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The Genocidal Imagination

The Genocidal Imagination

Philosophies of human cruelty, from Sade to October 7th.

· 20 min read

Give me absolute control
Over every living soul.

~Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

To understand what happened in southern Israel on October 7th, 2023, in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2017, and what will inevitably reoccur elsewhere, we must return to the godfather of torment, Donatien Alphonse François de Sade. This debauched 18th-century aristocrat, a product of the decaying Ancien Régime, demands to be taken at his word. Sade subjects the liberators of human desire to a scathing critique by showing that this desire, literally understood, leads to the annihilation of others: pleasure is derived from killing the object of that pleasure. Isn’t that what the Hamas terrorists did by selecting, from the women of the kibbutzim, those they wanted to rape and then kill and those they carried into captivity in Gaza? For Sade, the desire that a human being—male or female—arouses in another is a debt that they immediately incur and must repay to the ultimate sacrifice. Youth, beauty, and virginity are the criteria that designate a victim suitable for kidnapping, rape, and torture.

I. A Master in Hell

Sade obviously has nothing to do with the butchers of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hezbollah—he despised all religion. But these modern movements and their premodern doctrines have a great deal to do with him. As the champion of a superior freedom that refuses no deviance or caprice, Sade wrote about an elite whose only concern was to plunge humanity into servitude. Saint-Fond, the antihero of Sade’s 1797 novel Juliette or the Prosperities of Vice, explains his project to reform the French state like this: “The people will be kept in slavery ... a subjugation that will prevent them from ever attaining domination or invading and degrading the properties of the rich. ... [A man’s] owner will hold the right of life and death over him and his family; and never will his pleasures or his grievances be heard.” Like certain characters in Dostoevsky, for Sade, only absolute despotism can deliver total freedom—the reign of a few masters, their appetites unshackled from all control, who regulate the bodies and souls of their subjects and purge the Earth of the vermin of humanity. In this sense, Sade is closer to Nietzsche than he is to the Islamists, even if the latter aim to purge the planet of all Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, or Confucians until the reign of the Holy Prophet is established.

Sade spent nearly 27 years of his life in prison, and his work was the product of a solitary detainee trapped in carceral madness, for whom the jail was a kind of Platonic cave in reverse. At the dawn of the modern age, no one theorised the genocidal imagination better than he did. His philosophy is an inverted decalogue of commandments stated as unapologetic imperatives: thou shalt kill, thou shalt steal, thou shalt deceive, thou shalt covet. In his best novels, Sade offers a gallery of characters—bishops, cardinals, princes, lords, state clerks, adventurers, and prostitutes—whose most sensual pleasures involve torturing, dismembering, and dissecting their prey, while they explain the justification of these acts to their victims. His criminals do not merely organise orgies of murder in the seclusion of their fortresses and dungeons; they are also great sermonisers. While Hamas and ISIS militants content themselves with crying Allahu Akbar as they slit throats and slaughter, Sadeian heroes calmly rationalise the annihilation of multitudes. Saint Fond plans to starve two-thirds of France to death by requisitioning food, and fantasises about torching an entire city for the pleasure of watching its inhabitants burn alive. Each of his accomplices must participate in the tortures of others or risk being liquidated in their turn.

Reading Sade in the shadow of the horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries is necessarily to commit the sin of anachronism. He cannot be conscripted into the role of visionary in the manner of Nietzsche and National Socialism. Much of the modern machinery of death that permits killing at a distance—nuclear infernos, missile bombardments, and industrial murder—had not been invented. And except for the Pope in Juliette, his characters are usually solitary predators or small bands of cunning rogues, rarely heads of state or parties. But above all, while contemporary killers, soldiers, mercenaries, and jihadists are booted and camouflaged, Sade’s libertines undress so as to experience in their naked flesh the delectable tremors of the crimes they commit; they hurl themselves into the bodies of their victims with abandon, wading in their viscera and excrement.

In Sade’s novels, contemporary values are inverted; sexuality, now commonly synonymous with pleasure or fertility, is placed in the service of nothingness and the infliction of pain. The sanction of this decadent pleasure is marked by the orgasm—a volcanic discharge that Sade compares to burning rivers of lava destroying everything in their path. That same lava, when cooled, petrifies into a stony apathy—that blissful indifference in which the libertine must live if he is to enjoy the immolation of his victims with complete equanimity. Murder, then, is not the elimination of an irreplaceable life, it is simply submission to the natural law of metamorphosis, according to which forms disappear only to be reborn differently. Man is a mere accident, a useless parasite whose extinction should hardly weigh more on the course of the universe than the disappearance of an ant or a fly. All of nature thrives on such purges, and they signify nothing more than the reign of the strong over the weak.

