Podcast Transcript

5 Myths about Israel and the War in Gaza

January 30, 2024

This is a transcript of a recorded podcast

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There are five myths about Israel and the war in Gaza that I would like to address. However, there are two things I should say at the outset that are important and easy to lose sight of with the various pseudo-moral hallucinations being spread everywhere, in particular on social media.

The first point is that the problem that Israel faces with Hamas, and eventually Hezbollah, and ultimately Iran, while it is existential for Israel, and dangerous and difficult in many specific ways, is a variant of a larger problem that has nothing, in principle, to do with Israel or Jews or American foreign policy. This is a larger clash of cultures—I hesitate to follow Samuel Huntington in calling it a clash of civilizations, because I think real civilization—what we mean by “civilization” at this point in the 21st century—exists on only one side of this divide. And this clash is happening, in varying degrees, in a hundred countries. In most places, it can be described as a conflict between Islamic extremists—more appropriately called jihadists—and ordinary human beings struggling to maintain the norms of open societies. So, while it might sound like I’m narrowly defending Israel here against propagandists for Hamas, I would have more or less the same things to say about any civilized society fighting jihadists. I said the same things about American efforts to eradicate the Islamic State, for instance, in which case I was defending the Yazidis, who were being starved en masse on the side of a mountain, whose men were being crucified and decapitated and whose women and girls were being taken by the thousands as sex slaves by jihadists who had come from all over the world to join the so-called Caliphate, and to bask in the false dawn of Islamic prophecy, seemingly on the brink of fulfillment. And I said the same things after 9/11, when the United States was the target. You can read my book, The End of Faith, on this subject, and you will find that there is very little mention of Israel there. I’ll have the same thing to say the next time a so-called “terrorist” murders innocent people in Paris or London. Again, this problem has nothing, in principle, to do with Israel or Jews. And I fully expect that civilized people throughout the world—non-Muslim and Muslim—will be fighting jihadists for decades to come. If I live to be 100, I do not expect to live to see the end of this problem. Needless to say, I hope I’m wrong.

The second point, and I fear that this will be forgotten almost immediately, the moment I begin defending Israel, is that there is no ethical or political argument that makes sense of the sight of lifeless children being pulled from rubble. With just a glimpse of the imagery coming out of Gaza, it is only natural to think that any action that could produce such carnage must be evil. It is absolutely natural to feel that, since urban warfare guarantees that innocent children will die, violence cannot be the answer. So Israel should just stop fighting. But this is an illusion. However horrific, even unthinkable, sometimes war is necessary. Now, many of the decisions Israel has made in how it wages this war are certainly debatable. But there is no way of waging it without a massive loss of innocent life, as I will discuss.

What is the alternative to violence for Israel in its current conflict with Hamas, given what Hamas did on October 7th, and given what it has vowed to do again at any opportunity? Pacifism? Pacifism only works against a morally sane adversary. It worked against the British in India. But pacifism would not have worked against the Nazis. Had the Allies decided that war is just too awful, and they just couldn’t stomach killing any more German children, we would all be living in the 1000-year Reich. And if the Israelis practiced pacifism, Hamas and Hezbollah and a fair number of ordinary Palestinians would simply murder them. This is not an opinion. This is what these groups have claimed openly for decades. And if there were any doubt—and there was never any doubt—October 7th has made it obscene to doubt this now. What more do you need? Hamas has said that it will repeat the atrocities of October 7th again and again. And recent polls indicate that 80 percent of Palestinians approve of what they did. You might worry that Palestinians can’t afford to answer such polls honestly, for fear of Hamas, but support for Hamas is around 40 percent in recent polls. Support for what Hamas did on October 7th is double that. So many those who had the courage to say they don’t support Hamas still approve of what happened on October 7th.  

