Since word came of the terrorist murder and mayhem in the Negev, I haven't been able to get out of my head an old Israeli dance song about setting out for the desert. There has been (Lord knows) plenty of blood shed in the Negev since this long-ago song was first sung, but the first generation LP from 1950s—with the maroon cover showing an Israeli girl dancing, her long hair flung outwards as she twirls—sticks in the mind. I remember the words only partly, but they have to do with the bright gold sun streaming, and come, brothers, let's get going, let's return, to the desert. What have Israel's enemies ever done in a desert except commit unspeakable crimes?
At the same time one thinks of Othello's last words about Iago—naturally he refuses to speak to Iago. “Will you, I pray, demand that demi-devil/Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?” But even at the end of both their lives, Iago is too smart for Othello. Iago has the ultimate secret, and names it i by refusing to name it. “Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:/From this time forth I never will speak word.”
That is his secret and his ultimate (as he sees it) victory: that this misery has been inflicted on the world for nothing. Surprise! There is no cause.
That is what makes the crime complete It was not even done for entertainment or fun, or fame, or reward. It was done for nothing.
Shakespeare focuses our attention on the fact in Othello's haunting words before he murders Desdemona: “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,—/Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!” Othello's evil deed does have a cause, which is too dreadful and sacred to name. His refusal to speak of causes is the exact opposite of Iago's refusal. Othello is a good man seduced by evil; Iago is evil pure and simple.
Years ago Claude Lanzmann created a minor sensation by making a film called Shoah and then insisting afterwards that, where the Holocaust is concerned, it is impermissible to speak of “why.” Any such talk trivializes the event, which is too enormous to be bounded by a why; too big to have a cause. Lanzmann was often obnoxiously European in making his argument, and obviously historians have got to understand the Shoah as best they can, but he had a point that is worth remembering. Terrorism is the lowest of crimes because terrorists create hell on earth for no cause. Why does the devil do what he does? Because he’s the devil. And the rest—the terrorists are Iago—are demi-devils. Othello knew all about it even before he even asked.
It’s time for the world to shut its trap about terrorist “causes.” We’ve heard enough for now. We’ve heard enough forever. The world now owes Israel silence while it buries its dead and prepares for next time.