The current conflict in Lebanon brings to the fore one of the most basic questions any culture must try to answer: What is the value of another’s life? All people must struggle between the instinct of survival (my life is worth more than yours), the instinct for domination (I have a right to take your life) and the instinct of solidarity (our lives are equal in value). And all cultures provide a range of answers.
The conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hizbullah, like the war with Hamas, pits against each other two cultures with radically different answers to these questions. On the one hand, Israeli culture values life in all its aspects, including the sanctity of the life of others. Their soldiers take risks to spare civilians on the other side, unprecedented in the history of warfare. Aware of Israeli inhibitions, Jihadi groups use their own people as human shields in fighting the Israelis.
Over the last few years, these Jihadi groups have developed a full-blown death cult in which they raise their children to want to die killing others. As uncomfortable as such statements might seem to a cultural egalitarian who recoils from invidious comparison, the enemy openly embraces the contrast: Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah noted after a prisoner exchange:
“We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”
The current war centers around this differential attitude towards life and death in three major ways:
1) how each side views the lives of their own people and the lives of their enemies.
2) How the media reports the story in terms of these issues
3) The effects of that reporting on the nature of the conflict
Muslim Death Cult
At once Arabs complain that the world considers Arab blood cheap. And yet, their own leaders say the same thing.
Our blood is cheap compared with the cause which has brought us together and which at moments separated us, but shortly we will meet again in heaven… Palestine is our land and Jerusalem is our capital” Yasser Arafat (Maariv, Oct. 4, 1996).
Even as they deplore it, Arab intellectuals acknowledge the depths of the problem: Wrote Tunisian intellectual Al-Afif Al-Akhdar:
“Why do expressions of tolerance, moderation, rationalism, compromise, and negotiation horrify us [Muslims], but [when we hear] fervent cries for vengeance, we all dance the war dance?… Why do other people love life, while we love death and violence, slaughter and suicide, and [even] call it heroism and martyrdom?”
In a highly popular music video produced for the PA by a Western company in December 2000, partly to recruit kids for the intifada, the “shahid” Muhammad al Durah calls on the youth of Palestine to follow him to martyrdom. The words of the song begin like this:
How sweet is the fragrance of the shahids [people who have died for Allah]. How sweet is the fragrance of the earth. Its thirst quenched by the gush of blood flowing from the youthful body. How sweet is the fragrance of the earth.”
Among the most terrifying elements of the Jihadi death cult is the revival (and now widespread use of) an apocalyptic Hadith which sees the final battle as one in which the Muslims slaughter every last Jew… with mother nature’s help. Here is one of countless citations, notable for its addition of dehumanizing rhetoric:
“The Prophet said: the Resurrection will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims kill them. The Muslims will kill the Jews, rejoice [in it], rejoice in Allah’s Victory. The Muslims will kill the Jews, and he will hide… “The Prophet said: the Jews will hide behind the rock and tree, and the rock and tree will say: oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim this is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!. Why is there this malice? Because there are none who love the Jews on the face of the earth: not man, not rock, and not tree – everything hates them. They destroy everything, they destroy the trees and destroy the houses. Everything wants vengeance on the Jews, on these pigs on the face of the earth, and the day of our victory, Allah willing, will come.” PA TV, September 10, 2004
Schadenfreude and Killing the Enemy’s Civilians
The celebrations of Palestinians at news that Israeli women and children have been killed, are of course, legendary, including their response to 9-11, which Arafat, with the help of a cooperative western Media, quickly suppressed. What is still more disturrbing because done, if you will “in cold blood,” is the exhibit which recreated a terror attack at Sbarro Pizza from the summer of 2001. Palestinians can go and derive pleasure at viewing Israeli body parts in papier-maché dipped in red paint “flying” through the air.
In an internet debate with Abu Basir al- Tartusi, a Syrian jihadi scholar residing in London who criticized both the London 7-7 bombings and urged that the thirst for revenge among his fellow jihadis be subordinate to law and legal rulings (fatwahs), one of his opponents wrote that Muslims
Muslims need no fatwa each time an attack takes place on enemy soil, since “this is an integral part of the Muslim Sunnah,” or the Prophet’s traditions. He urged Muslims to show joy for every tragedy suffered by oppressors, resisting any sympathy. Moreover, he claimed that any condemnations of the London bombings contradict Islam: “I warn my believing brothers to stop criticizing their brothers, the mujahedeen, especially these days.”
