"I kind of felt sorry for him," a friend phoned to say, after watching the umpteenth rerun of the Benny Sela capture footage. "He's clearly broken and terrified."
She wasn't the only person I heard express compassion for this calculated, serial sex offender, who spent the two years before his arrest brutally raping defenseless women, and the two weeks after his escape eluding capture.
"What, after all, did the guy really do that was so terrible?" another well-wisher - this one a man - responded to the nabbing. Apparently, preying on girls whose only participation in acts from which they will never fully recover was having been dragged into the wrong stairwell at the wrong time is not that big of a deal.
That there are perverts who would identify or side with Sela is sadly axiomatic, and therefore not surprising. What is impossible to fathom, however, is how anybody normal could feel anything but aversion, and a desire to see Sela put away for good - even if the fate that befalls him in prison (where his ilk are considered the dregs of the earth by other inmates) isn't pretty.
Indeed, the parents of actual and potential victims heaved a collective sigh of relief last Friday at the sight of Sela being surrounded by law enforcement operatives. The cops, too, rejoiced. For one thing, a miracle had prevented the absconder from adding another notch to his noxious belt. For another, the police force could now return to the business of rebuilding its already ruined reputation.
But what about the rest of society?
In his "Behind the Lines" column in the Front Lines section of these pages (December 1), Anshel Pfeffer blamed the press for Sela's inadvertently having become a kind of folk hero, a la Jesse James.
"Both the media and the public have limited imaginations," he wrote. "In the 'instant imagery' world in which they live, there is room for only one bad guy. And... the more foolish the police is made to look, the greater the unconscious admiration for Sela's managing to hoodwink the body charged with capturing him becomes."
There is no question that many Israelis were so contemptuous of the bungling Men in Blue throughout this whole ordeal that they seemed to have forgotten who the genuine culprit was; they even made jokes about Sela's being a star-like fugitive with a gift for outwitting his clueless pursuers.
BUT THIS worrisome phenomenon has even deeper roots than those Pfeffer so cleverly pointed out. Cultivated by the cultural climate of this country - and the other Western nations from whom ours takes its cue - these roots are becoming so firmly implanted that soon we won't be able to see the forest for the trees.
The climate is one in which normal human sexuality is treated like a black-and-white political-legal issue rather than a fact of nature with inherently delicate complexities. Declaring parity of every possible variety with their male counterparts, the feminists demand equality in every realm, including the physical - which means not only "equal pay for equal work," but serving in combat units, and taking their rightful place as sexual predators. Fair enough. I'd be the first to admit that there's nothing like living in the macho-infested Middle East to arouse a certain matronly militance.
However, these same feminists not only reserve the right to be considered weaker than men when it suits their purposes, but insist on employing the judiciary for extra protection against anyone who possesses a penis. This explains why a woman may assert her ability to fly a bomber jet, head a corporation and expect an orgasm, yet is simultaneously incapable of slugging a guy who cops an uninvited feel or who makes lewd allusions to her cleavage.
Now, you don't have to be a rocket scientist - of either gender - to grasp that such a contradiction in terms is bound to cause a bit of confusion. And certainly no man I know is developmentally equipped to make head or tail (no pun intended) of such sophistry. Especially when his genitals are involved.
Nor can language remain clear with synonyms becoming antonyms at the drop of a willfully arbitrary hat. Let's face it: When you muck around with the meaning of words, words lose their meaning.
Take "Holocaust," for example. The more it is invoked to describe lesser offenses, the more banal its original definition becomes - and the more jaded we become to it.
"Rape" is another example. Bandied about brazenly - and wantonly - in reference to anything from a date gone awry to alleged presidential misconduct with subordinates (I know, I know, the details of the case are still murky), the term is cheapened. Rape is real. It is vile; it is violent; and it violates. As such, it warrants being seen in our hearts, our minds and our courtrooms as a grave felony of the first order - punishable, some would say, by castration.
The subtle attempt to lump all acts of male lust into this category has had a chilling consequence. Rather than eradicating what has come to be called (and shouted from the rooftops) "sexual harassment," all this campaign to keep men in line has done is to immunize us to true evil when it appears and - well - rapes us.
"I MUST be twisted," a colleague admitted sheepishly the other day, while eyeing a photo of the weeping Sela. "I actually find myself feeling sorry for the guy."
Maybe if my colleague had not been brainwashed into lacking sympathy for the thousands of other "guys" out there right now who are in danger of losing their livelihoods for flirting at the company water cooler, he'd be freed up emotionally and morally to hate - without the slightest hesitation - the likes of real rapists like Sela.
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