I wasn’t sure I wanted to post what I’m posting below in the next paragraph. It’s incendiary material, depraved responses from the Arab street to the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. I think it’s important to see this material, and just as important to frame it in a way that does not simply add hatred on top of hatred in a fever-loop. Assuming that people are at least partially responsible for their actions, it won’t do simply to blame this kind of reaction on Israel. Clearly the actions and voices expressed in these examples are part of larger cultural and political contexts, some of which have something to do with Israel and some of which do not. People of goodwill will have to figure out how to isolate these kinds of phenomenon.
The expressions run the gamut across the sad, frightening, and obscene. They include the satisfaction, about which you can read here, expressed by residents of East Jerusalem with the rocket shelling of Israeli cities and towns by Hamas, including Jerusalem, the very city in which they live. Also included is this report here about anti-Israel demonstrators who attacked a synagogue in Paris, trapping inside some 200 terrified people. I’m also including here a clip of a woman at a rally, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, telling Jews to go to hell. At the bottom of the barrel is the interview here with a lawyer in Egypt suggesting that Arab men sexually harass and rape Israeli women as a form of resistance. These are things that call out for attention and condemnation. They deserve a serious response, perhaps especially from people who are critical of Israel, Israeli policy, and Zionism.
Trying to sort this all out, I went back to a piece published here in the NYT about the more general problem, namely how best to address instances and patterns of reactionary xenophobia in the larger Muslim world. I share the trepidation with which he writes. “This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it.”
Kristof continues: I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.
Kristof’s conclusion is to err on the side of human rights, arguing that to ignore this kind of reaction is a “perversion of politeness.” Without wanting myself to resort to liberal apologetics, my sense is that, in the end, these kinds of expressions and the hatreds they convey do grave damage to their intended victims, and also to the very society, culture, and religion held dear by these most odious of people. The situation is lose-lose for everyone, but this seems like a good place to draw thick red lines, with no equivocation.