‘While history can tell us a great deal about the evil ideology can wreak, sadly the power of ideology is far from being history’
“About suffering,” W.H. Auden wrote, “they were never wrong, the old masters.” When contemplating the terrible suffering in Gaza one is tempted to update his words. About conflicts, they were never wrong, the old Marxists.
For those on the Left, especially those schooled in the disciplines of dialectical thinking, one aspect of conflict is always inescapable – the primacy of ideology. Men may fight over land, over money, over water, over oil, but what animates fighting forces most powerfully is ideology. The most valuable piece of territory any combatant can hold is the moral high ground, even if they alone believe themselves securely in possession of such a vantage point.
The history of conflict also demonstrates that men will continue to fight when prudence dictates a different course, if they believe themselves to be warriors consecrated to a cause which is nourished by their own blood. And, crucially, the darkest chapters of our most recent history also show that ideological considerations can warp fighting priorities, leading men to abandon the last shreds of their humanity, in wartime.
Consider one, striking, example of just such a flight from humanity, driven by the demands of ideology. Towards the end of the Second World War, the pro-German government in Budapest was overthrown in a coup. But the plotters were not, as one might have expected, a group anxious to see war end and to sue for peace. They were a group of hard-core Nazis, the Arrow Cross, who wanted to see greater ideological purity in Hungary even as the Red Army’s victory appeared more imminent. Their war aim was eliminating Jewish lives.
It was from the evil of the Arrow Cross that the great Raoul Wallenberg saved so many, but as striking and memorable as his heroism is the wickedness of the regime he was up against. What can make men, when their own lives and futures are at stake, place killing Jews as their number one priority? The answer is – ideology. The twisted belief system of Nazism, which made Jewry the source of all wickedness, and its elimination an overwhelming priority, had made men monsters.
But while history can tell us a great deal about the evil ideology can wreak, sadly, the power of ideology is very far from being history. The ideology of Islamism – the force which unites Osama bin Laden, Hizbollah, the killers in Mumbai and the murderers of Madrid, the architects of 9/11 and the authors of 7/7 – drives men to slaughter in the name of a sacred cause. These killers do not care if innocents are killed, but while they revel in indiscriminate slaughter they do discriminate, where they can, by choosing Jewish targets whenever possible. Not Israeli, not Zionist. Jewish.
The choice of New York on 9/11, the targeting of a Jewish community centre in Mumbai, the pledge by Hizbollah to target Jews wherever they lived, all show that the murderous prejudice that drove the Arrow Cross to do evil in the ruins of Budapest 60 years ago survives in all its rampant ugliness today. And, therefore, when we look at the conflict in Gaza, we must never be blind to the ideology at work there. Our eyes will, inevitably, be clouded by tears. Each man’s death diminishes us and no one can be indifferent to the suffering of innocents, especially so many children, caught up in the fighting. Every moral sense we have impels us to want the fighting to cease.
But moral sense also prompts us to ask what lies behind this conflict. And the implacable persistence of ideology is the key. This is not primarily a conflict about territory. There is a struggle over territory between Israel and the Palestinians that must be resolved. There are hard questions about borders, barriers and Jerusalem that we need to address if we are to reach a settlement with a secure Israel and a viable, democratic, Palestinian state in the future.
But the conflict in Gaza is not, at heart, about the future Palestine. It is about the future ideological direction of the Muslim world. The reasons why Hamas hides its weaponry in civilian areas, why it has received relatively little support from moderate Arab states and why Israel is prepared to pay such a heavy price to defang it, are all interlinked. It is because Hamas is not a national liberation movement but an Islamist terrorist group in league with Iran. Hamas’s aim is not the creation of a free, democratic Palestine but the use of conflict to spread jihad more widely. Hamas can be careless with Palestinian lives because Palestinian flourishing is not its main aim. If it were, then all its energies would have been devoted to state-building.
Hamas does not want to redraw Israel’s borders; it wants no borders behind which the Jewish people can feel safe. The Hamas Covenant, with its pledges that the Day of Judgment will come only with the final hunting down of the Jews, is not a manifesto for liberation but a warrant for bloodshed.
Unless we appreciate this, and see how it fits more broadly into the bigger picture of the Islamist assault on the West, we will, tragically, be condemned to see more suffering in the future. It is only through prevailing in a wider ideological battle between the forces of democracy and those of totalitarianism that we can secure lasting peace.