Growing up in a family of genocide survivors as I did, I got to hear stories – lots of stories – about just how depraved human beings can get.
Although my father and grandmother passed down these often-vivid recollections to us in the comfort of a warm suburban family room, worlds apart from the nightmares of their youth, their painful psychological scars remained ever fresh. And to a young boy like me, those stories – of cruel soldiers and bandits hell-bent on mayhem, as well as their intended victims’ resourcefulness and sometimes even heroism – provided a glimpse into a scary, alien dimension of evil.
But rather than tell any more family stories here – and most Armenian families have them, just as Jewish Holocaust survivors and their kin have their stories – I’ll quote the U.S. ambassador to Turkey at the time, Henry Morgenthau, whose published memoirs exposed the horrors he witnessed firsthand during the 20th century’s first genocide. Incredibly, he described how Turkish officials bragged to him about their nightly meetings where they would enthusiastically share the latest torture techniques to use on the Armenians:
Each new method of inflicting pain was hailed as a splendid discovery, and the regular attendants were constantly ransacking their brains in the effort to devise some new torment. He told me that they even delved into the records of the Spanish Inquisition and other historic institutions of torture and adopted all the suggestions found there …
I’ll spare you the details, except to say that Morgenthau, father of FDR’s treasury secretary of the same name, summed up the “sadistic orgies” of the Armenian genocide by declaring: “Whatever crimes the most perverted instincts of the human mind can devise, and whatever refinements of persecution and injustice the most debased imagination can conceive, became the daily misfortunes of this devoted people. I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”
Unfortunately, more such “horrible episodes” followed apace throughout the 20th century. In the 1930s, Stalin ordered his military to confiscate all of Ukraine’s food and then sealed her borders to prevent any outside sustenance from getting in, thereby intentionally starving 7 million men, women and children to death. This was followed soon by Japan’s demonic “rape of Nanking,” during which 300,000 Chinese were butchered in their nation’s capital, including up to 80,000 women and little girls gang-raped by Japanese soldiers and then stabbed to death with bayonets. The Nazi Holocaust in the ’30s and ’40s, of course, tops most people’s list of genocidal horrors, with its death-camp crematoria, extermination of 6 million Jews and unspeakable “medical experiments.” For sheer numbers of dead – tens of millions during the ’60s and ’70s – China’s Mao Ze-Dong has been called history’s worst mass murderer. Pol Pot’s maniacal communist purge of Cambodia in the late 1970s led to the deaths of 2 million of his own people, while Rwanda’s tribal genocide in the 1990s resulted in the club-and-machete massacring of 800,000. Today’s ongoing Sudanese genocide, backed by the Islamist government in Khartoum, has resulted in at least 400,000 dead.
We frequently ask ourselves how human beings can sink to this level of cruelty. There’s no precedent for it among even the most fearsome predators in the animal kingdom. What, then, makes us capable of such extreme evil?
Genocidal madness can’t be blamed on a particular philosophy or religion. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were atheistic communists. Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were in the grip of quasi-religious personality cults that deified their leaders. And today’s genocide in Sudan, like the Turkish military which tortured Armenians for sport a century earlier, is heavily motivated by Islamic jihadist fervor.
So what turns people into monsters? Since they obviously didn’t start out that way, let’s rewind back to the beginning of the story and see what causes an innocent child to morph into an instrument of great evil.
Children’s songs that celebrate murder
There’s nothing more beautiful than a young child. Nothing. The brightness of spirit, the spontaneity, the natural intelligence – which Einstein called “the holy curiosity of inquiry” – are breathtaking.
What, then, possesses a smart, handsome young 5- or 6-year-old boy to go on Palestinian television and sing, “When I wander into Jerusalem, I will become a suicide bomber”? Or a group of children, both boys and girls, to sing together, “How pleasant is the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body.”
What? How does the horror and stench of death magically transform into the “pleasant smell” of life and glory for these kids? What happens to them in their earliest, most vulnerable years to induce some to later strap on explosive belts and vaporize themselves while murdering dozens of unsuspecting innocents?
