Theology and sociopaths
|Our daughter Malki|
From a distance (since our own government never communicated with us about this, never allowed us to be heard, never consulted with us), we watched as the woman who brought unspeakable pain into our lives was charged, convicted and sentenced to many terms of life imprisonment.
Then with a rising sense of horror, we saw a media campaign unfold which presented her as a hero and warrior and that sought her release. We were confident the famous 'red lines' of our government would never be breached and mass murderers of Israeli children would remain behind Israeli bars until the day they drew their last breath. That illusion irretrievably fell away in October 2011.
Even then, having endured the worldwide news coverage of the rapturous welcomes given to the woman in Cairo and Amman, we were unprepared for the steps that followed: the official reception held at Jordan’s Family Court building; the self-hosted weekly television program beamed by satellite throughout the world; the tumultuous crowds in Arab capitals proclaiming their adulation during her visits; the grand public June wedding in which she was the shining, smiling star alongside the convicted, unpardoned and unjustly freed murderer who is now her husband.
All along, we knew that civilized people everywhere, at least those outside the Arab world, were revolted by the deeds, the declarations, the triumphalism of the barbaric woman with the lying, smiling eyes.
Now meet James M. Wall. His is a name we had never heard until this week. It turns out to be a name worth knowing if, like us, your fifteen year old child was murdered in cold blood along with fourteen other innocent patrons in a restaurant.
As comforting as it might be to think otherwise, Wall is not marginal to the public discourse of the United States. Nor is he regarded (as far as we can tell) as a shrieking crank or a red-neck. He served as editor of a prominent journal called The Christian Century for 27 years, from 1972 to 1999. Wikipedia calls it "the flagship magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism" [source]. He continued there as a regular columnist until a few years ago, even after his retirement. Though it appears he has stopped writing for it, his name remains on the masthead as Senior Contributing Editor.
These days, Wall writes a blog under the title “Wall Writings”. From where we sit, his output has some quite unpleasant tones. In a December 2011 piece on US politics, for instance, he characterizes pro-Israel Republican candidates as “wear[ing] the Jewish kippah”.
But as we learned, Wall is capable of advocacy journalism of a far more pungent sort. In October 2011, he posted a lengthy article to coincide with the extorted release from prison of Ahlam Tamimi, our child's murderer. We were referred to that article for the first time yesterday, in the wake of what we wrote here and here earlier this week.
At about the time he wrote it, in October 2011, an Arab newspaper dotingly quoted Tamimi making this statement:
“I have never regretted what I have done, and if given another chance I’ll do it again” [source].Yet extraordinarily, the Wall piece 'lionizes' her. (That’s the term used by the clear-eyed Christian analyst who pointed us to it). With loving attention to the human aspects of her story, Wall urges his readers to resist the Israeli view of the Jordanian woman's "crimes"; those quote marks around the word crimesappear in Wall's essay. Wall leaves readers in little doubt that the atrocities to which Tamimi confessed in court - atrocities to which she confesses afresh frequently, proudly and in public - were not crimes at all but something very different.
A small handful of excerpts from Wall's rambling article entitled “Ahlam and Nezar, A Palestinian Couple Released in The Prisoner Exchange” captures the logic of his case:
- “This bias against Palestinians [in the news reports about Israel freeing 1,027 killers and terrorists] was so blatant that… Noam Chomsky was moved to accuse the media of treating the released Palestinian prisoners as “unpeople”. It is time to tell their stories, and to do so without apology.”
- “The Palestinians who were sent to jail… saw themselves as resisting an occupying army, taking actions they believed appropriate to deal with that occupation. What Israel did is what all occupying, colonizing armies do. They punished those who resisted their colonizing... What this comes down to is a conflict of narratives, based on who is telling the story, the military occupiers or those who are resisting occupation/colonization.”
- “From Israel’s perspective, Ahlam played a role in causing a massive act of murder [but] she saw it, initially, as an act of war. And of course, war itself is organized, sanctioned murder.
- “[Tamimi’s] crime, for which she was sentenced by a military court for multiple life terms, was for “choosing the location and securing transportation to reach that location”.
Concerning that last bullet, Wall probably missed out on reading the court papers. Tamimi was indicted on 23 charges. One is for possession of explosives and three concern related offences. 19 relate to deliberate killing and conspiracy to kill. She pleaded guilty to them all. As prisoners in this country may, she addressed the court:
"The deed which I did… leaves me happy. Why? The anger expressed in your faces regarding what I did is the same anger that lies within me and within the entire Palestinian people and is surely even greater than that. 15 killed, 122 injured, this is a small number relative to the many, large numbers of those who are gone, because of you." [Our translation of the Hebrew transcript]
No one, certainly not James M. Wall, can have thought this woman was framed or tortured into confessing her crimes or misquoted. Wall must have known what every other news reporter and political pundit knew: that Ahlam Tamimi was - and is - unstoppably proud of causing the deaths of Israelis. She set out to find a corner of Jerusalem where the number of young Jewish lives that could be snuffed out by a bomb concealed in a guitar case was as large as possible. In this, she succeeded hugely. She says she will do it again if her god gives her the opportunity. We don’t know Wall, but we know he knew this. And yet what he writes about Ahlam Tamimi is imbued with admiration for her.
What kind of Christian values inform the opinions of a man who cannot bring himself to condemn the murders of fifteen innocents?
What theological insight brings a man with Wall’s prominence, intelligence, standing in the community, to look right past the overwhelming, explicit pride of a killer who says “I did well. I will do it again. And so should you”?
If his appreciation of the deeds of this sociopath is not an obscenity, what is?
James M. Wall’s views are hardly the opinions of a nobody. They are uttered by one who speaks from the foremost ranks of Christian leadership in the US. As Senior Contributing Editor of The Christian Century and its driver for more than a quarter century, he and the journal lay claim to formidable credentials since it is
a progressive, ecumenical magazine based in Chicago. Committed to thinking critically and living faithfully, the Century explores what it means to believe and live out the Christian faith in our time. Founded in 1884 as the Christian Oracle, the magazine took its current name at the turn of the 20th century. Notable contributors in the early decades included Jane Addams and Reinhold Niebuhr. In 1963, the Century was the first major periodical to publish the full text of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." The Century continues to inform and shape mainline Christianity... [More]
Wall engages in unambiguous advocacy for the self-admitted murderer and her deeds. He has the right to express himself freely, obnoxiously and even offensively. But what does it mean that The Christian Century still has him on its masthead nearly a year after the Tamimi article? Does the editorial board agree with his line? Do they disagree? Will they disavow him and them? Are his views Christian?
Is it Christian to embrace the unrepentant murderer of children who says she prays for the chance to do it again?