Podcast Transcript

Campus Protests, Antisemitism, and Western Values

May 13, 2024

This is a transcript of a recorded podcast

* * *

Well, I suppose I should say something about the campus protests. There is a lot of anger and confusion out there. Just how much of a problem is this?

There is no question that much of the chaos we see online is performative—which is to say that it’s being staged for the cameras. That doesn’t mean that it is entirely insincere. But it is interesting to consider whether the events themselves would have happened, or happened at this scale, and have this character, absent an ability to broadcast them on social media.

Of course, this concern relates to far more than what is happening on college campuses in response to the war in Gaza. The combination of a smartphone and social media appears to be driving our species crazy. We’re all effectively walking around with a television studio in our pockets. And the question is, what is this doing to us?

So, this is just to say that when I see video of crowds of very smug and very hostile kids at our finest universities, effectively supporting Hamas, I’m a little slow to conclude that this tells me everything I need to know about the scope of the problem. As I’ve said before, the entire aftermath of October 7th has convinced me that I have been almost totally asleep to the current reality of antisemitism. So I do think it is a far bigger problem than I realized. But I still don’t know how informative it is to see a video of some imbecile at Columbia or Harvard shouting for the Jews to “go back to Poland.”

What I can say is that the response of these universities has been totally inadequate and hypocritical. Their policies around protests have clearly been violated, and have been for months. And, as many people have pointed out, it’s the obvious double standard here that constitutes antisemitism. I’m less worried about the specifics of each ugly incident than I am about the fact that the administrations have been tolerating behavior that they simply would not tolerate had the objects of all this derision and abuse been anyone else. If these colleges had any number of people shouting that blacks should go back to Africa, or that trans people deserve to die, these students (to say nothing of professors who said such things) would be expelled. And this is clearly what should happen to the most uncivil actors here. All the kids who have been physically preventing Jewish students from accessing buildings on campus, threatening them with violence, simply because they are Jewish, should be expelled. Without question.

Even if you concede that Israel is totally in the wrong, this would not justify the behavior we’ve been seeing on campus. Imagine that China was doing something awful and worthy of protest—which, of course, China often is. It has put 2 million Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims in concentration camps, where they are reportedly subjected to torture, and sterilization, and forced labor. Where are the protests? Apparently, no one cares. Not a peep out of Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, or Yale. But let’s say that all these activist students started caring about China’s abuse of their Muslim population, and were protesting that. Imagine how the universities would respond if these protestors started targeting other students on campus, just because they happen to be Chinese—as though ethnically Chinese Americans or even Chinese nationals at Harvard could be culpable for what the Chinese government was now doing. Imagine them not letting Chinese students access buildings. This would be immediately recognized to be morally insane, and at odds with every core value of a university, and there would be zero tolerance for it.

But the analogy actually understates the perversity of what’s been happening—because many of these students are not merely protesting injustice and cruelty and innocent death, and just happen to be harassing the wrong people. Rather, many of them are supporting injustice and cruelty and innocent death, explicitly. “Globalize the Intifada” isn’t a call for peace; it’s a call for the indiscriminate murder of Jews. I’m willing to cut college kids a fair amount of slack, but you mean to tell me that students at Harvard and Princeton and Stanford don’t know that Palestinian intifadas entail a fair amount of suicidal terrorism and the deliberate murder of noncombatants? (The deliberate murder of noncombatants.) I might have been confused about a few things when I was 19, but I was never that confused.

How did the kids get this turned around? Well, there are many reasons, but here is one: Qatar, the petrostate, has given tens of billions of dollars to US, Canadian, and British universities. Qatar has given more money to western universities than any other country on Earth. The regime that controls Qatar is directly governed by the theology of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot. Where Jews are concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood is a fusion of Islamism and Nazism, and actually genocidal in intent. Through another radical group, American Muslims for Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood funds the student group that has been one of the primary organizers of these protests, Students for Justice in Palestine. They also fund a group of very confused Jews at these protests, Jewish Voices for Peace. This money trail was exposed by Charles Asher Small at the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Qatar also owns major soccer teams in Europe, and Al Jazeera, the so-called news organization, which has the same journalistic integrity as Russia Today. It’s just a fountain of Islamist lies. All of this amounts to a psyop on the West, and on Western education in particular. For decades, we have had Middle East Studies departments funded by Islamist theocrats and antisemites. Why have we tolerated this malicious exercise of soft power? It seems that money and oil are still just irresistible.

