We were going to start right in on the "Abraham Federation," our proposal to eliminate terrorism by addressing its root causes: economic (and thus political) injustice, but today's Wall Street Journal carried an article that we had to address before we can even talk about establishing justice. The article displayed what can only be described as an egregious misrepresentation of the most basic elements of justice.
To explain, here's a slightly edited version of the letter we sent to the Wall Street Journal. We thought about putting "The Saga of Burnt Obama" on the subject line as an allusion to Njal's Saga, but resisted the temptation. It might be taken as implying criticism of hunting down and killing Bin Laden, and would almost certainly be misunderstood in any event.
Bret Stephens's op-ed, "Obama's Finest Hour" (Wall Street Journal, 05/03/11, A15) displayed an egregious misunderstanding of justice. Contrary to his claim that, "Justice, as we in the West have come to know it, requires due process," justice only requires that each be rendered what each is due. Due process, a protection against injustice, is only relevant when a question is raised as to what one is due, or a violation of justice is alleged between persons who submit to adjudication to settle their differences.
Nor is revenge equated with justice in the western tradition. Revenge is an inordinate desire for justice, an exaggerated idea of what one is due. Revenge is a vice, not a virtue, and as such is universally condemned.
Mr. Stephens's triumphalism explains why, when people everywhere are demanding justice, America is losing the war of ideas. Instead of mounting a dunghill and crowing how well we have revenged ourselves on others, we might want to offer sound and sustainable ideas of individual, economic, and social justice to ensure as far as humanly possible that every person everywhere has an equal opportunity to enjoy life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
The question that remains unanswered by such rants as that to which Mr. Stephens subjected the reading public, is what can be done to deliver justice — using the traditional understanding, not the ill-concealed blood-lust that ends up destroying the individual, family, or country that demands draconian payment for every injury, real or imagined. A pity Mr. Stephens seems not to have read Njal's Saga, an epic about how insistence on revenge destroyed three generations of a family caught in a system that allowed true justice to be set aside . . . through due process, of course.
P.S. (05/09/11) The Wall Street Journal published the letter 05/07/11) in both the print and the e-version.