Why, growing up in a “normal home” with a mom, dad, siblings, school and friends, does a young man suddenly feel compelled to stab his own sister to death – knifing her not just once or twice, but over and over again in a murderous frenzy – just because somebody said she was walking down the street with a male who wasn’t a relative?
Clearly, as these young people’s indoctrination progresses from singing songs about atrocities to actually committing them, we’re witnessing not only a toxic philosophy at work, but also the magic ingredient that makes that philosophy come to life – namely, hatred. Underneath all the smiles, underneath the “devout” faith, underneath whatever persona is masking the overwhelming fear, confusion, and jihadist programming that have been cultivated in them since birth, lies the nuclear reactor core of their being – a smoldering fireball of suppressed rage.
Intense hatred has a way of morphing inexorably into full-blown, epic madness. Indeed, hate is like spiritual plutonium, possessing bizarre, explosive and transformative qualities of which we are largely unaware. It is the means by which evil itself blooms on this earth, especially when rage is focused and magnified by a malignant worldview. If you think this is overstated, just contemplate with me the following news items:
Popular Middle East television programming for children that features jihadist clones of Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street characters and other kids’ favorites, in which the lovable, cuddly stars teach children vicious lies and the virtues of mass murder.
Rape victims being flogged and imprisoned, as when a Saudi court in early 2009 sentenced a 23-year-old female who had been gang-raped by five men to 100 lashes and a year in jail. Her crime? Accepting a lift from a man who drove her against her will to his house and took turns, with four of his friends, raping her.
An epidemic of “honor killings” – at least 5,000 per year according to the U.N., but many more that go unreported – in which fathers, brothers or mothers brutally murder their own daughter/sister merely for being seen in public with a male or similar “offense.” For example, two Jordanian brothers used axes to murder their two sisters, aged 20 and 27, after the older sister left home to marry a man without her family’s permission and the younger one ran away to join her. After someone tipped off the brothers as to their sisters’ whereabouts, the men went into their home with axes and hacked them to death. “It was a brutal scene,” one government official told the Jordan Times. “One victim’s head was nearly cut clean off.”
Maniacal, zombie-like “religious police,” such as those in Saudi Arabia who on March 11, 2002, allowed 15 young girls to die horrible deaths when a fire broke out in their school in Mecca. The religious police, or Mutaween, literally blocked firefighters from saving the girls because they weren’t dressed in the proper Islamic way for girls and women to be seen outdoors. With helpless firemen watching, the religious police literally beat the girls – those who were not wearing their headscarves or abayas – back into the inferno.
What we’re looking at here is criminally insane behavior – no less insane or criminal than that exhibited by severely deranged people we routinely lock up in maximum-security psychiatric hospitals or prisons in the United States.
Of course, by now we’ve all heard more than we care to know about radical jihad culture, with its pathological blame of Jews for everything, its condemnation of Western Civilization and its “die-while-killing-infidels-and-Allah-will-give-you-virgins” recruitment pitch. But distilling this “martyrdom” obsession down to its essence, common sense tells us no one murders innocent people or forces schoolgirls back into a burning building unless they’re insanely angry. So, where exactly does this hate come from?
Let’s understand, even a violent philosophy like that of radical Islam isn’t necessarily sufficient, by itself, to create a rage-fueled jihadist. No, you become full of hate and driven to violate others only when someone else first violates you – when a parent, older sibling, teacher, cleric or other authority figure intimidates, frightens, degrades, bullies, humiliates or perhaps sexually abuses you. And such cruelty and degradation are, unfortunately, endemic in much of the Islamic world. Its rigid, authoritarian religious system, the near-slave status and abuse of women, the suffocating sexual repression, the widespread incidence of what can only be called the world’s most flagrant child abuse (where even toddlers are groomed for future “martyrdom operations”), and the pervasive fear of flogging, amputation or stoning if one runs afoul of the ultra-strict Sharia legal code – all this creates an environment reeking of quiet terror. No wonder its victims take to terrorism so readily.
