By Bernard-Henri Lévy - one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer.
Police at the scene of a terrorist attack in which two Palestinian terrorists boarded a bus in Jerusalem and killed two Israelis. Photo: Courtesy of Israel Police to Foreign Press Association.
It is painful to hear the phrase “lone wolves” applied to the handful — and perhaps tomorrow the dozens and then the hundreds — of killers of Jews “liked” by thousands of “friends,” followed by tens of thousands of “Tweeters,” and connected to a constellation of sites (such as the Al-Aqsa Media Center and its page dedicated to “the third Jerusalem intifada”) that are orchestrating, at least in part, this bloody ballet.
It is equally painful to listen to the refrain about “Palestinian youth no longer subject to any control,” after seeing the series of sermons published by the Middle East Media Research Institute, in which preachers from Gaza, facing the camera, dagger in hand, call upon followers to take to the streets to maim as many Jews as they can, to inflict as much pain as possible and to spill the maximum amount of blood; doubly painful to hear that refrain from Mahmoud Abbas himself, at the outset of this tragic chain of events a few weeks back, describing as “heroic” the murder of the Henkins in the presence of their children, and then expressing indignation at seeing the “dirty feet” of Jews “defiling” the Al-Aqsa Mosque and declaring “each drop of blood” shed by “each martyr” who dies for Jerusalem “pure.”
Not only painful and intolerable, but also inapplicable, is the canned phrase about “political and social desperation” that is used to explain — or excuse — criminal acts. Everything we know about the new terrorists, their motives and the pride their relatives take in converting, post-mortem, crime into martyrdom and infamy into sacrifice, is, alas, much closer to the portrait of the robotic jihadist who yesterday would take off for Kashmir and today turns up in Syria or Iraq.
It is highly doubtful that “intifada” is the right term to apply to acts that bear more resemblance to the latest installment of a worldwide jihad of which Israel is just one of the stages.
It is doubtful that erudite disquisitions on occupation, colonization and Netanyahu-esque intransigence explain much about a wave of violence that counts among its favored targets Jews with sidelocks — that is, those Jews who are the most conspicuously Jewish, those whom their killers must consider the very image of the Jew, and who, by the way, are often at odds with the Jewish state when not in open secession from it.
It is doubtful that the very question of the state, the question of the two states and thus the question of a negotiated partition of the land — which is, for moderates on both sides, the only question worth posing — has anything to do with a conflagration in which politics has given way to fanaticism and to theories of vast conspiracy, one in which some decide to stab random others as they pass by because of a vague rumor reporting a secret plot to deny Muslims access to Islam’s third holiest site.
It is doubtful, in other words, that the Palestinian cause is being helped in any way by the extremist turn. On the other hand, it is absolutely certain that the cause has everything to lose by it, that the reasonable heads within the movement will be the ones who wind up flattened by the wave, and that the last proponents of compromise, along with what remains of the peace camp in Israel, will pay dearly for the reckless condemnations of the imams of Rafah and Khan Younis.
Intolerable and inapplicable, too, is the cliché of the “cycle” or “spiral” of violence, which, by putting the kamikaze killers and their victims on the same footing, sows confusion and amounts to an incitement to further action.
Intolerable, for the same reason, are the rhetorical appeals “for restraint” and disingenuous pleas “not to inflame the street,” which, as with the “spiral of violence,” reverse the order of causality by implying that a soldier, police officer or civilian acting in self-defense has committed a wrong equal to that of someone who chooses to die after spreading as much terror as he possibly can.
Strange indeed, how tepid are the condemnations of the stabbings of innocent passers-by and rammings of bus stops — condemnations that I have to think would be less half-hearted if the acts had occurred on the streets of Washington, Paris or London.
More than strange — disturbing — is the difference in tone between the equivocal reaction to the recent killings and the unanimous and unambiguous international outpouring of emotion and solidarity elicited by the fatal hatchet attack on a soldier on a London street on May 22, 2013, a scenario that was not very different from those unfolding today in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Intolerable, again, that most of the major media have paid the grieving Israeli families only a fraction of the attention they have paid the families of the perpetrators.
Intolerable, finally, the minor mythology growing up around this story of daggers: The weapon of the poor? Really? The weapon one uses because it is within reach and one has no other? When I see those blades, I think of the one used to execute Daniel Pearl; I think of the beheadings of Hervé Gourdel, James Foley and David Haines; I think that the Islamic State’s videos have clearly gained a following, and that we stand on the threshold of a form of barbarity that must be unconditionally denounced if we do not want to see its methods exported everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New Philosophy movement and is a leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and international affairs. His 2013 book, Les Aventures de la vérité—Peinture et philosophie: un récit, explores the historical interplay of philosophy and art. His new play, “Hotel Europe,” which premiered in Sarajevo on June 27, 2014, and in Paris on September 9, is a cry of alarm about the crisis facing the European project and the dream behind it.
This article was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.