Right and Wrong

By Khalid Baig

(On Moral Relativism)

As the entire world now knows, in April Israel engaged in plain massacre of Lebanese civilians in broad daylight. Its soldiers were nothing more than common criminals killing innocent men, women, and little children in an ambulance here, in the U.N. compound over there, in homes and villages every where. Killing of civilians for political purposes is --by definition-- terrorism. So what Israel recently did, as it has been doing for the past half century, is pure state sponsored terrorism.

We also know that the United States prides itself as a champion against terrorism as well as for its respect for the rule of law. Rule of law means that the law is the same for everyone and is applied in each case based solely on the merits of the case. Any objective observer could combine these facts to expect that the U.S. would declare Israel as a terrorist state, impose economic and military sanctions against it, and enforce a no-fly zone over it -- all steps that it has taken in other cases for alleged crime of state sponsorship of terrorism, the truth or falsehood of those allegations notwithstanding.

Everybody knows that it is not going to happen. The U.S. in fact has been the sponsor of Israeli terrorism. The question is why? Is it because Israel has a powerful lobby in Washington? Is it because some thugs and gangsters, with no respect for human life and no concept of morality, are controlling the U.S. Establishment? If any political scientist, moral preacher, or philosopher in the West has a different answer to this question, we should like to hear from them. But we submit that deep down all of this brutality is a moral philosophy -- actually immoral philosophy-- that has been carefully developed and that seems to be the dominant philosophy in the West today. It is called moral relativism. It says that right and wrong or good or evil are relative concepts. "There are no normative moral principles whatsoever which are intrinsically valid or universally obliging," says Dr. Joseph Fletcher, a leading proponent of situation ethics. For decades he had advised business leaders, medical doctors, military commanders and government officials in the U.S. on the issue of ethics.

He explains: "If we are ... obliged in conscience sometimes to tell white lies... then in conscience we might be obliged sometimes to engage in white thefts and white fornications and white killings and white breaking of promises and the like." Right and wrong, according to this philosophy, are like beauty: they are in the eyes of the beholder. If Israel thinks that what it is doing is right, it must be right, because there is no universal yardstick that can be used to decide the question. The situation, and not any absolute moral principles, decides good and evil. With the help of this philosophy, Israeli terrorism simply becomes inevitable collateral damage, and everyone involved can go to sleep easily. It is easy to relax when both military power and morality are on your side!

But the victims of this morality are not just in Bosnia, Chechnya, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, or Kashmir. They are to be found in the American society. Why the leader of the "civilized world" is also the leader in murders, fornications, adultery, street crimes and broken homes? Well, what do we expect when there is no absolute evil? The American society today seems to be floating aimlessly in the waters of moral relativism. And the waters are turning fast into a morass.

Actually the problem of moral philosophy is much deeper. The preachers of situation ethics are not without arguments. Their stock-in-trade is the complexity of real life and the failure of the Ten Commandments to allow for that complexity. Would you tell the truth about the hiding place of a friend to the would be murderer, they ask. If no, you just violated one of the ten commandments. If yes, you just became accomplice to the murder of your friend. They can now triumphantly declare that real life is complex, that right and wrong are to be decided based on every situation, and hence situation ethics or moral relativism is the correct morality. From those "humble beginnings" they proceed to declare that every wrong may be right and vice versa. Here, as an example, is their argument in support of adultery: Under some situation, unmarried love may be infinitely superior to married unlove.

But humanity hungers for a sense of right and wrong, for some absolute moral values. After successfully throwing away whatever remnants of revealed moral values it had, the western world is now trying to fabricate some new absolutes. Like the universal human rights of the U.N. that do not give any protection to the women and children in Kashmir or Lebanon but will provide full protection to gays and lesbians! The fabricated absolutes only serve the new immorality.

Having looked at this mess, one feels doubly grateful for the beautiful moral landscape that Islam offers. Here one finds a rich Shariah that provides the absolute values that no priest or preacher can change. They provide not only the badly needed answers to the issues of right and wrong, but also stability and security to our moral world. Simultaneously Islam offers a complete life example in the life of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, to offer guidance for the complexities of real life. Islam avoids the pitfall of just offering a few boy-scout principles for the moral life, that find their way to the show case rather than the real human life, and leave open the door for moral relativism.

Ultimately the value of a human society depends upon its ability to develop the framework that can separate right from wrong. All those frustrated with western failure here would do themselves a big favor by checking out the Islamic answer.