You know, in my lifetime of excessive TV watching and fairly liberal schooling I must have endured thousands of hours of public service commercials, after-school specials, gitchy-goo lectures, editorials and even songs on how wrong it is to pressure kids into taking drugs, having sex too soon, worrying about their looks and so on. I know I'm not alone.
The manufactured new morality that reveres self-esteem and condemns peer pressure above all else is omnipresent in our culture. And since the old morality of absolute notions of right and wrong seems to be on the way out, maybe we should look at the case of poor Hussam Abdu not through prism of, say, the Bible but through the lens of Oprah.
Hussam Abdu is what the kids today - and yesterday - call a loser. Reports say he's 14 or 16 years old, but that he looks like he could be 10. Everyone in the Abdu family says he's gullible and easily misled. The kids at school pick on him, calling him a "dwarf." To say he has trouble with girls would be a compliment.
Like most boys, but especially miserable ones, Hussam had day dreams of being a hero. He wanted to meet girls. He wanted to prove the bullies were wrong about him. So, when the offer came to strap 18 pounds of explosives to his body to blow up some Israeli soldiers, Hussam leapt at it. If he succeeded, they told him, he could have sex - right away - with 72 virgins in paradise and he'd be a hero.
According to news reports, the boy's parents thought he acted strangely on Tuesday, giving candy to friends and family. When his mom asked why he was behaving so oddly, he replied, "I just want you to be happy with me."
On Wednesday he left for school, but never arrived.
At the Israeli checkpoint where the heroes and patriots of the Palestinian cause wanted the boy to vaporize himself, he got scared. In the eyes of his handlers, he no doubt "panicked" and "lost his nerve." Less evil people might say he merely came to his senses. Whatever. The good news is that he didn't detonate himself, which would have killed Israeli soldiers and wounded many Palestinian civilians.
Now, here's the thing. If this were an after-school special in which grown-ups pressured a 16-year-old kid to do drugs or have "unprotected" sex, a lot of people in America - and certainly in Europe - would be livid. Certainly, if a bunch of men pressured some girl out of having an abortion the clever cheese-and-cracker set would be speechless with moral outrage.
Well, this is the new peer pressure in the Middle East. And, it seems to me, bullying a kid into self-vaporization and murder is worse than teasing a girl into an eating disorder. Call me crazy.
But because of the romanticization of terrorism - at least terrorism aimed at Israel - there's a widespread reluctance to see this stuff for what it is. Indeed, young Hussam is far from the first or the youngest of the kids to be "recruited" - i.e. brainwashed - into vaporizing themselves. And yet, the outrage has always been tempered by declarations about how this is what happens when Israel does X, Y or Z.
But even if you go by the weak-tea morality of modern culture - even if you firmly believe that Israel is the most fraudulent nation in the universe - there's no way you can make this kid into a "freedom fighter," and there's no way you can make into noble warriors the sick bastards who told him his highest use as a human was to be a grenade.
These kids aren't doing this because of the "occupation." They're doing it to be cool or to get (otherwordly) chicks. By all accounts, the terror masters in these various groups send their own kids to boarding schools. It's only other peoples' kids who they think are worth sending to "paradise," often by having them kill other kids.
This is all worth pondering in the wake of the assassination of Ahmed Yassin. The founder of Hamas, Yassin was also a founding father of suicide bombing. A significant segment of elite world opinion holds it was somehow wrong to kill Yassin because he was old, popular and in a wheelchair.
If you want to make the case that the killing wasn't a smart move, fine, that's debatable. But the morality was crystal clear. Yassin chose to be a pied-piper of kiddy-murder with his eyes wide open. That's more than you can say about Hussam Abdu, those like him, or their intended victims.