Stop Forgiving The Boston Bombers

It’s gone too far.

It’s just gone too far.

For the last few days, ever since they caught Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second Boston bomber, there’s been a phenomenon sweeping the nation. Not everyone to be sure, but enough.

Look on the Huffington Post Religion section, and you will see articles by reverends and professors extolling the virtues of forgiveness, even writing letters to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, telling him that they don’t blame him, he’s just a kid.

Go on Reddit and you’ll see that the most top-voted comments surrounding him are thoughts about how normal he was, and how he must have been manipulated by his brother, and wow, you have to feel bad for him. The comments under these extol those people for having “empathy”. The comments under those attack those who don’t have empathy. And it goes in a circle (I believe they have a term for that on Reddit).

And then it reached a head last night, when Amanda Palmer, some singer, posted a poem for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. She tried to see the situation from his perspective, and wrote such special lines as:

you don’t know why you let that guy go without shooting him dead and stuffing him in some bushes between cambridge and watertown.

you don’t know where your friends went.

you don’t know how to dance but you give it a shot anyway.

Poor Amanda has started a firestorm on the web, but the truth is she’s only getting the heat because her poem was so over the top. This sympathizing with attackers, with murderers, with terrorists, has been sweeping our country for years now.

It seems that after every massacre, every school shooting, every terror attack, a segment of our country begs, cries, for a way to excuse the killers, and the Boston massacre has brought that segment out in spades.

It’s time that we drew a line. It’s time that we said enough.

Yes, it’s good to look at things with nuance, yes it’s good to understand that people kill for different reasons, yes, it’s good to acknowledge that most people aren’t evil.

But this Dzhokhar Tsarnaev killed an eight year old. He blew off the legs of people who were just trying to enjoy a beautiful day and encourage those around them. If he had his way, he would have killed and maimed much, much more.

Maybe empathizing with killers is our way of distancing ourselves from an attack, helping us avoid realizing the magnitude of its impact. Maybe it’s a reaction to the bravado America had after 9/11. Maybe there are other reasons.

The reasons don’t matter.

What matters is that we snap out of it.

What matters is that we realize that when we excuse the acts of killers, we in effect, justify those killings. Whether we mean to or not.

Because there is no excuse for killing. Not mental illness, not being manipulated, not having trouble fitting in.

Because the act is inherently evil, end of story. And the more we try to justify it, the more we encourage its existence.

To those that think that it’s possible to separate the person from the act: you can’t. When someone does something, it becomes a part of that person. It shapes that person. That person will forever be connected to that act.

For those that think that we should forgive: that’s not your place. You know who gets to decide if they forgive him? The people who lost their legs. The parents of eight year old Martin Richard. That’s who. Not you. You are a spectator. Step away.

It’s time we came together as a nation and acknowledged that murder of innocent people is wrong. Terror is wrong. Doing these things makes you a bad person, regardless of circumstance.

And most of all: evil exists. There is evil in the world, and we can’t hide from it by explaining it away. The more that we do try to justify it, the more we allow it to spread.

Evil is a cancer that is sparked by acts like the Boston bombing marathon. But the cancer only spreads if we don’t fight it, if we don’t see it for what it is.

And if we allow that cancer to spread, we are like a doctor who has the cure but refuses to administer it because he doesn’t want to admit that there is such a thing as cancer.

Any doctor who would do such a thing would be evil, whatever his motives.

And if we also refuse to acknowledge the cancer, if we also close our eyes to its existence… well… that makes us evil too.

  • Jewishly, we get to forgive what is done to us, not to others. Apparently Christians feel they can and should forgive everyone/anyone. It’s a major difference.

    • I was thinking this same thing. It’s absolutely true. Christian and Judaism have a very different view of what forgiveness means and how it works.

    • Boruch S.

