The (D)evil is in the Details? On the Minutia of Freedom, Truth, Objectivity and Moral Certainty on the Margins of Current Conflicts
News about beheaded babies, videos about massacre of civilians on a music festival, destroyed infrastructure and an inexhaustible information flow from media is confronting us with a disturbing trend of “institutionalized schizophrenia”. A phenomenon, characterized by a disconnect or inconsistency in the beliefs, values, or actions of various institutions, individuals, or groups within a society.
The picture of the objective truth is becoming a puzzle of several subjective and relative opinion-pieces. The unceasing deluge of transformative opinion- and citizen-journalism in the age of self-proclaimed judges, juries and executioners, and omniscient, ad hoc situational experts have led to the gold age of cultural and human relativism.
Regardless of speaking about Hamas’s attack on Israeli civilians including children or Putin’s unjust invasion in Ukraine, brutality and cruelty should be universally considered as a no-go zone. Instead of being aligned against something clearly evil, media and politicians send mixed signals to gain temporary political or click-based financial advantage over common sense.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed the early symptoms of a shift in people’s attitudes towards news. The inexhaustible flow of information from social media and news platforms has transformed users into judges and juries in the court of public opinion and ad hoc, situational experts on a variety of topics, ready to fill in the blanks at the push of a button. Lay people form vocal, professionally sounding, but superficial arguments about specific details of scientific fields like virology, geopolitics, world history, migration or football games.
Recently, this trend reached a disturbing level – when ultimately and obviously evil events – such as the massacre of civilians in Israel – are reinterpreted and labeled as a “justified violence”. Given that sharing opinions and silencing inconvenient counter-arguments have never been as easy as today, there is more at stake than meets the eye. We live in the age of moral relativism and if we make the wrong turn, we risk losing what lies at the core of Western civilization: the respect of civil liberties, fundamental human rights and democratic values.
The deliberate targeting of civilians, the indiscriminate violence, and the use of human shields are actions that should be considered fundamentally evil and unacceptable. These actions violate international law, disregard the sanctity of human life, and reject peaceful solutions. This calls for the use of precise terminology, and shows the role of language in describing certain issues. In a world where the line between good and evil should be crystal clear, it’s disheartening to witness misguided celebrations or ignorance surrounding acts that should be condemned universally. In the realm of journalism, the complexity arises when individuals who have committed acts of terror are often referred to as “militants” or “fighters” rather than being plainly identified as what they are: terrorists.
The term “fighter” carries a positive connotation, while “militant” remains relatively neutral. In stark contrast, the word “terrorist” is far from a term of endearment; it unambiguously designates an individual as fundamentally evil. Avoiding the use of the term “terrorist” serves only to obfuscate the lines, shaping public opinion in a way that may inadvertently normalize the unacceptable. Such a practice contradicts the fundamental principles of responsible journalism.
The loops of methodologically building this “institutionalized schizophrenia” where institutions support terror over civil liberties is alarming. The result is total confusion. Evil actions, such as those perpetrated by Hamas, should not be excused or celebrated by anyone; they should be met with unequivocal condemnation.
These actions are against everyone, not just against Jews or Palestinians, but against all humans. That is why, the international community must make it clear that groups like Hamas, and other organizations or individuals that engage in similar actions, have no standing in international affairs. Domestic leaders must make it clear that terror is not celebrated in Western democracies, and shall prohibit protests that incite hate and promote radicalism.
In a world increasingly marked by chaos and moral ambiguity, the imperative for moral clarity has never been more pronounced. Just as nations like France and Hungary, states like Florida or organizations like the European Union have taken a stand against the celebration of terrorism, it is time for all democracies to unite in unequivocally condemning evil actions that target innocent civilians. These actions, whether perpetrated by Hamas or any other group, not only threaten their intended victims but also their own people, undermining the very principles they claim to uphold.
Our collective responsibility extends beyond mere condemnation; it calls for a deeper understanding of complex global issues. Quick online reactions and superficial solutions fall short in the face of actions that defy the essence of humanity. To confront the artificially fueled superficial “institutionalized schizophrenia” that clouds our perception of evil, we must strive for a more profound grasp of the critical challenges we face. The (d)evil is in the details we thoroughly examine and identify.
The true strength of a society lies not just in its ability to speak freely but in its capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, between good and evil. It’s time to regain our moral compass, to recognize that evil should be recognized for what it is—ultimately unacceptable. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental values of civil liberties, human rights, and democratic principles that are the bedrock of Western civilization. This must guide our path forward, ensuring that the darkness of relativism does not kill the light of moral certainty.
Lilla Nóra Kiss, PhD, visiting scholar and adjunct faculty at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, Post-Graduate Visiting Research Fellow at the Hungary Foundation. Lilla is the co-founder of the working group FICE (Freedom and Identity in Central Europe). Email: email@example.com