Saul Singer at PostGlobal

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer, a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post, is co-author of the forthcoming book, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, Moment, the New Leader, and (an Israeli/Palestinian e-zine). Before moving to Israel in 1994, he served as an adviser in the United States Congress to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Banking Committees. He is also on Twitter. Close.

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer is a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post. more »

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People Kill Since Biblical Times

Asking why there is ethnic and religious conflict is like asking why Cain killed Abel. At that time, there was no ethnicity and no religion. They were literally brothers. Yet one killed the other.

I think what the Bible is trying to tell us with this story is best stated in Genesis: "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Humans, in other words, don't need ethnic or religious differences to start killing each other. Moreover, it is not clear that either of these factors necessarily make matters worse.

Both ethnicity and religion can be sources of unity and peace, or sources of conflict. They are both attempts to overcome the evil in human nature and tame it with some form of civilization and human bonding. Both can be twisted in such a way that they produce tyranny and war.

The West tends to see people as naturally good, and therefore requiring some outside force -- such as ethnicity or religion -- to corrupt them. Judaism takes a somewhat different approach; it does not view people as inherently good or hopelessly evil. We believe people are born with both evil and good inclinations, and with the potential to control the former and cultivate the latter.

It might be said that societies and religious groups also have good and evil inclinations, which should not be surprising as they are made up of people. On every level of human organization -- personal, ethnic, religious, societal -- the struggle between good and evil exists. This is not to say that any group has a monopoly over good or evil, or that there are no shades of gray in between. But when we ask for a solution to the problem of human conflict writ large, what we are really asking is how -- and whether -- good can prevail.

I think the development of the West, including the ability of the United States to overcome its Civil War and of Europe to overcome two World Wars, provides grounds for optimism. The open question is whether the West, having prevailed over the worst of its own nature, has the moral strength to defend itself against an outside force determined to destroy everything it has achieved and come to stand for.

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