IT TOOK US A WHILE to reach this point in time when the choices we make let us own a piece of history—and the moral burden that comes with it. Social media and opinion pages are overwhelmed by the ideological urgencies and sentimental texture, and of course the propagandist fervour and partisan conviction, of those choices. Two familiar images will testify.
First: The father, standing somewhere in bombarded Gaza, holding up his dead child to the camera, addressing directly the collective conscience of a divided world. He is the narrator of his own tragedy in which the dead are counted with the assistance of different mathematics. In his version, the soaring numbers of the killed and the maimed and the displaced by Israeli missiles point to the dubious standards of international humanitarianism, if at all the jargon has ever been worthy of its high-sounding ambition. In the greater debates about homelands caught between unjust history and injured memory, he is a lone inevitability, the human residue of a conflict with colliding causes, and abandoned by those who share his religion as well as the legitimacy of his political rights. Today he serves only one purpose: a reminder of Jewish brutalism.
Second: It is no longer the bodies of Jews on the streets after the October 7 massacre by Hamas. Israel could not afford, neither could those who share its sorrow, to linger on those images. Move on, and how. The recurring image, apart from the billowing smoke over the Gaza ghettos, is the uniformed Israeli spokesman telling the world how determined his country is in the mission of securing the lives of its people by freeing Gaza from Hamas. This image of unwavering militarism becoming one with angry patriotism captures the revised victimhood of Jews. It is an image that mobilises nations that endorse their right to the land where they live, and provokes those who find in their barbed-wire nationalism the legacy of a land-grab sanctified by big powers. But for the spokesman seeking the democratic world’s blessings for his bombing of the Hamas hideouts, the relentless missile attacks that continue to take a huge human toll, which itself is a prologue to a land war, are the response of a people who have been consistently reminded by some of their neighbours that they have no reason to exist as a nation.
These images represent two different realms where ideologies and cultural attitudes make all the arguments about good and evil, about nationhood and homelessness. The Israeli response to Hamas’ bloodlust, in the telling of the radicalised Left, is a crime against a people who have already been punished by both geography and history. And in the long passage of resistance, it is that critical moment for all the good men and women to raise a slogan, light a candle, write a manifesto, for the memory of the dead and for the sake of the dying.
For the ideologically softened liberals and the Right without the zealotry of faith, the war is just, necessitated by the goon squad of radical Islam, and whose rage is against civilisation itself, the Palestinians being a convenient backdrop. The war for Israel is a war against hate armed by religion, and it should have only one conclusion: the total elimination of a crime, no matter the other side of the ideological divide will argue that perpetual punishment cannot be called a crime.
It is time to take a moral position, isn’t it? And moral positions have never been free from ideologies. Remember the original aura of the Soviet Union, socialism’s virtuous empire that swayed some of the finest minds of the West. The world seen through the smoke from Sartre’s Gauloises had a moral clarity, and it didn’t reject the inherent virtue of the Soviet Union, a near-perfect rejoinder to the hollowness of capitalism. It was a time when the moral activism of some failed to see the difference between textbook socialism and Actually Existing Socialism. Ideology added to the smoke.
The wail of the orphaned and the bereaved from the Middle East is today matched by the shrillness of ideology. The radicalised Left, energised by the romance of the street and the revolutionary ideals of the classroom, has become the wilful apologist for the Hamas horror show, for it provides all the ingredients of an ideological cause—racial injustice and social wretchedness. The intellectual endorsement it gathers has the whiff of the Sixties. Still, no misplaced romance, born in the Gaza of the mind, can conceal the murderous theology from which Hamas fires its donated missiles. This is not to overlook the heart-breaking plight of Palestinians caught in the Hamas-Israeli crossfire.
Moral choices curated by ideology have consistently been made redundant by history. And that is why the rhetorical ammunition the radical Left supplies to Hamas can’t win the test of morality or history.