A moral vacuum

Nations, like individuals, sometimes lie to themselves.

Kim Jong Il 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Kim Jong Il 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
We now know that around midnight on August 1, 2003, Adwan Yihya Farhan murdered Dana Bennet outside Tiberias. The Chicago-born 18-year-old was "killed for the sake of killing," said Dep.-Cmdr. Avi Elgrissi. Farhan's criminal history, which dates back to 1994 when he was 18, includes the murders of Sylvia Molorova, a traveler from the Czech Republic, Aharon Simahov, with whom he shared a Tiberias lock-up, and a nameless man in his 40s. He committed other violent crimes including kidnapping and rape. When he was arrested, the one-time police informer was being held in a Beersheba-area jail for raping an Australian tourist. Writing in Wednesday's Jerusalem Post, eminent sociologist Shlomo Giora Shoham noted that Adwan "displays the behavior of a typical psychopath. He doesn't have a conscience, he doesn't have empathy. He kills without reason." Triggered by a combination of nature and nurture, the psychopath's compulsion to kill is sexually-driven, Shoham wrote. NEWS OF Farhan's capture competed for attention Wednesday with North Korea's announcement that it has abandoned the 1953 truce ending the Korean War. On Monday, the Pyongyang regime illegally detonated a huge underground nuclear explosion - eliciting worldwide condemnation and the relaunching of the US-led multinational Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at uncovering the transfer of weapons of mass destruction to state and non-state actors. The North Koreans' response: yet more saber-rattling. They test-fired more missiles, revved up their weapons-grade Yongbyon reactor and rallied the country's hapless masses. They then proclaimed that any stopping and searching of North Korean shipping would be viewed as "a declaration of war." They were particularly incensed at South Korea's joining the multinational initiative, launched originally by president George W. Bush on May 31, 2003. At the time, China, which along with South Korea is the only country with leverage over the North, refused to cooperate. With Washington focused on Iraq, the initiative was quietly shelved. Analysts have been debating Pyongyang's motivation for Monday's blast. Some argue it was to solidify support for the ruling clique at a time when Kim Jong-Il, who is both dictator and deity, is fading. Others speculate that the detonation followed a pattern in which the North behaves outrageously to garner attention, and is paid off in return for better behavior. But the explanation we prefer suggests that as a proliferator of nuclear technology to countries such as Syria and Iran, the North Koreans need to show their customers that what they're selling really works. Though they also make ends meet by trafficking in heroin and methamphetamines, and by exporting citizens for forced labor and sexual exploitation, nuclear proliferation is the country's most lucrative export. THESE TWO stories, breaking within a single week, show very clearly how psychopathology can exist on both the individual and the international level. Both the serial killer and the malevolent leadership in Pyongyang are guilty of extreme immoral and antisocial behavior, the one compelled by bloodlust, the other by calculated depravity. There are no angelic nation-states, including ours. All countries are adept at rationalizing behavior that is patently morally wrong. Ask certain European nations, for example, why they conduct billions of Euros worth of trade with a fanatical regime that threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and the reply will likely be that they are actually bolstering international tranquility. Nations, like individuals, sometimes lie to themselves. Not North Korea, apparently. It is unapologetic about its illegal nuclear testing and proliferation activities. It doesn't feel compelled to lie to itself about why it engages in commerce with Iran or Syria. Like the lone psychopath, its leaders are narcissists who show a reckless disregard for others, a lack of empathy and an inability to tell right from wrong. AS WE ponder what happens when law and morality vanish, the Jewish world prepares to celebrate Shavuot tonight and Friday. By tradition, the holiday marks the giving of the Torah - the basis of law and morality in Judaism - at Mt. Sinai. Heaven knows, we too often fall short of what is demanded of us. Yet, as we saw again this week, when the shackles of a higher moral code are absent, the world becomes even more dissolute, brutish and riddled with delusions of grandeur.