Moral Outrage: America’s Disappearing Red Lines


syria-chemicalBy Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein

Videos depicting the gruesome death of 1,300 men, women, and children by poison gas in Syria were posted online. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood torched scores of churches, some dating back 1500 hundred years, while nuns were paraded in the streets like captured POWs.

Even as President Obama seems to finally be doing something to degrade Assad’s capabilities, it is hard to say if Americans were more shocked by the events in the Middle East.

It can’t be for lack of information. We are bombarded by a steady stream of horrific images. But insofar as Egypt and Syria are concerned, we are inured to, not energized by, the ‘beyond belief’ images of horror.

In 2013, it’s as if we have reserved a seat in our living room for a new neighbor-the face of Evil.

How else to explain that the mass gassings of children and torching of houses of worship have generated nary a hint of righteous indignation, let alone, G-d forbid, calls for action?

Surely we know the truth: Systematic arson of churches will not end with burning buildings. It never does; we have been there before. Death is always horrible; but unless real action is taken, the use of chemical agents against civilian populations will quickly become just another fact of life around the globe.
Do we understand that when we render ourselves morally impotent, we not only condemn more innocents, we endanger our own survival?

What’s worse than moral impotence? Deploying the moral equivalency card. After several days of denouncing the Egyptian military’s forceful intervention against the Muslim Brotherhood, Deputy Press Secretary John Earnest declared, “We have condemned in unambiguous terms all of the violence that has been perpetrated there in Egypt. We have been concerned and condemned the violence that was perpetrated by the government against peaceful protesters and we’re just as outraged and just as concerned about reports that Christian churches have been targeted.”

Really? The Army-Muslim Brotherhood face-off is the equivalent to a nationwide pogrom against Christians?

And how about our President’s “red line” on Syria? Unlike President Bush, who had to go shopping to create a ‘coalition of the willing,’ this time around there’s a coalition out there in search of American leadership.

As for the UN, does anyone really believe that the UN Security Council – with its guaranteed Russian veto – can even deliver a proper obituary for 100,000 dead Syrians? Unless we take action to get rid of those stockpiles of poison gas, our “red lines” are as worthless as the invisible ink with which they are drawn. And what good are religious leaders if they cannot at least raise the alarm?

Shouldn’t they be organizing rallies and gatherings, if only to teach our children that there is right and wrong, good and evil?

At least the World Council of Churches, which claims 590 million Protestant members is consistent. It was silent during the Holocaust, and it is silent once more when 8-10 million Christians are under siege.

Pope Francis’ Vatican has been the exception. It did react to the gassing of Syrian civilians. Archbishop Zenari spoke of a Syrian people who “…are crying out to the international community to say, ‘Help us so that this war would end immediately. We have had enough; we can’t take it anymore. We can’t continue like this.'”

If nature abhors a vacuum, tyrants love moral vacuums. Tehran especially, but also Pyongyang, Al Qaeda affiliates, and Hezbollah are all taking note.
In 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in Halabja, Iraq, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal was one of the few who spoke up. The world was making a mistake, he warned. Despots will interpret the world’s silence in ways the world would regret.

Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Adlerstein is director of interfaith affairs for the Wiesenthal Center.


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  1. Eizehu Chochom? HaRoeh Es HaNolad

    Kudos for America and Britain for finally having the brains to realize that neither side in Syria is worth defending, and that interference would result in more harm than good.

    Just because there is a minority suffering, doesnt mean we need to assist the minority.

    This lesson would have done wonders in the early 80s. Shame we ignored it and chose to assist the Taliban in the fight against the Soviets. Anyone who still thinks that that decision was a wise move needs to see a psychiatrist immediately

  2. o12 We are not about defending a side although the getting rid of the Assad family cannot be bad. that aside, what is being attempted here is the lesson against chemical weapon use. The message has to be clear.

  3. @Etzhar
    The devil you know is better than the devil you dont know.
    Who knows who will end up replacing Assad. We got rid of Sadaam and I wouldn’t say Iraq is any safer now.

    The USA is not the Policemen and Ethicists of the world