Most cultures acknowledge the presence of Schadenfreude, but generally they disapprove it. To have the leaders of the people make it into a cultic emotion deviates from the norms of almost any culture, and some Arab intellectuals are painfully aware of this. Commenting on the video of the Nicolas Berg beheading that Iraqi jihadists posted on the internet so others could enjoy the view, an editorial in the Lebanese Daily Star on May 13, 2004, warned of what might happen if this issue is not addressed:
As the war on terror continues, the voices coming from the Arab and Muslim world celebrating death over life have been heard more often than those criticizing this philosophy. An “The region’s kings, princes, and presidents need to learn a valuable lesson from this abhorrent incident: that fractured societies produce real-life theaters of shame like the Berg murder in a systemic manner, and that similar fractures are infecting their own societies. If the Berg beheading does not catapult the region’s leaders from the world of lethargy to the world of vigorous action to establish law and order in their own societies — and beginning with themselves — then they will be considerably weakened…. What more is needed to galvanize Arab leaders into action? Today, a man named Berg was put to the sword; tomorrow, it could be the Arab nation torn asunder by the same savagery.
If anything the situation is worse in 2006. And the media still don’t seem to understand.
Media and the Problem of Arab and Muslim Death Cult and Genocidal Delirium
This entire phenomenon of the Jihadi worship of death has received relatively little attention from the media — almost an inversion of how pervasive it is in the Arab and Msulim MSM. Take, for example a case that happened in the first month of the Intifada, and presented the media with an opportunity to reveal to the public precisely what the Israelis and the Jews were complaining about. The day after two Israelis were savagely torn apart by a mob of Palestinians in Ramallah shouting “revenge for the blood of Muammad [al Durah],”, and “Allahu Akhbar,” Shiekh Ahmad Abu Halabiya gave a sermon which played on PATV.
“The Jews are the Jews. Whether Labor or Likud the Jews are Jews. They do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They must be butchered and must be killed… The Jews are like a spring as long as you step on it with your foot it doesn’t move. But if you lift your foot from the spring, it hurts you and punishes you… It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them any place that you find yourself. Any place that you meet them, kill them.” PA TV, October 13, 2000
In discussing Israeli complaints about the nature of their enemy and the sources of his hatred, specifically pointing to this genocidal sermon, New York Times journalist William Orme presented the evidence as follows.
Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers. “Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.
Now what would possess a journalist to so poorly misquote a terrifying passage directly reminiscent of the Nazis, from people who were acting on this genocidal rhetoric daily? He even misrepresented the subject of the sermon — not the killing of two Israeli soldiers, but of all Jews. To the uninformed, it makes the complainants look petty, whining. Only Orme can answer why he did that.
In the meantime, Orme’s behavior is much closer to the norm than to the exception. The western press dramatically under-reports the Jihadi death cult. It appears in neo-con journals, and constitutes hate-speech and Islamophobia. But it is not hate speech to reveal the presence of hate-speech, especially when the speakers also act on this speech.
In the meantime, the public knows as little about the Muslim death cults, as they do about the Israeli army’s extraordinary efforts — often at the cost of their own lives — to spare Muslim civilians used as human shields by their “warriors.” Israelis even write academic papers struggling with these issues. And Israeli soldiers die because of their inhibitions on firing at terrorists hiding behind women and children. The most exceptional example of this was at Jenin in April 2002, where the Israelis, rather than bomb the part of the refugee camp where the suicide terrorist network had taken root, went in house to house to avoid civilian casualties. The result was 23 soldiers dead soldiers for Israel, and accusations of an Israeli massacre of Palestinians in the media.
Kafr Qana and the Cult of Death
In a sense the current conflict between Israel and both Hamas and Hizbullah underlines the importance of moral thinking in the life of nations and disputes between peoples. Tony Blair articulated it quite well to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council where he characterized it as a struggle between moderate, benign values versus the hatred and intolerance of fundamentalism.:
“Even the issue of Israel is just part of the same wider struggle for the soul of the region,” Blair said. “If we recognize this struggle for what it truly is, we would be at least along the first steps of the path to winning it. But I fear a vast part of Western opinion is not remotely near this yet.”