The problem for Israel, and for the whole world, is that Jihadism is more dangerous than Nazism. Jihadists are Nazis who are certain of paradise. They are Nazis who are eager to die and have their children die because they actually believe in martyrdom. They don’t just sort of believe in it. They don’t merely hope that it’s true. They absolutely believe that dying while attempting to kill infidels, or apostates, or Jews leads directly to Paradise. I understand that this sounds like dehumanizing wartime propaganda. But it isn’t. This is fundamentalist religion in its worst form. We are dealing with religious fanatics who have had most rational human goals and considerations scraped from their minds by a lunatic ideology. And while there are differences among jihadist groups—and they can be sometimes found murdering one another—they are all part of the same death cult. I’m not saying that ordinary nationalism and tribalism aren’t also part of the problem. They are. There are many contributors to every conflict. I’m talking about what makes these particular conflicts worse than those born of ordinary nationalism, or tribalism, or competition for resources, or any other earthly motive.

The aims of jihadists really are antithetical to everything that civilized people value, and are right to value, in the 21st century. And the fact that we have on our own side rich, educated people, who are concerned about gay rights and trans rights and women’s rights, who want to fight climate change and save the whales, taking the side of Hamas in the aftermath of their atrocities on October 7th, just reveals how confused and decadent and morally vulnerable our civilization has become. We have to face the facts that are staring us in the face. And, most important, the majority of Muslims everywhere need to face these facts and be honest about what jihadism is, and where a sincere belief in martyrdom leads. They have to moderate Islam in ways that other religions have been moderated. And there are some hopeful signs that this is happening—at least among the rulers of the gulf states. But a disavowal of jihadism needs to become the majority opinion among 2 billion Muslims worldwide. Until this happens, there will be no exit from these sorts of conflicts.


Myth #1: Israel is guilty of “genocide” in Gaza.

The term “genocide” has a clear meaning—it’s the destruction or attempted destruction of a whole people. According to the 1948 international genocide convention, genocide constitutes “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” To claim that Israel has perpetrated a genocide in Gaza, or that it has attempted genocide anywhere, is patently false. There were around 250,000 people in Gaza in 1948. There are now more than 2 million. This rate of growth is triple the world average. So if Israel has perpetrated a genocide in Gaza, it is the most inept genocide in history. And yet this false charge has been made against Israel for years. It’s telling that the most recent allegations of genocide could be heard before Israel had dropped a single bomb in response to the atrocities of October 7th. Really, people were shrieking “genocide” on October 8th. What does that tell you? This is just a new blood libel.

Of course, it is true that the Israeli Defense Forces have killed a lot of people in Gaza. However, it is also true that if the IDF wanted to kill every person in Gaza next week—that is, actually commit genocide—it could. But, of course, it doesn’t want to do that and has never wanted to do that. In fact, the Israeli army routinely drops leaflets, and broadcasts on the radio, and calls cellphones to alert Palestinian civilians when specific areas will be bombed. They did this for weeks in advance of their most recent invasion of Gaza. Conversely, Hamas is using its own population as human shields. It built its headquarters under a hospital, and built hundreds of miles of tunnels under civilian apartments and schools and mosques, and fires its rockets from populated areas, and often prevents families from evacuating in a conscious attempt to maximize the loss of innocent life. These are war crimes.

Of course, the IDF makes terrible mistakes, and this is inevitable in war. The IDF recently killed Israeli hostages who were mere moments away from being rescued. There are tragic accidents and errors of judgment in every war. However, any conflict with jihadists is made immeasurably worse by the tactics they use. Why can’t Israeli soldiers simply trust people who appear unarmed and want to surrender or move to safety? Because they are confronting a culture of religious fanatics that has produced an endless supply of suicide bombers over the last 50 years. Just take a moment to contemplate how the tactic of suicide bombing changes everything. Nothing and no one can be taken at face value. Normally, if someone is driving a car or truck, you can be confident that he hasn’t rigged it to explode. Most people aren’t eager to die. We rely on the near universality of that attitude in all kinds of ways. But here we are talking about people who have literally rigged children to explode—this has happened in a dozen different conflicts with jihadists across the world—many of which had nothing to do with Israel or the West or even non-Muslims. How do you expect an army, or a police force, or any other organization, to deal with this possibility in a compassionate and civilized way—one that is recognized to be compassionate and civilized by all the innocent people who are subjected to it, day after day and year after year, at check points, and in other places where they have to be treated like they too might be suicide bombers? Just imagine what it is like to have to wonder whether a child is actually a bomb? And just think for a moment about a culture that has normalized this nihilistic behavior—a culture that literally teaches the love of martyrdom to 6 year-olds in school. This has nothing to do with Israel or Jews—or the Palestinians even. This is just jihadism. For instance, Boko Haram routinely uses children as suicide bombers in Nigeria, and elsewhere in Africa. This insane behavior has nothing to do with Israel. Most members of Boko Haram have never met anyone who has ever met anyone who has met a Jew. This nihilism falls directly out of the doctrines around martyrdom and jihad, which are unique to Islam. Again, I’m not saying nationalism and ordinary grievances never play a role. They do. I’m talking about the religious layer of these conflicts that make them worse than other types of conflict.

