Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Evil Cum Laude, Majoring in Genocide

A congregant with an expertise in Middle Eastern politics, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared with me the following fascinating and timely thoughts, which I have edited and adapted. For those apologists who expected Bashir al-Assad to act in a civilized manner simply because he sipped tea between classes in London, they have learned a cruel lesson. And our institutes of higher education are doing a poor job of reinforcing humane values, with a premium on promoting dignity and the respect for innocent life.

With the lessons of Pesach still with us, let’s consider some really, really evil sons: Bashir al-Assad (in London, opthamology), Radovan Karadjic (Univ. of Sarajevo, Columbia Univ. – medicine, psychiatry), Robert Mugabe (Univ. of London – law), Pol Pot (in Paris – technology), to name a few. Of course there are so many more, aren’t there, and a few really, really evil daughters perhaps who just haven’t had the ‘equal opportunities’ of their male counterparts.

As we reflect on the lessons of the Holocaust, one point that is difficult to ignore is that age-old question: what is the correlation between one’s sense of morality, ethics, et al and one’s schooling and cultural haute culture? What is the relationship between humaneness and schooling and ‘good cultural upbringing’?

When will we truly understand that schooling levels, pro forma cultural knowledge and perfunctory erudition do not always correlate with human decency? Perhaps this is a harsh and maximalist declaration. Perhaps the Zeitgeist encourages such frustration and cynicism.

Two points to consider: 1) Attending ‘Oxbridge’ does not a good person make. 2) That seed must be planted before the child even knows where the UK is located. In other words, education at home, good role modelling, parenting, and the like will have a better chance at bringing a kinder, emotionally and intellectually more stable and valued member of a into the world.

So, what do we do with these so-called experts in the media who assume that the future Bashir al-Assads of the world will be better people if only they just study at Harvard, Cambridge, or Oxford. If the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust do not ‘dissuade these experts’ of that false belief, one feels at a loss as to what really would convince them. Apologies in advance for singling out these experts in this piece, but after all, they are the ones out there with their analyses, punditry and in the end, some form of influence.

Good schooling doesn’t necessarily lead to that which is ‘more liberal’, which in turn, doesn’t necessarily lead to that which is ‘more compassionate, empathetic, and decent’. What is it that makes an ‘expert’ express his/her surprise, shock and indignation that 1) al-Assad is doing these horrible things to his country people, which by the way, should be of no surprise to anyone who understands the complexities of the ‘authoritarian mind’, and 2) that it is unfathomable that he would be doing this since, after all, he studied in London?

If one really wanted to be cynical, one could conclude that a ‘good education’ merely prepares evil to be perfected more efficiently, more deviously, more sadistically. Students and their families on both sides of various oceans and seas seek to ‘go abroad’ and study at some of the world’s most august institutions. And, working with these students has not been unpleasant. However, one must examine, and be realistic in understanding, the motivations for these students (and, if deemed necessary, seek new ways and paradigms to engage and encourage the ‘humanity within the students’). Otherwise, prestige, rubbing shoulders with powerful and influential people, and then building networks, contacts, connections with them so as to advance one’s career, etc. seem to dominate the reasoning. And, there is nothing wrong with this – inherently. However, let’s not fool ourselves. One doubts that “the search for ‘good liberal, Western’ values” was on the mind of the father who sent his kid – the one who alit his undergarments on an airplane - from Nigeria to study in London.

In closing, this message for this Yom Hashoah is that it’s all about - or at least a lot of it is - education at the home which includes not engaging in the ‘objectifying’ of children and youth – when young people are treated as physical objects instead of thinking, feeling human beings (the old saying, ‘do as I say not as I do’). In other words, as Mark Twain said, “don’t let schooling interfere with your education”. What if Mengele had had a truly nurturing education with positive and humane role models, etc., and not just a good schooling?

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