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The weeping terrorist

An international elite beholden to nihilistic empathy cannot meet the challenge of the moment.

A caricature of an upset terrorist. Source: Stable Diffusion
A caricature of an upset terrorist. Source: Stable Diffusion
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

The U.S. decision to finally end Iran’s perennial impunity and force its theocratic regime to pay a price for its genocidal imperialism is welcome, but it means we are about to meet a familiar personage once again: the weeping terrorist.

The weeping terrorist is a bifurcated creature. First, there is the terrorist part: He slaughters large numbers of people in the most sadistic and public way imaginable; wipes out entire religious, ethnic and racial groups of which he disapproves; undermines and topples governments; foments civil war; props up dictators and tyrants; and finally commits genocide.

Then comes the weeping part: When the victims retaliate, the terrorist erupts into floods of tears at his unprecedented and unspeakable suffering, the brutal assault on his rights and freedoms, the vile racism and bigotry of those who persecute him, the immutable purity of his motives and the righteousness of his cause.

The weeping terrorist has been here before, particularly in his Palestinian nationalist form.

For over a century, the Palestinian national movement has murdered, raped, dismembered, incinerated, assaulted, slandered, demonized, ethnically cleansed and religiously persecuted not only Jews and Israelis but anyone who stood in its way. For just as long, the Palestinians have responded to any retaliation with a deluge of tears. No one has suffered as much as they, they sputter, no one’s “resistance” has ever been more justified, and no people has faced such racist and genocidal enemies. After all, look at all these dead women and children, the weeping terrorist wails after having murdered scores of women and children.

This piece of theater has been performed by many empires, nations and religions. But it must be said that it is embedded particularly deep in the history of Islam. To this day, Muslims view Muhammad as a persecuted prophet without honor in his own country, when he was an immensely powerful and notably aggressive warlord. One may feel he was justified in being so, but the fact that he was is incontrovertible.

The Muslim world today often brands its enemies as “crusaders,” although the Crusades were essentially a belated response to the Muslim conquest of the entirety of the Middle East and North Africa, the subjugation of their indigenous populations, and the establishment of a settler-colonial empire. Indeed, Muslims still lament the loss of Andalusia, even though they had merely lost what they had conquered and colonized from Christians a few centuries before.

In the modern age, European imperialism in the Muslim world is a constant grievance, even though the Europeans had merely reproduced what Islam had done 1,500 years previous, and in a far more temporary manner. Today, this attitude remains constant. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for example, endlessly screams about Israeli settler-colonialism while standing on soil stolen from the Anatolian Greeks and other peoples.

This rank hypocrisy makes the weeping terrorist a farcical, almost clownish figure. At heart, he is a malignant narcissist. He views himself as perfect and cannot understand why the rest of the world tends to disagree. Everything is about himself, he can do no wrong, and everyone else, out of jealousy or malice, is arrayed against him—constantly trying to wound, exploit or kill him. He does horrible things to people and cannot understand why his victims want to stop him from doing so again. The possibility that he might be in the wrong is not only unthinkable but an occasion for further horrendous violence.

All of this is par for the course. The question is why the rest of the world is so often seduced by this low comedy. For decades, the world’s standard response to the weeping terrorist has been to agree with everything he says. It rushes to salve his wounds, make restitution for his sufferings, empathize with his grievances and demonize his victims.

In the case of the Palestinians, this has hardened into something like a theology. In the case of Iran, we are likely at the tipping point. When Iran and its proxies start bawling over how terribly America has treated them, thousands of arms will rush to embrace them.

Unfortunately, this embrace is probably hardwired into the culture of much of the international community. In his book Dominion, the historian Tom Holland describes how, despite widespread secularization, the foundation of Western values remains essentially Christian.

There is a dark side to this, however, because the ethos of the West—which it exported to the international institutions it founded—is a kind of deracinated Christianity. It has adopted the more altruistic and charitable aspects of the Nazarene’s message, such as that the meek will inherit the earth and the last shall be first. It unquestionably seeks to comfort the “suffering servant.” But it has also completely amputated Christianity’s strict moral codes, the faith’s insistence on adhering to its predecessor’s commandments such as “Thou shalt not murder” and its admonition that, while one should love the sinner, one must hate the sin.

What remains is a kind of nihilistic empathy. These deracinated Christians not only love the sinner; they love the sin. The only blasphemy they recognize is to hurt anyone, anywhere—even if they deserve it. Even if it is the only way to stop them from hurting everyone, everywhere.

As a result, the deracinated are the perfect victims of the weeping terrorist. He knows that the worse his sin, the more the empathic nihilists will love him. He knows that those he has wounded and wronged will face condemnation when they strike back. He knows there is no crime he cannot get away with. He need only weep, and that will be enough.

If there is any hope of changing this, the international elite will have to be replaced. The deracinated remnant of a great religion will never withstand the weeping terrorist. We require instead an elite who knows what kind of person is willing to use even tears as a weapon.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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