When future historians come to write about the early 21st century, they will surely remark on the impact of what is currently called social media. One of the many and varied effects of this is the ability to gain a rolling insight into the beliefs and actions of people from all backgrounds. Some critics might argue that this trend encourages the proliferation of the banal and the trivial, the relentless throwing out of thoughts without much, well, thought. But it’s the calculated and the earnest we have to be concerned about – that’s where the real problem lies.
This past week we bore witness to the Har Nof massacre. Behind the numbing horror I felt at the murders – that grimly familiar combination of “how could this happen?” and “well of course this was going to happen” – there was the exasperated feeling of wondering if this might be the moment when the world finally woke up and saw things as Israelis do. But then there was its twin as well, the one knowing that this would be used against us instead.
It didn’t take long for the second feeling to be proven right.
Taking to Twitter, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi gave her measured response to the news. This former member of the government, who resigned from the cabinet because the UK was too supportive of Israel during Operation Protective Edge, demonstrated the kind of even-handedness she would have liked to have seen:
A mirror image of evil-doers on both side, or perhaps an example of cause and effect: evil one creates evil two? Either way, grossly upsetting and inappropriate. The ZF were amongst those calling her out, because, sadly, that’s part of Israel advocacy now – we can’t even finish mourning before our tragedies are being turned against us:
To which she responded:
And we had to clarify:
Warsi’s message was clear: we cannot focus on this appalling act. The condemnation must be diffused. Both sides are equally blame-worthy. Warsi didn’t want to get into the nitty-gritty here – are Jews praying really as morally execrable as those killing Jews praying? – but then, Twitter isn’t really suited for getting into that in-depth level of discussion.
Thankfully, she was shortly given the opportunity to expand on her fortune cookie-length platitudes in the Huffington Post (full disclosure: we contacted HuffPo to offer a response , but they never got back to us).
“Never Forget: In Israel and Palestine, Violence Breeds Violence,” the headline proclaimed. Perhaps, I thought, we were going to be seeing some more of that patented Warsi even-handedness? Her earlier tweets had implied that Jewish extremism had resulted in Muslim extremism. Perhaps, now, she was going to balance that out by telling us that this dynamic works both ways, and that it would only be reasonable to expect an upcoming terrorist attack on Palestinian civilians?
That would be the logical reading of ‘violence breeds violence,’ after all. Violence had been committed against Jews and now, Warsi was warning her co-religionists, violence would be committed against Muslims. She took no joy from imparting this information, much as a weather forecaster gains no pleasure from reporting on an upcoming hurricane.
Perhaps though, there would also a hint of admonishment. Yes, Palestinians were going to be hurt, and possibly killed. Yes, innocent civilians were most likely going to be murdered. But really, you could almost hear her say: what did you expect? Four men of prayer were butchered whilst worshipping in a house of God, and so whatever inevitably happens is on you now. It’s obvious. It’s Newtonian. Stop complaining: violence breeds violence.
Well of course not. That would be unthinkable. Obscene. No one would make that argument, unless they were directing it at us. Whenever anyone is talking about violence leading to more violence, there’s only one party who is getting this well needed reality check: the Israelis. No one thinks to point this out to Palestinians, which is a bit weird, given how (a) they’re not exactly renowned for their pacifist tendencies and (b) they’re squaring off against the best army in the Middle East. If I was playing for the other side, so to speak, and I genuinely believed that violence resulted in more violence, I would be offering this kind of advice to Palestinians, not Israelis.
But Warsi doesn’t even focus on Israeli violence as the prime cause of Palestinian violence. Instead, her comment piece concentrates on the “illegal and provocative actions of extremist Israeli settlers, as well as Israeli troops, in or around the holy Al Aqsa compound – and the corresponding lack of international condemnation.” So, not violence then – but maybe illegal and provocative actions are enough of a trigger?
Unhelpfully, Warsi doesn’t go into too much detail as to what these actions are. She alludes to the Temple Mount status quo arrangement, arguing that the “1994 peace treaty and the restriction on prayer…is constantly broken, triggering resentment and inter-community violence.”
Given how vitally important it is that audiences understand the sheer wickedness of Israeli violations in order to place the synagogue massacre in its correct context, I feel the Baroness missed a trick here. As a former minister for inter-faith relations, she of all people ought to be able to really drive this one home. This is a sacred space for both religions, after all, and therefore all worshippers have an equal right and duty to be practicing Muslims, and to follow the tenets of Islam. By praying Jewishly, Israelis have taken the navel of the world, and reduced it to the level of one of those shabby little multi-faith lounges you find in airports.
It’s obvious why Warsi cannot spell out this grievance in full. Jews trying to gain equal praying rights to Muslims at Judaism’s holiest site doesn’t sound like a valid reason for breeding violence or triggering resentment at all, any more than Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus would strike us as a justification for anti-Black racism. Indeed, were she to fully explain the situation, apocalyptic HuffPo readers might wonder what would happen if Muslims were to have their religious freedoms at Mecca restricted, while Jews were given free rein to worship as they wished.
Instead, she is allowed to compound the untruth of her initial tweet, condemning the extremism on both sides, implicitly blaming those who enter religious sites to pray with those who enter religious sites to murder. A neutral, uninformed reader would have no greater understanding of the situation. As I write this, her piece has been shared online over 1000 times.
One of my favourite quotes, which comes to mind whenever I spend too long on twitter, is from Wittgenstein: “What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.” Warsi could have said clearly that the extremism that won’t tolerate Jews praying at the Temple Mount is the same extremism that now won’t tolerate Jews praying anywhere in Jerusalem. Since she cannot apparently talk honestly about this issue, I hope that when the next inevitable tragedy occurs, she passes over it in silence.