I’m going to take a little detour here, just to hammer this point home—because in my experience, secular people find it impossible to understand what’s going on here. This from The New York Times on February 12, 1984… Almost exactly 40 years ago. Reported by Terence Smith, who at the time was a former foreign correspondent and chief White House correspondent for The New York Times. Reading from the start of the article, about the war between Iran and Iraq. This is being reported from the Iranian side, about their routine use of child soldiers on suicide missions. Again, this is from The New York Times 40 years ago:

“THEIR TICKET TO PARADISE IS the blood-red headband and the small metal key that they wear into battle. ''Sar Allah,'' (''Warriors of God''), some of the headbands read in Farsi script, identifying the wearers as divinely designated martyrs who will use their keys to go directly to heaven if killed in the holy war against Iraq declared by their leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The headbands and the keys are worn by young boys, aged 12 to 17, [I should note that younger ages have been reported elsewhere, I’ve read about children as young as 9 used in this way] who are recruited by local clergy or simply rounded up in the villages of Iran, given an intensive indoctrination in the Shiite tradition of martyrdom, and then sent weaponless into battle against Iraqi armor. Often bound together in groups of 20 by ropes to prevent the fainthearted from deserting, they hurl themselves on barbed wire or march into Iraqi mine fields in the face of withering machine-gun fire to clear the way for Iranian tanks. [Just picture this from the Iraqi side: You’re an Iraqi tank commander, and you see groups of children coming at you across a minefield, tied together with rope, clearing the mines and barbed wire with their lives.] Across the back of their khaki-colored shirts is stenciled the slogan: '’I have the special permission of the Imam [that’s the maniac Khomeini] to enter heaven.’

“In dozens of interviews conducted by this reporter in recent weeks with Iranian exiles, academics and government and intelligence officials in the United States and Europe, the blind faith of these teen-age martyrs was frequently cited as symbolic of the fanaticism that is part of life today in the Islamic Republic of Iran. An East European journalist who witnessed one of these human-wave assaults, in which tens of thousands of young Iranians have gone willingly to their deaths, could hardly believe what he was seeing, as first one boy, and then another, detonated a mine and was hurled into the air by the explosion. ‘We have so few tanks,’ an Iranian officer explained to the journalist, without apology.”

Ok, a few things should be clear. Again, this madness has nothing to do with Israel. Here, we’re talking about the war between Iran and Iraq, 40 years ago. These were Muslims fighting other Muslims. And it was a zombie movie. This belief in martyrdom is cancer for the mind. Until the Muslim world outgrows it—anathematizes it, vomits over it, can’t believe it ever indulged it—the potential for the most insane violence will never go away. And this is why nuclear weapons in the hands of jihadists cannot be tolerated. As bad as nuclear proliferation is in every other context—just think of how bonkers things are with North Korea. North Korea has nuclear weapons. And they have also built ICBMs. Though their accuracy is still debatable. And they have threatened to bomb the United States. As bad as that is, one thing makes it tolerable: We don’t believe that Kim Jong Un is eager to die. The guy loves basketball. He has 100 cars and a harem and a private island. If a fanatical belief in martyrdom were endemic to North Korea and its leaders, that would make the situation incalculably worse. The entire world, and the Muslim world in particular, needs to recognize that jihadism is the one ism that can no longer be tolerated.   

