Motiveless Malignity

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Belgian flag


“A Farmer found in the winter time a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up placed it in his bosom. The Snake on being thawed by the warmth quickly revived, when, resuming its natural instincts, he bit his benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. The Farmer said with his last breath, ‘I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel!’

“The greatest benefits will not bind the ungrateful.”

The Fables of Aesop


In my very first acting class (with the great Kirk Denmark at Beloit College in another century) I was taught that it was the actor’s responsibility to make sense of the senseless, to comprehend the incomprehensible. In other words, if you are cast as Iago, the villain Samuel Taylor Coleridge once described as the epitome of “motiveless malignity,” it is your job to find motives for his villainy, the idea being that pure good is only possible for God, and pure evil is only possible for the devil, and neither of those make for compelling or even playable characters on the stage. (I could make an argument that Coleridge was all wet, and that Iago gives a very good reason for his malignity, but that’s a blog for another season.)

With Professor Denmark’s admonition in mind, I have been trying to comprehend the Islamic terrorist bombing in Belgium.

For well over three decades, European countries have opened their borders, their doors, their wallets, and their hearts to a steady stream of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, Pakistan, and North Africa. In recent times, ISIS times, that trickle has become a cataract. Those same European countries have tolerated a lot of abuse from their guests: violent crime rates have soared in some countries (particularly Great Britain, Luxembourg, Denmark, and Hungary; in Germany specifically, rape has increased dramatically); Muslims have demanded and in many cases been allowed concessions to their own minority culture, concessions that frequently fly in the face of the habits and customs of their host country; Muslims have created “no-go” zones in some metropolitan areas where sharia law is enforced; food and drink have had to be modified in the public schools of some countries to accommodate the dietary restrictions of the immigrants; in at least one British prison, all the toilets had to be retrofitted to accommodate Islamic needs; the list goes on.

And now, by way of thank-you, Islamic terrorists have declared war—or jihad—on the innocent civilians of the very countries that took them in and gave them shelter. The terrorist Salah Abdeslam, the mastermind of the 2015 Paris attacks who was arrested just four days before the Belgian attacks in which he was also involved, was born in Brussels to parents who had emigrated from Morocco.

I was thinking about the description of the undetonated bombs the police recovered, packed with nails and malignity. If a foreign country, let’s take the North Koreans as an unlikely but not incomprehensible example, somehow managed to invade America, I wouldn’t hesitate to kill as many of them as I could by whatever means I was capable of, and it wouldn’t disturb my sleep by one second. So I can understand violence and killing in terms of self-defense; I can even understand the motives that sent US troops to Europe in World War One and to Europe and Asia in World War Two. In both cases, evil was afoot in the world and had to be stopped, and a viper can only be stopped by chopping its head off. Perhaps now another kind of evil is afoot in the world. Perhaps now a truly motiveless malignity is afoot in the world.

Say a prayer for the Belgians. Say a prayer for us all.

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