As I sit at my desk, less than 40 miles from Gaza, I cannot help but see that the war unfolding around me is not a war between Israel and Palestine, or even a war between the West and Islam. No, it is a war between civilization and barbarism.
When I use the term ‘barbarism’, I am not referring to the rape and torture of women and children by Hamas – that is savagery in service of an evil ideology. As the Nazis demonstrated, civilizations – albeit stunted and evil – can engage in this savagery. No, when I use the term ‘barbarism’, I am referring to a breakdown in the vast web of ideas, social structures, relationships, processes and political realities that form a civilization. When I use the term ‘barbarism’, I am referring to a reality in which the individual cannot find opportunity and meaning because the complex social web that enables such opportunity and meaning has ceased to exist. When I use the term ‘barbarism’, I am referring to the threat of a new dark ages.
Where civilization represents a complex organism, balanced and ever-changing with almost infinite homeostatic systems, barbarianism represents the relative simplicity of a virus. Like viruses, they do not even build cells of their own. They are instead dependent on the hosts they infect – and destroy – to survive. They leave nothing but destruction in their wake.
In the last few years, the world has experienced a master class on the clash between civilization and barbarism.
First was the U.S. defeat at the hands of the Taliban. Men with little more than rifles and RPGs gradually wore down and then expelled a nation with satellites, fighter jets, helicopters and more. While Afghanistan has a rich history, the Taliban’s claim to culture doesn’t extend much beyond the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas. And, of course, the conflict itself was started when those with box cutters managed to turn one of the most complex of all human creations, a commercial airliner, into a weapon of terrorist destruction – these are the actions of the virus of barbarism.
Second, the vast Russian war machine has floundered in a war with its much smaller neighbor. Multi-million-dollar tanks have been destroyed – again and again – by drones worth perhaps a few hundred dollars. IR sensors have been deceived by yoga mats. When assessing the present-day civilizations of Ukraine and Russia, we may see near-equals. After all, Russian society, dominated by the toxic combination of top-down management and bottom-up deception, is less able to function as a civilization than its neighbor. Nonetheless, on the battlefield we see the artifacts of barbarism – simple innovations that hijack the deeply complex and the pre-existing – overwhelming the artifacts of civilization – integrated systems representing that which only a civilization can create.
Then, we have Hamas. Hamas politically dominates a Gazan and West Bank culture that has produced little but hate and death over the perhaps 70 years that local Arabs have been identifying as Palestinian. There is no art outside the scope of ‘resistance’, no civil society not dominated by violence and corruption, and no innovation aside from that of rockets and tunnels. Whatever the causes, Hamas does not represent a civilization weaving together and enabling the creative and meaningful potential of its people. Instead, Hamas has produced a society in which its own people are reduced to mere bodies in the service of a destructive ideology. They are one of the inheritors of a great Islamic civilization – but they are one group among several working to return that civilization to its most barbaric roots. I have argued that the expulsion of all 99.5% of Jews from the Arab world represented the real Arab Nakba – with the dying complexity of an organic civilization overwhelmed by the simplicity of the single-celled virus of antisemitism.
Today, I see barbarians sitting athwart the great and ancient Persian civilization – hijacking it like an airliner in the hands of Al Qaeda. I see them acting with impunity – murdering those who would combat them from within while expertly leveraging hostages and lies in order to make the entire West dance to their destructive tune. Can you imagine these people with nuclear weapons?
Today, I see the rise of Communist China, a great mechanical society designed to crush the complex feedbacks and freedoms of the organic civilizations that would outstrip them. It will fail, as all mechanical societies do, in the face of an inevitably changing world. Nonetheless, it will spread destruction as it collapses; Taiwan, a vibrant branch of our global civilization, is particularly threatened.
I see American civilization as increasingly incapable of delivering meaning to its own people while it sinks into profligate indebtedness – much of which is due to its own future elderly and poor. That vast organism has calcified and is beginning to rot.
I see Europe, ‘living for today’. There are few children and little investment in a future beyond the rapidly aging lives of those who live there. Europe’s civilization is committing suicide, seemingly unable to flourish in the face of prosperity and peace.
And then I see Israel.
Although Israel is deeply flawed, it is one of the most vibrant societies in the world. Israel is a place where cultures and religions are intertwined with one another is an ever-changing and complex dance. It is a place where refugees from the Arab and Western worlds have gathered and stood firm. It is a place where minority populations have flourished and grown – where they experience freedoms and opportunities impossible in societies governed by those who share their ethnicity. It is a place where the fires of innovation burn bright while it generates floods of cultural and religious meaning and beauty. Israel is like a grapevine, our fruit bursting with flavor – perhaps precisely because of the meager nutrients of our soil, the thinness of our air and the scarcity of our water.
