The problem with 'righteous' anger

One of the nice things about the Buddha's teachings is that they are pretty easy to follow. There are no exceptions: anger is always harmful, killing is always wrong. This formulation sometimes clashes with my own intuition about the possibility of "righteous" anger, and killing in self-defense.

But more and more I come to see the wisdom of not allowing exceptions. It is through these exceptions that so much harm is perpetrated by otherwise moral people. Consider the recent suicide bombing in Iraq. No doubt this was a Sunni fanatic who had some 'righteous' anger angainst the Shias. Perhaps his family was killed. Or perhaps he believed in the heresy of the Shias quite strongly. Or perhaps he himself was abused by Shia muslims.

All of those injustices and grevious harms he may have suffered. And yet, does any of it justify the act of strapping explosives on yourself, going to someone elses holy shrine, and detonating?

Some in the west might prefer to take exception to the method rather than the motive. Allow this man to be "righteously angry" but do not allow him to act 'wrongly' on that emotion, striking indiscriminantly and so not actually doing what we would consider "justice". I have some sympathy for this view. But the flaw lies in the heart of the angry man - nothing short of complete destruction of his enemy will ever be justice. The angry heart is absolutist.

It is necessary to find some sympathy for the bomber, as impossible a task as that may seem. He was once a boy, playing with friends, loved by family. At some point something broke in his mind, and rather than fixing it, those around him exploited this injury and provided him with explosives. Through his action, other minds have no doubt been broken, and given the state of Iraq, some of those will in all liklihood be exploited as well. The cycle of violence not only continues, but grows.

So the tragedy is two-fold: first that the mind is wounded in the first place, and second that no action is taken to heal that wound (and actually, quite the opposite). The second problem is one of community and culture. It is fair to ask, why is Iraqi culture so filled with hate? Is it because of the US invasion? The loss of life? The loss of economic well-being? Is it an old sectarian hatred that was suppressed under Hussein's regime?

Or is it something deeper, a problem with the moral code of the culture that allows for 'righteous anger' and 'righteous hatred' to the extent that any action, no matter how heinous, can be justified with those loopholes?

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