The Middle East

Crossing the Line: Justifications for Terror

There are no innocent British: I struggled, as a ten-year-old in 1975, to understand the news reports on our television; why my parents were so upset, particularly my English mother. “Disgusting,” they would murmur. “What kind of people could do this?” Every other week, it seemed back then, a new IRA bombing would make headlines. In September 1975 an IRA bomb exploded in the lobby of London’s Hilton Hotel. Two people were killed and sixty-three injured, many suffering limbs blown off and other horrific injuries.

There is an excellent book by a former IRA member, Eamon Collins, called Killing Rage, in which he explains the cold rationale behind the IRA’s terror tactics. The fact was, while there were some attempts to target British soldiers and military targets, the IRA hard-liners argued that all Brits were complicit in the long-running abuse of Irish nationals, and no tears should be wasted on collateral victims. The cause was all. And any means was justified by the end goals.

There are no innocent Chinese: It is unfortunate that the West has learnt almost nothing about Japanese atrocities of the 1930s. Unlike the Holocaust, Japan’s shameful past has been effectively papered over, in part because of the tremendously successful efforts of the US since the war to rebuild Japan as a modern Western ally.

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In his 1996 book Hidden Horrors, Yuki Tanaka describes how desperate Japanese soldiers cannibalised Australians, Pakistanis and Indians. He recounts the story of sixty-five shipwrecked Australian nurses and British soldiers who were set upon by Japanese soldiers and stabbed to death. Another thirty-two nurses who landed on another island were captured and sent to Sumatra as slave prostitutes for Japanese soldiers. The death marches, starvation, torture and brutality make one wince at the sheer human capacity for inflicting cruelty and pain. The barbarity of Japanese fighting men came to global attention in 1937 when the Rape of Nanjing (below) received worldwide condemnation. But few today know of, far less understand, Japan’s assault on China.

What makes Nanjing extraordinary is that it was carried out by a modern, civilised nation. How did the Japanese justify such inhuman brutality? In the search for answers, some have pointed to the fact that in Japan, feudalism had ended less than seventy years before, and Shinto, steeped in rituals and traditions, contributed to the idea of racial purity which helped shape the Japanese psyche. Before the war, Shinto was a state-supported religion and the ultra-nationalists, with the military, used it as a defining system of belief. At the same time, samurai ideals remained strong. The Japanese military channelled traditional bushido warrior values and sold war as a purifying act; the ultimate honour, fighting to the death.

Most Japanese believed that their emperor was superior to other rulers because he was a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. In keeping with this, the Japanese people were told they were inherently superior to other peoples. Here then is your answer: if you can convince your nation that it is superior, that its enemies are less human than you, that it is your God-given honour to fight and die for your cause, almost anything can be justified.

There are no innocent Jews: We might, for now, see some solace in the fact that it is unnecessary to give much of an account of the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War. But there are critical questions each new generation needs to ask. The Nazis were able to lead, not only millions of their own citizens, but millions of allies too, to see the Jewish people as undeserving of being considered human. The infamous German propaganda “documentaries” from the 1930s like Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) purported to explain the ways that Jews spread disease and infected a city and consumed its resources like rats.

I have seen footage secretly filmed from inside a tram in Krakow during 1940. The tram’s windows were painted black so that Poles who rode the tram right through the middle of the Krakow Ghetto, where starving Jews lay dead in the street, would not have to see them. Daily, the trams drove straight through the Ghetto. Polish civilians knew why the windows were blacked out. How could they justify what was happening in their city?

As a historical scholar once put it: first, they said, You have no right to live among us as Jews; then they said, You have no right to live as Jews; the Nazi regime simply reduced the historical anti-Semitism to its logical endgame: You have no right to live. Once a nation and its citizens cross that line, once they can see the “other” as less human, or simply not human at all, then no atrocity is unthinkable.

There are no innocent Israelis: And here we are. In the face of barbaric attacks on innocent young music-lovers, children and elderly, which one would think any reasonable, any empathetic human being would find abhorrent, there are groups, organisations, nations declaiming their support and approval of Hamas. The attacks are “justified”, we are asked to believe, because of years of Israeli oppression. There are no innocent Israelis.