      In order to understand forgiveness in Judaism, you first have to understand the concept of punishment. According to Jewish Law, if you steal from someone (and the Beis Din, the Jewish court, finds you guilty) you have to pay double what you stole back to the person. Once you pay your fine, it is as if you have never even committed the crime. This is because this fine is not a punishment, it is simply a consequence. By stealing, you have committed an aveiruh -a sin- and you have therefore severed your connection to G-d. By doing a mitzvah, you establish and strengthen your connection to G-d, and by committing a sin, you sever that connection. How can you reestablish that connection?

      To solve this, G-d has established a certain set of guidelines to follow in order to correct your actions. If you steal, you need to pay back double. Not because you are being punished for being a thief, but because you made a mistake and you need to fix it. Similarly, f a Jew has murdered, (and the court is able to prove him guilty according to Jewish law) the court doesn’t punish him for being a murderer, the court prescribes him a remedy. In the case of murder, that remedy is the death penalty. By committing murder, he has severed his connection to G-d, and the remedy for that is the death penalty. In a sense, he is lucky if the Beis Din finds a way to give him the death penalty, for they have prescribed him a solution to fix his problem, and after he receives this consequence, he is now considered to be completely forgiven. If a thief pays back double, he is no longer a thief, he is not even someone who stole once! He is completely forgiven, and starts from a fresh clean slate. To the extreme, this concept applies to Judaism’s concept of Hell as well. Hell is not a punishment. It is a way to cleanse your soul after having lived in this physical world for such a long time. Hell is an opportunity to clean yourself in order so that your soul can return to G-d with a completely clean slate. There are no “punishments” in Judaism, only consequences.

      Kate has stated, “Jewishly, we get to forgive what is done to us, not to others.”

      I find that to be slightly misleading. The only one who gets to Judge other humans is G-d. We don’t get to decide if someone is “evil” or a “thief” or a “murderer.” We do not run the world; G-d does. Since G-d runs the world, if your car gets stolen, it’s nobody’s fault. That was a judgment that G-d decided to give to you. It’s a waste of time looking to blame someone or to be upset. AND as a site note, our rabbis tell us if you get angry, it’s similar to idol worship since you’re in essence saying, “this should not have happened, I think it’s a bad thing, I know better than G-d, if I ran the world, I would have changed things, etc.” Things happen in this world because they happen. It’s not our place to find someone to blame.

      AND YET, just because your car was supposed to be stolen does NOT give me an excuse to be the one to steal it. I could have decided to not steal it, and someone else would have. That is why people are “punished.” When you make the choice to commit a sin, it is your responsibility, and you have to face the music. You don’t get to blame divine providence for your mistakes.

      That is why I agree with this article. Elad says empathy is bad in terms of someone who commits heinous, evil acts. And that’s 100% true. BUT, if a Jew were to, G-d forbid, commit an “evil act”, and then went ahead and performed the prescribed fix, he not only deserves our empathy, it is as if he never even sinned. In the case of adam lanza, and the boston bombers for instance, there is no empathy for them because there is no path for them to fix their issue. Therefore they are currently to blame 100%. But it is important to keep in mind that G-d runs the world, not them. Make sure to be careful when you place blame and judgements. Granted, people have to pay for their mistakes, but that’s none of our business.

      This isn’t very well written, and the point I’m trying to make is a bit blurred, but I hope you can understand a bit of what I’m trying to say. Great Article, Elad.

  • Explaining an act is not the same as justifying it. And explaining the development of a murderer is critical in prevention. Adam Lanza’s situation could have been prevented with more preventive mental health services. That’s not excusing his crime- that’s trying to prevent similar ones. Who knows why this duo acted as they did? If they were brainwashed by fanatics, we need to acknowledge that and figure out what to do to prevent or minized that risk.

    • Agreed. That’s not what this is saying. There are people actively excusing the act and the people, and that’s what shouldn’t be accepted. We shouldn’t feel bad for them, we shouldn’t treat them the way we treat victims.

      An intellectual exercise in trying to decide how someone becomes a murder is essential. An emotional reaction to an event because we don’t want to blame anyone is something else.

