Behind a lot of the sympathy we see directed at criminals and terrorists is the underlying false premise that equates their motives and morality with ours. We assume that they are people just like ourselves, that their humanity and innate morality is equivalent to our own. It is only 'circumstances' which have forced them to steal, to kill, to molest children, to blow themselves up in crowded streets. It is not they who are to blame but the 'circumstances.'
You might argue that this line of argument goes back to class warfare, to the French revolution, to Communism, to Clarence Darrow and the entire spread of liberalism across Europe and America. Where the right divided up sinners from saints, the left argued that the sinners were not truly any different than the saints but only societal hypocrisy and economic and social divisions maintained the illusion and the circumstances to insure that division.
In reality both sides were partly right. Sometimes people are stealing out of need. Sometimes their lives have been driven into such a corner that they have little choice but to kill. But like most beliefs, this position is quickly taken to extremes. Most murderers in the end kill because they wish to, because they have a desire to or because they don't care enough about human life not to. By making 'circumstances' king 'free will' had been all but eliminated from the human moral calculus. People no longer did evil because they had a choice but because they had none. Being born poor, abused as children or oppressed by a cruel unfeeling government had so narrowed their choices that they had no true free will and we could only sympathize with them.
The conventional view of such naivete may be that it is idealistic. That liberals, progressives, the enlightened elites who are themselves privileged children of the upper middle class and the upper class and the educated class, reject the idea of evil and unable to believe the monsters they see are truly any less 'people' than themselves decide that their crimes must have been justified because as they themselves could only kill under great need or oppression, then this is the only reason murderers and terrorists do what they do.
The unconventional view is somewhat different. It is not because of idealism that liberals are driven to justify the motives and morals of murderers. When they look inside the mind of a killer, a Black Panther, a Hamas Terrorist, they do indeed see themselves. Not the idealized self who is truly a deep and thoughtful person who has been driven to do what he does by circumstances. Instead they see a part of themselves they would rather not see. A part that glories in the killing and the violent act itself.
When the peaceloving liberal defenders go on to justify every act of terrorism and violence as brought on by circumstances and oppression, as they do their best to whitewash the killers; one cannot help noticing how they cheer on their deeds. One cannot help noticing the Che T-shirts, the Hizbullah banners waved at Anti-war rallies, the keffiyahs and the red banners with gold stars and the rest of the terrorist and mass murderer chic. As once upon a time one could not help hearing chants of 'Ho Chi Min Will Win' at Vietnam anti-war rallies.
When morality is independent of circumstances then it does not matter the conditions, we must nevertheless do what is right. When morality is purely circumstantial, situational, purely dependent on social circumstances then the privileged upper middle class white boy or girl can look into the heart of darkness and justify its tug on him or her by joining it in spirt, by waving a red or green banner, by defending and exculpating terrorists and killers. By joining the 'revolution.'
As upper middle class boys and girls they couldn't conceive or approve of murder, violence, mayhem, rape, looting, bombings, shootings and the like. It may appeal to the darker side of their nature but few people go out and kill with no better excuse than that they want to. Violence may be its own reward but violence needs a pretext. It needs justifications and excuses. Human morality requires that a killer's worldview be sufficiently twisted as to believe that what he is doing is the right thing. He needs a higher cause that overrides all moral laws.
The French Revolution and Communism wound up consisting of members of the middle and upper classes and educated elites who believed they had a right to carry out any atrocity in the name of the oppressed people. The majority of their own members who weren't willing to go all the way in this, wound up on the butcher's block themselves. The Guillotine chopped heads daily and in the basements of the Lubyanka NKVD men wearing bloodied butcher's aprons did their own work out of sight. The pretext for the violence was the oppression of the poor, the peasants, the workers by the monarchy; but in both Paris and Moscow the the butchery began well after the monarchy had been overthrown and had no more power. The monarchy, the oppression were just pretexts for the butchery.
When morality is situational, when circumstances can turn wrong into right and evil into good, then justifying murder is only an excuse away. Excuses are by definition selective. The French mobs who wept over the prisoners of the Bastille had no such mercy for those they themselves imprisoned. The fighters for freedom had no qualms about ruthlessly suppressing even their own moderates with a sharp blade. So too the anti-war protesters are horrified and outraged by women's underwear on an Iraqi's terrorist's head but have no interest in hearing about Saddam Hussein's rape and torture rooms.
The left routinely accuses everyone who supports national security or the war of letting patriotism override all morality until we are willing to countenance any act in the name of national security. Yet these people same see a Palestinian suicide bomber blow himself up on a crowded bus leaving a burning shell and hunks of bloody flesh dangling from it and shrug and say sympathetically that 'when people are oppressed they have no choice.' The irony escapes them that it is they who are willing to justify any act and do. Not in the name of patriotism but in the name of something far far worse.
Morality that is situational is ultimately no morality at all. There is always an excuse to discard that morality into the gutter when things get tough or when you feel things are tough or when someone else tells you they're tough. The sort of people who think that circumstances are an excuse for evil, are people who have discarded free will and absolute morality in favor of a belief that circumstances dictate morality and that we do not choose between right and wrong but follow a path chosen for us by our circumstances. It's a belief that allows the embrace of any crime no matter how horrific as long as your political and socio-economic status justifies it. Those who make the excuses, the protesters, the reporters, the activists, the academics and lawyers can share in the violence that is then unleashed.
Neither Robespierre nor Lenin wielded a blade. Instead they provided the rhetoric and the organization and let others do the killing for them. Their modern day counterparts lack mobs in the streets of New York and Paris to do the work for them. The 70's was the last gasp of hope for that. Instead much like the telecoms and the corporations, they've outsourced the mobs and the killing to Iraq, to Pakistan, to Israel. They provide the propaganda, Hizbollah, Hamas and Al Queda provide the dead bodies. They counsel peace in the newspapers and write angry letters and post on blogs and the terrorists back up their arguments with a rising body count. Viva La Revolution.
The inverted rhetoric of peace isn't the product of naivete. It's the product of a secret desire to carry out the very crimes they're whitewashing. Few like Adam Gadahn and John Walker Lindh will actually go all the way and convert to Islam and join Al-Queda. Most will just be satisfied sitting at their keyboards, fumbling with their video cameras and protest signs. A handful will go further and join ISM or become a human shield and get the thrill of being photographed with actual terrorists and get to hold their weapons. But the line separating them is only one of practicality.
Terrorism is difficult and time consuming and dangerous. It's much easier to work at a dot com and produce Refuse and Resist videos than it is to strap an actual bomb to yourself. That takes a little too much fanaticism and Hashish for the average son or daughter of the Western middle class. But inside underneath their Abercrombie and Fitch they keep a little secret. A dark nasty secret.
They've looked into the heart of darkness, into the evil of the terrorists and murderers they whitewash and found it thrilling and absorbing. Rather than face the darkness inside themselves, they whitewash it and they can't do that without whitewashing its perpetrators too. What follows is an utterly distorted morality in which good is bad and right is wrong and wrong is right. A morality in which the villains are heroes, their victims criminals, their country and all conventional morality the enemy and they are the righteous warriors fighting for justice and truth against oppression and evil. But the reality, the reality is as close as a suicide bombing, as Saddam's torture rooms and chemical warfare. It's as close as the evil they excuse because it's become a part of them.