So, once these parents and other authorities, full of the madness and confusion injected into them during their own youth, succeed in passing it on to the next generation of youngsters by intimidating and indoctrinating them, it’s child’s play to focus the newly created jihadists’ zeal onto the appropriate “hate object” – Jews, Americans, “infidels” and so on.
This dynamic is not unique to radical Islam. In fact, believe it or not, it’s the hidden fabric of all too much of our own lives – albeit usually in a far less extreme form. In a perverse mirror reflection of the Golden Rule, we all tend compulsively to do unto others what was done unto us. We effortlessly internalize the cruelty of others.
This is because, aside from the obvious effects being angry and upset have on us – making us emotional, clouding our judgment and so on – it also throws us into “program mode.” That’s right: When we get upset at the intimidating words or actions of other people, their cruelty “infects” us in a very real way. So, for instance, if our parents angrily yelled at us all the time when we were children, we would tend to angrily yell at those smaller and weaker than us. A little bit of the bully gets inside of us, and we then bully others, in one form or another. We’ve all seen this, and we know that our prisons are full of molesters and abusers who were molested and abused as children.
Thus, maniacal imams and jihadist teachers find it relatively easy convert innocent children into suicide bombers. The first step is to indoctrinate them from birth with a poisonous belief system demonizing “infidels,” a process explained by Israeli counter-terrorism expert Itamar Marcus in “The Genocide Mechanism”:
Common to the framing of all genocide is a very specific kind of demonization. In Rwanda, the Hutus taught that the Tutsis were cockroaches and snakes. Tutsi women were portrayed as cunning seductresses who used beauty and sexual power to conquer the Hutus. … Radio Rwanda repeatedly broadcast a warning that Hutus were about to be attacked by Tutsis, to convince the Hutus that they needed to attack first to protect themselves.
This demonization included two specific components. First, the victims had to be perceived as a clear and present threat, so that the killers were convinced they were acting in self-defense. Second, the victims were dehumanized, so that the killers convinced themselves that they were not destroying real human beings.
Teaching children virtually from birth that Jews are subhuman, evil oppressors of Muslims – fiends who grind up Arab youngsters to use as ingredients in their Passover matzoh – is epidemic in the Islamic world. A typical example: The Saudi satellite television station Iqraa broadcast an interview with a 3-year-old Egyptian girl named Basmallah, who answered a question about Jews by declaring: “They are apes and pigs.”
But this little girl is not about to murder anyone. She’s just repeating statements fed to her by adults for the sake of winning their love and approval. Dehumanizing indoctrination isn’t quite enough to launch a genocide. There must also be hate, and lots of it – not merely to fuel the atrocity machine, but to allow the indoctrination to fully take root.
In other words, whatever the toxic programming may be – Hutus demonizing Tutsis as “cockroaches and snakes,” Turks accusing Armenians of being “enemy collaborators,” Nazis likening Jews to “vermin” – for such outrageous and counter-intuitive falsehoods to be both believed and acted upon, those being indoctrinated must be kept in a very emotional state.
Recall that Hitler always kept his audiences super-emotional; that’s how he programmed them and guarded against their naturally coming back to their senses. He was always stirring up their emotions, and by so doing, his thoughts became their thoughts, his feelings became their feelings. It’s brainwashing 101: Cause your intended victims to become upset, angry, emotionally riled up, and you have your hands on the control levers of their mind.
Children are so vulnerable, like spiritual sponges, that if they’re treated with cruelty, if they’re degraded sexually, if they’re constantly confused and intimidated – and at the same time are indoctrinated with lies denying their neighbors’ humanity, and also showered with promises of glory, reward and brotherhood for believing and acting a certain way – well, it’s not long before you’ve got yourself a newly minted jihadist, communist, or Nazi.