  • Tsada Kay

    Forgiveness is not a public issue, it is an individual one. Forgiveness is not about excusing a crime of the past, but rather about fostering peace in the present and future. It is not about the person who is to be forgiven, but rather, it is a gift the victims and those who care about them give themselves–a gift of peace, a vehicle for moving on.
    We can condemn an act and demand justice in its regar, and still at the same time forgive. This concept was at the heart of the teachings of MLK Jr., arguably the greatest peace worker of all time.

    Condemning forgiveness is one of the least helpful things right now, IMO.

    • We definitely shouldn’t condemn forgiveness for the victims and the ones near them, as I mentioned. We should condemn it when other people are forgiving the killers in their stead. I can’t imagine anything more offensive.

  • A circle of violence is all your attributing to. It’s not your place to say enough with forgiveness, so step away Iam a avid reader here but speaking from the perspective of a soldier who has seen his combat tour. The mind of a mad man is just that. Once we treat the act and the person the same, we lose our sense of morality if any. However, this is America we can not preach liberty and then condemn someone off the back without a trial and proper testing. I will no give up rights so people can feel justified or secure. Without forgiveness then what are we? Throwing a man to the wolves because of hurt or trauma without the proper trial and screenings is nothing but blatant fundemtenalism. What would the rebbe say? MLK?

    • I’m not saying we should treat the act and the person the same, but you also can’t pretend there is no connection. I’m also definitely not arguing for curtailing a person’s rights. This is about how we handle this on a personal and “media” level.

  • We should be focusing on making this world a place where murder is never encouraged. Talking about wether to justify or not justify or forgive is a waste of time. What happened should not be blamed on one specific person, because nobody would ever do anything that nobody else approves of. Anybody who does these things, or any negative things in general was obviously given the false impression that this is either a productive or acceptable thing to do. If we shine enough light, instead of focusing on fighting darkness, the world will be a better place where people like the murderers will not become murderers in the first place. Or better yet, the perfection of moshiach will come, where we will all be hurt by no one!

    • BirdieWaters

      “Anybody who does these things, or any negative things in general was
      obviously given the false impression that this is either a productive or
      acceptable thing to do.”

      I really enjoyed your comment. Whether you’re a single celled organism or a human, you’re moving in the direction of that which is perceived as preferable. This man is no different. Is it valid for people to see themselves in this person who acted out in a negative way and even empathize? Yes. Is it valid for people to be angry with him and all those who make that connection and have feelings of empathy? Sure. Does one human have the authority to tell another how to feel and how they’re allowed to express their shock, grief, dismay or joy? Is there any profit in it?

      Society is a reflection of what’s gone on within….a result of our state of mind/being. It says something about humanity’s belief systems that we still have this kind of event taking place. The man’s actions no doubt came from a fear based belief. Anger, fear,
      etc…all the same…negative beliefs that separate and cause us to war. Can we use this to get to the bottom of these beliefs which are at the core of negative, violent behavior? As you so aptly stated,

      ” If we shine enough light, instead of focusing on fighting darkness, the
      world will be a better place where people like the murderers will not
      become murderers in the first place.”

      This is a great time for us to as ourselves why, as humans, are we still choosing these fear based belief systems, despite overwhelming evidence that these beliefs perpetually end in destruction? It’s all very curious why people find this path to be preferable. Does it stem from borrowed beliefs with a serious lack of critical thinking & examining of those beliefs? An absence of following our internal guidance system? That’s what I suspect. I hope we do make progress. I believe we are.

      A positive outcome from this tragic event could be that we make it our determination to understand what you stated above, that we examine our own beliefs to see if the root is positive or fear based and making changes accordingly. Whether we choose to do it or not, each choice will have its own valid reflection.

      • Basya Feldman

        Birdie Waters, You seem really cool. I would love to speak to you. I don’t know your name but feel free to message me on Facebook! I want to understand more about this fear based belief thing!

    • zale123

      Basya, it is universal common sense that every human has free choice – this is what separates man from beast.

      Each and every individual is responsible for their own actions, like it or not. Everyone has a story, some worse than others. Everyone has had an abusive parent or teacher. People may have been bullied in school by friends. People may have lost their jobs and are at risk of being evicted onto the street. People may have been cheated out of their money… Everyone has a story to tell.