I distrust dramatic, emotive rhetoric in difficult times. There are complex issues which deserve and insist on nuanced and deeply archaeological debate. But we are getting close to a line. Politicians have changed their game to keep up with social media echo-chambers and ideologically driven educational and mainstream media systems. We are living in a time where emotion stifles reason.

One could call this a golden age of identity. If you are black or trans or lesbian, the social discourse screams wear it with pride. Corporations, companies, businesses, cities drape themselves in the banners of identity pride. At the same time, if you’re Jewish, in Sydney, Australia, the police warn you to stay at home, and community leaders suggest you do not go outside wearing a kippah or carrying an Israeli flag. Do not wear your Jewish identity with pride! Wear it with fear.

Woke ideologues like BLM who call everybody Nazis who dare to question any of their mantras, now proudly publish pro-Hamas iconography. They choose, of all things, to celebrate the image of a paraglider, cheering the terrorists who landed at a music festival and slaughtered hundreds of young men and women before dragging others off to be raped and paraded as trophies. Yes, incredibly, these same ideologues want to stand now with real Nazis.

The woke agenda has set up a society of victimhood and super-sensitivity. Everywhere you look there are tripwires and offence-taking. Words are violence, we are lectured. J.K. Rowling, among many great contributors to our flourishing democracies, has faced extraordinary vitriol because she dared to say that there were two biological genders. Sane voices like hers are deemed “violent” at the same moment when these same offended souls can witness real, horrific violence, the massacre of totally innocent people, and claim it was justified. If they are Jews, their rape and slaughter is okay. Enough memes on the internet have already ridiculed these naive activists, pointing out that the LGBT+ community would be safe to parade their identity in only one country in the Middle East: Israel.

Western democracies stand at a line here. While pretending to care about individuals and individual rights, somehow these ideas do not count if the individuals are Jews. At the same time as debate and free speech are vilified, terrorism is glorified and excused. While we hear endlessly from celebrities, music and sporting stars, quick to virtue-signal for the latest opportunity to be on trend, at this moment of truly historic depravity, the silence of these same influencers is deafening.

In cities like Melbourne and Sydney, the images are fresh in people’s minds of police violently putting down peaceful gatherings of anti-lockdown and anti-vax protests—armoured police with batons and horses and sprays and tasers. To watch hundreds of Sydney police guard and watch Palestinian supporters at the steps of the Opera House burn Israeli flags and chant “Gas the Jews” on the night we were promised Sydney would light the Opera House in Israeli colours was deeply, sickeningly disturbing. Imagine if a group of Jews had burnt Palestinian flags and chanted “Death to Muslims”. The bitter joke is that everybody knows we would never see this. As the quip goes, if you’re in a dangerous Jewish suburb, there’s always the risk of a drive-by argument. These moments tell us about some of the people sharing our beautiful cities and all the benefits of our precious democracies, but they also show us what we accept as a society and where we have allowed ourselves to get to.

History hands us the recipe—tried and true. Permit ideology to sweep aside humanity; claim some kind of superiority over those you want to defeat; insist that the ends justify the means; assign yourselves a God-given right to kill and punish; lead the masses with emotion, label reason and moderation the badges of the weak. Orwell understood all of this chillingly well. We do not get to choose the moment in history in which we find ourselves. But we do get to choose if and how we are going to play a part.

Brendan Craig is a poet and freelance writer who recently completed a Masters in Digital and Social Media through Curtin University.


9 thoughts on “Crossing the Line: Justifications for Terror

  • Blair says:

    ” I strongly condemn the brutal Hamas atrocities and I strongly condemn the Israeli government for not implementing a cease-fire so they can’t capture or kill those responsible for the brutal atrocities.”

  • cbattle1 says:

    When it comes to genocide, the ancient Jews literally wrote the book! In the conquest of Jericho and the land of the Canaanites, Moses sets out the formula:
    “…claim some kind of superiority over those you want to defeat; insist that the ends justify the means; assign yourselves a God-given right to kill and punish…”
    And still today the “God-given right” of the Chosen People is upheld!

