As Israel wages its righteous and required war against the footsoldiers, infrastructure and high command of Hamas, those of us far away from the battlefield have a small, albeit important, role to play. Even as soldiers and airmen fight, generals strategize, and diplomats plan for some semblance of peace, people like you and me—everyday people of goodwill and reason and faith, informed citizens, students and CEOs, teachers and preachers, scholars and writers, parents and grandparents—must engage another front: the battle of ideas.
First, we must help those with ears to hear—well-meaning people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities of faith—understand the nature of this enemy.
The barbarians of October were ordered to “achieve the highest level of human losses,” “kill as many individuals as possible,” “capture hostages” and intentionally target elementary schools. In a daylong orgy of murder, they burned people alive, raped women, bludgeoned fathers, murdered mothers in front of their children, brutalized pensioners, executed babies, tortured families, dragged innocents into captivity, used civilians as human shields, and committed the largest-scale mass-murder of Jews since the Holocaust.
This list of heinous crimes is both shocking and unsurprising. After all, Hamas learned these dark arts from ISIS—yet another gang of mass murderers masquerading as holy men. ISIS orchestrated mass beheadings of Egyptian Christians; crucified Christian children as young as 12; and nearly exterminated the Yazidi people. As proof of its savage piety, ISIS murdered thousands of Yazidis; forced Yazidi women into sex slavery; conducted a systematic campaign of rape; imprisoned children as young as eight; and even used mentally challenged children as suicide bombers.
It’s not fair to compare ISIS and Hamas to animals, for animals do not do the sort of things Hamas and ISIS have done. Perhaps the best description for them is a term our ancestors—un-poisoned by postmodernism’s plague of moral relativism—used for their lawless and shameless enemies: hostis humani generis. Hamas and their ilk are, quite literally, “enemies of all mankind.”
That leads us to a second mission we must carry out in this home-front battle of ideas: We must help those with ears to hear understand that with such an enemy there is no common ground or compromise. As my friend and Providence colleague Marc LiVecche powerfully explains, Hamas must be ended—not understood, not reasoned with, not reformed, not contained, not attritted. Like Hitler’s Nazis, Tojo’s militarists, bin Landen’s al-Qaeda, and Baghdadi’s ISIS, Hamas must be ended—its leaders and footsoldiers sent to wherever mass murderers go when they meet their Maker. That is the endgame and purpose of this war.
The idea of waging “war on terrorism” has always been problematic. We cannot defeat terrorism, it was argued after the smoke and soot and fury of 9/11 began to fade, because it is a tactic or a method. Hence, we were told a “war on terrorism” is both futile and illogical, because war cannot be waged upon an abstract noun. However, the civilized world has defeated or otherwise marginalized uncivilized behavior and methods. In his book Surprise, Security and the American Experience, John Lewis Gaddis points to slavery, piracy and genocide—counseling us that waging war on terrorism is not necessarily a futile enterprise. In the same way, ending monstrous movements like Hitlerism and Hamas isn’t necessarily futile. It is, finally, a matter of will. Israel possesses that will—courtesy of the barbarians of October.
Speaking of will, it takes enormous moral and political will for the Israeli people to control their righteous rage and to prevent it from devolving into the very same sort of ends-justify-the-means mindlessness that characterizes our enemies. But the Israelis have consistently summoned that will and continue to do so today. Were she not governed by such restraint, by a moral code, Israel long ago would have turned Gaza and Syria into glass—and Hezbollah and Hamas into an unspeakable byword. But Israel has not done those things, has not matched inhumanity with inhumanity, has not forgotten the laws of war or of God.
That brings us to a third responsibility we have: We must help those with ears to hear understand that all uses of force, all acts of violence, are not the same. It shouldn’t take pensioners being executed, teenagers being raped, babies being beheaded, the mass abduction of children, the parading of corpses, or the wanton slaughter of innocents to understand this or grasp this. As President Reagan observed, “There is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest”—or terror—“pray God we have not lost it.”
Two generations later, it appears we have. The corrosive effects of postmodernism are everywhere on display amidst the Hamas assault on civilization—in the rationalizations spewed out by members of Congress, in the peace-at any-cost protests, in the vacuous moral equivalencies that have taken over our colleges. When people are taught that truth is situational and subjective—when they are constantly and relentlessly told that all truth claims are contingent on the malformed categories of oppressor and oppressed—don’t be surprised if they are unable to know or defend the truth. And don’t be surprised if horrible crimes are justified across the West in the name of “liberation.”
The world’s greatest cities have been turned into stages for mass protests against Israel’s right to self-defense and, by extension, right to exist. They rally for Hamas’s unspeakable war crimes, march against an occupation that ended a generation ago, and demand free elections that Hamas won’t hold or allow. Oblivious to the irony, they freely saunter through those cities shouting what they want to shout, believing what they want to believe, loving whom they want to love, reading and thinking what they want to read and think, worshipping what they want to worship or not worshipping anything at all—all in support of monsters who don’t allow any of those freedoms. Generations living under the protective shield of civilization take the side of those who are literally dismembering civilization.
Hamas is evil; those who support, defend, rationalize, and march for Hamas may not be evil, but they are certainly not right. At best, they are confused, scrambled, lost. At worst, they, too, are enemies of civilization.
That leads to a fourth home-front mission: We must help our neighbors use the gift of discernment in this scrambled time and challenge organizations of influence—houses of worship, foundations, businesses—to take a stand for what’s right and against what’s wrong. As President Roosevelt said in an earlier hour of darkness, “We may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.”
The defenders and enablers of barbarism must be exposed, shamed, and reminded there is a cost for their silence and their words, their inactions and actions. We’ve seen some early of examples of this from clear-eyed university funders and courageous corporate leaders—but not nearly enough.
A final mission for us: We must help those with ears to hear—especially fellow believers—to understand that governments are held to a different standard than individuals. As the Providence declaration on faith and foreign policy argues, “Christians have erred by holding the state to the same standard as the church or the individual, resulting in pacifism.”
For a nation-state, pacifism is neither practical nor biblical. Governments are expected to do certain things individuals shouldn’t do, and shouldn’t do certain things individuals should do. For example, turning the other cheek is indeed next to godliness for individuals, but such behavior is all but suicidal for nation-states. A government that turned the other cheek, “put away the sword,” forgave its enemies “seventy times seven” times, kept no record of wrongs, or never worried about tomorrow would expose its people to enormous risks, invite aggression, and ultimately be conquered, leaving its citizens defenseless against the likes of Hamas.
God calls upon government to deter aggression, to punish aggression, to administer justice, to hold back evil. Israel’s government is doing nothing more or less than that.
Alan W. Dowd is a contributing editor with Providence and a senior fellow with the Sagamore Institute, where he leads the Center for America’s Purpose.