Elliot Resnick of the Jewish Press blog posted today on Terrorism and Shimshon (Samson). In it, he makes note of the fact that the Victoria Philharmonic Choir portrays Samson as a terrorist and a suicide "bomber."
His end conclusion is that yes, Shimshon was a terrorist and that terrorism is not evil - merely a tactic of war. As he states in his post:
But terrorism per se is not evil. It is a tactic of war, just as shooting guns is a tactic of war.
Of course, he fails to make the distinction that in war, one is usually shooting guns at other people who are shooting at you too. Terrorism deliberately targets those who *aren't* shooting at you.
Personally, I find his conclusion that terrorism isn't evil very troubling. How anyone today can not see the targeting of innocents as evil is simply beyond me. Stating that terrorism is simply a legitimate tactic of war only serves to turn real terrorists into legitimate freedom fighters.
So, then, how does one reconcile Samson's actions with the idea that terrorism is evil? Is the Victoria Philharmonic correct?
Personally, I think that the VP is making the mistake of judging historical characters by today's standards. People do not exist in a vacuum - they are a product of their environments. The ideas and norms of Shimshon's day helped shape the person he was. Were he living today, he would no doubt have been a very different person.
A similar idea can be expressed about Abraham Lincoln, one of the most celebrated presidents in the history of the United States. Aside from George Washington, I don't think any other president has a more hallowed place in American history. And yet, although he was a radical in his day, most of his attitudes and ideas are definitely racist by today's standards. If you somehow plucked Lincoln from 1864 with a time machine and plopped him down in the United States in 2007, he could never be elected president. His ideas and attitudes regarding race are so out of touch with today's attitudes that he'd be branded a blatant racist.
However, that's not how we judge Lincoln. We don't judge him on the basis of today's attitudes, but on the basis of the attitudes that were prevalent in his day. Likewise with Shimshon -- he can only be judged based on what someone from his day would have been expected to do. He cannot be judged on the basis of what is good or evil today. To judge him (or any historical personage) in that light is simply unfair and wrong.
So, does that mean that terrorism was OK in his day and unacceptable now? The answer is an unqualified yes. Standards of behavior in everyday interactions and war change as time progresses. Back in his day, a general who conquers a city would usually enslave the young inhabitants, rape the women and kill all the men. That was considered normal back then and was expected of almost any general. A military leader who does this today would (rightly) be placed on trial for war crimes. So, too, with Shimshon's actions. What was acceptable in warfare then is not acceptable now - and there is no need to "defend" Shimshon's actions by stating that terrorism is not evil.
UPDATE: (6:25PM) -- it looks like they took down the post, but you can find it here.