Middle East

Retribution, Redemption & Salvation

The Underlying Substrate of Islamism and Progressivism

One particularly painful realization among my counterparts on the Israeli left is that the attack has been framed by the global left as an act of legitimate resistance, and even as an “exhilarating” experience, as one Cornell University professor put it. But unlike my counterparts, this was one issue that I was not at all surprised about. Not only was I not shocked, but as someone who grew up in the diaspora, I expected it.

For starters, there has long been a chasm between the Israeli left and the international left in terms of worldview. Whether one chooses to identify with Zionism or not becomes irrelevant in this context. The establishment of the State of Israel was an achievement of the Zionist left, and the harsh reality of Jewish history, the uniqueness of the Jewish people, and the often-ruthless facts of life in the Middle East ensured the Israeli left’s grounding in reality rather than the lofty concepts and moral narcissism that has come to define the international left.

This alliance between the western liberal establishment and Islamists is perceived as one of the most distinctive oddities of our days. Some choose to explain the seemingly peculiar coalition between unhinged western progressives and zealous Muslim conservatives as a phenomenon in terms of western leftist naivete and pragmatic predatory Islamist behavior. Like in a Greek tragedy, spectators and observers are left astonished at the direction the “hero”—western culture—is helplessly drawn toward. Through this lens, there appear to be no answers and no explanations, as if the Gods have already sealed our fate.

Such an assertion therefore holds no actual explanatory value, for it ignores the deeper and more sinister current below the surface—an extraordinary alignment of principles between the two parties.

Dominated by a postmodernist view of history, progressives see the story of the west as that of only oppression and little else. For the progressive mind, the west was conceived out of the original sin of power, a sin of which there is no redemption without offering a sacrifice, a new crucifixion yet with no promise of resurrection. Just like Oedipus, western progressives are out to murder the father once and for all. This deep disdain to western roots is the overarching commonality and the underlying substrate of both Islamism and progressivism.

In Muslim lands, the history of the Middle East is written as a long saga of continuous episodes of western aggression. Modern Middle Eastern studies is taught as nothing but a long struggle to shake off the European yoke, with all the accumulated sins projected onto America and its global imperialism. Islamists have espoused this narrative for a century, blaming the west for feminism, social decay, moral decadence, failing states, crumbling economies, cultural degradation, and a long list of grievances.

It was not too long before many western professors, journalists, writers, and politicians came to find their partners in this thought. Recall American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler’s remarks from 2006 at an academic conference: “Hamas and Hezbollah are social movements and a part of the international left.” In fairness to Butler, she did come out on October 13th in condemnation of the massacre: “I do condemn without qualification the violence committed by Hamas. This was a terrifying and revolting massacre,” she said.

Regardless, seventeen years later, the impact of Butler’s words has endured, finding widespread support for Hamas and Hezbollah in western academia and becoming a litmus test within the realm of social justice advocacy.

This becomes more perplexing when one takes into account a 2016 study which revealed that more than half of British Muslims (52%) believe that homosexuality should be illegal, and nearly half (47%) think it is not appropriate for gay people to teach in schools. And yet, in today’s climate, Islamists and LGBTQ movements are often seen marching side by side, as if these deeply held beliefs are of no consequence. How can this be?

French philosopher Renee Girard explained the social phenomenon of scapegoating as a necessary social mechanism to maintain a needed level of group harmony in a society. In Girard’s view, every human society is made of a set of rival groups. As the rivalries continue, the very center of society becomes made out of tensions due to some having what others want. As the tensions brew, violence starts to threaten the fabric of the community, at which point all communal tension and resentment are projected onto a single group. Rivals unite their efforts, and former enemies now become friends and the community participate in punishing the scapegoat. For this process to work, it must remain unconscious.

Jews have long been the favorite scapegoats of those seeking to explain away the ills of society. This tendency to blame Jews for everything that goes wrong is an essential part of antisemitism. Jews are portrayed as both insiders and outsiders, as the semitic infection of European purity who should go back to where they came from, and simultaneously as the colonizers of that very same place. They are seen as the whitest of all whites, and yet also as the enemy of the white race. They are cast as the architects of capitalism, the nefarious actors behind socialism, and as the agents of anarchy. Jews are held responsible for religious fanaticism and the porn industry, for creating the patriarchal ethos and for undermining that ethos through feminist agendas.

In the early 20th century, in the Middle East, Islamists, as well as pan-Arabists, picked the Jews to be their scapegoat. The deep intense desire to project all tensions of Arab and Muslim life onto the Jew has inflicted the culture with hysteria and psychosis.