Students For Justice in Palestine, wrote the following in response to the atrocities of October 7th:

National liberation is near — glory to our resistance, to our martyrs, and to our steadfast people! … Resistance comes in all forms — armed struggle, general strikes, and popular demonstrations. All of it is legitimate, and all of it is necessary.

This was their immediate response in support of the intentional massacre of families and the taking of children as hostages, before Israel did anything in response. That’s the moral vision that inspired these campus protests.

However, direct funding by Islamist theocrats is only one strand of influence, as I’ll discuss. There is also the identitarian moral panic that has deluded the Left for years, which I have covered a lot on this podcast—which maps every conflict in the world to an oppressor-oppressed narrative. Again, I don’t want to exaggerate the scope of the problem. But it is pretty appalling that the largest student protest movement since the 1960s has distinguished itself by being this confused about what is really going on in the world, and is lending support to groups like Hamas, that represent the annihilation of everything these students should value.

The next time I see a job applicant from what used to be a great university—Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or even my own alma maters —Stanford and UCLA, which have been terrible—my first thought will be, were you one of these imbeciles who couldn’t figure out who the bad guys were on October 7th? Really, the brand damage to these institutions has been extraordinary.

We now know that hundreds of professors at these schools support Hamas—which again, is a genocidal death cult. That’s not my opinion; that is how Hamas describes itself. They want to kill all the Jews on Earth and to die as martyrs. That is the recipe for being an antisemitic, genocidal death cult. Any professor who supports Hamas should be fired—as you would fire any professor who openly supported the Nazis in the immediate aftermath of a Nazi atrocity. This is not a first amendment issue. No one has a constitutional right to be at Harvard, in any capacity.

And I can say with confidence, that the first good schools to accomplish a hard reset here—admitting that they have lost their way, purging the DEI bureaucracy and theocracy that they built over decades where the best of intentions grew malignant and metastasized… the first universities to fully reboot a commitment to Enlightenment values—No more money from Qatar, you idiots. No more stealth Islamism in your departments of Middle Eastern studies. No more reverse racism against Asian and White applicants. No more identitarian victim culture. No more dowsing for racists. No more whinging about halloween costumes. No more intersectional arsonists pretending to put out fires that they started. Just great books, and great teachers, and real research, and no more fucking apologies… The first elite schools to do that, will win so much support and good will, and an avalanche of applications and donors, they’ll solidify their reputations into the next century.

I wouldn’t even know where I would want to send my daughters to college at this point. Happily we don’t have to think about this for a couple of years. But all the best schools, and even the second and third best schools, appear to be in the process of destroying themselves. Again, I realize that it’s a minority of students protesting on even the most beleaguered campuses. But it’s the response of the institutions themselves that has been so reprehensible.

As a result of all this, there is a widespread sense in the Jewish community that more must be done to combat antisemitism. There is even a bill that just passed the House of Representatives, the “Antisemitism Awareness Act,” which would make it easier for Jews to make civil rights complaints. Unfortunately, this bill seems to conflate certain criticisms of Israel with antisemitism. I will grant that most people who claim to be anti-Zionist at this point are probably also antisemitic. This is pretty obvious from what they are saying and not saying. It used to be the case that you could be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic. My friend Christopher Hitchens certainly was that. And I was sort of that, at one point. But I’m not sure it’s a position one can truly occupy now.

October 7th changed my thinking on this. I remain uncomfortable with the concept of any sort of religious ethno-state. But given the murderous antisemitism of so much of the world, given that almost every country that has had a population of Jews has at some point actively persecuted them and driven them out—literally, almost any country you can name in Europe or North Africa or the Middle East had done this at some point. Given the tolerance of this reality by billions of onlookers—well, then the Jews clearly need their own state, and it should defend itself without apology. We have the two largest religions on Earth, Christianity and Islam, which encompass half of humanity, whose theology has reviled the Jews as eternal enemies for thousands of years. If half the world hated the Yazidis like this, and if much of what the world believed about them amounted to a deranged conspiracy theory, I would say that the Yazidis need their own state too. I’ll be happy to revisit the issue in a hundred years after we have made some moral progress. But until then, count me a committed Zionist.

However, I think talking about “Zionism” is totally counterproductive. We should talk about Israel’s right, as the lone democracy in the Middle East, to defend itself. I also think that focusing on antisemitism at this moment—as much as it really is a problem—is the wrong approach to addressing a much more fundamental problem: which is the hatred of Western civilization coming from so many of its own inhabitants and beneficiaries, and the very real clash between the West (which includes Israel every other civilized democracy) and Islam—in particular Islamism and Jihadism. Depending on the context we can call it “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism” or “Islamofascism.” Call it whatever you want, but what you can’t do, honestly, is say that this species of belligerent lunacy has no connection to the mainstream religion of Islam.

