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August 3, 2021

Realistic responsibility

In Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” the Israeli agents tasked with punishing the ones who had planned the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Bavaria’s capital – which ended with a massacre – hesitate to detonate a bomb when they notice, at the last minute, that the child of the target could be hurt by it as well. Here is a scruple that Israeli soldiers no longer have when they bomb the homes of Hamas members. As true as the argument that they are hiding among civilians in order to use the massacres for propaganda is, the consequences are dramatic at any rate. Let’s not be hypocritical: wars do not mean, most of the time, a confrontation between soldiers, but are instead accompanied by what Goya so suggestively depicted in his “disasters” – a polyphonic cruelty meant to deter through terror or simple outlet of the sadism hidden in people’s hearts.

If we read history books we can easily become horrified by how much violence even Europeans were capable of. Then how is the current sensitiveness, so easily impressionable when it comes to bloody conflict, explained? The good part is the influence of a new humanism that no longer allows such an easy justification of war, which was once subordinated to some religious, political or ideological imperatives. Now, for many still, before being an enemy a victim is a human. But this welcomed humanism also hides a weakness: most of the times it is only emotional, lacking a responsible and realistic commitment. We are horrified by the images of children torn apart by bombs or of mass graves with bodies, but apart from the desire for something like this to no longer happen again we are not capable of proposing much of anything. So that this great pressure of public opinion is, unfortunately, most of the time sterile. On the other hand, realistic political solutions are needed. Here is what Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell was writing 5 years ago during another offensive in Gaza: “We have to remind the Israeli public opinion, still blinded by the success of the ongoing campaign of reprisals whose human cost is abominable, that a victory is measured by political results and that the fundamental goal remains peace… The horror in Gaza has not really sunk in the hearts of Israelis… The death of entire families, including children, will weigh heavily on our Israeli consciousness.” However we can also say that the death of so many Israeli civilians killed in suicide bombings has not really sunk in the hearts of Palestinians as a burdening guilt. Sternhell’s argument goes through a classical reference that is worth pondering on: “Any country that starts a war has a purpose. Like Carl von Clausewitz pointed out, a military victory cannot be a goal in itself. This has an importance solely on a purely tactical level. Certain great military victories were followed by a national catastrophe for the winners.” Unfortunately however, many political leaders from various countries do not follow a realistic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There still is a European left wing, for example, which is pro-Palestinian out of murky ideological reasons. On the other hand, American neoconservatives consider Israel a bastion of Western civilization against the assaults of an aggressive Islam.
As much as this may be a sign of “political incorrectness,” Islam nevertheless frightens Europeans. Who generally watch helplessly the violent oppression that is destroying Christian communities in the Middle East and in other regions. Italian leader Matteo Renzi stated in Strasbourg, referring to the case of the young Sudanese woman condemned to death for apostasy: “If there is no European reaction we will not be worthy to call ourselves Europe.” So a young woman and her child (born in prison) are now in Italy, but what is happening to the millions of other Christians in many other preponderantly Islamic states? Where conversion to Christianity is also punishable by death, while conversion to Islam far too often becomes an alternative to expulsion. Or where, “in the best of cases,” discrimination and the lack of protection are chronic. And going beyond the Israeli propaganda, we could ask ourselves what would happen in a possible decade of peace in a Gaza governed by a Hamas animated by its religious principles. Wouldn’t they intensely prepare for a war eventually resulting in even more victims?
Europe has reached its current humanism as a result of a centuries-old conflict between the Church’s totalitarian pretenses and the Enlightenment’s secular spirit. A conflict that led to a balance – unstable, it’s true, yet fertile – between initially radically polemic principles. Is the Islamic world capable of generating such a balance? The Christian world managed that – relatively, of course – because it was able to extract from Christian thinking principles compatible with a secularized society. In the absence of such a cultural development in the Islamic world, the situation is at risk of remaining worrisomely conflictual in many areas of the globe.
Until then, crises have to be treated responsibly. By staking more on profound treatments than on easy ones. As much as we are horrified by the innocent victims, we cannot avoid the question: how would the EU have reacted had a civilian airliner been hit not in Ukraine but close to Tel-Aviv?

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