As for genocide, the intentions of Hamas, as declared in their founding charter, and as they have reiterated numerous times since October 7th, are explicit: They aspire to commit an actual genocide. This is something they proudly claim to want to do. And the worst part is that they don’t ultimately care about their own survival. Members of Hamas, like jihadists everywhere, routinely chant, “We love death more than the Jews, or the infidels, or the Americans, love life.” While this might sound like posturing, and it may be posturing for any specific person who lacks real faith, in general, it is an honest expression of their religious worldview. They are a death cult. And Hamas is a death cult that happens to be very popular among Palestinians. Even though Hamas has engineered a situation in which to fight them effectively requires that Palestinian civilians also die.

Again, they are consciously using their own population as human shields. They have built hundreds of miles of tunnels under Gaza, more extensive than the London underground, with thousands of entrances that use hospitals, mosques, schools, apartment buildings, and other civilian infrastructure as cover. Hamas fighters are hiding in these tunnels right now, and using the innocent civilians they kidnapped from Israel as an additional layer of human shields. Crucially, these tunnels are not being used as bomb shelters for the civilian population. On the contrary, the civilian population is being sacrificed to protect the tunnels. Again, that was the whole plan. They have spent billions of dollars, over the course of 17 years, building these tunnels. The Palestinians in Gaza have received more international aid than almost any community on earth. They could have built a Singapore on the Mediterranean. In fact, if they were pacifists, they would already have a state. Pacifism would actually work if practiced by the Palestinians against Israel. There is no way that Israel could resist a Gandhian-style campaign of nonviolence in support of a 2-state solution. The Palestinians would absolutely win a moral contest like that, and could have won it 50 years ago. But, generally speaking, they are a culture of religious fanatics, ruled by absolute fanatics, who are willing to sacrifice everything for martyrdom. As a top Hamas official said in response to all the destruction in Gaza, “We are called a nation of martyrs. And we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.” That is the problem that Israel is dealing with. What Hamas is doing is not, in any sense, normal human behavior in a time of a war. But it is normal for jihadists. What Israel is doing, in a desperate attempt to eradicate Hamas, while minimizing civilian death, is not in any sense an act of genocide.

Again, nothing that I just said, even while true, makes sense when you see the bodies of dead children being pulled out of rubble. The only thing that provides moral clarity here is the recognition that this whole catastrophe is Hamas’s fault. And that there can be no peaceful response to jihadism. Anyone calling for a cease fire at this point needs to ask themselves, why aren’t you calling for Hamas to release the hostages? And why don’t you remember that there was a ceasefire on October 6th? The truth that we cannot lose sight of is that Hamas has deliberately engineered the chaos on both sides of the Gaza border.


Myth #2: International Humanitarian Law Requires that Israel’s response to Palestinian aggression be “proportional.”

The term “proportional” is being widely misunderstood when talking about the war in Gaza. To be truly “proportional,” in the way that many people imagine this word is used, Israeli soldiers would need to rape, torture, and murder the same number Palestinian noncombatants as Hamas raped, tortured, and murdered in Israel on October 7th. But, of course, no one believes that such reciprocal savagery would constitute a sane or ethical response to Hamas’s violence.

In fact, the concept of “proportionality” doesn’t refer to the numbers of casualties on either side of a conflict, much less insist that they be equal. It simply asks that we weigh the military importance of an action against the resulting destruction of civilian life and property. International law allows Israel to utterly destroy Hamas, given what happened on October 7th, and given the fact that they continue to fire rockets into Israeli cities, intentionally targeting civilians. As I’ve said, there is no way for Israel to fight Hamas without a massive loss of innocent life because, again, Hamas has embedded itself in the civilian population, on purpose, to cause as much civilian death as possible.