Why do I think that a narrow focus on antisemitism is mistaken? There are many people on college campuses now who support Hamas—which is as antisemitic, on its face, as supporting the Nazis. However, I think that hating Jews is not really what many of these people are about. As I said, some of them are Jewish. So what explains their behavior?  Well, they hate the West, or think they do. They hate Western power. In the American context, they hate Whiteness, perhaps above all—and they think the sin of racism subsumes everything. In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, they consider the Jews white and the Palestinians black. Is this utterly moronic? Yes, it is. At least half the Jews in Israel are Middle Eastern or North African in descent. The only black people you’ll find there are Ethiopian Jews, some of whom are fighting for the IDF. So kids, all your concern about white privilege, as you bounce between lacrosse practice and Starbucks is misapplied here. Should you be kicked out of Yale for being this stupid? Probably. But your stupidity is not quite the same as antisemitism.

Yes, antisemitism cuts across this landscape in ways that are very depressing, and I’m not seeking to minimize it. For instance, as you move rightward along the political spectrum, you meet more and more people who effortlessly recognize the derangement of the Left, and the sickening apologies for Islamic fanaticism that come from people who imagine that Harvey Weinstein is the worst person who ever lived—whereas there are whole societies in the Muslim world where a person like Weinstein would be considered unusually well-adjusted in his attitude towards women. The Left is still full of the sorts of people who blamed Salman Rushdie for the fatwa that forced him into hiding for a decade, and which finally got him nearly killed onstage in New York, after 33 years of looking over his shoulder. These are the same people who blamed the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for having had the gall to get themselves murdered in Paris. These imbeciles on the Left range from current darlings of alternative media like Glenn Greenwald to members of elite institutions whose very purpose is to defend freedom of speech, like the PEN America Foundation.

As you move rightward in our politics, you meet more and more people who easily see the insanity of all this—words are violence but clitorectomies and suicide bombing is somehow indigenous wisdom and the voice of the oppressed? But then, of course, as you move further rightward you meet more and more people who hate Jews: As scheming globalists who want Americans to fight in foreign wars—perhaps today in defense of Israel, or Ukraine, which happens to be run by a Jew. But this allegation goes back to WW1 and WW2. Both world wars were instigated by Jews, don’t you know? This is Tucker Carlson’s audience—the Great Replacement cult. When things went sideways over at the Daily Wire, these are the geniuses who followed the crackpot Candace Owens into the abyss—and finally got a chance to tell Ben Shapiro what they really think of him and his fellow Jews.

But, of course, if you land on just the right spot on the Right, among old-school Evangelical Christians—then you can find people who can generally be counted upon to worry about the fate of the Jews, and who will defend Israel, which is a relief frankly. But their support comes with a strange twist—because they expect that when temple is finally rebuilt in Jerusalem, and Jesus returns—well, let’s just say he won’t be in a mood to debate the finer points of theology with the Jews. So, Evangelicals are philosemitic only up to a point.

So I don’t mean to downplay the reality of antisemitism. A vastly disproportionate amount of hate crime in the US is committed against Jews. It’s not against blacks, and it’s certainly not against Muslims, despite what the Islamist front group The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) would have you believe. In fact, a lot of this crime comes from blacks and Muslims themselves, who just happen to do more than their fair share of hating Jews. Jews are about 2 percent of the population, and they have always received around 50 percent of the hate crime. Even after 9/11 they received far more hate than Muslims did in America. Since October 7th, the number of incidents has soared, and this is in response to the worst atrocity perpetrated against Jews since the Holocaust.

So if you’re Jewish, or even if you’re not, and you think all of this is seriously alarming, I think you’re right. And I’m sure I will do some future podcasts and other work on the problem of Antisemitism. But I also think that Jews should not try to compete in the Oppression Olympics that have deranged so much of Western culture. The direction of progress is not to convince the rest of America that we Jews have it worse than blacks and Muslims, or just as bad. And I don’t think the UK is going to sort itself out by becoming more focused on its Jewish population as a victim group. We simply have to get past the politics of identity. And we have to defend Western values. We have to defend, not identities, but the ideas that make freedom and tolerance possible. We have to recognize that there are real threats to freedom and tolerance in this world, and identity politics is one of them. Another happens to be coming from the fastest spreading religion on Earth which has some 2 billion adherents. Are all Muslims a threat to freedom and tolerance? No. But almost all of them are doing a terrible job of acknowledging, much less combating, the dangerous fanaticism that is seething at the core of their religion.

