“The banality of evil” is a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt in her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem. Adolph Eichmann was a German bureaucrat and during WWII, the chief architect and executioner of Hitler’s genocidal “final solution” of the “Jewish problem.” Arendt’s somewhat controversial thesis centered around her observation that Eichmann was an otherwise innocuous individual who wasn’t motivated by an all consuming hatred of Jews, but was rather a man simply doing his job, without any thought to the horrific consequences of his action. Thus evil, for the most part, is not perpetrated by villainous characters out of comic books, but rather by unassuming, uninteresting people who exhibit a failure of thinking and judgment. Contrary to popular belief, evil isn’t exciting. Darkness isn’t mysterious. They’re actually kind of dull.
That’s certainly reflective of how I’ve been feeling lately. The city my mother was born in, Casablanca, was recently the site of a suicide bombing attack against the US consulate and a cultural center. The JCC I went to with my Dad, where I learnt to swim and play basketball and appreciate deli food, was the site of some crappy bomb detonation (two suspects have been arrested, both Muslims), the hospital where my sisters were born just had to shell out $15,000 to two ambulance drivers who were prevented from eating their unkosher brown-bag lunches in the hospital’s kosher cafeteria (I’m going to McDonalds with my kosher lunch and see how they feel about me sitting there and eating in their restaurant – I know it’s not exactly evil but $15,000?? That’s pretty shitty). Every day it seems we read about a new outrage and in fact, this year saw anti-Semitic attacks around the world increase by 50% and 37% of Israeli youths surveyed feared another Holocaust.
And yet… I’m tired of Ahmadinejad’s incessant boasts that Iran will wipe Israel off the face of the earth. I’m tired of all the stupid graffiti and the swastikas and the hateful books and lies and on it goes. If I wanted to, Jewlicious could be the ALL HATE BLOG, coming at you live, 24/7! Indulging you in all the morbid anti-Semitism that you so crave!
But, like Hannah Arendt implied, it’s banal. It’s boring. I can’t do it, even when it strikes close to home.
I mean, focusing on anti-Semitism and hatred is dark and depressing at times, but it allows you to possess all powerful righteous indignation, and talking about the Holocaust and building museums and being hyper sensitive to the slightest hint of Jew hatred is a lot easier than actually figuring out what this Judaism thing is all about and, you know, living by its strictures. Given the choice between death worship at the altar of 6 million dead Jews, or meaningless worship at the altar of your parents’ lifeless temple, is it any wonder so many young Jews just opt out entirely? Banal is banal and whether it’s pure evil or uninspired worship, insipid leadership and just plain ignorance.
But today is Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Memorial day. Today is one of those days where honoring the memory of the 6 million Jews is to be encouraged, regardless of whether or not the Vatican comes to the party. Today’s the day we try to make sense of the unthinkable and try to at least walk away with some kind of lesson.
Evil is banal. It happens most often when people lack empathy for their fellow human beings. It happens when people do not exercise their faculties of thought and judgment. These are lessons that extend beyond just genocide.
Have a thoughtful day.