Monday, July 31, 2006

On Fanatics and Delusional Minds

On July 27th a Texas jury found Andrea Yates, who confessed to drowning her five children in a bathtub, not guilty by reason of insanity and possessing a delusional mind.

Two weeks ago, Israel began a retaliatory assault on Lebanon in self-defense against the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which has launched hundreds of rockets into Israel. Its forces also reentered Gaza for the same reason, to cripple Hamas, another terrorist organization, which also was sending rockets into Israel.

Both Israeli incursions were sparked by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by terrorists. The scale of destruction wrought by Israel in Lebanon and Gaza is significant. But much of the news media and the press, many politicians in Europe and the U.S., and of course the United Nations, have found Lebanon and the Palestinians not guilty by reason of being victims of Israel's "disproportionate" military response.

There has been far more sympathetic news coverage of the plight of Lebanese fleeing Israel's wrath than of the victims of Hezbollah's rocket attacks (shall we say, "disproportionate" coverage?) The response to Hezbollah's depredations can be characterized as a frown of embarrassment; the response to Israel's justified actions, wild-eyed, fist-shaking outrage.

We are to never mind the fact that most Lebanese tolerate the marriage of their "democratic" government and a terrorist organization. Nor are we to place any importance on the fact that most of the Americans evacuated from Lebanon are Shi'ite Muslims holding dual citizenship, and who sympathize, not with Israel, but with Hezbollah.

Nor are we to observe that President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and others are tip-toeing around the knowledge that Hezbollah's military "might" is sustained and made possible by Iran by way of Syria, and that Hezbollah is a solely-owned paramilitary franchise of Tehran's.

But, is there an arguable connection between the Yates verdict and the actions of Islamic terrorists?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines delusion as "a false belief held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a condition of mental illness." The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines it as "a form of madness."

Yates murdered her children to "save them from Satan." She killed them because she had dreams of each of them falling under the influence of Satan. Presumably, she imagined she was sending them to heaven.

A jihadist of any stripe you care to name murders Westerners, Jews, apostates, and others damned by the Koran because they are said to be under the influence of Satan, in order to send them to hell. If he is a member of Al Quada, Hezbollah or Hamas, and is killed in the process of assaulting the "People of the Book," or martyrs himself as a suicide bomber, the jihadist expects to go to heaven.

Frankly, I do not see a syllogism's worth of difference between Yates's actions and those of any random Islamic terrorist. Yates and the terrorist acted from faith, from an unsupportable belief. From a delusion.

Yates and the jihadist acted "morally," in conformance with their beliefs. Psychologically, morally, in practice, there is little difference between Yates being consistent with the dictates of her faith, and the jihadist being consistent with his. The difference is in the scale of criminal behavior.

I won't be the first to say that a belief in a deity, regardless of its name, is a delusion, invalidated by the provable existence of the universe and by the unprovable existence of a deity. Our policy of pursuing "peace at any price" is also a delusion, a belief invalidated by a history of "peace movements" that only have lead to war. (See Thomas Sowell's excellent article, "Pacifists versus Peace" from July 24th on Capitalism Magazine.) And, about ninety-nine percent of humanity, since it believes in some form of deity, can be said to be governed by a delusion. I leave it to the reader to evaluate the mental health of humanity.

The important point here is that the Texas jury succumbed to the "delusional mind" argument of Yates's defence. The jury could not deny that the children were murdered, and that Yates murdered them. Nor could it admit that the murders were a moral or rational action.

But even though Yates was a (nominally) rational person, able to function in a civilized society, because she committed the crime while "deluded" -- but at the same time sensed it was wrong to commit the murders -- the jury in effect forgave her, and instead of concluding that she had forfeited her life -- that she was responsible for her actions -- decided to sustain it and commit her to a mental institution, partially exonerating her of the responsibility for her actions.

My rhetorical question is: If we can disregard the "delusional" mind-set of a common holdup artist, who acts on the premise that force is a practical way of living, and sentence him to prison, why should we make an exception for a murderer, any murderer? Shouldn't the contents of a murderer's mind be deemed irrelevant, as well? After all, Yates thought that murdering her children was a practical and moral way of saving their souls, just as a holdup artist thinks that force is a way of preserving his life.

The jury, in effect, said that Yates "meant well," but she went about it in a horrific way. One can only suspect that part of the jury's consensus was an unwillingness to challenge Yates's Christian motivation. Questioning her "delusional" motivation would have meant questioning Christian morality itself, all the way down to its root: sacrificing oneself to God. In this instance, they might have concluded that Yates was willing to sacrifice her freedom in order to save her children's souls.

But, why is a jihadist's mental state considered less delusional than Yates's? After all, he, too, acts from his beliefs.

Anyone seen to possess a "delusional mind" can be forgiven horrendous crimes. Irrationality can be tolerated, but rational actions that require "violence" -- such as Israel defending itself, or even one's own self-defense with a gun against a burglar or rapist -- are regarded as intolerable and "disproportionate." This is why terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas can be tolerated and even forgiven (they are, say the media and our State Department, "freedom fighters"), but Israel receives not a word of moral approbation.

One could say, to paraphrase President Bush's assertion that Islam is a "religion of peace" hijacked by fanatics (or "extremists"), that Yates's Christianity was "hijacked," as well. He would likely agree with that, if anyone had nerve enough to put it to him. If individuals deny the existence of God, according to Christian dogma, they are likewise condemned to an eternity in hell. Before the Catholic Church's political power and influence were diluted by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the Church pursued heretics and apostates with the same fervor as Islamists do today, with the same consequence: death.

"Fanaticism" is largely a pejorative term, connoting an obsession with consistency or purity. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a fanatic as "a person possessed by an excessive zeal for an uncritical attachment to a cause or position." Thus, Islamic terrorists who obey the injunctions of the Koran to wage jihad against infidels, are deemed "fanatics" or "extremists." No judgment is made of Islam itself (nor of Christianity or any other creed).

What is "extremism" but applying a moral code in its purist, most uncompromised, unadulterated form to one's actions? The "extremism" of altruism is self-destruction. The "extremism" of Christianity is the constant sacrifice of one's values for lesser or non-values. The "extremism" of Islam is the sacrifice of all to Allah.

If Andrea Yates can be found not guilty of multiple murders by reason of insanity and delusion, what is sanity? Again, the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "soundness of judgment or reason." Consistent, conscientious sanity might also be a form of "extremism," that is, rationality in all things.

It is disgraceful that the West, particularly the U.S., is allowing Israel to fight our true Mideast enemy, Iran, by proxy. Sanity would have us annihilate Iran and Syria (and, for good measure, vaporize North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its million-man army). But sanity is not the ruling philosophy in politics or morality. Delusional "world opinion" forgives Andrea Yates in a Texas courtroom, just as it forgives the Lebanese for wishing to coexist with killers. It is the delusion of non-responsibility that permits such obscenities.

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