So I don’t think we need a new Jewish media platform to compete with the malicious fantasies that pour forth from Al-Jazeera, as harmful as those have been. We need the New York Times and BBC to become morally sane again. Again, I’m not suggesting that antisemitism isn’t a problem; I’m suggesting that a real defense of Western values would solve that problem, among many others.

Nevertheless, it is easy to see why some of our kids are confused about Gaza. They are being inundated with misinformation about Israel—that the Jews are settler colonialists, that they have built an apartheid state, that they are guilty of genocide. These lies didn’t start on October 8th. They’ve been promulgated for decades, and it seems that no matter how patiently one corrects them, nothing changes. And the photos coming out of Gaza certainly don’t help. As I’ve said before, there is no political analysis or moral argument that makes sense of images of dead children being pulled out of rubble.

It is also natural for people to look at the history of conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and imagine that there is some moral parity between the two sides. In fact, because Israel has become more powerful, most people imagine that the responsibility for the ongoing conflict falls more on the Jews. Israel is now perceived to be the bully with advanced weaponry, and the Palestinians are merely victims, throwing rocks. Even in the aftermath of October 7th, when you have an avowedly genocidal organization like Hamas, butchering noncombatants and taking women and children hostage, and firing rockets by the thousands purposely into civilian areas, we still have vast numbers of Westerners—and a majority of our own youth, apparently—believing that Israel is in the wrong. And that it effectively has no right to defend itself, or to even exist.

Leaving other variables aside—like the identitarian disgrace of wokism, the oppressor-oppressed framing of everything that has become standard on the Left, as well as the frank anti-Semitism that we know is there—what we are seeing on our college campuses is only possible because people don’t understand the threat that Islamic extremism poses to open societies everywhere. Again, what’s happening on our college campuses is many things, but the level of moral confusion required to support Hamas and to demonize the people who are fighting Hamas, requires that one not recognize what Hamas is.

And in a way, this is also understandable. It is natural to imagine that people everywhere are more or less the same and that they basically want the same things in life. It is easy to see how one might think that normal people would never resort to violence of the sort we saw from Hamas on October 7th—burning families alive on purpose, raping women and cutting their breasts off and then killing them, and shrieking with joy all the while. Normal people wouldn’t do this, couldn’t do this, unless they have been subjected to some unendurable misery and injustice. They must have been driven insane by their own trauma. Let’s leave aside those who claim that those things didn’t actually happen on October 7th. Most people understand what happened, and yet given the assumption that people everywhere are more or less the same, the very extremity of the violence we saw on October 7th seems to put the moral onus on its victims, somehow.

And this weird distortion of moral intuition casts a shadow over the whole history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The fact that the Palestinians could have produced an endless supply of suicide bombers during the Second Intifada—and that they would target noncombatants, even children, with this barbarism—that itself was considered proof that they had been pushed well beyond the brink by the Israelis. Otherwise, normal human beings would never behave in so extraordinarily destructive a way. It is easy to see how uninformed people could make this assumption. This was a very useful point that the writer Paul Berman made twenty years ago in his book, Terror and Liberalism.

Similarly, people assume that groups like Hamas, or al-Qaeda, or even the Islamic State, attack Western targets for more or less normal political reasons. They think these movements are anti-colonial, or straightforwardly nationalistic. And so they think that the extremity of their violence is once again, at bottom, the fault of Western powers. The chickens have finally come home to roost.

While understandable, these assumptions have been obviously wrong for decades—for longer than I have been alive even. To believe any of this now, as almost every secular person does by default, certainly as you move left of center politically, is to be totally deluded by a masochistic fantasy. And it is a dangerous fantasy because it is being consciously weaponized against, not just Israel, but against every western society. Islamic extremists know that most of us, especially in our elite institutions, are simply drunk on white guilt and self-doubt. They can see that we live in a perpetual circular firing squad of sanctimony. They know that if they just use the word “racism”—even though it has absolutely no application when we are talking about the fastest growing religion in a hundred countries—they know this word settles all arguments, left of center, no matter idiotic the person is who wields it. They know that we are constantly worried about being the bad guys. They know that our kids find it very easy to believe that we are and have always been the bad guys. And they have been manipulating Western society for decades. And they have been aided by legions of useful idiots on the Left.

And so there is a pervasive inability and even unwillingness on the part of journalists, and politicians, and scholars to recognize the degree to which sincere religious belief and identity drive conflict in the Muslim world—between rival sects and between Muslims and non-Muslims. There is a fundamental lack of understanding about how Islam differs from other religions here. In fact, it is widely considered a symptom of bigotry to even say that Islam is different from other religions in any way that matters.  