The 20th century’s great totalitarianisms have offered variations on this theme. For Nazism, the elimination of inferior races was necessary to ensure the survival of the Aryan race; for communism, the erasure of the enemies of the people had to be accomplished for the salvation of humanity. For Vladimir Putin, the invasion of Ukraine is required to punish that country for wanting to leave the bosom of Moscow. For jihadism, vast charnel houses are operated in the name of a raging and all-powerful God, who a literal reading of the Koran instructs us is hungry for torture and vengeance.

Sade employed the terrifying imagery of medieval torture in the service of a ruthless reason that scorns reconciliation and cares only for bloody conflict and filling mass graves (there are even crucifixions intended to parody “the imbecilic juggler of Judea”). His dramaturgy generally follows a careful escalation of terror until the final scandalous denouement, in which the enjoyment of some and the death of others is obtained by strangulation, decapitation, and disembowelment. It is essential to achieve the perfect synthesis of the two with the most frightening crimes. When Saint Fond has Juliette poison her aged father, he organises an orgy at the bedside of the dying man and then strangles him before anally raping his own daughter and turning her over to his collaborator Noirceuil: “I commit parricide,” he exults, “I commit incest, I murder, I prostitute, I sodomise.” Here we find the recipe for total depravity—the irreducible essence of abomination that for Sade constitutes its final masterpiece.

II. The Gospel of Death

This supremely literary school of crime has delighted generations of surrealist and structuralist scribblers, who have generally offered superficial interpretations of his work to enlist him in their political or aesthetic crusades. There is a category of reader whose sole function seems to be to neutralise the author of Philosophy in the Bedroom—too intelligent and savvy to be fooled, they sup with the devil only to reduce him to the level of a scoundrel. But if Sade is not truly monstrous in some way, what is the point of reading him? It is understandable that some will weary of his excessively gothic vision. Does that mean we should reduce it to the ravings of a talented debauchee, sanitising it to produce something that is at once erudite and insipid?

Sade gave us some demonic, intolerable works. His power to disturb remains undiminished two centuries later, precisely because his icy genius was not detained by propriety or good taste as it plumbed the depths of human psychopathology. Unintentionally comic moments of grand guignol notwithstanding, no one’s work has come as close to exposing the horrifying enigma of human evil. One has to be obtuse to see only the precious literary style and remain blind to the ignominies actually described by the text.

And his legacy has been fruitful in more ways than one. Sexual violence has always been a part of battlefield conflict, but in the 20th century, it became an instrument of total war. With the approval of the Soviet general staff, the Red Army raped nearly two million German women. For the Serbian nationalists, rape was a systematic strategy designed to impregnate Bosnian women and strip them of their Muslim identity. For Putin’s soldiers and mercenaries, doped up on alcohol and Captagon, the rape of Ukrainian women satisfies a double strategy of humiliation and appropriation—Ukraine must become Russian again despite itself.

The enraged fanatics of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hamas, meanwhile, rape and kill to levy a human tribute on their conquest; they annihilate the impure woman—whether Jewish, Christian, Yazidi, or heterodox Muslim—and either kill her or sell her into sexual slavery. We know that in the markets of Raqqa or Mosul, the price of captives varied from 2014 to 2017 depending on their youth and the colour of their skin and their eyes. Let us remember that “slave” comes from “Slav,” since the markets of the Maghreb and the Ottoman Empire were mainly supplied by Eastern Europe and the borderlands of the Russian empire. The white woman was very popular, even when Africa provided the vast majority of captives for the Eastern or transatlantic slave trade.