Only 10 million people live here – and yet we add so much to the fabric of the world.
Yes, the great organism of Israeli civilization was, and is, threatened by the hardening of internal battlelines. And, yes, we must work to make Israel a more equal and uplifting place. The Constitution I’ve written is intended to improve our reality. Nonetheless, Israel is a land of opportunity and meaning. It is a place of vast social and civil complexity. It is a place vibrant with life.
Israel represents a pinnacle of civilization.
And Israel is threatened by barbarians.
If Israel fails to kill the virus of Hamas – whether through a lack of action on our part or the constraining of our actions by the West – then Hamas’ barbarism will be rewarded. Barbarians of all stripes – from Mexican drug gangs to Islamic terrorists – will grow ever more bold. Civilizations will falter before them. Civil societies will break down. On a smaller scale, we have already seen this – from the banlieues of Paris to the countryside of Sinaloa. With barbarism empowered, the street executions of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan will spread – like the execution of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands or innocent Swedish tourists in Belgium. The dragging of gay men through the streets, and the throwing of their bodies from high-rise buildings will become a regular part of our future. If we fail to kill the virus of Hamas, then the newly created gangs that are overwhelming Sweden and the vast antisemitic mobs that have revealed themselves in Western capitals will become ever more emboldened.
How long before they take hostages of their own?
As organic civilization is undermined by the virus within it, the mechanistic evils of the Chinese Communists and the imperial rot of the Russians will roll over living societies. The Chinese and Russians, despite all their apparent advancement, can’t build a modern jet engine. They lack the civilization necessary to achieve such complex milestones. They did not design the Internet or mobile phones. They have contributed far less than little Israel to feeding and curing humankind through the development of new medications or agricultural techniques. Much of their apparent innovation is simple theft.
What remains is only meant for conquest, control and destruction.
In the hands of the barbarians, the artifacts of civilization will gradually break down and fail – like helicopters maintained by the Taliban. At the same time, under the thumb of the mechanistic Chinese and the imperialistic Russians, innovation will not only fail to enrich humankind, it will grind to a halt. Society will falter and move backwards. Like a vast, rotting, industrial works in the Russian hinterland, the artifacts of Chinese Communist civilization will sit as a reminder of the dangerous hubris of central planners and self-appointed gods.
With the onslaught of barbarism and mechanism, mankind will descend into a new dark ages. Like the long-inexplicable ruins left behind by the Roman Empire, our roads, stadiums and airports will serve only as evidence that there was once something far greater – but there will be no understanding of how that greatness was achieved.
The viral barbarism of modern Gaza will not only supplant the organic wonder of Caliph-era Islamic culture – it will undermine the vast global web of modern human civilization.
As I sit here at my desk, I pray that this will not happen. I pray that we will find the means, the will, and the determination to fight. I pray that we will find a way to preserve our own organic complexity as our little world is boiled down to a struggle for survival against barbarians. I also pray that we will find a way not only to destroy Hamas – but to uplift those who will have been freed from its poison.
The well-meaning West is like a blinded immune system, failing to see (or to act) when living cells have been overcome by the virus of barbarism. It fails to understand that even as every culture can provide beautiful richness, not every manifestation of every culture is equal. The enlightened West, struggling not to repeat the sins of cultural imperialism, allows itself to be blinded by those barbarians who wrap themselves in the skins of the great civilizations they have hijacked.
Civilization is an organism. It isn’t managed; but tended. It can be so easily overwhelmed by diseases or cancers. It can be brought low by simple mechanical violence. However, if it can survive, there is nothing more beautiful. It is an infinitely faceted and ever-changing thing. It is the culmination of uncountable free actions and innumerable moral decisions. It is the ultimate canvas through which humankind can create and find meaning.
Civilization is worth preserving. It is worth fighting for.
If the barbarians win, if their brutal capture of a few hundred hostages is allowed to protect them from the consequences of their crimes – or if they somehow emerge victorious on the battlefield, then civilization itself will be endangered.
Not the Jewish people, not the West – but civilization.
I am sitting a mere 36 miles from Gaza and I fear that the moral blindness of the West will lead to the collapse of so much that is beautiful.
I am sitting a mere 36 miles from Gaza, and I am filled with fear for the future of humankind.