Instead, it was an opportunity. We watched the marketing of a massacre.
Much has been written and spoken about some progressive groups and many progressive students (and faculty members) at American colleges, who reacted to the hunting, the shooting, the slashing, the burning of all those people in Israel by blaming … Israel. They were referring, obviously, to a conflict larger and more complicated than Hamas terrorists’ treatment of that music festival as a shooting gallery, the torching of Israeli villages and the kidnapping of 200 people, an overwhelming majority of them civilians. They were looking at a longer history.
Still, their inability to distinguish the hours of Oct. 7 from the decades that preceded it — and to look squarely and with proper condemnation at a given sequence of events — was unsettling. As Ezekiel J. Emanuel wrote in Times Opinion just days ago: “It is possible to condemn the barbarism of Hamas and condemn the endless Israeli occupation of the West Bank. So, too, is it possible to condemn the treatment of women and the L.G.B.T.Q. community in Arab lands and the attempt by right-wing Israeli politicians to neuter Israel’s Supreme Court.”
But it is impossible to do that if you navigate all events, all disputes, with a prefabricated compass, a preformulated message that you graft onto everything, no matter how awkward the fit. It is impossible to do that if you are taking your cues from a political or ideological tribe and making sure that you utter the lines it seems to want you to say.
That’s what many of those students did after Oct. 7. It was a version of virtue signaling. I know that from my own conversations with young men and women at Duke, where I teach, who conceded that they felt a vague pressure to make some kind of statement, take some sort of stand. Many looked to see what their friends were doing. Then they brought themselves into conformity with it.
Why should they be any different from the so-called adults in this country? A few of the grown-ups with chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America or Black Lives Matter hastened to stress that the Palestinians’ plight in Gaza and in the West Bank was their plight in the United States. They were all joined in a universal struggle.
But what the activists presented as a crucial gesture of support can as easily be seen as a clumsy intrusion into the narrative, an insistence on snatching some of the spotlight. And I have a question for them: Are they untroubled by how many of their oppressed brethren oppress women and gay people?
I have a question for Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina: What is gained, other than favor with MAGA extremists and the attention that you so desperately crave, by declaiming that “we’re in a religious war”? Are you saying, sloppily and recklessly, that all Christians and all Jews are in combat with all Muslims? Have you not met antisemitic Christians in the MAGA fold? You need to get out more.
Across the political spectrum, in ways big, small, galling, comical and by no means equivalent, Oct. 7 and its aftermath have become fodder for whatever various figures and factions want it to be fodder for. On Fox News, it prompted a fresh round of ranting about our “open border” and immigrants streaming from Mexico into the United States.
Last time I consulted a world map, Central America and the Middle East had an ocean between them — the Atlantic, I’m pretty sure it’s called — and the Rio Grande didn’t feed into the Dead Sea. But in feverish precincts of the not-so-far right, “open border” is the answer to every question, the font of all woe, and no major news development is complete without a mention of migrants and a denunciation of President Biden.
As Oliver Darcy noted in his Reliable Sources newsletter for CNN, Laura Ingraham began her Fox News program on Oct. 10 with “AMERICA NEXT?” on the screen and this alarmism: “What better way for a terror network to disperse and disappear into the general population than amidst hordes of Venezuelans and Hondurans?”
Andy Ayers of St. Louis recommended another passage in The Times, from Peter Beinart’s effort to envision some peace and progress following that slaughter: “It will require Palestinians to forcefully oppose attacks on Jewish civilians, and Jews to support Palestinians when they resist oppression in humane ways — even though Palestinians and Jews who take such steps will risk making themselves pariahs among their own people. It will require new forms of political community, in Israel-Palestine and around the world, built around a democratic vision powerful enough to transcend tribal divides. The effort may fail. It has failed before. The alternative is to descend, flags waving, into hell.”
In The Washington Post, Dana Milbank noted that at a juncture of grave uncertainty, “there is one eternal truth, one unwavering constant to steady us when all else is in flux: Every time the House Republican majority tries to govern, it’s guaranteed to turn into a goat rodeo.” (Ranga Parthasarathy, Emigrant, Mont., and John B. Jacoby, Cambridge, Mass., among others)
In The Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash deconstructed the results of the recent election in Poland: “We can see that many voters simply got fed up with the corrupt, petty, backward-looking, obscurantist rule of the party led by the 74-year-old Jarosław Kaczynski, who is a kind of one-man walking anthology of resentment.” (Scott Denham, Davidson, N.C.)
In The New Yorker, Daniel Immerwahr assessed America’s distance from its agrarian past: “The small farmer, standing on his property with a pitchfork, has been an endangered species for a century. Today, a leaf blower would be a better symbol for those who tend the land. As the economist Brad DeLong notes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts more landscapers and groundskeepers than people working on farms.” (Timothy Rake, Forest Grove, Ore.)