The Marketing of a Massacre
Category: Op/EdVia: hallux • one month ago • 1 comments
By: Frank Bruni - NYT
The barbaric killings of unsuspecting civilians in Israel on Oct. 7 and the current devastation of Palestinians in Gaza are all President Biden’s fault. Haven’t you read? He went soft on Iran. He’s soft, period. He has exposed the United States as something even flimsier than a paper tiger — we’re a Kleenex pussycat. As long as he’s nodding off at the Resolute Desk, it’s open season on our allies.
No, wait, that lesson is all wrong, as you discover the minute you travel from the right to the left. There you find groups taking the silhouette of a Hamas assassin paragliding into Israel as an inspiring symbol of resistance to imperialist oppression. You find a similarly simplistic narrative : The powerful have been exploiting the powerless, who courageously rose up 12 days ago and valiantly fought back. Never mind that they slaughtered babies. Never mind that they abducted grandmothers. Marginalized peoples of the world, unite! Paraglide to justice!
I wish I lived in a universe as politically reductive and morally stark as some other Americans do. How clarifying that must be. And I wince at the way in which the deadly tribalism of the Middle East has been met with the dreary tribalism of American politics — with lazy and self-serving responses to harrowing circumstances that are ill served and grossly demeaned by them.
“Pure, unadulterated evil” — that’s what President Biden rightly called the Hamas assailants’ massacre of hundreds upon hundreds of people in Israel that bloody weekend and such gaudy tortures as the parading of a half-naked female hostage though the streets of Gaza, where she was spat on. Oct. 7 was the greatest single-day loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, and was so profoundly outrageous, so distinctly awful, that it should have been off limits for appropriation by politicians and activists intent on pressing their own agendas, amplifying their own grievances.
Much has been written and spoken about some progressive groups and many progressive students (and faculty members) at American colleges, who reacted to the hunting, the shooting, the slashing, the burning of all those people in Israel by blaming … Israel. They were referring, obviously, to a conflict larger and more complicated than Hamas terrorists’ treatment of that music festival as a shooting gallery, the torching of Israeli villages and the kidnapping of 200 people, an overwhelming majority of them civilians. They were looking at a longer history.
Still, their inability to distinguish the hours of Oct. 7 from the decades that preceded it — and to look squarely and with proper condemnation at a given sequence of events — was unsettling. As Ezekiel J. Emanuel wrote in Times Opinion just days ago: “It is possible to condemn the barbarism of Hamas and condemn the endless Israeli occupation of the West Bank. So, too, is it possible to condemn the treatment of women and the L.G.B.T.Q. community in Arab lands and the attempt by right-wing Israeli politicians to neuter Israel’s Supreme Court.”
But it is impossible to do that if you navigate all events, all disputes, with a prefabricated compass, a preformulated message that you graft onto everything, no matter how awkward the fit. It is impossible to do that if you are taking your cues from a political or ideological tribe and making sure that you utter the lines it seems to want you to say.
That’s what many of those students did after Oct. 7. It was a version of virtue signaling. I know that from my own conversations with young men and women at Duke, where I teach, who conceded that they felt a vague pressure to make some kind of statement , take some sort of stand. Many looked to see what their friends were doing. Then they brought themselves into conformity with it.
Why should they be any different from the so-called adults in this country? A few of the grown-ups with chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America or Black Lives Matter hastened to stress that the Palestinians’ plight in Gaza and in the West Bank was their plight in the United States. They were all joined in a universal struggle.
But what the activists presented as a crucial gesture of support can as easily be seen as a clumsy intrusion into the narrative, an insistence on snatching some of the spotlight. And I have a question for them: Are they untroubled by how many of their oppressed brethren oppress women and gay people?
I have a question for Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina: What is gained, other than favor with MAGA extremists and the attention that you so desperately crave, by declaiming that “we’re in a religious war”? Are you saying, sloppily and recklessly, that all Christians and all Jews are in combat with all Muslims? Have you not met antisemitic Christians in the MAGA fold? You need to get out more.
Across the political spectrum, in ways big, small, galling, comical and by no means equivalent, Oct. 7 and its aftermath have become fodder for whatever various figures and factions want it to be fodder for. On Fox News, it prompted a fresh round of ranting about our “open border” and immigrants streaming from Mexico into the United States.
Last time I consulted a world map, Central America and the Middle East had an ocean between them — the Atlantic, I’m pretty sure it’s called — and the Rio Grande didn’t feed into the Dead Sea. But in feverish precincts of the not-so-far right, “open border” is the answer to every question, the font of all woe, and no major news development is complete without a mention of migrants and a denunciation of President Biden.
As Oliver Darcy noted in his Reliable Sources newsletter for CNN, Laura Ingraham began her Fox News program on Oct. 10 with “AMERICA NEXT?” on the screen and this alarmism: “What better way for a terror network to disperse and disappear into the general population than amidst hordes of Venezuelans and Hondurans?”
But all of that is most constructively done through an earnest, honest examination of the situation at hand. When you insist on looking at it through a single preferred lens, you’re only warping your view. And you’re perpetuating an intense tribalism from which no good can come.