Jihadism aside, in this age of social media, it seems that many people are discovering for the first time what modern warfare is actually like. Independent of the rightness or wrongness of any cause, enormous numbers of innocent people die. The Allies killed hundreds of thousands of German civilians in World War II. And hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians along with them. How would that have looked on TikTok?

More recent wars are no exception. Around 2,300 US soldiers died in the war in Afghanistan. And yet we killed over 50,000 members of the Taliban and other opposing forces, and around 50,000 Afghan civilians died too. So there was around a 40 to 1 disparity in the number of deaths between the two sides. In the War in Iraq, we suffered twice the fatalities, around 4,600, and we caused something like 40,000 military deaths, so a 9 to 1 ratio, but there were somewhere around 200,000 civilians killed. Of course, many of those deaths were due to the sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia in Iraq, for which we also get blamed. Accepting that blame yields a fatality ratio once again of over 40 to 1.

My point isn’t to defend any of our tactics in past wars—or the wars themselves. My point isn’t even to defend the specific choices that Israel has made in waging this war. Frankly, I don’t consider myself informed enough to know what they should be doing. My point is that Israel is being held to a level of scrutiny in how it conducts this war that has never been applied to the United States, or the UK, or France, or any other country in a time of conflict. And unlike our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel’s war against Hamas is genuinely existential. And again, they are fighting jihadists, who have built hundreds of miles of tunnels under a civilian population, for the purpose of maximizing the loss of civilian life. It’s an impossible situation.

Of course, the loss of civilian life in Gaza is absolutely tragic. And nothing I’m saying here is meant to minimize the horror of it. I’m repeating myself on this point for a reason, because it’s very difficult to maintain moral clarity in the presence of dead and injured children. Our hearts tell us to rescue children by whatever means possible, and it’s a good thing that we have that response. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that all this tragedy and horror has been consciously engineered by Hamas for reasons that make perfect sense to jihadists, but which no normal army has ever contemplated or would ever contemplate. Yes, this conflict has many of the features of ordinary guerilla warfare. But guerilla warfare plus certainty of Paradise is much worse.

There is simply no good way to fight an enemy of this kind. When you are fighting jihadists, your own scruples—the shame and horror you feel at killing noncombatants—become another weapon in their hands. Jihadists are very clever. They know that by our own moral code, the images of innocent civilians being killed in Gaza are totally unacceptable. They know that we can only tolerate so much of that, lest we become unrecognizable to ourselves—lest we become monsters. But these people are already monsters. Hamas simply does not care about Palestinian children, and they are committed to murdering Israeli children whenever they can. That is why they have to be destroyed. There are only terrible and more terrible options here. And, again, the problem is deeper than Israel and the Palestinians. Eventually Muslim societies need to understand that their religious beliefs—specifically the doctrines about jihad and martyrdom—make any conflict of this kind far more pointlessly horrible than it needs to be. That is their fault. And it will remain their fault no matter how many children die in Gaza.

Again, modern, democratic, largely secular societies must wake up to the reality of the situation: We have a sadistically insane terrorist organization, raping, torturing and murdering noncombatants, and taking hostages, including children, and then using their own children as human shields so that they cannot be effectively fought by civilized people. They know that eventually civilized people become a little less civilized in situations like this, and can care only so much about collateral damage. So Israel can be expected to slip off the moral high ground, by killing enormous numbers of noncombatants, and even commit its own war crimes eventually. And civilized people the world over, who imagine themselves unimplicated in this conflict, will become hysterical and put pressure on Israel to stop fighting—as they did even before Israel started fighting. 

The crucial distinction, which almost no one can keep in view, is that there are now two types of people in this world: those who intentionally torture and kill children and other noncombatants, to maximize horror, and those who seek to avoid doing so, however imperfectly, while defending themselves against the first sort of people. The gulf between these two groups could not be wider, and everything we care about—literally everything—exists on one side of it. 


Myth #3: The Jews Are Colonizers and the Palestinians are Indigenous People.