There are over 50 Muslim-majority countries. None of them are good places to live if you care about human freedom. This is very unlikely to be an accident. Who would imagine that killing people for blasphemy or apostasy would have a chilling effect on free thought? Who would imagine that the explicit denial of political equality for women might have something to do with its absence throughout the Muslim world? Even noticing the connection here, between explicit religious doctrines and the unambiguous abridgement of human rights, is thought to be a symptom of “Islamophobia.”

I want to make a couple of basic observations about Islam, that have the virtue of being important and uncontroversial—or at least they should be uncontroversial, because they are quite obviously true.

And if you think I’ve said all this before, and it bores you—well then just think about how I feel. I wouldn’t touch this topic ever again, if I thought other people were doing an adequate job of it. There’s a spell that simply has to be broken here, because it threatens to ruin everything. And if you don’t see it, as so many don’t, you are just blind.

From the point of view of Islam, our world is divided into two realms: the realm of belief and the realm of unbelief. This is something that Islam shares with Christianity, of course, but the similarities pretty much end there. There is no “render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s” in Islam. Rather, Islam is meant to totally subsume a person’s life and the governance of society. It is intrinsically political. Therefore, the modern distinction, upon which so many of us have placed our hopes, between Islam and Islamism—which is the explicit intrusion of the religion into politics—is just that, a modern distinction. It is one that we hope can be made true and effective—and we hope that the latter orientation, that of 20th century, aggressively resurgent political Islam, can be resisted and ultimately extinguished in modern societies. But this secular distinction has little traditional justification, if any. This is where the differences between Islam and Christianity become highly relevant, and ominous.

Take a moment to consider this, as though for the first time:

Muhammad wasn’t the Muslim Jesus. It’s important to notice that the man was not crucified. He was a statesman and a warlord. He fought in dozens of battles and was victorious. And in Islam, Muhammad is the very model of the ideal man. Just imagine how Christianity might be different if Jesus routinely had his enemies killed and their wives taken as sex slaves. You think it might be just a little different? Do you think Christianity might be just a little different if Jesus had been less like a hippie with a steady supply of MDMA and more like Tony Soprano?

The first Muslims didn’t spend centuries, as the early Christians did, as outsiders being oppressed by their unbelieving masters. They tasted political power from the very beginning. The first Muslims created an empire more or less immediately after the death of the Prophet, and then they just crushed everyone for 500 years. Unlike Judaism, Islam enjoins its followers to spread their faith—the one true and completely correct faith—to the ends of the Earth. Christianity is also a relentlessly missionary faith, of course, but from its inception, it was a religion of weakness—again, Christ was crucified. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth,” remember? Islam, from the first moment, was a religion of power. The idea of non-Muslims ruling over Muslims, or even having equivalent power alongside them perpetually, has always been anathema. It’s an error to be rectified, through spiritual struggle, sure, but also through physical violence. The fact that Islam has failed to achieve dominance in our world—and has proven, for nearly a thousand years, to be quite backward and weak—is a perennial source of humiliation. By the light of the doctrine, it makes absolutely no sense. It is a sacrilege. From the point of view of Islam, the status quo is intolerable.

And this general attitude of affronted dignity, this yearning for victory, which century after century has been out of reach, affects everything that Islam touches. It is why the history of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has been so hopeless. Have the Israelis made mistakes? Of course. Do the Jews have their own religious fanatics? Yes. But the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been rendered hopeless from the start because for a majority of Palestinians, and for vast numbers of Muslims in the region, the mere presence of a Jewish state in the holy land is totally unacceptable. It’s a “nakba”—a catastrophe. It is a perversion of a sacred history. And it is an abject failure of the mission of Islam—which is to conquer the world for the glory of God. And, above all, to never forsake Muslim lands once they have been conquered, which of course Palestine once was. As it is said in the Koran, “Kill them wherever you find them and drive them from the places from which they drove you.” This is not a religion of peace, it is a religion of conquest and submission.

There is a lot to criticize in all religions. And I have certainly done my fair share of that. But it is simply a fact that the doctrine of holy war and a love of martyrdom—and an utter intolerance for blasphemy and apostasy—are central to Islam in a way that they are not central to other religions. 

