The FBI, the Holo­caust and us

It’s a strug­gle to rec­og­nize evil in Amer­ica

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Suzanne Fields

James B. Comey, the direc­tor of the FBI, at 6-foot-8 is the tallest man in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. De­spite his height and po­si­tion, he emerged in sharp re­lief in the public eye only this week for a re­mark­able speech at the U.S. Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum in Wash­ing­ton about why he re­quires ev­ery new spe­cial agent and in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst to visit the mu­seum.

“Nat­u­rally, I want them to learn about abuse of author­ity on a breath­tak­ing scale,” he said. “But I want them to con­front some­thing more painful and more danger­ous: I want them to see hu­man­ity and what we are ca­pa­ble of.”

Un­for­tu­nately, the mes­sage about the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing the na­ture of state-spon­sored evil, and the way it spreads and en­ables men and women to sur­ren­der moral author­ity, was over­taken in con­tro­versy over the de­gree that the Poles were re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of Jews in the Holo­caust. Some were clearly re­spon­si­ble, and many risked their lives to save Jews.

The speech, given in the Week of Re­mem­brance, was framed to fo­cus on some­thing else, what the Holo­caust means to­day, that no mat­ter where we come from, whether lib­eral or con­ser­va­tive, Jewish, Chris­tian or un­be­liever, we all have an obli­ga­tion “to refuse to let evil hold the field.” Any of us might say this, but it has a dif­fer­ent kind of im­por­tance com­ing from the direc­tor of the FBI. He makes the point that it was the Nazis of Ger­many who led Jews to the slaugh­ter, but there were killers and ac­com­plices among the “good peo­ple” of so­ci­ety, “who loved their fam­i­lies, took soup to a sick neigh­bor, went to church and gave to char­ity.” Th­ese or­di­nary peo­ple be­lieved they were do­ing the right thing.

Group men­tal­ity — a soft way of say­ing “the mob” — when turned against any mi­nor­ity paves the path to ac­tion, whether on be­half of a cult, a dis­torted reli­gion, a bad gov­ern­ment or an in­sti­tu­tion act­ing on be­half of a gov­ern­ment. Mr. Comey keeps a copy of the or­der from a pre­de­ces­sor to tap the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s tele­phone framed on his desk “to en­sure that we re­mem­ber our mis­takes and that we learn from them.’’

We’re watch­ing a sim­i­lar evil at work in a Mid­dle East on fire, perplexing and con­fus­ing on a grand scale. We see young peo­ple from our own coun­try try­ing to join ter­ror­ists of the Is­lamic State, or ISIS. Care­ful work by Mr. Comey’s FBI caught six young men of Min­nesota, sev­eral still in their teens, only the other day, on their way to Is­lamic State ter­ri­tory in Iraq.

What are we to make of th­ese ac­tive home­growns who are so re­spon­sive to the evil that Is­lamists ped­dle? How do we ex­plain it, and what can we do to stop it?

The dif­fi­culty of deal­ing with the rad­i­cal­iz­ing of the Mus­lim young in Amer­ica is re­vealed in the con­tro­versy over at­tempts by the White House to “reach out” to Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties with a pro­gram called Coun­ter­ing Vi­o­lent Ex­trem­ism. Some Mus­lims are sus­pi­cious. It is drawing am­biva­lent at­ti­tudes among Mus­lims, The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ports, be­cause they per­ceive the pro­gram as one to gather in­tel­li­gence and to iden­tify ex­trem­ists while try­ing to in­still pride in their na­tive land. The U.S. Coun­cil of Mus­lim Or­ga­ni­za­tions, an um­brella group, says the pro­gram seeks only to sin­gle out Mus­lims for sur­veil­lance. Other Mus­lims de­fend it as en­hanc­ing so­cial ser­vices.

Per­haps it’s naive, and maybe too late, to res­cue some of our young. Some, nev­er­the­less, want to try. Bobby Jin­dal, the son of In­dian im­mi­grants who is the gover­nor of Louisiana, urges a re­turn to the melt­ing pot, “as­sim­i­la­tion by new Amer­i­cans to strengthen our coun­try, and not balka­nize it.” Such as­sim­i­la­tion once led to heart­felt sen­ti­ments of pride of place, pride in gov­ern­ment and love of coun­try.

Mr. Comey, an Ir­ish Catholic who looks at the Holo­caust from the per­spec­tive of evil, thinks that af­ter a visit to the Holo­caust Mu­seum his G-men will un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate that we live in a coun­try where such evil can­not take root. “I want them to walk out of that great mu­seum,” he says, “trea­sur­ing the con­straint and over­sight of di­vided gov­ern­ment, the re­stric­tion of the rule of law, the bind­ing of a free and vi­brant press. I want them to un­der­stand that all of this is nec­es­sary as a check on us, be­cause of the way we are. We must build it, we must know it, and we must nur­ture it now, so that it can save us later. That is the only path to the re­spon­si­ble ex­er­cise of power.”

It’s a les­son the Nazis didn’t get, and so far, the Is­lamists — and their Amer­i­can fol­low­ers — don’t get. That’s scary. Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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