There has been a continuous presence of Jews in the land of Israel for thousands of years. The Jews, therefore, are an indigenous people of the region. They were also indigenous to Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Iran, and other Muslim countries—before being driven out of those countries by Muslims. (Curiously, no one at the U.N. is worried about the Jews so-called “right of return.” Is anyone pressuring Muslim countries to give Jews their homes back? No. These are the sorts of asymmetries one should notice.)

In any case, Israel is not unique among states in having been created by outside powers, just drawing lines on maps in the aftermath of WW2. Pakistan was born in the same year and in the same way, and yet no one questions its right to exist. Nearly every nation on Earth has emerged from a chaotic history of conquest and the displacement of people. There are now 22 official Muslim States and over 50 Muslim-majority countries. This is the result of centuries of Muslim conquest. There is exactly one Jewish state. And yet only Israel must continuously confront charges of its illegitimacy. Only Israel must continually advocate for its right to exist. There are nearly 200 member states of the UN, and Israel has been sanctioned by that body more than all the countries in the world combined. Does that mean that Israel has behaved especially badly? No. There are countries like North Korea that have turned its entire society into a prison camp. There are countries like Sudan, that have perpetrated actual genocides. There are counties like Egypt and Somalia, where nearly 100 percent of girls are subjected to genital mutilation. There are countries, like Syria, that have killed orders of magnitude more Muslim noncombatants. As I already pointed out, there are countries like Iran that have used child soldiers, by the tens of thousands, in suicide operations. And yet the UN sits in perpetual judgment of the one embattled democracy in the Middle East that is fighting for its actual survival—against a death cult that revels in atrocities and in the martyrdom of its own civilians. I know the UN sounds like it still has some gravitas—it’s the United Nations, afterall—but on this and several other points, it has become a morally bankrupt organization. There are even reports that employees of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) took part in the massacre of October 7th—as insane as that sounds. And the United States has now paused funding because of this. The US alone gives UNRWA around $300M a year. And, as has been widely reported, UN funded schools teach Palestinian kids to hate Jews and aspire to martyrdom. The word “corruption” doesn’t even begin to encompass the problems here.


Myth #4: The atrocities committed by Hamas (and over one thousand Palestinian civilians) on October 7th were a legitimate response to oppression.

Israel left Gaza in 2005—forcibly removing thousands of its own citizens—and billions of dollars in international aid have since been spent there. So the “oppression” of the Palestinians in Gaza—by Israel—is at least debatable. While Israel has sought to maintain a secure border with Gaza all those years, so has Egypt—and yet no one blames Egypt for making Gaza an “open-air prison.” However, even if we accept the charge of “oppression,” it must be said that not all oppressed people respond by raping, and torturing, and murdering noncombatants.

The Tibetans have been truly oppressed by the Chinese for many decades, and yet they have never committed atrocities against Chinese civilians. When the Jews of Germany were herded into ghettos by the Nazis, those who escaped didn’t rape and mutilate German teenagers or burn German babies alive in reprisal. There are countless historical examples of real oppression, and yet very few cultures have produced a bottomless supply of suicidal terrorists. There might be many societal factors that explain these differences, but one is surely the Islamic doctrines around martyrdom and jihad. People’s religious beliefs really are motivating. We can see this with fundamentalist Christianity in the West. The fundamentals of religion matter when you’re a fundamentalist. And it matters that the fundamentals of our various religions are different. Mere religious tribalism is always a potential source of intolerance and violence—it is much worse when there are specific doctrines that advocate intolerance and violence. Again, we need the world’s 2 billion Muslims to honestly acknowledge this problem and find some way of moderating their faith, specifically around the doctrines of martyrdom, jihad, apostasy, and blasphemy–which put their faith in perpetual conflict with the modern world.  


Myth #5: The two sides in this conflict are equally civilized, equally entitled to respect, and equally worth protecting.