Of course, not all Muslims want to live this way, and that is wonderful. That’s why our world isn’t in total chaos. But the problem is that when you look at the worst examples of jihadist barbarism and atrocity—the behavior of Hamas on October 7th, or the Islamic State on every day of the year—it is very difficult to say how these people are getting Islam wrong. To be clear, I’m not saying that there is only one Islam, and that the extremists have it right. I’m saying that they don’t have it obviously wrong. Their version of the faith is all-too-plausible.

What did the worst members of the Islamic State do that Muhammad himself didn’t do or wouldn’t have approved of? That is a very difficult question to answer. And the fact that is a difficult question to answer, is increasingly a problem for the entire world. If you ask the same question about Jesus or Buddha, it’s a very easy question to answer. What is Hamas doing that Jesus or Buddha didn’t do or wouldn’t have approved of? Everything.

I recently stumbled upon an article in The New York Times from 15 years ago. I doubt the Times would publish such an article today. It’s very short, so I’m going to read you the whole thing.


Fighter Sees His Paradise in Gaza’s Pain

By Taghreed El-Khodary

Jan. 8, 2009



The emergency room in Shifa Hospital is often a place of gore and despair. On Thursday, it was also a lesson in the way ordinary people are squeezed between suicidal fighters and a military behemoth.

Dr. Awni al-Jaru, 37, a surgeon at the hospital, rushed in from his home here, dressed in his scrubs. But he came not to work. His head was bleeding, and his daughter’s jaw was broken.

He said Hamas militants next to his apartment building had fired mortar and rocket rounds. [Notice the detail here: next to his apartment building] Israel fired back with force, and his apartment was hit. His wife, Albina, originally from Ukraine, and his 1-year-old son were killed.

“My son has been turned into pieces,” he cried. “My wife was cut in half. I had to leave her body at home.” Because Albina was a foreigner, she could have left Gaza with her children. But, Dr. Jaru lamented, she would not leave him behind.

A car arrived with more patients. One was a 21-year-old man with shrapnel in his left leg who demanded quick treatment. He turned out to be a militant with Islamic Jihad. He was smiling a big smile.

“Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting,” he told the doctors.

He was told that there were more serious cases than his, that he needed to wait. But he insisted. “We are fighting the Israelis,” he said. “When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away.” He continued smiling.

“Why are you so happy?” this reporter asked. “Look around you.”

A girl who looked about 18 screamed as a surgeon removed shrapnel from her leg. An elderly man was soaked in blood. A baby a few weeks old and slightly wounded looked around helplessly. A man lay with parts of his brain coming out. His family wailed at his side.

“Don’t you see that these people are hurting?” the militant was asked.

“But I am from the people, too,” he said, his smile incandescent. “They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”


That’s the end of the article.


This is the problem. We don’t have to get into a time machine and sort out the history of the region. We don’t have to talk about 1948 or 1967. Without this specific form of religious fanaticism, the conflict between Israel and her neighbors would be an ordinary conflict. It would be easy enough to negotiate. It would be possible for the Jews and Muslims to decide to build wealth together. They could have turned Gaza into an absolutely gorgeous resort on the Mediterranean. If all you care about is the well-being of the Palestinians, you should want them to be free of this lunatic ideology that has made them impossible to live with.

But for some reason, most academics and journalists refuse to recognize what is being revealed in an article like this. They desperately want to think that specific religious doctrines—like the idea that martyrs go straight to Paradise—are either not believed by anyone, or if believed, have no effect on a person’s behavior. This is without question the most mystifying and infuriating form of ignorance I have ever encountered.

Of course, we all desperately want to believe that there is a clear line of distinction between the real fanatics, in a group like Hamas, and the Palestinian people. And this will be true for many Palestinians, I have no doubt. Those people are effectively hostages. But it’s not true for all Palestinians, and it’s probably not even true for most of them. For instance, whenever polled, support for suicide bombing against civilians has always been sickeningly high among Palestinians—around 70 percent. Support for specific terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah generally ranges between 40 and 60 percent. So we’re not talking about just a few radicals.

Have you seen the videos of Israeli hostages being taken into Gaza on October 7th? The images of blood covered girls being dragged into vehicles and onto motorcycles? Have you seen the men swarming around these hostages, celebrating their capture, shouting Allahu Akbar? Put yourself in the minds of these men. Perhaps you can understand all this jubilance and malice being expressed over captured male soldiers—like the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia. But imagine celebrating the kidnapping of girls—some whom have clearly been raped and seriously injured. In one of these videos, a young woman appears to have had her Achilles tendons cut so that she can’t run away. Imagine celebrating the capture of a terrified woman holding her children. Can you imagine this?