Sade’s gospel of death began with a work that remains difficult to read to this day, even for those with strong minds and stomachs. In The 120 Days of Sodom (which Pier Paolo Pasolini adapted, somewhat clumsily, in 1975 by transposing the action to fascist Italy), four wealthy villains and the libertine women they have employed as their storytellers lock themselves up for the winter in a secluded chateau in the Black Forest with an army of young servants, boys and girls, whom they have kidnapped and vowed to annihilate. Having deflowered, sodomized, and whipped the children through November, they spend the rest of their stay pulling out their eyes, tearing off their arms and legs, impaling them, and quartering them until death. In the spring, when the snow melts, the men emerge haggard from their lair, sated with their crimes. The survivors—those who were accomplices in the murders—are brought back to France and adorned with green ribbons, a practice that anticipates the Khmer Rouge dressing those they wanted to execute in coloured scarves. Similarly, the last page of the 120 Days recommends a torture that was later adopted by, among others, the Italian fascists—introducing a rodent into a woman’s vagina and then sewing it up.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)

Sade must therefore be taken seriously in light of recent events: he is not merely an author for pimply teenagers who read him in secret, nor for jargon-spouting aesthetes who celebrate him as an example of what Roland Barthes called the “principle of delicacy.” He was a prophet of the abject; a merciless calibrator of evil whose most unbearable passages still have the capacity to provoke nausea and disgust. We read his work in a state of suffocating revulsion—a hellish phantasmagoria of coprophagy and cruelty, in which pregnant women are gutted, children are sodomised and beheaded, young girls are beaten and hanged, young men are broken on a spike-studded wheel and then turned endlessly like pigs on a spit, and lovers are nailed together in a lethal embrace. In Juliette, an ogre named Minski the Cannibal is described as a “monster vomited up by nature to assist in the destruction she demands”—a rapist of little boys whom he then devours, consuming their flesh on living tables composed of naked women on all fours.

We can recognise in these tortures some of the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th, 2023. And like the bureaucrats of Nazi death, Sade inventories his abominations systematically, with a wealth of detail and a mania for classification. Who could live up to such a text besides totalitarian regimes and proto-genocidal cults and mass movements, for whom the human individual is just raw material to be used or destroyed according to whim? Inspired by the terrible wars of Louis XIV and Louis XV, Sade catalogued, described, and methodically enumerated all the inhumanity of which the human species is capable, and depicted a moral universe in which mass murder is synonymous with rejoicing for the few survivors who have organised their extermination.

Sade’s works would not retain their capacity to fascinate had they not been followed by Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Potism, Maoism, Iraqi and Syrian Ba’athism, Rwanda, the Armenian and Assyrian Chaldean genocides, Putinism, and finally, radical Islam in its various iterations. It’s impossible not to detect in the novels of this wild aristocrat a herald of the 20th century’s totalitarian horrors.

III. Rationalisations and Camouflage

The big difference between Sade and modern torturers is that he systematically rationalises his executioner’s actions in extended homilies. It is as if the parade of disembowelments, throat-cutting, and impalements were merely pretexts for endless theories about the falsity of religion, the hypocrisies of virtue, and the grandeur of crime. Sade’s characters kill in order to edify, while modern executioners edify so they may kill with a clear conscience. National Socialism claimed to be defending the German nationalist spirit crushed by a conspiracy of corrupters; Marxism took the side of the exploited. The former eliminated the weak to ensure the survival of the übermenschen; the latter eliminated parasites for the good of humanity. Nazism was evil committed in the name of Evil; communism was evil committed in the name of Good.

But this distinction minimises the points on which these doctrines converge. Until the end, the Nazi regime spoke two languages: that of a German nation humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles and the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, and that of triumphant Aryanism on the march. Stalin’s Russia also advanced a grievance narrative along with the apologetics of terror, and promised brutal extinction to anyone who stood in the way of triumphant socialism. The two systems, enemies though brothers, were faced with the same delicate problem, which was almost a cognitive enigma: how to carry out the wholesale slaughter of human beings for whom one feels no personal hatred. They did so by turning innocent people into “criminals who have committed no crimes.” In the case of Nazism, it was necessary to incite hatred and revulsion of Jews in the hearts of the populations they controlled. In the case of the USSR, it was necessary to hate in the name of loving humanity as a whole. The new world had to be built for the people, who were nevertheless the main obstacle to its construction.

Most dictatorial regimes combine a discourse of victimhood with a need for revenge in order to place themselves outside the law and present their appetite for conquest as a concern to protect the vulnerable. By invoking the persecuted of yesterday, they justify new persecutions that are built under the auspices of freedom and justice. This is particularly evident in the case of radical Islam, which wraps its global and totalitarian ambitions in the language of oppression—Hamas, like ISIS, gave us the human abattoir sanctioned by God. God has provided mankind with His ultimate revelation in the shape of the Qur’an. How can people remain deaf to this truth and continue to pray to false gods? If the infidels resist, they will have to be eliminated one by one, even if that means being temporarily crushed and multiplying the number of martyrs. The devil, so the saying goes, also likes to quote Scripture.

