Entry from July 31, 2006

Why do you suppose it is that the media light up with the universal outrage when Israel accidentally kills civilians in its war on Hezbollah in Lebanon but merely take it for granted when Hezbollah deliberately targets Israeli civilians with Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanese territory? Part of the answer to this question may lie with the media’s structural bias against the West in the East-West clashes of our era, but that merely backs the question up a bit. Why, then, does Western progressive opinion, of which the media are the great representatives, have a double standard when it comes to judging those whom they might reasonably be expected to regard as the West’s — i.e. their own — enemies? Certainly they are the enemies of the liberal social attitudes and militant secularism which are also media hallmarks. Is, then, the unwillingness of the progressive-minded to criticize the Islamicist enemy, who are our enemies as much as they are the Israelis’, and a complementary propensity to blame everything on Israel a form of self-hatred or guilt — perhaps, as some people think, for the evils of imperialism?

Without wishing to rule out the possibility, I would suggest another. It is that we implicitly recognize that Israel’s participation in the traditions of Enlightenment Europe put her into a category apart from her enemies, not bound by the same rules. Whereas the Islamic honor cultures are permitted by multicultural right, as it were, to do what comes naturally to them in warfare — by, say, hacking off the heads of helpless hostages or targeting innocent civilians with rockets or suicide bombings, there is no going back for those who have once tasted of Enlightenment principles and universal maxims. That the primitive honor culture should know nothing of the categorical imperative and regularly assume that it is glaringly right for me to do to you the same thing that it is screamingly wrong for you to do to me is only to be expected. But neither Jews nor Christians nor those from formerly Christian countries who cling to the principles of enlightened secularism must ever allow themselves to think that they have “sunk to the level of” (as it is commonly expressed) their enemies. That was the premiss of Steven Spielberg’s Munich.

Yet we also have to understand that war is always bound up with honor, for the West as well as the East, just as honor is always bound up with a certain amount of prejudice for our own side and against that of the other fellow that could, on a strict interpretation, be considered anti-Enlightenment in spirit. For there to be self-defense, there must also be an understanding of the self that makes us, “Jews and Crusaders” alike and in one sense at least, no better than our enemies. It is a kind of moral vanity to insist on an absolute distinction without also becoming thorough-going pacifists and denying ourselves the right of self-preservation. That does not mean that we should do as they do and deliberately target civilians. On the contrary, the fact that we recognize in principle the distinction between military and civilian, even if we are not always able to preserve it in the casualty counts, is part of what gives us that identity that we still, some of us at least, think worth defending. It’s what the Jews of today have in common with the Crusaders, and it’s one reason why we who are of the Christian tradition ought to embrace that label and assert our national identity as the Jews have learned to do, instead of hastening to assure the enemy that we’re not Crusaders at all but enlightened secularists who despise our own religious traditions even more than we do theirs. Without those traditions, we never would have had the Enlightenment in the first place.


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