We are All Homo Sacer Now?, part 2

by zunguzungu

I hesitate to even link to Jonathan Mark’s stunning “Just Torpedo the Next Flotilla”; the author of “The Flotilla & How Hamas Is Worse Than Hitler” is the sort of person who seems desperate to show that his thoughts can serve no productive function, so if you choose to click on those links, be sure to take a few minutes to cleanse yourself afterwords, spiritually and emotionally, in whatever way seems right to you. But it’s good to understand how easy it is for someone like him in somewhere like here to write that the appropriate response to civil disobedience is the unlimited use of deadly force.

Such as it is, his argument is that since the world has not given the Israeli IDF credit for their gentlemanly restraint (in only killing nine and wounding thirty unarmed civilians) it therefore follows that next time they should just blow the boat out of the water. Almost every word he writes is mendacious, of course — small blessings that people like him still have to lie — and you should read accounts from the people who were on the Flotilla to see how fantastical his framing of the account really is (especially since it’s the account which the American media has overwhelmingly used as its template). But an order of magnitude more horrifying is his underlying sense that the political failure of non-violence indicates the obvious appropriateness of massive and unchecked violence. After all, if not killing people doesn’t win you friends and impress people, what possible purpose could it serve not to kill people? If it doesn’t help you to not kill people — goes his tiny vicious thinking — then it hurts you to not kill them, so you shouldn’t bother. And the default is killing.

This is the endpoint of fighting a war against a concept, I think, and a war in which you are either with us or against us. Because when you normalize killing in service of that crusade, it should come as no surprise that life  will cease to register as anything outside that calculus, a calculus in which death is a positive value. And the Turkish Prime Minister, at least, gets how perverse this is; I don’t know enough about him and his party, but he understands the power of an appeal to the sanctity of human life:

“I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says ‘thou shalt not kill’. Did you not understand?” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in his harshest words yet since Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara on Monday. “I’ll say again. I say in English ‘you shall not kill’. Did you still not understand? So I’ll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew ‘Lo Tirtzakh’,” he said in a televised speech to supporters of his Islamist-leaning AK Party.

It’s telling, then, that you hear precisely the inverse of this from someone like Mark, whose underlying ethos isn’t so much “Thou Shalt Kill” as complete obliviousness to the idea that killing might be, in and of itself, a thing to desperately avoid. It is hard to think of anything less Jewish than that, as it’s good to read Amos Oz to remember:

FOR 2,000 years, the Jews knew the force of force only in the form of lashes to our own backs. For several decades now, we have been able to wield force ourselves — and this power has, again and again, intoxicated us.

In the period before Israel was founded, a large portion of the Jewish population in Palestine, especially members of the extremely nationalist Irgun group, thought that military force could be used to achieve any goal, to drive the British out of the country, and to repel the Arabs who opposed the creation of our state.

Luckily, during Israel’s early years, prime ministers like David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol knew very well that force has its limits and were careful to use it only as a last resort. But ever since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has been fixated on military force. To a man with a big hammer, says the proverb, every problem looks like a nail. Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and Monday’s violent interception of civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid there are the rank products of this mantra that what can’t be done by force can be done with even greater force…

But there aren’t enough Amos Oz’s in Israel (watch this if you want to see how vicious it’s gotten; crowds in support of the IDF are actually chanting “Death to the Arabs” and “Death to the Leftists”). If only there were enough here.