Young Americans are a generation steeped in sympathy for evil: drug dealers sell drugs because they come from hopeless neighborhoods; pedophiles abuse children because of their own childhood abuse; and killers kill for want of hugs.
There can be wisdom in the understanding of evil available through sympathy. Understanding the disposition of disenfranchised teenagers to drug dealing can – in theory – spur neighborhood redevelopments. Youth centers, guidance counselors, positive adult influences and all that lot are sometimes (and sometimes is better than never) proven to keep young people in school and out of trouble. Likewise, knowledge of the roots of pedophilia can improve treatment and prevent recidivism among offenders.
The lesson is global. Terrorism, like gang violence, is frequently born of hopeless poverty, taken advantage of as motivation by terrorist recruiters. It’s no coincidence virulent terrorism is born of regions whose young people enjoy few luxuries and are harshly restricted by their governments. Providing for the hope and upward mobility of foreign citizenry can alleviate the anger of its youth, and happier young people with bright prospects are less likely to sign on for terror campaigns.
The recent bringing to justice of Osama bin Laden is an opportunity to internalize that lesson, and to reaffirm a second. With regard to the first, developed countries could do worse than remember that trade practices and national policies which foster friendly relations abroad will lead to foreign climes less likely to produce violent extremists.
The second, which bears reaffirming amidst sympathy, is: despite our incidental understanding of it, there exists evil in the world which can – indeed, must – be eradicated fully and finally, no matter its cause, because of its inability to coexist with good. In that light, bin Laden’s epitaph should read like a rabid dog’s: it was a shame he took rabid and it would have been better for all had the conditions which allowed for the existence of the disease been eradicated, but – once rabid – he had to be put down.