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by David Burchell


THE Christian creed makes for arduous politics. If - as German political thinker Carl Schmitt once claimed - politics is the business of organising the world into relations between friends and enemies, what militant would ever truly wish to love their neighbour as themselves? Why would you choose to turn the other cheek, when in politics the appearance of weakness is often as debilitating as the actuality of it?

So, when the 18th-century Protestant sects shaped what we recognise as the ethos of the modern political "activist", in practice they were compelled to revise Jesus' teachings. When the Quakers launched the first global campaign against slavery, they shunned all physical contact with the persons and products associated with slave-holding, as if they were unclean: right down to offering their tea without sugar, in a ritual of self-purification that has become ever more familiar to us. When John Wesley, the preacher-activist, inveighed against the slave trade, he contrasted an idyllic picture of the slaves' native West African heathen simplicity with the mortal sin endured by every one of the trade's many millions of Christian beneficiaries.

In practice, the more skilled they became as politicians, the more Christian activists resembled that other ancient people of the book, the Manichees, for whom the principles of good and evil, light and darkness, are alive and present in the world, and manifested in its human inhabitants. So, when the modern post-Christian activist loves some other as themselves, or takes upon themselves the example of the good Samaritan, they are compelled - according to the principles of their political creed - to find somebody else to hate in equal measure, and upon whom to blame all the sufferings of the world. Did not the Jewish priest and the Levite walk past the injured stranger, before the Samaritan rescued him? Well then, the parable must have a political lesson. If the injured man is our neighbour, then the Samaritan is our friend and the priest and the Levite must become our sworn and mortal enemies.

Of all of the sad, tawdry features of the Gaza flotilla incident, surely none is sadder or tawdrier than the immediate assumption, leapt upon by so many people of good intentions, that the Israeli state is in the business of killing unarmed civilians, for the pure sadistic pleasure of it. This view of Israel as a kind of devil-state, the spirit of evil made incarnate in the world, has been around in educated opinion since at least the late 1960s, when it buttressed the then-enthusiasm of the Western Left for the Palestine Liberation Organisation. At that time the logic of Israel-hatred seemed clear enough. The Palestinians were the archetypical injured traveller on the highway, and yet the PLO and its more militant siblings (Black September, Carlos the Jackal, the Entebbe hijackers) were not easy folks to like, so it followed that Israel's motivations had to be made even blacker, as if in moral compensation. Two generations of militants taught themselves that intoxicating Manichean logic, according to which the blacker one paints one's spiritual enemy, the more sheer awfulness one can tolerate in one's friends. And all the while one can feel oneself to be as pure and unsullied as a Cistercian monk.

One of the most striking features of the Gaza flotilla's Western activists is the serene saintliness of their demeanour. Take the ingenuous young Irishwoman, going by the name of Caoimhe Butterly, who acted as spokeswoman to the Al Jazeera television network. Her voice lilted appealingly and her head bobbed innocently as she explained, in the gentlest possible terms, how the activists on board had decided to repel an Israeli incursion, if necessary by force. Or take the Swedish murder-mystery novelist Henning Mankell, a man whose Heaven-turned eyes and mane of silver hair resemble nothing so much as the ageing St Francis, and whose account of the Israeli assault was as detailed and specific as his own physical relation to it seemed obscure. (He was less obscure in a speech a year ago, where he imagined the day when each surviving Israeli citizen will be forced to decide if they are "prepared to give up their privileges and live in a Palestinian state".) For simple folks such as these, it stands to reason that peace on earth and the ceaseless rocketing of Israel are simply two sides of the same coin.

Of all of the signs of the moral decomposition of the progressive intelligentsia in my lifetime, none is more depressing or more shameful than the furtive, dishonest embrace of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood's terrorist arm, by thousands of otherwise intelligent, thoughtful people; people who probably imagine themselves as friends of civilisation and basic human decency. It was observable, first, in those supposed friends of the Palestinian people who began to speak with pity - and then soon enough with admiration - of Palestinian suicide-bombers, even as they heard fervent mothers speak of strapping their teenage sons into suicide-vests.

Then - moving sideways, rather like the political progress of a crab - it revealed itself in the mock outrage by which Ken Livingstone and many others of his ilk denounced the "demonisation of Hamas": as though Hamas had ever previously been considered a defensible political force. It then shuffled further sideways in ever-more-fastidious distinctions between support for Hamas and support for al-Qa'ida: as if the ugliness of al-Qa'ida could serve to excuse the ugliness of Hamas, or make it less the occasion for orgies of undignified moral squirming. Finally, it was consummated in last week's grand aquatic ritual-marriage between a vast miscellany of Western activists and intellectuals of varying levels of seriousness, and a complex of pseudo-charitable organisations, all of whom are more or less explicit partners of Hamas, and some of whom make no particular secret of acting as the organisation's overseas financiers.

No wonder so many people seemed oddly heartened by last week's sorry debacle on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. This is, after all, not just the self-created humiliation of Israel: it is, in a beautiful mirror-image, the triumphal moment of the Hamas Solidarity Movement. Except that no single person among that sea of beatified faces appears to have the moral courage to utter those simple, if rather horrible words: Viva Hamas! Victory to the throat-slitters! Go the child-bombers!

David Burchell is author of books on Australian politics, a senior lecturer in humanities at the University of Western Sydney and a columnist for The Australian. He has also contributed articles to the Australian Financial Review and Griffith Review. This article was a Opinion and Blogs item June 7, 2010 in the Australian ( terror-cheers-squad/story-e6frg6zo-1225876181302).


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