Well, again, if we’re talking about children dying on either side of this conflict—then yes, a human life is a human life. But Jihadist organizations like Hamas, and the wider cultures that support them, don’t value human life the way we do. Again, while this might sound like wartime propaganda, it is a simple statement of fact about how religious beliefs motivate people and constrain their thinking. There is a difference between religious fanatics who punish women with beatings (or worse) for showing their hair in public, or commit honor killings against them for the crime of getting raped, or throw acid in their faces for a perceived slight, or even, in a place like Afghanistan for the crime of going to school—there is a difference between this vicious lunacy and a modern society that treats women as equals to men. There is a difference between a society that murders gays, that literally has a policy of throwing them off of rooftops head first, and one that fully embraces them. There is a difference between religious fanatics who care only about Paradise, and most other people who take their religious beliefs much less seriously—or who have different beliefs that allow them to appropriately value life in this world.

Have you seen the crowds that cheered the capture of Israeli hostages and the mutilation of Jewish dead? Have you watched those videos? Did these people look like they have the slightest interest in avoiding war crimes? These are the types of behaviors we see all around the world in an Islamic context, even when the fighting has nothing to do with Jews or the US. Is it only Islamic? No. But Islam has more than its fair share of this kind of barbarity. We have to be honest about that. To be clear, I’m not advocating collective punishment against the Palestinians for being backward. I’m not saying that Palestinian civilians who support Hamas deserve to die. I am saying, however, that we shouldn’t lie to ourselves about the state of public opinion throughout the Muslim world. We should understand what people believe and how these beliefs affect behavior. And we have to figure out how to get 2 billion Muslims to truly moderate the religious extremism and tribalism we see throughout the Muslim world. It’s an enormous problem.

Recent polling among Palestinians, by the Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research, shows widespread support for Hamas, and more support for the attacks of October 7th. As I said, many of those who don’t like Hamas, for one reason or another, still like what Hamas did on October 7th.  This recent poll shows that while only around 40 percent of Palestinians support Hamas, double that support these atrocities of October 7th—the deliberate torture and murder of noncombatants, the taking of children (and even infants) as hostages. And the justification, in their minds, is explicitly religious—it was in defense of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, which they imagine has been desecrated by the Netanyahu government. Of course, the Palestinian community and the Muslim world generally is so riddled with lies and conspiracy theories, that we might reasonably wonder what percentage of ordinary Muslims believe that any Jewish civilians were killed on October 7th. Many believe the Holocaust never happened. After September 11th, we had the impossible spectacle of Muslims alleging that it was Jewish plot, because 4000 Jews supposedly didn’t show up to work on 9/11, while simultaneously celebrating it as a great jihadist victory by al-Qaeda. There is no reconciling these beliefs. In general, we are not talking about people who are part of the reality-based community. But if we are going to maintain basic moral sanity at this moment in history, we have to acknowledge that there is a difference between those who intentionally kill noncombatants—often in the most gruesome ways possible—and those who inadvertently kill them when dropping bombs, having taken considerable pains to avoid killing them. There is a difference between a society that parades tortured hostages before jeering crowds and one that gives even its most dangerous prisoners life-saving medical care. Most people don’t realize that the current head of Hamas, Sinwar, was cured of brain cancer, while in an Israeli prison. The actual mastermind behind the October 7th attacks was someone whose life had been saved by Jewish oncologist. It’s pretty hard to overstate the disparity here. Do you understand how much this difference matters? And how it touches everything? There simply is a difference between those who are attempting to spread a cult of death to the ends of the Earth and those who are struggling to prevent this from happening, while also struggling to maintain the norms of an open society. And it is impossible to understand these differences if one merely counts the number of dead and wounded in this or any other conflict.

And this is why intentions matter. Actions matter, of course, but the reasons behind the actions also matter. What sort of world are we trying to build? What would any given person or group do if they had the power to do it? There are vast differences in what various groups are aspiring to accomplish at this moment in history. And the future of civilization depends on our being able to minimize these differences—and where they remain significant to minimize them further, through diplomacy, and economic incentives, and other forms of pressure short of violence. But there are certain groups of people that have kicked themselves loose of the Earth—and they can’t be reasoned with or incentivized. And this is where the use of force becomes necessary. Let’s hope that becomes less and less true in the years to come…  

Thanks for listening.