An Eye for an Eye: The Continued Thread of Hatred and Violence
Over the past few days, I have been flung into an emotional funk as news of atrocities committed against Israeli civilians makes its way out into the world. Everywhere I look, I see reactions to the situation, and I see people polarizing around the events. At the same time, my heart is filled with sadness as I come across more and more outrage, judgements spoken with righteous vehemence, and witness more and more people voicing hatred towards those who committed these atrocities and anyone who supports them.
I do not deny the atrocities. I do not deny that evil is being committed and how horrifying it is to know there are families out there experiencing this trauma.
However, the more I see people speaking about the situation, the clearer it becomes to me that for some reason people see fit to judge the situation out of context. This has not happened out of the blue. A steady stream of hatred has been built on both sides of this conflict and current events are the heartbreaking, soul-destroying result of everything that has gone before. It is impossible for things to have gone any differently. And that knowledge makes this situation so much, much worse for me.
What do I mean?
There are many angles to examine in this web, from the heart of which have surged the new events of the past week. As inelegant as it is, this is my attempt to make sense of the senseless and find the heart of the matter as I see it.
I think I will begin with the analogy of the beaten dog, for that was the first element to overwhelm my mind when I first heard the news. The best example of what I mean comes from a classic in my favourite genre: Fantasy. I refer to the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Although the scene from the novel engraved itself on my mind, it was also particularly well done in the A Game of Thrones TV series, and since that is even better known than the book series, I’ll draw on the visual imagery that has made its mark on an entire generation of fantasy TV series fans.
Ramsay Bolton, beaten and defeated, says to his former victim, Sansa Stark, “They’re loyal beasts.”
To which she replies, “They were. But now they’re starving.”
Moments later, the viewer is confronted with a level of on-screen brutality many of us struggle to wipe from our minds after as Ramsay is torn apart by his own dogs.
Kicked, beaten, and left to starve, even the kindest, most loyal dog will turn on anything edible with vicious brutality—even more so if its easy pickings, weak, and undefended.
When I first saw the footage of recent events in Israel, this thought hit me in the gut and piled on the weight of truth. It made everything I saw following that moment more profoundly disheartening and saddening. To say I’ve been depressed about it is probably an understatement, but I’ll admit that there wasn’t even a single moment I was surprised at the level of brutality the victims of this terrorist attack have faced.
Within the first few hours of hearing the news, I came across an outraged post by a friend on social media. Up until that point, my focus had been on the events, not international reaction to the situation, but my friend’s incredulity sent another wave of sadness through me. She expressed shock and outrage about the people “in the US, Canada, and Europe gathering […] to celebrate”.
Again, I was not surprised.
If there’s one cause that’s brought Muslim expats together, disregarding ethnicity, language, and culture, then it is the cause of the Palestinian people. For decades, this cause has been the rallying point for Muslim immigrants. I’ve seen it myself here in Sweden. The only public, group activities to raise awareness for a cause that I’ve seen involving all Muslims have always been marches and other protests about what’s been going on in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. And more often than not, I’ve heard expressions of hatred directed towards Israel at precisely such events that have unified the otherwise fragmented Muslim immigrants and their children who have grown up here.
It saddens me that decades of work “for a cause” could at the same time engender such hatred. Our human penchant for divisions, for creating a distinction between “us” and “them” rears its ugly head at every turn. It makes me despair. I fear we may never see a change, most especially not from these two groups who have been raised on hatred.
Where is “humanism”? you might ask.
Well, the problem with that is the fact humanism has its roots in Christianity and hence doesn’t even feature in the mindsets of followers of Islam and Judaism. For those readers who do not understand this connection, I’ll go into it briefly here.
The Enlightenment in Europe was a direct response to Christian doctrine at the time, but it grew out of the teachings of Jesus Christ, so is completely embedded in Christianity. The idea that all human beings have value, irrespective of their background, came from Christian values. One of the earliest steps towards humanistic thought came from Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, who in the early 16th century argued the case that Native American peoples were human too, and therefore had to be protected by the church in the face of the brutality of the Spanish conquest. De las Casas’ thoughts were soon backed up by the writings of Erasmus of Rotterdam, and together spring-boarded philosophical thinking about humankind, our rights, and what we all have in common.
Although humanist thought broke away from theological thought very quickly, it is nonetheless deeply embedded in Christianity and Christian thinking. And it is for this reason that I don’t see humanism resonating equally well for people raised in other monotheistic faiths. While Jesus advocated turning the other cheek, Jews and Muslims are still raised on the Old Testament concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
Ideas of universal love and equality among all humans falter in the face of the powerful pull of religious doctrine and the ideas that certain beliefs make their followers superior. Humanism crumbles under the polarization of “us” vs “them”, because “we” (whoever the group may be) are better, more just, more entitled to something—and even more so when they see themselves as the chosen people of a God.
We cannot reconcile indoctrinated teachings of hatred with wishes for peace for all based on humanistic thinking.
The type of violence unleashed upon Israeli civilians over the past few days will not be the last of its kind. Decrying those “celebrating” won’t heal any wounds and further polarizes the situation, further demarcating “us” vs “them” in all the groupings involved. It doesn’t help.
I fear, I don’t know what would help.
But of course, coming from a place of love, instead of hate, and talking about what we see, what we’ve experienced, and finding common ground, might be a place to start from. As individuals, I believe we can overcome the walls that politics and religion build around us.
And then, as I was writing this, the retaliation came…
More hatred. More violence. More eyes.
So the cycle continues…
And my heart keeps on bleeding.
But that isn’t all.
There’s also the need to question things. I see another element to the web from where I stand. Because as more information piled on about the atrocities and international reactions, I felt an even worse sinking in my stomach.
Who actually benefits from all this mayhem? Most certainly not the Israelis heading into the storm. Not really the Palestinians who are suffering the brunt of it in retaliation for the deaths caused earlier in the week.
Eye for an eye…
Tooth for a tooth…
Neither side gets anywhere as the dogs tear into each other, teeth foam-flecked with the madness of hatred.
So, who benefits? Who gets to breathe and continue their machinations as international scrutiny turns away from inflation, a second winter of war in Ukraine, or any number of other topics that were in the news just last week?
The only power we individuals have is to choose what we focus on. We can be consumed by helplessness. We can climb onto a high horse and decry atrocities and judge those involved, switching sides as quickly as I’ve seen in the past twenty-four hours.
Or we can look for answers at a deeper level.
There’s also the choice to do something today to make a difference. People are suffering all over the world. What can be done today to alleviate some of that suffering? There is always a choice on how we frame things and where we place our attention.
What are your thoughts on this topic? I am merely a single individual, and although my German-South African heritage provides certain insights, or the fact I live in Sweden which has a large Muslim population, provides me with some understanding, I don’t know it all. But what I’d love to do is connect with others and find out other points of view about this and other situations that affect us as humans.
Thank you for reading! I look forward to seeing your thoughts in the comments.