      At the end of the day, YOU and ONLY YOU are responsible for the actions that you take. And boy will you be held accountable.

      The media is already speculating about how the younger brother was “dragged into it”. Too bad. He had a choice, and he chose to commit an act of terror.

      • I believe that a person should impose this mind set of responsibility and free choice only on themselves, but not others. We should not look at people and blame them or judge them because we have no idea what they have been through. We can judge their actions and say they were wrong. The law can do it’s necessary justice, but the only person you should be telling the “free choice philosophy” to is yourself, because it can inspire better choices. Like you said, everybody has hardships. Everyone is also influenced by their experiences and observations (theory of determinism.) If you we’re born with his personality, into the same family, and seen the same things as he did, you very likely would have done exactly the same thing. So who are you, or anyone else to judge him? This is not a view specifically defending the younger brother, but anyone who ever does anything wrong- including YOU.

        • zale123

          You contradict yourself in your own reply.

          If you are of the opinion that we cannot judge another person, ever, then who gives “the law” the right to judge another person?

          According to you, there should be no penalty, period. Nobody was in his shoes, so nobody can punish him – not a citizen, and not “the law”.

          Perhaps some day, Basya, you will wake up from your dream. I know that you would love to live in a world where everyone is truly good, and no evil exists, and I would love to live in that world too, but we don’t.

          Please forgive my bluntness, but I assure you that if YOUR leg was blown off in this attack, or if YOUR child was killed, you would be thinking VERY differently.

          • Enforcing the law in order to prevent further violence is very productive and different than somebody who does not have the responsibility of law enforcement personally taking it upon themselves to hate another human being and judge him. In that case G-d forbid, I would be thinking subjectively and emotionally, not necessarily logically and correctly. I am not judging those people who are not having the same reaction as me, just disagreeing with the logic behind it. Spreading negativity and blame doesn’t help anybody ever.

          • Another thing, I never said that nobody should punish him. I think that people who have the responsibility to punish should punish because it improves societies safety when people who behave dangerously are locked up. And everybody else should focus on their own improvement that can contribute to society. There is no innate evil, there are people who become evil. The alter rebbe says that even the yetzer hara is there to test us and secretly hopes that we don’t listen to him because deep down everyone and everything only wants what is good. So we should focus on bringing out the good in the world around us. If bringing out the good includes putting a guy in jail or whatever else, so be it.

  • BirdieWaters

    Your paradoxical essence is intriguing, Elad

    • LOL, should I take that as a compliment?

      • BirdieWaters

        “LOL, should I take that as a compliment?”

        Perhaps a preferable question might be “Will I take that as a compliment?” and of course only you can answer that ; ) LOL …alas, I would take it as a compliment. We enjoy drama & intrigue in life, no?
        My subjective perception is that we’re a grand paradox within a grander paradox, to infinity & beyond. Inescapably, this ‘and’ that rather than this ‘or’ that. Thanks for adding to the intrigue of life as we know it : )

  • I haven’t seen for myself much of this sympathy or whatever for the bombers. Actually I’ve seen more of people going in the opposite direction and saying things to the effect of how they want a public execution or something equally savage. To hear that somebody wrote a poem to the younger bomber is equally unnerving though. While I agree wholeheartedly that it’s not the general public’s place to forgive what they did to their victims, you’re missing the point in some big ways.

    I think everyone can agree, the best thing you can pull out of something like this is how to recognize it and prevent it in the future, and I think a lot, if not most of what this article is calling “forgiveness” for the bombers is really people trying to understand and expressing their feelings for how these two developed to the point where they decided to commit such an atrocity.

    It doesn’t “justify” an act of evil to seek to understand the events that facilitated it. It’s not “hiding” from evil to give your best guess at an explanation of what caused it. Rather it’s quite the opposite; it’s accepting the fact that the people who commit evil are by and large very similar to ourselves, and because of that, as long as there are people, there will be those who are given to committing acts of evil. This article talks about how we need to “fight evil,” but without doing our due diligence to understand evil, that’s fighting evil blindly. Fighting blindly never helped anybody.