Reading Sade teaches us that the criminal intellect is sententious. His murderers are tireless pedagogues; they want not only to execute their enemies but also to win the approval of public opinion. Had Sade merely been a feudalist, he would have been content to invoke his good pleasure and the authority of his rank. But he was a man of the Enlightenment age, and so he strove to establish his theorems with a kind of mad reasoning that overflows every narrative. The Sadeian libertine is a philosopher of cruelty, although he seems to realise that his attempts to rationalise away compassion will never convince anyone. He invokes the arbitrariness of the Ancien Régime and borrows arguments from the French Revolution, gauging the power of an idea by the degree of displeasure it aroused in the common man. As a result, the action is repeatedly interrupted by interminable disquisitions. These repetitive tirades lead us to wonder if the author was not entirely persuaded by his own theories, and was even sometimes won over by the altruism and pity he scorned.

The career of evil is no less arduous than that of good; inhumanity requires an asceticism forever vulnerable to weakness and philanthropic emotions. Which is why, if a lord surrenders to compassion or refuses to murder, slit throats, or disembowel, he is immediately put to death by his acolytes. In this sense at least, even Sade’s most wicked villains are self-aware: they are too eager to reason and explain their infamy in an effort to win support. To borrow a distinction from René Girard, Sade was a learned tormentor, not a naïve one like the medieval witch-hunters. He was a post-Enlightenment persecutor preoccupied with refuting the Enlightenment’s progressive goodwill. But his arguments are a symptom of insecurity and unease: the fact that the libertine is obliged to justify his acts is proof of his fragility. Like the religious believer who must constantly proselytise and justify in order to fortify his faith, Sade’s criminal apologetics must be militant and voluble to maintain the life of a universal scourge.

The Nazis had a similar problem. During Operation Barbarossa, one and a half million Jews were shot and thrown into ditches. The Einsatzgruppen squads responsible for “cleaning up” the villages of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in this way were able to benefit from psychological support when they had finished. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, chose to reverse their guilt in order to spare them outbursts of remorse or animal pity: “Instead of saying: ‘What horrible things I have done,’ the murderers should be able to say: ‘What horrible things I have had to do in carrying out my duty, how much this task has weighed on me.’” With ethical acrobatics like these, they might convince themselves that they had suffered more than the defenceless men, women, and children they had executed at point-blank range.

And of course, the Nazis’ crimes had to be hidden from the uncomprehending. Modern barbarians have always cherished rhetorical camouflage for this purpose. In an important speech about the extermination of the Jews, delivered in Posen to senior party officials on October 6th, 1943, Himmler famously said: “This is a glorious page of our history that has never been written and never will be.” When discussing the Final Solution, the Nazis used coded language in their documents that was simple enough to be understood by insiders. Even the regime’s official press reported massacres in the form of rumours. If Himmler’s speech indirectly revealed the aim of the annihilation, it was because he was speaking in front of senior SS officials. But a cloak of euphemism had to be maintained for the outside world, especially after the war turned against Germany. The Soviets also went to great lengths to conceal their crimes from the world. On the Solovki Islands, the birthplace of the Gulag in Siberia from 1917, the seagulls used to carry messages from prisoners who were shot. No one was to know what was happening in the Far East, and so nothing was permitted to leak out of the concentration-camp system except to a small circle of people in the know. In this way, the fiction of the great homeland of socialism could be maintained.

In modern times, the truth has often emerged in the form of an exclusive revelation: Albert Londres telling the French about the reality of the Cayenne prisons, André Gide denouncing the misdeeds of the mining companies in the Congo and later the sordid reality of the USSR, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov confirming the horrors of the Gulag before the eyes of the world, the Vietnamese exposing the Khmer Rouge genocide. Each of these revelations instantaneously illuminated places and events hitherto shrouded in darkness. The regimes involved were naturally quick to deny them. Tyrannies are kingdoms of official deceit. Surviving on the discrepancy between their declared doctrines and their actual practices, they have to conceal their contradictions from the eyes of the international press.

IV. The Atrocity Exhibition

Advances in camera technology made it easier to record atrocities and to confound regimes that, under cover of secrecy, eliminated undesirables and erased even the traces of their disappearance. As a result, autocrats quickly became allergic to cameramen and reporters, and would only tolerate authorised filming. But while a single photograph or broadcast is more likely to raise awareness than a lengthy newspaper article, it numbs as much as it shocks and it is quickly replaced by others. Consequently, a regime of habit-forming overexposure has emerged. Every evening, new images bring us fresh horrors: earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, exhumations of mass graves in Ukraine, civil war in Sudan, terrorism in Israel, destruction in Gaza, ethnic cleansing in Armenia. The inhumanity that shook us yesterday is immediately replaced and cancelled out by more today, and each new drama is subject to the law of attrition.

