Is it enough to condemn evil without trying to understand it?
Iâ€™m not sure the answer is obvious. On the one hand, dwelling on the wretchedness of villainy (to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi) can be corrosive to oneâ€™s inner life. Itâ€™s why we humans often tell one another to â€œfocus on the positive,â€ or why St. Paul instructs his Philippian friends similarly:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableâ€”if anything is excellent or praiseworthyâ€”think about such things.
On the other hand, two things can go wrong if we condemn evil without understanding it. First, we could miss out on the fact that the â€œevilâ€ isnâ€™t evil at all, but simply another perspective that merits a hearing in dialogue or some other format. Second, in cases when the evil is evil, we could miss out on uncovering the best ways to defeat it.
Throughout his must-read article in this monthâ€™s Atlantic, contributing editor Graeme Wood puts the Islamic State phenomenon squarely in the second category. To correct this error, he puts forth a well-researched report on the specific beliefs that drive the caliphate.
If Woodâ€™s analysis is correct, then actual dialogue with the jihadist leaders, even if remotely desirable, is impossible: their interpretation of Islam requires them to forswear the peace and bridge building that dialogue fosters. However, understanding the intellectual foundation of ISIS would greatly enrich our dialogue about ISISâ€”particularly the dialogue of Western leaders as they seek more intelligent, more effective strategies for bringing the rogue state down.
That is Woodâ€™s thesis, and I agree. It doesnâ€™t make reading about the Islamic State any less stressful or horrifying. A steady diet of such articles would mess with my mind, and probably yours too. Which leads us back to the question: does it make any sense for average citizens, with no power over strategy, to let this stuff into their minds? What do you think?