    Again, none of this means “forgive them,” or do anything to marginalize their responsibility for or the heinousness of what they did, it just means that we should try to understand them. It’s a part of humanity and we’ll always have to face it in one form or another. We may never really understand it, but we sure as hell should try.

    • Jeremy, you’re talking about your own perception, and that’s great and I agree. Look at the places I linked to, and as you’ll see, I’m not talking about trying to grasp why these things happen but “letting people off the hook”. One of the articles I linked to is titled, “Dear Dzhokhar, I Can’t Hate You.” This is clearly not about attempting to understand the person.

      My point, basically, doesn’t conflict with what you’re talking about. My point isn’t about that at all. It’s about an undeniable culture in our country that attempts to not just understand, but to excuse and even accept that such people exist. That’s simply inexcusable.

      Look at the things I linked to, the difference should be clear.

      • Sarah

        I know this all was written a while ago but I occasionally check the news to see what is happening with the case. I happened to come across this blog.

        I have to say the whole thing sort of boils my blood. I am a Christian and I know that God is a forgiving God, but He is also just. I honestly couldn’t believe all the excuses being made for this guy, even by my friends, which is actually where I first saw “Dear Dzhokhar, I Can’t Hate You”.

        I believe our society in general, including many Christians, have adopted a certain kind of perspective that is twisted. How can we forgive away what he has done? Where is the justice? Why is it that he was allowed to kill three people, including a little boy, injure several hundred more, shoot a cop, run over his brother, and hide from the police, and still be coddled as if he were the victim?

        I was having a conversation with someone the other day actually about the idea of forgiveness. As a Christian we believe that Jesus died for our sins and because of that there is not punishment that we deserve. The point being that God does not punish us on earth or in Heaven when we have accepted His free gift. However, that does not mean that there are not consequences for what we do.

        I am entirely for fairness, for looking at the facts, for being thorough and honest in judgement. If there are not consequences for those who commit crimes than what do others have to fear if they wish to do the same?

        I see it many times with children. I know there are many opinions on spanking, but I grew up being spanked. If I did something wrong there were consequences, but I learned. I learned that there were boundaries, and that is not always a bad thing. It gave me a healthy respect for my parents, and gave me guidance in living my life. My parents did it because they loved me, not the other way around.

        In my opinion I think many people have this idea that we should all be the proverbial parent that shouldn’t discipline their child because that is cruel and wrong, not loving. But most of the time what happens is the child doesn’t learn boundaries, and little sense of responsibility to others. That is chaos.

        I honestly can’t wrap my mind around it. It felt like I was in a dream seeing all these people forgiving him and being so sad for him, but who was talking about all those maimed people! What about the boy that died who barely had a chance to live life. He took that from those people. They are the ones who I mourn for, not him.

  • I am hungry.

    Maybe I should kill for food?

    No, My G-d says no. Besides I probably have food in the fridge.

    But if I did… would I be excused?? “Poor kid, he was so hungry. It is so hard being a 25 year old and hungry. You know all that young blood pumping around his body. He needed food. Yes, he went a bit mad, but we all go mad sometimes right? I forgive him.”

    • The Torah does not say “Do not kill.” It says, “Do not murder.” a clear distinction and this point is something non-Hebrew speakers are not aware of. If they were we’d be a lot further down the road in dealing with issues such as this..

  • Yaacov David Shulman

    I agree with Elad. Empathy, like a hammer, is a tool and if it is used wrongly it can cause great damage. If your empathy for someone interferes with your ability to protect the innocent and punish the evil, it is causing damage. With this kind of empathy, the Alliied forces would not have won the war against Hitler and Hirohito.

  • Sherry Awan

    What about thousands s of kids that get droned in Pakistan and Yemen by US drones i guess so their lives doesn’t matter only American lives matter and mote salt to it US president gets Noble Peace Prize

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