After 9/11, as an American, traumatized by an act of terror of a sort that we had never seen on our shores, imagine if Seal Team Six had captured some random Saudi women and children and paraded them as hostages through Times Square? Can you imagine dancing for joy and spitting in the faces of these terrified women? Imagine our soldiers dragging the mutilated bodies of other Saudi noncombatants along the sidewalk. Can you imagine people coming out of their offices and shrieking with joy and stomping on their bodies? Can you imagine Israelis doing this to the bodies of Palestinian noncombatants in the streets of Tel Aviv? No, you can’t. Culture matters. Beliefs matter. So whether they belong to the organization or not, the people you see in those videos are the same as Hamas.

Once again, I need to touch the handrail here, so you all don’t fall over: Am I saying that all Muslims are dangerous fanatics? No. Are they all aspiring martyrs committed to waging jihad? Of course not. And that is a very good thing. Do all Christians believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus? I am sure that many, many millions at this point don’t. It is, after all, getting harder and harder to believe such things. But it is, nevertheless, true to say that a belief in the physical Resurrection is absolutely core to Christianity. This is not controversial. It’s like saying Apple builds smartphones. Any debate on that topic is a fake debate. You want to be a Christian who thinks that the Resurrection was just spiritual, or metaphorical? Great. You’ve changed the religion. You’re making progress. We love you for it.

Any debate about whether Islam really teaches, at its core, a worldview that justifies the barbarism of Hamas, is a fake debate, because Islam does teach this. And much depends on the majority of Muslims worldwide reframing, and ignoring, or otherwise relinquishing some of the core tenets of Islam. Because they are absolutely at odds with our common project of building open, pluralistic societies. Acknowledging this and demanding that Muslims themselves acknowledge this is not bigotry. It is basic sanity. The opposition between radical Islam and Western values is an existential concern for Israel, and it could one day become an existential concern for the rest of us. 

Am I saying that things are hopeless? No. In fact, it is a very hopeful sign that several middle eastern regimes appear to want normalized relations with Israel at this point. And the fact that the Saudis and Jordanians helped repel Iran’s recent drone and missile attack on Israel was also very promising. However, the fact that Arab monarchs and dictators can see the wisdom of changing their policies toward Israel does not mean that attitudes have changed on the so-called “Arab street”—and what the street will tolerate will limit what even dictators can do. These attitudes will, once again, be massively informed by Islam. There is also the fact that any Arab solidarity with Israel against Iran might have less to do with truly shared human values, and more to do with the sectarian schism between Sunni and Shia Islam. But if these autocrats want to drag their countries into the modern world, I’m certainly rooting for them.

However, the deeper principle is that there is a clash of civilizations between traditional Islam and Western values. And what we are seeing on college campuses is a very successful manipulation of Western weakness—wherein we can have our values of tolerance and diversity and self-criticism and compassion weaponized against us.

Ask yourself: What is it that we want and are right to want, and must defend without apology, in the West? Rational conversation, individual freedom, the rule of law, the consent of the governed, the peaceful transfer of power, a strong civil society, and yes, tolerance of difference—where that difference doesn’t put all other good things in peril. What do these good things give us? They give us open societies, where scientific progress, and creative intelligence, and increasing wealth, and social mobility, and personal security, and public justice, and a healthy environment, and institutional transparency, and a generous social safety net are, more and more, the norm. Obviously, we have imperfectly secured these goods, even in the best societies on Earth. But it is just as obvious that some places have none of them—and worse, some people, some groups, and even whole cultures don’t want most of these things. It is time to admit that not everyone wants a good life as you and I understand it. “Hey kids, Hamas does not want what you want. They would throw your LGBTQ+ friends off rooftops. And, I’m sorry to say, many Palestinians want what Hamas wants.” This is a hard truth, and it has made peace in the Middle East so far impossible.

The people of the future, and perhaps our future selves, will know what we can’t know now: which is, how we handled this moment: how or whether we rose to the challenge of having our deepest principles used against us. Carefully inverted and used against us—freedom of speech, tolerance of diversity, self doubt—these virtues can be used against their adherents cynically and with evil intent. That is what Islamic extremists are doing all over the world. That is what their organizations are doing inside our own societies. This is not a conspiracy theory. This has all been publicly visible for decades. And they are being facilitated by useful idiots, as is now especially evident on our college campuses.

