India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Understanding evil

In an essay titled "Moral indifference as the form of modern evil", Siddharth Varadarajan writes:
Recounting the massacre of Jews during the First Crusade in and around the German city of Cologne in 1096, the anonymous authors of the 12th century Solomon bar Simson chronicle asked plaintively, "Why did the heavens not darken and the skies withhold their radiance; why did not the sun and moon turn dark?" The historian, Arno Mayer, poses the same question in his treatise on the Holocaust and `answers' it with Walter Benjamin's assertion, made on the eve of Europe's tryst with genocide, that there is no philosophical basis for our "astonishment that the things we are currently experiencing should `still' be possible in the 20th century."

If many Indians were genuinely 'astonished' by the well-organised killing of Muslim fellow citizens in Gujarat in 2002 — by the fact that such evil was "still" possible in the 21st century — this was because they had chosen to forget November 1984, the one reference point which made that violence not just intelligible but possible as well.
I don't normally have much time for anything in the Hindu, where this piece first appeared, but this is an excellent essay. Read the full thing. (Link via Uma.)

And on a similar theme, also check out Theodore Dalrymple's outstanding essay in City Journal, "The Frivolity of Evil". In it, Dalrymple writes:
[T]he scale of a man's evil is not entirely to be measured by its practical consequences. Men commit evil within the scope available to them. Some evil geniuses, of course, devote their lives to increasing that scope as widely as possible, but no such character has yet arisen in Britain, and most evildoers merely make the most of their opportunities. They do what they can get away with.
And therein lies the crux of what went wrong in Delhi in 1984 and in Gujarat in 2002: the scope within which evil could have been committed was vastly increased by the governments of the time. Indeed, that evil was later justified by them, with talk of falling trees, and actions and reactions. And we remain apathetic. Are we evil too, and is our evil our apathy? There's plenty of scope for that.
amit varma, 1:44 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

I recommend: