Violence is never beautiful, but it can be justifiable.
During antebellum America, not all opponents of slavery supported the non-violent abolitionism of William Lloyd Garrison. Some abolitionists believed that black liberation called for force, not just fiery speeches.
Frederick Douglass was one of these abolitionists. On June 2, 1854, he made the case for emancipatory violence in an article titled "Is It Right and Wise to Kill a Kidnapper?" By "kidnapper," Douglass referred to federal marshals who hunted fugitive slaves and returned them to their "owners" in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Douglass contended that killing a slave hunter was as proper "as would be the slaughter of a ravenous wolf in the act of throttling an infant." Since massive violence undergirded slavery and since a slave hunter acted in service of that violence, violence against the slave hunter in defense of the fugitive was legitimate. (State and federal legislation that institutionalized and entrenched slavery did not alter slavery’s aggressive foundation.)
Reverend Theodore Parker was another abolitionist who advocated force to protect ex-slaves from re-enslavement. He preached in an 1850 sermon on "The Function and Place of Conscience in Relation to the Laws of Men":
If a man undertakes to murder or steal a man, it is the duty of the bystanders to help their brother, who is in peril, against wrong from the two-legged man, as much as against the four-legged beast. But suppose the invader who seizes the man is an officer of the United States, has a commission in his pocket, a warrant for his deed in his hand, and seizes as a slave a man who has done nothing to alienate his natural rights-does that give him any more natural right to enslave a man than he had before? Can any piece of parchment make right wrong, and wrong right?
Douglass and Parker’s position was controversial among their peers and much more so among the general population. A century and a half later, what was once controversial is cogent.
Today, Palestinians commit violence in the name of justice. How do their acts compare with the abolitionists’?
Suicide bombings are a main form of Palestinian violence. Unlike Vietnamese Buddhist monks who immolated themselves during the 1960s, these individuals seek to die with as many Israeli civilians as possible.
Suicide bombers therefore blow themselves up in civilian-rich locations like buses, supermarkets, and cafes. On June 18, for instance, 19 Israelis on a bus in Jerusalem died from a suicide bomber’s nail-studded explosive.
Apologists for suicide bombers claim they are martyrs for Palestinian liberty. Saudi official Amhed al-Tuwaijri wrote to President Bush on April 16 that suicide bombers have "offered their souls for the sake of freedom and independence."
When suicide bombers blow up Israeli infants and grandmothers, they have permanently and deliberately deprived them of freedom. No doubt the "martyrs" believe they act for freedom, but savage illogic is at the core of their conduct.
A freedom fighter who obliterates the freedom of civilians is like a pro-life activist who champions partial-birth abortion. Palestinian "martyrs" aren’t preoccupied with coherence, though. Blood and fire are their passion.
The nineteenth-century Russian terrorist Sergei Nechayev prescribed in "Catechism of the Revolutionist":
All the tender and effeminate emotions of kinship, friendship, love, gratitude and even honor must be stifled in him by a cold and single-minded passion for the revolutionary cause. There exists for him only one delight, one consolation, one reward and one gratification-the success of the revolution. Night and day he must have but one thought, one aim-merciless destruction. In cold-blooded and tireless pursuit of this aim, he must be prepared both to die himself and to destroy with his own hands everything that stands in the way of its achievement.
This is the creed of the suicide bombers.
The abolitionists used violence in defense of the innocent. The disciples of Hamas and Islamic Jihad use violence against the innocent. There is no continuity here, only the profoundest contrast.