Elon Musk has called for the re-education of the people of Gaza. This involves understanding how their ideology became dominant. There are parallels to be drawn between extreme Islamism, Nazism and even the systematic wokery in today’s West.
The prime target of totalitarians is the elimination of rivals, whether institutions, people or ideas. We see this from thousands of years ago, when Moses received the Ten Commandments: the prophet is told not to make any treaties with the six nations driven before his people, and to destroy their religious artefacts including the poles dedicated to the Canaanite fertility goddess Asherah (who it is said was worshipped for some time by ancient Israelites alongside YHVH as being His wife.)
Undoing the lethal fundamentalism that has Gaza in its thrall will be a much harder task than the denazification of Germany. In the former case all the arrows point one way; in the latter the German National Socialist Workers’ Party (NSDAP) had to neutralise opposition from the education system, parents and the Church.
In Germany education was a pushover. At our mother’s school in East Prussia the teachers saw which side their bread was buttered and all joined the Party except for the history teacher who was dismissed and replaced by the janitor. The school library was purged of works by Jewish and left-leaning authors. The children joined the Hitlerjugend and they and the teachers attempted to browbeat our mother into following suit; her father, a gentleman farmer who saw the Nazis as low class scum, forbade it. In the playground Mother fought off attacks from her peers.
The Party also set up youth organisations to build a collective identity separate from the family: for boys, the German Young People for 10-13 year olds, the Hitler Youth for the older ones and the League of German Girls for the distaff side. There was pageantry, outdoor activities including camping, and fitness exercises (Mother remembered a mandatory two hours at school also.) ‘Parental consent was not required to join the SS Panzer Division or the Hitler Youth.’ A 1934 law criminalised criticism of the government; even children could report their friends and elders.
The churches were under pressure to amalgamate into a single national(ist) evangelical church. Dissenters suffered crackdowns: when in 1934 a protest statement was read from the pulpits in Confessing Churches 700 pastors were arrested. Similarly, copies of Pope Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical ‘With Burning Sorrow,’ a thorough condemnation of Nazi deal-breaking and secular supremacism read out to Catholic congregations, were confiscated from diocesan offices nationwide.
By contrast, in Gaza it seems there are no obvious sources of resistance. The education system is run by Hamas and for years lessons and teaching materials have been interlarded with historic resentments and negative references to Jews. Parents are happy to see their sons die in suicide bombings as martyrs for the faith. The holy text itself was tolerant towards other religions in the earlier, Meccan surahs but strident against them in the later Medinan ones as the movement militarised: those who reject the divine message have only one destination. It is as though the New Testament had come first and been superseded by parts of the Old.
Despite England’s past history of religious wars and Puritan tyranny, our liberals have forgotten the power of fundamentalism. As Orwell said, ‘So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot.’ They couch the plight of Palestinians in Gaza in secular terms: simply poor victims of Zionist land-grabs and aggression. That is almost irrelevant in the context of the struggle of the House Of Peace (orthodox Muslims) against the House Of War - not only non-Muslims but heretical Muslims: the Prophet said that Islam would divide into 73 sects, only one of which would enter Heaven.
For the true believer compromise is impossible. The weak worldly value food, drink and a good time; the strong embrace privation, pain and death in this world as a negligible price for eternal joy in the next - and what joy! Consider this detailed description of heavenly houris by a Gazan religious leader, which tells young males exactly what they wish to imagine; and they can earn it through another of mankind’s favourite activities: fighting and slaughter.
Propaganda is not directed solely at the faithful. Hamas and the PLO are concerned to attract support from the non-Islamic international community. Some years ago the Jewish journalist Tuvia Tenenbom - a chubby blond - went undercover posing as a gentile German to see how the Palestinian authorities sold their side of the story. If his account (‘Catch The Jew!’, 2015) is to be believed - and I find it credible - there is or was much spinning, fakery and lies to exaggerate the alleged outrages by Israel, a country already internally divided on the issues. Palestine and Gaza are serviced by many NGOs who may already be inclined to one side rather than the other, and visitors from Europe may also be predisposed to believe what they are shown - which in some cases may be a sort of Potemkin village of innocent suffering.
There has certainly been more concrete evidence since the all-out IDF response to October 7, but even then there is distortion propagated by an eagerly credulous Western commentariat. For example, the BBC hurried to repeat false claims by ‘Hamas officials’ that a Gazan rocket misfire killing dozens in a hospital car park was an Israeli missile that targeted and destroyed the complex and slaughtered 500. Has the Corporation since revised its list of reliable informants? We suspect not.
Throughout all this the real, ideological battlefield has been ignored. How can the burning heat be taken out of the zealot?
Fervent belief is attractive: as Osama bin Laden said, people prefer a strong horse to a weak one. Liberal education cannot compete with a world-view that sees alternatives as lies and distraction: the Yorkshire grammar school RE teacher who attempted to discuss Mohammed is still in hiding after nearly three years and the British Government has signalled its contemptible vulnerability by refusing to stand firmly by him.
Our journalists must also understand the universalist aspect to religion, as with socialism. In 1962 Hugh Gaitskell warned the Labour Party that its pro-Common Market dreams of international brotherhood ran counter to the interests of the working class in this country; that conflict has never been fully resolved. Likewise for the devout Muslim a wrong done to brothers abroad is felt in the UK, as witness the recent demonstrations in London. There cannot be permanent peace here while war rages there; and over time we will see how such borderless thinking influences our voting system and foreign policy.
Why has Britain not burst into another civil war already?
One reason may be numbers: there are still fewer than four million Muslims here. Another may be our relative orderliness and prosperity - Norman Cohn’s seminal ‘The Pursuit of the Millennium’ shows how over the centuries violent and irrational mass movements have been prompted by severe economic stress. So far we have been spared the latter, though for how much longer is open to question.
Another tack, and as we have seen already a very dangerous one, is to give the Koran and hadiths the same critical treatment as nineteenth century German theologians applied to the Bible. Currently this is being attempted by one ‘Peter Townsend’ living in Australia; he may get us to think but the reaction from extremists confronted with such a challenge to their core identity is unlikely to be reasonable and relativistic.
We are left with no option but to enforce a tough liberalism, separating any kind of religion from a secular State committed to maintaining pluralist debate and strictly equitable treatment of all citizens. That is a gargantuan task in the face of the still-unrestricted annual import of hundreds of thousands of people who come from very different traditions to ours and who prefer simple certainties to the elegantly suspended judgment of Oxford common room debates.
Before we remove the motes from theological enthusiasts’ eyes we need to take the beams out of our own. We have slithered into wholesale censorship and deplatforming - even in universities - of dissident voices on many other issues, plus sustained and systematic propaganda in schools and on broadcast news and entertainment.
Do we have the strength to maintain peace and pluralism?
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