If Israelis expected the world to be horrified at the atrocities committed by Hamas and by Gazan civilians against Israeli citizens, they were quickly disabused of such a hope. Shockingly, celebrations of the Hamas attacks were widespread, followed by justifications of the atrocities offered by officials, politicians, academics, and mobs of Arabs, Muslims, and leftists around the world.
Common to the justifications were characterizations of Israel as colonial settler state implementing apartheid and engaging in genocide against the Palestinians. These statements are the reduction of academic postcolonial theory to a few political slogans. No facts support these claims, but I will not list the realities that refute them, because these claims do not in fact refer to reality, but are shibboleths signaling identification in opposition to Israel. I will point out only that Israeli Arab citizens fly immediately into fury at any suggestion that they might wish to change boundaries and abandon Jewish Israel to live under the Palestinian Authority. Some apartheid; some genocide.
It is worth remembering that Arab culture, and the Islamic culture built on it, rely on the fundamental concept of structural opposition that is at the heart of foundational Bedouin culture. The rules of Bedouin politics are twofold: Always uphold solidarity with your kin and always side with the closer relative against the more distant. Arabs should always side with Arabs, and Muslims should always side with Muslims, no matter what. In conflict, you use whatever weapons you can. In propaganda wars, you use whatever claims advance your case. Truth doesn't come into it. Progressives and the far left, their tribes being identity classes, have adopted these principles.
Some non-ethnic apologists for Hamas formulate general arguments. Like many "progressive" academics, Laura Mullen, chair of the literature and creative writing department at Wake Forest University, justified the atrocities this way: "So it's kind of a Duh but if you turn me out of my house plow my olive grove and confine what's left of my family to the small impoverished state you run as an open air prison I could be tempted to shoot up your dance party yeah even knowing you will scorch the earth." She went on to explain, "When 9/11 happened, I was asking myself and others, 'What did we do to make people want to come and do that to us?' That is how my mind works." Finally, Professor Mullen summed up her justification: "despair leads to violence...a human truth." Note that Professor Mullen's approach would be like asking an abused wife, "What did you do to deserve being beaten up?"
As both a general truth and as an explanation for Hamas' exterminationist antisemitism, "despair leads to violence" is profoundly inadequate. As a justification for burning families alive, beheading infants, roasting infants, and violently raping girls and women and then murdering them, it is obscene. The most superficial knowledge of history proves that the causes of violence are multiple, and that despair can lead to a variety of non-violent responses.
Let us consider a few examples of notable historical cases of violence. In 63 BC, the Romans invaded Ancient Israel and besieged Jerusalem. The indigenous population of Jews continued to resist Roman control, and for two centuries fought off and on against the Romans, ultimately losing to them and being forcibly dispersed throughout the Empire. Was this invasion the result of Roman "despair"? To suggest such a thing would be absurd. Rome was an expansionary empire, and used its power to assert control over people and resources. Remember, prior to 18th century, production was so arduous and ineffective that the easiest way to gain wealth was to take it from others. Rome collected up everything valuable, including slaves to provide cheap labor, in order to raise its own standard of living.
The many historical violent invasions, small and large scale, of tribes and empires, were all motivated, not by despair, but by strength, greed, and the desire for adventure and triumph. The Persians, the Aztecs, the Mongols, and many others all conquered great areas and slaughtered and enslaved great numbers. There was no justice in their conquests, only the exercise of power.
The historical example most pertinent to the Hamas case is the Arab Islamic Empire that conquered half the world beginning in the 7th century. (Please have patience; this is highly relevant to Hamas today.) Inspired by Islam, Bedouin armies, initially organized by tribe, invaded Persia (Iran) to the east and continued through Central Asia and to India in the south. They brought devastation, defeating local armies, executing males, and capturing women to be sex slaves and, in the case of the poorer soldiers, wives. Altogether, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Indian men were slaughtered and hundreds of thousands of women, including those of royalty, were enslaved.
One of the keys to military success was the Islamic belief that soldiers killed fighting for Islam would go directly to heaven, where they would be comforted by 72 virgins available to each of them. When Islamic militants say that they love death, this expectation is what they mean.
Islamic Bedouin armies invaded northward and conquered the Levant, Israel/Palestine (as the Romans named it). From there they began their westward invasions, first taking control of Christian Egypt, then on to Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, imposing Arab domination, Islam, and Arabic language on the local Berbers. Next, Arab and Berber Islamic armies turned north, invading and conquering Sicily and Iberia (Spain and Portugal), defeating local armies and occupying the towns. A standard practice was turning churches into mosques.
A basic military strategy was to set up forward bases on the frontier from which army units could raid and terrorize local people in the area to be invaded and occupied. As part of this strategy, they would also burn crops and buildings, kill or capture livestock, inspiring locals to abandon their territory, so that expansion into it would be easier. This was tried with France, but in 732 AD the Arab/Berber army was met at Tours and defeated by Charles "the Hammer" Martel and his army of Franks. After 700 years of Islamic dominance and occupation, in 1492 the Reconquista succeeded in driving the Muslims out of Iberia. The Normans had earlier, 1060-91, reconquered Sicily for Christianity and Europe.
The invasion of the northern Middle East by Islamicized Turkish tribes from Central Asia led to a shift in power away from the Arabs. It was the Turks who invaded Greek Anatolia, and Ottoman Tribes that conquered the Byzantine Empire and occupied the capital, Constantinople, renaming it Istanbul in 1453, and turned its churches into mosques. The Ottomans then turned north, invading and conquering the Balkans.
All of these invasions and occupations were attempts, many successful, to bringing the world under the authority of Allah, as Islam demands.
Through all of Arab, Berber, and Turkish Islamic conquests, the repeated strategy was establishing forward bases to terrorize local populations, softening them up for future invasion, conquest, and occupation. Hamas is such a forward base, and conquest and occupation of Israel is exactly what Hamas has promised in its founding charter. Hamas upholds the principle that Muslims must dominate and that there is no place for Jews in their ideal world. Hamas promises not only to destroy Israel totally, but also to murder all Jews in Israel and around the world!
Hamas' views are standard Islamic ones, based in the Koran, which states that Jews disobey God (9:29-35; 4:44-46). These views were also widespread throughout Muslim lands through the centuries, and led not only to many oppressive measures against Jews, but to sporadic bloody pogroms against Jewish populations. Mohammed himself set the standard when he murdered all of the men and captured all of the women from the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in Medina. Palestinian Arabs have kept up the tradition; the Hebron massacre of 1929, decades before the establishment of Israel, is only one example.
Hamas in Gaza is just one of the iterations of Islamic forward bases from which the soldiers of Islam would sally forth to conquer the world for Islam. That is why Hamas calls for jihad, holy war, as does the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen. Conquering the world for Islam is the explicit raison d'etre of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The absurd justification for Hamas' atrocities against civilians that Hamas is fighting for land and orchards taken from them ignores the entire history of Islamic imperialism and the exterminationist approach that Muslims take toward people they define as enemies. Yes, genocide is an issue here, but it is the genocide that Hamas plans for Israelis and Jews around the world.
Philip Carl Salzman is emeritus professor of anthropology at McGill University, senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, and past president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.