ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Murder Most Foul

Call it what you will, when one person kills another, it’s murder.

“Murder most foul,” the spirit of the deceased king told his son in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, describing how his brother had killed him.

These words came to mind when I heard of the death of twenty young Israelis at a club in Tel Aviv one bright evening, the first of June. A benighted young Palestinian, strapped about with explosives and potential shrapnel, killed himself along with them.

Who were the victims? For the most part, they were Russian immigrants to Israel. Their families were tired of the Communist and post-Communist society in which they had lived and of the pressures on their lives there. They came to Israel, the land that held out promise to them for a better life, a better future, and the chance to live in a free, Jewish society.

Who was the killer? Apparently, a young man frustrated by the plight of his people and the hopelessness of his life in a refugee camp and motivated by a promise of paradise for those who die for the sake of God and country.

Where he came from, many hailed him as a martyr – a curious distortion of that ancient word. In Greek, martyr means witness. In traditional usage it refers to a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than give up his faith or principles. Usually it is associated with nonresistance to a death inflicted by another.

Perhaps in his suicidal death and monstrous death-dealing he had a motivation of martyrdom, but the accurate and objective word to describe what he did is murder.

This is not a judgment of the culpability of the youth. For all we know, he could have been so persuaded by the example of others and the distorted religious formation he may have received that his conscience was clear.

Many of the brutal and violent actions that occur within the context of national struggles and political strife fall into the same category.

For example, when any sharpshooter selectively targets an opponent without firearms, he may be acting in good faith, but is he not murdering him?

Of course, murder is never the operative word; instead we use more palatable ones like attacking and resisting, terrorism and massive retaliation – but innocents are constantly killed.

Among the commandments the One God gave to Moses was, “You shall not kill.” This teaching is common to authentic followers of Moses, of Jesus and of Muhammad.

Over the centuries, long, painful experience has carefully elaborated a variety of excusing and justifying circumstances, ranging from the most intimately personal to open warfare.

Alas, Jewish, Christian and Muslim history is also filled with callous examples of inflicting death on one’s enemies in the name of God’s will – murdering them. Only God knows the depths of the human heart. May he have mercy on those who wantonly die and mercifully judge those who kill them.

Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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