Of course, we are also being played by Russia and China and perhaps other hostile foreign actors who are fanning the flames of our own partisanship and hysteria. But part of that hysteria is that many of us now perceive any effort to limit the spread of misinformation and social contagion to be the first signs of Orwellian repression from our own government. We live in a country where people go berserk whenever they learn that the government can access information, through a court order, that they themselves routinely give to random apps and other services just for the sake of convenience. It is utterly childish to imagine that our interests as a nation are best served by total institutional distrust—where we have people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange hacking and leaking state secrets continuously. Most people haven’t spent five minutes imagining the gravity of what must be in every US President’s daily briefing. We have to grow up and do what it takes to protect our society from people and groups and foreign adversaries that actually want to destroy it.

Of course, it’s true that fighting terror and confusion can put the very freedoms we seek to protect in jeopardy. It is also true that in the presence of sufficient terror and confusion, we will embrace a regime of surveillance, and censorship, and even violence that could seem to justify the fears of every conspiracy theorist—and make it seem that the real threat to liberty is coming from our own side, from our own institutions and from our own government. We have to perform this highwire act successfully.

We can’t forget our actual values. Take immigration: Providing sanctuary to real refugees fleeing violence, and welcoming immigrants who are seeking better lives, and who want to build those lives in the West, is one of our core humanitarian values. We don’t want to get rid of that. Emma Lazarus’s poem inspired by the Statue of Liberty, which is now inscribed on a plaque there: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!” That’s not just sentimental bullshit. That's the best of America. It’s never quite been our immigration policy. It’s always been aspirational. But we want to be a country that is strong enough and generous enough to be a light unto the rest of the world. Emma Lazarus, incidentally, was Jewish. The Great Replacement started there, fellas, with the Statue of Liberty. (You might want to get on that, Tucker. That’s your bread and butter right there.)

The question is how can open societies like ours maintain their values, and even improve them, in a world where we have real enemies? You don’t have to be a xenophobe or a Christian Nationalist or a Nazi or any other species of asshole to recognize that some people are coming into our societies with no intention of ever sharing our values. Again this is about culture—ideas and their consequences—not the color of people’s skin. If we imported a sufficient number of communists into the United States, it would be no surprise if we one day discovered that we had a problem with communists seeking to demolish the very foundations of our economy. And it would serve us right—they were wearing their antipathy for capitalism on their sleeves the whole time. They were telling us, ad nauseam, what they want to accomplish—the destruction of capitalism. How could we be surprised if a massive influx of committed communists eventually posed a threat to our way of life? Similarly, if we import a sufficient number of Islamists and jihadists, we will eventually have a problem with political and militant Islam. This is guaranteed. And to my eye, much of Western Europe already has this problem to a degree that it should find intolerable.

It is completely rational, and not at all an expression of bigotry, as an American, to not want to follow Western Europe down that path. Does this mean that I was in favor of Trump’s idiotic ban on Muslim immigration? No. Given that we need to win a war of ideas within the Muslim community, given that we need to inoculate Western societies against Islamic extremism, some of the most valuable immigrants we could have, in my view, are truly secular Muslims, truly liberal Muslims, and above all ex-Muslims. We want people who come from Muslim-majority societies and who understand exactly why life in those societies is not as good as it is in the West—not just because we have more money, but because we have better values. We want people from Pakistan and Iran who are appalled by religious fanaticism. Put these people at the front of the line. There is not a shred of xenophobia, or bigotry, much less racism, implied by anything I have said on this podcast.

But let’s not lie to ourselves that our societies can absorb an endless number of profoundly ideological people who only feign tolerance of diversity because they are in a position of weakness—and who, when strong, will seek to impose their religious strictures on everyone else. The truth is, Islamists (to say nothing of jihadists) seek to impose their religion on everyone else even from a position of weakness. And Western Europe has been groaning under that pressure for decades.

As with immigration, so it is with free speech: I think the US is in a much better position than other country because we have the First Amendment. But the First Amendment isn’t a perfect guide for private platforms and publishers in deciding what speech to disseminate, or to amplify algorithmically, or to sponsor. We are simply drowning in lies that are rendering our society increasingly ungovernable. This problem exists equally, if differently, on both sides of our political landscape. Right of center, some of the most prominent voices in alternative media regularly launder Russian propaganda—about elections, and US foreign policy, and the War in Ukraine, and vaccines. Left of center, there is almost pure confusion about Israel and its enemies. At our best universities, we are witnessing a zombie apocalypse of profoundly misinformed kids. Of course, broadcasting divisive lies is generally legal, because it is protected by the first amendment. But that doesn’t mean private platforms and civil society organizations shouldn’t do something to contain the problem.

As I’ve said many times before, if liberals remain confused about Islamic extremism, the appetite for rightwing authoritarianism is going to continue to grow throughout the West. We need to do everything we can to avoid this.