While both Nazi and Islamicist evil may be explained, it cannot be justified - something that many of those who have sat in 'solidarity' with Hamas or Saddam Hussein seem to miss. Those who expect to find "real" evil with a heart of darkness and a sinister laugh, and those who, when they don't find them, assume that they are not confronting evil - these two groups fail to understand that evil does not run deep, and that it may be practiced by people with plenty of explanations and people who love their mothers. Evil is as evil does, and evildoers are human.
The question that troubled LÚvy - and should trouble us - is the same one that motivated Arendt:: what can we, humanists and liberals, salvage? Are we compelled to regard a "Clash of Civilizations" as pre-determined? Is there a middle ground between the reckless foolishness of those who refuse to recognize evil there where it is most evident and Bush-style reductionism, intolerance and warfare?
In the last pages of LÚvy's book, when he recounts the last moments of his final trip to Pakistan, he recalls all the positive experiences he has had with Muslims and the positive feelings he has had for Islam. "There is that other face of Islam," he writes, "that gentleness of Islam in whichůagainst everything, to the last minute, Daniel Pearl wanted to believe, and in which I believe also." (p. 535) But which face will win? Will it be the "inheritors of that ancient exchange of men and cultures that goes from Avicenna to Mahfouz, by way of these sages of Cordoba-or the furious men of the camps in Peshawar who call for jihad and, chest ringed with explosives, aspire to die as martyrs?" And is there any role that we in the West can play?
LÚvy can only conclude his book by praising Pearl for going up against "all the doctrinaires of a war of civilizations that can only promise the worst." He honors his "posthumous friend." and "calls for the spread of Enlightenment." Beyond that BHL is silent. He has no answers.
Radical Evil: Bernard Henry Levy on
the death of Daniel Pearl
Trembling Before You
What is Burning Man?
Josh Calls His New Roommate
Zeek in Print
Buy online here
The Zeek Archive