Weekend reads: The left's wake-up call
We need a more humane left.
Many of us on the left looked on in horror this week as activists, academics, student groups, journalists, politicians, and union leaders across North America justified the mass murder of Jewish civilians. I have been critical of the radical left for years now, and have repeatedly warned about progressives’ increasingly callous and cruel dogmatism. But even for me — someone who has taken a good, hard, long look at these tendencies — this week’s display left me speechless.
Surely we, as the global left, can manage to denounce unspeakably brutal attacks? Surely no one would seriously celebrate a massacre? Surely we can muster a modicum of sympathy for the tragic loss of our fellow human beings?
But the answer from segments of the radical left this week was: Nope.
Here’s just a handful of examples, of which there are far too many.
Yale professor Zareena Grewal tweeted: “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.” Black Lives Matter Chicago tweeted an illustration of a hand glider, like those that landed on an Israeli music festival, the site of a slaughter. Novara Media’s Rivkah Bown tweeted: “Today should be a day of celebration for supporters of democracy and human rights worldwide.” A speaker at a Democratic Socialists of America rally told the cheering crowd: “As you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters.” And then there was this from Teen Vogue writer Najma Sharif: “What did y’all think decolonization meant? vibes? papers? essays? losers.”
Here in Canada, Fred Hahn, head of the Ontario chapter of the public sector union CUPE sent this tweet: “As we all think about reasons to be thankful this #thanksgiving2023, I know I’m thankful for the power of workers, the power of resistance around the globe. Because #Resistance is fruitful and no matter what some might say, #Resistance brings progress, and for that, I’m thankful.”
It has been chilling to watch.
“I’m trying to think of another time when innocent civilians were slaughtered, murdered in the most barbaric of ways, hunted house to house — little kids, elderly women, babies — and the so-called progressives of the world (of which I consider myself one) have fallen over themselves to blame the victims,” Marsha Lederman wrote in The Globe and Mail.
Only the most committed of ideologues could stare down the sheer brutality we witnessed in Israel and feel nothing. The raped women, paraded through the streets with blood gushing from between their legs. The targeting of small children and frail elderly. The slaying of people hiding in their homes. The hostages taken.
Only the most extreme of fundamentalists could watch all of this unfold and express no empathy. No sense of our shared humanity. No grief for the families and loved ones. No horror at the lives lost, the human dignity violated, the survivors forever scarred.
No sense of dread at the cycle of hatred and violence once again set in motion.
And only the most willfully ignorant could believe these attacks advance the Palestinian cause — as Palestinian civilians in Gaza, roughly one million of whom are children, face a ground invasion from one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. As the dream of regional peace evaporates. As the body counts mount in Gaza. As our feeds fill with anguished mothers, bloody children. Haunting images of excruciating pain. Of people who have no idea if they will live through the weekend.
As Yasmine Mohammed wrote this week in Tablet, “People send flippant messages to me asking ‘are you pro-Israel or pro-Palestine,’ as if we are all watching a football match. Are you wearing a blue jersey or red? I am wearing neither. I am in black. I am in mourning for the lost Israeli and Palestinian lives.”
Acknowledging the suffering of Israeli civilians does not — not ever — preclude us from acknowledging the suffering of Palestinian civilians. We can, and should, be able to hold these two ideas in our mind at once.
Any left I want to belong to must understand this. The left I signed up for as a teen was universalist, not nakedly tribalist. It was anti-war, not full of bloodlust.
The left I once belonged to stood on the side of civilians, wherever they may be.
It strived to forge common ground. It advocated for peace. It rejected collective punishment. It called out bigotry, whether Islamophobia or antisemitism.
It believed in brotherhood, in humanity, in hope.
The left I grew up around would have been capable of criticizing both the Israeli government and Hamas. And of comprehending that it will always be regular people who pay the ultimate price in times of war.
But the left I saw this week? I want nothing to do with it.
And if any good could ever be said to have come out of this unmitigated tragedy, it is that many on the left now feel the same way — and are finally saying so.
For more, read Eric Levitz at New York, “A Left That Refuses to Condemn Mass Murder is Doomed”; Helen Lewis at The Atlantic, “The Progressives Who Flunked the Hamas Test”; Naomi Klein at The Guardian, “In Gaza and Israel, side with the child over the gun”; Robyn Urback at The Globe and Mail, “Amid images of Hamas’s brutality, how can so many in the West be so callous?”; Sam Kahn at Castalia, “Israel’s 9/11”; George Packer in The Atlantic, “Israel Must Not React Stupidly;” Andrew Sullivan at The Dish, “Darkness Visible;” Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times, “The Massacre in Israel and the Need for a Decent Left”; and Yasmine Mohammed at Tablet, “Gaza, My Lost Home.”
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