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A new normal
President Biden last week called for a “pause” in Israel’s campaign against Hamas. The President asked for a ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and to bring injured people out. (Egypt has allowed foreign passport holders to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing.) Israel faced criticism after bombing a refugee camp, which Gaza authorities claimed killed 50 people. Israel said the strike killed a Hamas commander who was hiding in tunnels beneath the camp. While Israel has enjoyed broad bipartisan support from the US throughout its short life, the picture is a little different now.
As with Russia/Ukraine, aspects of America’s local culture war seem to have been mapped onto this foreign conflict. Narratives about race and oppression, power and privilege, resistance and violence were brought to bear on every new detail funnelled through the television. Down in the weeds, conservatives are split over whether you must be Zionist or be anti-Semitic. Progressives seem firmly entrenched on the side of an independent Palestinian state, but divide over whether you can support Palestine without approving of Hamas. Of course, the region’s history is old enough and complicated enough that it seems everyone can find historical data to back their position.
A Hamas spokesman told the BBC it is their intention to continue to attack Israelis until they are “annihilated.” Certainly, Hamas has been clear that it “loves death like Israelis love life.” This mangled worldview means, as one writer put it, “Dead Israelis are good for Hamas, but dead Palestinians are even better.” If a Muslim dies, that is glorious, if an infidel dies, that is just. “Hamas benefits politically and financially from the images of mourning, suffering, and dead Palestinian civilians that are all over your news feed…They have successfully weaponized the international community’s moral conscience against Israel.”
For all Israel’s crimes, it is not certain that one-state, two-state, or even a no-state solution would bring peace to the Middle East. Many have pointed this out but it bears repeating: Islam is not monolithic and various factions do a fine job of hurting each other. News came this week that Pakistan is expelling 1.7 million Afghanis and bulldozing their homes. Populations of Palestinians face discrimination in Syria and elsewhere. Many in Gaza do not support Hamas and are punished for it.
Dr Adam Francisco writes, “The blatant political agenda of Islam should make it clear that this is not simply a “religion” as conceived of in the post-Enlightenment and postmodern West. It is an all-encompass-ing worldview and political theology through which Muslims see the world as composed of two spheres: the sphere of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the sphere of war (dar al-harb).” And that will depend on how you read the Quran.
The short of it is: war is always terrible and innocent lives are lost, no matter how “justly” it is waged. While we live in this decaying world, godless men will inflict harm as they covet things and despise people. We may be living through a “normalisation of violence”, even as the theories about “redemptive” aggression of activists such as Herbert Marcuse and Frantz Fanon come to life on American streets. Calls for intolerance in the name of redressing injustice are chanted by those watching from afar, hardening their own hearts in hate or fear.
But for whatever lies ahead, the Father still sustains the world by the power of his word, the Holy Spirit still convicts it of sin and repentance, and the Son’s blood is enough to pay for every transgression. We have need of perseverance, in prayer and faithfulness, to do justly and to love mercy, now as much as ever.