The press coverage, in the tradition of “politics of outrage” civil-rights media coverage, reflects and amplifies that moral dimension. But it since the 1960s many things have changed, and the media begins to resemble a parable of the dangers of moral confusion. As Blair puts in with his British understatement, they are “not remotely near” understanding what’s wrong.
What has happened at Kafr Qana illustrates precisely how a highly moralistic press — committed without question to the value of human life, especially of children and other innocents — can invert the very imbalance at the core of the conflict and arouse a misplaced indignation that contributes to the very conflict it, in its moralism, deplores. After the collapse of the residential building in Qana, the media have presented the Israelis as those who show no respect for life, falling prey to the ghoulish strategies of Hizbullah in spilling everyone’s blood including those of their own civilians for the sake of a PR victory. As a result they handed Hizbullah that PR victory and rewarded the very behavior that it thought it condemned.
And even as they condemn the Israelis for their wanton killing of Lebanese, despite their regrets, they somehow don’t notice that Hizbullah celebrates the killing of Israelis as a means to restore “their honor.”
We cannot control how people judge us. We can ask for fairness, set standards, adhere to them as best we can and hope others will too. But ultimately, every person, every media outlet and every viewer makes the final call and judges others as he or she wants to – fairly or unfairly. Jews can scream in pain and outrage at comparisons between Jews and Nazis, but they can’t stop people — even other Jews — from enjoying the moral sadism of accusing them.
But one can point out that there is a price to pay for judging unfairly (as LGF puts it: overdrawn at the bank of karma), and at times of danger, that price can be fatal. In the process of their moralizing coverage, the media have set in motion forces that threaten the very culture of life which created a free press and which, in their moralizing, they pretend to uphold.
Imagine if the story at Qana had gone like this: Initial shock, hard questions, revulsion at the parading of the corpses, connections made with the cult of death in Jihadi culture, connections to the snuff movies that jihadis are giving the world (execution videos) since 2000, refusal of the Western media to jump at the bait of ghoulish PR and thereby mainstream the snuff movies to a public audience, the hard questioning of all the Lebanese including Hizbullah spokesmen on the responsibility of Hizbullah for what happened.
This could have been an occasion to shame Hizbullah publicly, globally, for its atrocious behavior, its sick and destructive attitude towards the life of its own people, its transparent and dishonest manipulation of the public, and its bloody betrayal of the very people it claims to represent. All the voices of Jihad – especially the most bloodthirsty – would be humiliated before the eyes of the world. All the voices of moderation and humanity in the Arab world would have found a public platform from which to address the Arab world and deliver a well-deserved rebuke for their childish egocentrism and unfairness. The temperature of global jihad warming might have dropped by as many as 3 degrees. The initiative could have passed (even briefly) to all those in the Arab world who see the terrifying dangers of global Jihad and realize this is not a beast we want to feed, who show enough constructive realism to resist suicidal honor.
Instead the snuff movies are out with the blessing of an outraged world. Muslims the world over are fed on them constantly, a magnificent contribution to the cult of death with which hundreds of millions of Muslims – whether they like it or not – are force-fed by their TV programmers. People who can articulate a humane vision are drowned out. Men like the Pakistani Seattle “lone gunmen” represent precisely the kind of “unconscious sleeper” activated by these images, to plunge into Jihadi genocide.
The forces of hatred and resentment have once again flooded our system thanks to a media that, like some unintelligent Pavlovian dog, cannot unlearn self-destructive behavior. The temperature of global jihad warming has gone up 3%.
That’s a swing of 6 degrees.
And the reverse — 6 degrees lower — could have been accomplished by the power of the word alone. Not a shot fired by the forces of civil society and peace. Just a self-respecting and honorable press.
Alas! If only the press had a tenth of the sense of honor that the Arabs have; and if only the Arabs had a tenth the willingess to criticize their own culture that our press has — we would all be the happiest people in the world.
Those of us who do not want to see outright war, but who acknowledge what we face, do not think that, as a culture of freedom with a free and honest press, we can afford to continue losing such magnificent opportunities to contribute to a peaceful and prosperous global civil society.
So the challenge is out to our media mired in their Augean Stables. Do you have the courage to stand up to the Jihadi death cult, resist their intimidation, and keep your moral compass? Or will you continue to shoot your own side — the side that values human life — in the foot in pursuit of “the scoop” and the moral Schadenfreude of humiliating Israel globally, and then respond by defending your behavior?
Prognosis… dubious. Unless the public hold the media responsible.