Instead of moving or galvanising us, the cumulative effect is soporific. We have become overwhelmed and weary of the misfortune delivered into our homes. Daily life is hard enough, so why inflict on ourselves the murderous madness of distant peoples? Every day, via the media, we absorb the idea that human beings are a quantifiable commodity, so common that they can be squandered without difficulty unless they are close to us. As much as we value individual life in the West, we perceive the planet to be an overpopulated space, the equilibrium of which is threatened by our own proliferation. The ideal of the eminent dignity of each person collides with this realisation of the multitude. Where numbers triumph, morality capitulates.

However, a new generation of jihadists and spree killers has managed to puncture the apathy of jaded publics by transporting them into the mayhem as it unfolds. Overturning the historical tendency towards secrecy, they delight in the exhibition of atrocities in real-time. This is crime as a first-person-shooter video game, with killings beamed over Instagram or Twitter or Facebook to thousands of followers. Lynchings and terrorist spectaculars are broadcast live by those who hope to advertise their crimes as they sack archives, burn churches, and slaughter their enemies. It was ISIS, followed by Hamas, who innovated decapitations and mass murder in high definition for consumption by the voyeuristic, the morbidly curious, and the unwary.

This is the era of the happy massacre. Corpses are dragged behind a 4x4 while its occupants shriek with joy; a decapitated head is kicked about like a football or a woman’s severed breast is tossed around like a toy; the enemies of God are beheaded to the sound of laughter and a musical score—this is something like genocidal euphoria. Just as Levi Strauss distinguished the cooked from the raw, so we must distinguish the Nazis’ cold and bureaucratic death machine from the murderous fervour of jihadism. The Nazis sometimes showed frenzied sadism towards their victims, but their genocidal programme was meticulously planned and methodically implemented. Allah’s fanatics, on the other hand, are eager to get their hands dirty, and their orgies of cruelty are messy and personal. They resemble the Hutu extremists who cleaved their enemies open with machetes and then rested in the evening; they pounce on the bodies of their victims, crushing, burning, and mutilating them with insatiable passion.

There is no hierarchy in these tortures; this is the democratisation of mass murder to the cries of Allahu Akbar. There are two types of massacres: distant massacres caused by missiles, cannons, and drones, and those committed in person. The two do not imply the same kind of commitment. Like Sade’s libertines and tormentors, the jihadists relish the suffering they cause at close quarters, but they feel no need to rationalise their crimes—horror is its own justification and reward. A young man from Hamas on October 7th, 2023, called his parents from a victim’s phone in the Mefalsim kibbutz, bellowing with joy like a student who has just learned of his success in an exam: “I have killed ten Jews with my own hands! I have their blood on my hands! ... Be proud of me, father! Your son is a hero!” In the background, his accomplices praise God and chant “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as his father replies, “May Allah bring you back in peace.” Return to Gaza? “No!” his son cries. “Either victory or martyrdom!”

Showing everything terrorises spectators and galvanises supporters. Jihadists want to frighten the impious but they also hope to recruit. In Nice, on July 14th, 2016, a Tunisian jihadist crushed 86 people with the truck he was driving. French author and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère later reported that when the inmates at Fleury Mérogis prison heard the news, they erupted into hours of noisy celebration. On the evening of October 7th in Germany’s capital, activists from the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network draped in Palestinian flags distributed sweets and pastries to passersby to celebrate the good news.

To this enthusiasm for rape and torture, Hamas added a grotesque “prayer of gratitude” as its leaders prostrated themselves on October 7th before the television spectacle of the massacres committed by its troops—videos with the hypnotic effect of a slasher film, the protagonists of which are quite unlike the cold, bureaucratic servants of extermination in the Third Reich.

V. The Culture of Excuse

For the pogromists of October 7th, killing Jews was exhilarating, and their exhilaration infected some of those watching from the safety of the West. On October 15th, Russell Rickford, a professor at Cornell University and a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, gave a speech at a campus demonstration during which he shared his ecstatic response to the massacre. While Rickford allowed that he abhors violence and targeting civilians, he was nonetheless enthralled by the transgressive spectacle of the Hamas attack. “It was exhilarating!” he enthused. “It was energising! And if [Hamas] weren’t exhilarated by this challenge to [Israel’s] monopoly of violence—by this shifting of the balance of power—then they would not be human! I was exhilarated!” And this is an antiracist and “progressive” citizen in good standing!

