The New War on Terror and the New Culture War
30 October 2023
As events are developing quickly in the Middle East, it is noticeable how the American culture war is swallowing the Palestine-Israel conflict. Many on the intellectual and the political scene are projecting their own pathologies on the conflict; the left is projecting its middle-class brand of lifestyle metaphorical decolonization on the decades-old crisis of non-orderly decolonization in the Holy Land, a crisis that one Euro-American establishment after the other failed to manage and conclude. The Right on the other hand is projecting something different, something buried deep, but not too deep, into the American collective memory.
We do not have a clash of civilizations at hand, but a clash of collective memories. First, you have the Jewish collective memory that have seen the horrors of mass industrial genocide; for the average Jewish person, we have never passed the Middle Ages, we just managed to develop better weapons. The problem with the flight and fight response of such collective memory is that it can easily lead to the weaponization of anti-semitism to curtail any criticism against Israel.
Second, you have the Arab and the Middle Eastern collective memory. Modernity in the Middle East has been introduced by the sword of European empires (after they have deployed special bodies of armed men and applied imperialism within their own metropolitan capitals), this includes a Fascist colonization of Libya and a Syria that was left asking during decolonization, which was worse the Vichy government or the Free French? This collective memory was reignited again at the invasion of Iraq and reignites at each Gaza War. The Problem with the flight and fight response of this collective memory is that it could lead to the weaponization of anti-imperialism to curtail any criticism against Hamas or any other regional actor attacked by imperialism.
Third, you have the American collective memory, whose composition changed forever after the 9/11 attacks. The problem with the flight and fight response of this collective memory is that it can lead to the weaponization of Anti-Americanism, or in Cold War terms, the weaponization of “Un-Americanism.”
Calling the Hamas raid a new 9/11 decontextualizes the historical material conditions from which the attack occurred, even if the two events have similarities like the large death tolls of civilians. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the related International Customary Humanitarian Law, the situation of belligerent military occupation of the Palestinian Territories since 1967, including the blockade on Gaza, is an in bello (at war) situation. Moreover, according to the Convention, there hasn’t been a single day in the last five decades, where Israel has not committed a war crime or a crime against humanity, most importantly, the war crime violating article (49) of the Convention, prohibiting what amounts to the colonization of the occupied territories.
While the Israeli forces, in bello, eradicated the Palestinian secular and socialist armed actors in the invasion of the West Bank during 2002-2005, Hamas, alongside other minor factions were the last non-state armed actor remaining in the Gaza section of the occupied territory, and even if it is designated by the EU and the US as a terrorist organization, it is still a non-state armed actor under the rules of the conduct of hostilities.
The oversimplified reframing of the attack from a hostility in which war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed (in a context originally inundated with war crimes for decades) to a “barbaric attack on civilization,” serves to showcase a relationship between a perpetrator “an absolute evil” and a victim (the Israeli civil society), which hides the elephant in the room; the Israeli national security state which is heavily connected to a much bigger elephant; the American national security state.
The pro-Israel coalition in the US contains old well-known actors; liberal internationalists and technocrats, neoconservatives, and Arab neoliberals (who want to turn Gaza into Hong Kong the same way Bush turned Iraq into Switzerland) and it also contains a new addition: anti-establishment populists who have switched their minds off now the same way liberal technocrats have switched their minds off at the eve of the invasion of the Ukraine.
From this recent non-9/11 event in the Middle East, the Right -a critic to the government response to January 6th- has been trying to convince us that the Left has orchestrated their version of January 6th; America (and other Western Countries) have been attacked by Un-American pro-Hamas protests celebrating the death of children and the rape of women under the supervision of the Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter. The “canceled” has become the “cancelers;” there is no due process here and everyone who “celebrated Hamas” is going to be haunted down, even people who have condemned Israel without condemning Hamas are going to be blacklisted. This crackdown is reminiscent of the oppression of African-American civil society organizations, and the FBI incursions into Chinatowns during the Cold War to contain Soviet and Chinese Communist influence.
These conservative witch hunts are too ignorant to understand the Jewish collective memory or the Arab collective memory. The Israeli Merkava battle tank was produced in the 1970s. It became the symbol of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the symbol of the invasion of the West Bank and Gaza in 2002. The erosion of due process under cancel culture erases the distinction between those who have celebrated the death of children and those who have celebrated the images of destroyed tanks. This lumps everyone into the same anti-Semitic group; protests to stop the War, protests against the death of civilians in Gaza, protests in solidarity with the Palestinians, and All-American suburbia Palestinians practicing their civil right of assembly under the Constitution, all become equal to a fascist mob celebrating murder and rape.
This discourse is reminiscent of the ignorance and the bigotry of Soviet dissident and populist Valeria Novodvorskaya, who said in the 1990s; “In Algiers, fanatical Muslims came to power perfectly legally. There are such moments among voters when they want to grow back their tails and climb back on the tree. Do they have that right? I am afraid not. The right to a tail was challenged by the Algerian army, which turned out to be more Europeanized than the country’s civilians....” Valeria also said: “… Apartheid is a normal thing. South Africa will see what kind of political order will be established under the native majority, which takes pleasure in arson, murder, and violence. Civil rights exist only for civilized, well-fed, cultured, and balanced peoples.
In his critical study in the field of counterterrorism, Richard Jackson describes the origins of this epistemological crisis, which is based on the central power’s rejection of previous knowledge about terrorism, and an embrace of total uncertainty or “Anti-Knowledge,” which creates the possibility of anyone becoming a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer (that celebrates murder and rape). This distraction prevents us from asking questions about what really happened on October 7th, mainly the conditions under which the southern border of the most powerful army in the Middle East has collapsed, and it also prevents us from asking about what was happening during the decades before October 7th, right up until last summer, when secular and socialist Jews were leaving the country, under the pressure of the flight and fight response of their collective memory, not out of fear of Hamas, but out of the fear from the fascism and the authoritarianism of their own state.
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