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Please remember, terrorism is evil

Worrying numbers of people romanticise the brutality of those perceived as “oppressed”

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This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Violence is bad. Violence deliberately targeted against civilians is evil. It seems rather odd to have to say this. For most of my life, this would have been axiomatic but since the pogrom unleashed upon the Jews of Southern Israel on 7 October, this seems to have become a heavily contested claim.

This became clear within hours, as the sheer scale of the slaughter started to filter out. Whilst most people might think that stories of hundreds upon hundreds of civilians murdered, of women raped and mutilated, of children beheaded and burnt alive would cause even strong supporters of the Palestinians to stop short and condemn the brutality, this was not the case for all.

A worrying number were willing to say, even as the horror leaked out, that this should be supported: “What did y’all think decolonisation meant? Vibes? Papers? Essays? Losers.” Najma Sharif was first out of the traps — a writer for a number of titles including, inevitably, Teen Vogue.

She was by no means the last. Attendees at the now institutionalised Saturday marches found themselves in court for wearing images of paragliders — delighting in the way by which the pop concert massacre was orchestrated.

The Green Party’s victorious candidate in Leeds proudly declared Hamas’ attack as a “fight back” against “European settler colonialists”. The young leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool was shouted down at a pro-Palestine rally because, as well as condemning the Netanyahu government, he condemned Hamas.

The slogan used to shout him down was “Resistance is justified”. The overt support of Hamas in American universities has led even the liberal media in the States to take a step back.

It is important to repeat: violence is bad. Violence deliberately targeted against civilians is evil.

The horrors of 7 October and the nightmare that has followed for the civilian population of Gaza has raised this question to public prominence, but it has actually been lurking below the waterline for years now.

If your “no peace” means the use of terror, you have forfeited the moral high ground

Take, for example, Sadiq Khan’s decision to put a statue of John Chilembwe in Trafalgar Square. He was a Baptist minister who fired up a mob in Nyasaland in 1915 which led to the slaughter of white farmers, one of whom, William Jervis Livingstone, was beheaded in front of his little daughter. Chilembwe then led a service and preached beside Livingstone’s severed head. This is nothing to be lauded. This is murder; no cause justifies it.

Romanticising murder has become commonplace in the West, especially if that murder is anti-British or anti-American. Another example is the resurgence amongst the Irish of affectionate songs about the IRA — a terrorist gang which blew up shops and pubs and people standing in memory of the war dead.

The Irish women’s football team singing “Oooh, ahhh, up the Ra” is not a humorous affectation of youth to be indulged; it reflects a shift in public morality where murder is praiseworthy if it is on behalf of an “oppressed” group, even if that violence is against civilians.

This is new, and it is worrying. Looking back across recent history, mainstream politicians would have no truck with terrorist groups — including, for example, the Mau Mau (whose slaughter of their fellow Kenyans was unspeakable) — even if they condemned the actions of whichever authority was attempting to deal with that particular emergency.

Only utterly fringe figures such as Jeremy Corbyn gave public support to terrorist-adjacent parties such as Sinn Féin. Pro-nationalist sentiment was generally directed towards the SDLP and their constitutionalist approach to change.

When protesters chant “No justice; no peace”, they mean it — and we all find ourselves living in Corbyn’s world. Note, however, that the only “justice” that they recognise is their justice, and all alternative understandings merit the promise of “no peace” — a “no peace” that is inevitably aimed at innocents.

Violence can, of course, be used by the state, especially in war. This isn’t a contradiction, as violence is always a tragedy, but it can be justifiable because a state carries with it official processes for deciding on its actions, national and international codes of behaviour for how to conduct a war, and line of authority to pursue those who break those codes.

That some states behave appallingly (Russia as a current example) does not change the fact that neither individuals nor mobs have any legitimacy to authorise violence in the event that it is needed.

But this itself raises the question of what to do in the face of a state that is genuinely appalling, violent and with whom you stand no chance of conducting a reasonable negotiation. Different philosophies take you to different places — the Gandhi/Martin Luther King non-violent approach (although both were dealing with states that you definitely could negotiate with) or otherwise.

But, if your reaction leads you to violence and your “no peace” means the use of murder, rape or terror, then you have forfeited the moral high ground: you are what you despise.

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