With Western sensibilities in mind, Hamas skilfully plays both the terror and the pity cards. On one hand, its leaders and activists boast of their viciousness as they exuberantly burn, dismember, eviscerate, and smash their way across southern Israel. On the other, they use the deaths of Palestinian civilians—particularly children—during Israel’s inevitable reprisals to horrify the international community and accelerate the condemnation of Israel. The killings are the result of a calculation—they open a window of opportunity, during which carnage is a free-for-all until the political leadership brings an end to the orgy and the hostages are traded. And despite the chasm separating the jihadist cult of martyrdom and murder from the West’s culture of life and liberty, many Westerners are receptive to Hamas’s propaganda.

Contemporary Western culture combines a pervasive victimhood discourse with an unparalleled fascination with sadism that perhaps compensates for the taming of the passions required in civilised societies. Like Sade’s cruel despots, psychopaths and pitiless terrorists are free to be ruthless in a way that the citizens of open societies are not. As we restrain our murderous instincts, the sadistic crimes of those who do not provide an exquisite outlet for our domesticated savagery. But because we can no longer entertain an argument that says, “I kill because it is my will,” the slaughters we are invited to defend and excuse are carried out in the name of social justice, the oppressed, virtue, and high principle. Old offences, we are told, require redress, no matter the cost; or an ideal is so wonderful—communism finally realised, the ummah finally united, the empire finally restored—that it temporarily authorises uninhibited butchery. The brutes exhibit their wounds and summon their dead to prepare the way for mass murder. Even as they sharpen their knives and wire their bombs, they declare themselves to be victims to obtain the world’s absolution.

Every time an atrocity is committed by those designated as disenfranchised or dispossessed, they are greeted—especially by the Western Left—with an indulgent formula: The perpetrators are not responsible—they are forced to behave as they do by poverty, imperialism, humiliation, occupation. This is neo-Rousseauism distilled: man is good (especially in the “Global South”) and society is bad (especially in the capitalist West). For the oppressed, there is no such thing as human evil, there are only evil circumstances. In the ideology of absolution, an act is nothing more than a symptom and it melts into the surrounding determinism like sugar in tea. Thus, many hurry to excuse Hamas’s barbarism with reference to extenuating context and refuse to describe it as a terrorist organisation. Gaza is weak and destitute and faced by one of the most powerful armies in the world. “Racism in the US,” explains the former Stalinist and Black Panther icon Angela Davis, “is very much connected to apartheid in South Africa, which is very much connected to apartheid in Israel.”

Many Western feminists, so particular about male-female relations in the workplace, did not flinch before the sexual brutality committed by Hamas on October 7th: the victims were Israeli “whites,” and therefore unworthy of concern. #MeToo, it turns out, is for all women except for the Jews. Prominent journalists warn against reflexive solidarity with the victims of the femicides committed by Hamas. Such solidarity, we learn, is an obscenity intended to mask Israel’s “ongoing genocide” in Gaza, and it ignores the domination to which the Palestinian people are subject. Gang rape, pregnant women disemboweled, young girls dismembered—all this is small change in the economy of victimisation. The right of the oppressed to behave as they wish is deemed to be absolute, and that includes the right to liberate themselves from basic standards of human decency. Allah’s assassins, militiamen, and jihadists are never guilty since they are born on the soil of poverty and exploitation; they are only its products.

As long as the search for perfect justice continues, the oppressed will be tempted—and even permitted—to violate and exterminate their enemies in the name of race, class, or the Prophet. But the culture of excuse is above all a culture of contempt—those who whitewash the guilty also infantilise them. They are murderers perhaps, but children most of all; untouchable archangels whose misdeeds are our responsibility not theirs. Every war and every crime against humanity perpetrated by the Wretched of the Earth is our fault and should encourage us to lash our own backs and atone endlessly for belonging to the community of free and affluent nations. All evil is in us, they are only unwitting puppets incapable of moral responsibility.

And so, in our arrogant self-regard, we assume the mantle of universal scapegoats. But in doing so, we contribute nothing to making the world a better place, nor to helping the poor and unfortunate to improve their circumstances. Especially not the Palestinians.

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