On Dec. 8, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl stabbed a 26-year-old Jewish woman who was pushing a stroller and walking her children to school. Can critical theory and institutional racism help you understand this? Can apartheid and social justice explain it without entangling us in delusional abstractions? Can the raging crime of a 14-year-old be blamed on systematic racism or Israel settlement’s policy?
For a Western mind well-molded in modern liberal habits of thought, there is no way to understand this weird mystifying incident. Reporters will write entire essays about this, academics will write papers without a single mention of anti-Semitism—a word that easily cuts through the matter and explains it. Already, major Western media headlines ran the story as “Palestinian teen facing East Jerusalem eviction arrested after stabbing,” directly blaming the stabbing of a Jewish mother by a Palestinian child on the Sheikh Jarrah conflict. But to do so is to miss the most profound feature of this kind of terrorism.
The most obvious characteristic of such terrorist attacks is that they are committed by children, and their childhood exposes the true essence of the matter: a simple faith in the villainy of Jews as Jews, a faith we have a name for—anti-Semitism. In anti-Semitic imagination, the difference between being an Israeli Defense Forces’ guard and a mother pushing a stroller is a mere delusion. A Jew is a Jew, and evil nature is Jewish nature. Personal variations are mere formalities. This is what such acts of Palestinian childhood truly expose through the lies of the activists, the apologists and the experts who just wish to explain it all away. A child simply hasn’t lived long enough to build grievances around policy or the abstractions of nationalism and resistance. And if this were happening elsewhere—and the identities of the perpetrators and victims were different—the international community would have been condemning the use of child soldiers.
I don’t hate that little girl. I was once exactly like her—a 14-year-old child who believes that Jews from babies to adults, old and young, are nothing but absolute evil. I’m outraged though. I’m outraged at everyone who for decades has been ignoring this tragic reality of the prevalence of anti-Semitism as a religious and existential worldview in the Middle East. Not just ignoring, but often deliberately obfuscating this fact and working really hard to prevent people from seeing it.
My journey to try to help people see this and to try to fix it has led me everywhere—to American political institutions, academic institutions, media institutions. I talked to politicians, professors, analysts, experts, etc. “They don’t really believe this.” They would just dismiss it all with a smirk. “It’s all rhetoric and ideological fluff … anti-Semitism doesn’t determine the outcome.” I was told by many of the card-carrying members of the American liberal elites who insist that marching down the streets of Tehran shouting “Death to America. Death to Israel” is all just performative social gatherings. That Palestinians calling for “slaughtering the Jews” is merely expressive of injustice.
Go tell that to that poor Jewish woman and her children!
We at EMET have been working hard to support H.R.4721‒UNRWA Accountability and Transparency Act, a bill that seeks to instrumentalize U.S. financial leverage over the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to force them to remove anti-Semitic content from the textbooks they are using and to stop indoctrinating children in their schools. We have daily meetings on Capitol Hill trying to bring the issue to their attention. The resistance we get from some offices is bewildering. One senator’s chief of staff told us after we showed them footage of Hamas recruiting children for military drills: “But Americans do this to their children, too.” How removed from reality should one be to think like this?
This same disagreement, claim and counterclaim becomes even far more consequential and problematic when it’s about the Islamic Republic of Iran and whether they actually believe it’s their Islamic mission to destroy Israel. I struggled to try to explain that those beliefs and ideas so matter. But eventually, it dawned upon me that those liberal experts don’t think beliefs matter because they themselves don’t believe in anything anymore. American liberalism became the preposterous philistinic phariseeism of a nation of technicians who believe in nothing but means and techniques. They don’t think the Iranians or the Palestinians really believe in what they say they believe because they personally don’t believe in what they say they believe. It’s all mere projection, all but externalization. Men and women who no longer have beliefs cannot understand what it means to have a simple faith like that of the Palestinian child. Of course, they don’t think the Iranians “really” want to annihilate Israel. Of course, they don’t think the Palestinians “really” mean they want to kill the Jews because they personally rarely “really” mean anything anymore.
This is not the first time that this debate—on which actual lives depend—has become so difficult because of the liberal men and women leading the world. In August 1941, as Hitler’s armies were marching through Europe and Britain found itself under siege, George Orwell wrote: “The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions—racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war—which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action. The people who say that Hitler is Antichrist, or alternatively, the Holy Ghost, are nearer an understanding of the truth than the intellectuals who for ten dreadful years have kept it up that he is merely a figure out of comic opera, not worth taking seriously.”
Not just Orwell, but C.S Lewis also warned that liberalism will create “men without chests.” Men who don’t truly believe that anything is true or meaningful but processes. Today, the job of liberal experts of education is to find out how to learn, but never why to learn. Silicon Valley wants to “move fast and break stuff” looking for how to make things faster and better, but never why do we need things that are faster and better.
If you are looking for the reason liberalism is being eaten up by a rising totalitarian progressive wave, look no further. No wonder liberalist institutions are being occupied and transformed by the progressive and socialist political predators. At least they offer young Americans the pretense of meaning (social justice, equality, etc.) instead of the meaninglessness of mechanical liberal technicalism. If this is the end of liberalism, be it the lower or upper case, then it will not be missed. Meanwhile, I will continue to be outraged and continue to stand with this Jewish mother and her children, and I will stand with the Palestinian children and try to stop their indoctrination into a destructive faith.
Hussein Aboubakr Mansour is director of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) Program for Emerging Democratic Voices from the Middle East and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.