  • padraic says:

    Thanks Brendan for this article that clarifies some of the elements involved in the current social upheaval of which many of us are trying to make sense. I think you hit the nail on the head with the following statement – “The woke agenda has set up a society of victimhood and super-sensitivity. Everywhere you look there are tripwires and offence-taking.” I read that shortly after reading Claire Lehmann’s article in last Friday’s Australian in which she made the following distinct points 1. “However they (i.e universities) have now shifted towards elevating victimhood as the highest virtue while encouraging hypersensitivity to perceived injustice.” 2. ..”victimhood culture – colloquially known as ‘wokeness…’” 3. “Its toxicity emerges when people are encouraged to see themselves as perpetual victims and are rewarded for nurturing and prosecuting endless grievances..” 4. “…victimhood culture should be repudiated. It is a road to nowhere except grievance and conflict.”
    The “woke agenda” referred to by Brendan seems to have various methods of achieving its goal. Obviously there are the universities and schools where brainwashing is effective for one cohort, but for the general public still uncontaminated because of earlier education models there are other techniques such as influencing the content of commercial advertising, sporting codes being politicised, and another one which occurs to me is the encouragement of litigation over matters which in the past would not “upset” people – e.g spilling coffee on your lap in a fast food outlet, having your plane cancelled because of bad weather or mechanical problems, blaming something on lack of action on “global warming”etc. Greed linked to a low bar of “being offended” is now a great motivator to be a victim, and this is promoted by TV ads encouraging people to sue wealthy organisations, to say nothing of the impact on financial reward litigation if the proposed “truth” legislation gets up in Parliament. There are many other examples of how law is used for political and financial ends. It’s nothing new – the amount of litigation that occurred before and after the execution of Charles the 1st was colossal and like many things in society excess litigation waxes and wanes from generation to generation. Back in 2016 I addressed this waxing and waning in a comment posted on another Quadrant article and which still seems relevant to the current discussion. It is reposted below:

    October 10, 2016
    I believe we are in a time of cultural change in the legal profession (and others) as well as the production of legislation. For me it goes back to the time when we were part of the British Empire and the wider Anglosphere which included America, say the early 1800s. The Industrial Revolution was in full bloom in England with consequent social problems. At that time, in both the Empire and USA the legislative emphasis was on law and order. In relation to other aspects of human activity at that time basically the attitude was let things happen and if something goes wrong we will try and fix it. By the mid-1800′s when things had become more prosperous and the middle classes had become enfranchised, the UK government began looking more at other issues. J.S.Mill was one of the leading lights in this change of legislative direction. His philosophy had several angles to it and these are outlined in his essay “on Liberty” among others. Most are familiar about the role of “self-regarding” acts as a factor as to whether to legislate or not. This appealed to the laissez-faire protagonists. What they did not like was his other concept that the state needs to legislate in order to take antecedent precautions to prevent harm in the community. It was this concept that led to more social legislation in Britain and its Empire resulting in, for example, legislation re working conditions in mining, cotton and woolen mills etc. It also established standards for the various professions, proper labelling of dangerous products and qualified access to them, and so forth – things we take for normal today. The legislation provided for severe penalties for non-compliance and the various governments had a system of inspectors to monitor and report on compliance. Under this system, lawyers did not get much of a “look in” because people looked to the government to ensure their safety. The Americans, being an independent country, did not follow this line, whereas what are now Commonwealth countries used this UK legislation until such time as they had their own governments and enacted their own legislation, but in the same preventive spirit as in the UK. The UK legislative culture had persisted in its former colonies, but not in America. The Americans preferred the pre-Mill style whereby you let bad things happen and then tried to clean it up, instead of the Mill prevention model. This meant a lighter government hand and thus the private lawyers took up the slack and used suing as a means of stopping more bad things happening in the future. What has happened over time is that the Americans have adopted some of the Mill culture and the rest of the Anglosphere has adopted some of their legislative culture. For example, we never used to allow professions to advertise – now we do, since the FTA. The reason for not advertising was to prevent competition between practitioners (legal, medical etc) that was based on price (or material gain as a primary motive), the theory being that professionals would have to compete on professional standards in order to attract clients, and thus reducing the temptation to “overservice” which is a real issue when price competition is the driving force and unbridled competition forces incomes down. Thus you had a market-driven mechanism to keep professional standards high. Where all this is going to lead, I don’t know, but this subtle change is having a dramatic effect on how we look at things in Australia.

  • craigbrendan156 says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. There is certainly some solace in hearing from uncontaminated minds. I suspect there are millions, but many, probably wisely, realise it is safest to keep quiet. This, of course, is part of the problem.

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