamy) by the Jews, and even include some of the other Jewish ritual commands (like circumcision) and prohibitions (against eating pork or taking interest on loans) as well. Many, perhaps even most Muslims look at the Jewish and Christian failure to keep these commandments and the kind of society this failure has produced, as a prime sign of our infidelity to God.
Add to this our readiness to
assert our debased (as perceived by them) society on them, either by proxy (
So granted that people like Saddam
Hussein are just as big as hypocrites (bin Laden has had Saddam, as well as the
high-living Saudi royalty, on his enemies list as well), the problem still
remains: for once we claim a moral superiority on the one hand, yet try to
justify pre-emptive strikes as "self-defensive" on the other, we
proclaim our own double-standards to the world, and invite them, who still
believe in an "eye-for-eye" and "tooth-for-tooth" or
"life-or-life" to do the same.
And while we worry that Saddam just might be able to do this some day,