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“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
Steven Weinberg

In 2003, I started a web page that documented the horrors of the Iraq war. The title of the page was corrie.html, because one of the first entries was about Rachel Corrie. This was it.

On Sunday, 16th March 2003, a 23-year-old American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent the Israeli army destroying homes in the Gaza Strip.

You can read here some of the emails that she sent home before she died. And a reaction from the Naomi Klein in the Globe and Mail (Toronto).

” Katharine Viner has edited her writings for a new play, on an ordinary woman with an extraordinary passion”. [Guardian]

At the time, John Sutherland documented some of the terrifyingly violent reactions of ‘patriotic’ Americans. One ‘patriot’ wrote

“Anyone who would burn an American flag deserves to be bulldozed to death!!! Hopefully the US government will aim some bulldozers at the next group of war protesters, those anti-American motherfuckers.”

Guardian 31 March 2003

Already in 2003, long before Trump and Farage, the polarisation was very obvious. Now it is worse.

The original post is here. At the same time, I started a web page about education and religion (here), which concentrated on the undesirability of having religious schools. Needless to say, the stimulus to return to these topics is the war that’s raging between Israel and Gaza, now.

Israel and Hamas

The history of Israel could scarcely be more tortuous. I have often thought that the postwar foundation of the state of Israel was unfair on the people who lived there already. The foundation resulted from European postwar guilt about the holocaust, so space for displaced Jews should surely have been found in Europe. But that is not what Jews wanted. They wanted Palestine. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their towns and villages. Naturally, the people who already lived there were peeved. Imagine the reaction if it had been proposed to set up Israel in Yorkshire.

If it were not for religion, it’s possible that it could have been made to work.

Hamas is a theocratic dictatorship (it was originally elected in 2006, and there have been no elections since then). The founding documents of Hamas make absolutely explicit their genocidal intentions. They are truly blood-curdling.

In summary, this is what Hamas wants

  1. The complete destruction of Israel as an essential condition for the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of a theocratic state based on Islamic law (Sharia),
  2. The need for both unrestrained and unceasing holy war (jihad) to attain the above objective,
  3. The deliberate disdain for, and dismissal of, any negotiated resolution or political settlement of Jewish and Muslim claims to the Holy Land, and
  4. The reinforcement of historical anti-Semitic tropes and calumnies married to sinister conspiracy theories.

These aims are no different from those of ISIS/Islamic State. That’s why they butchered so many Israeli citizens. on Saturday 7 October 2023. How is it possible for humans to behave with such savagery? I’m reminded of Richard Dawkins’ reaction to 9/ll.

“. . . tell them there’s a special martyr’s reward of 72 virgin brides, guaranteed eager and exclusive.

Would they fall for it? Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next.”

“Our leaders have described the recent atrocity with the customary cliche: mindless cowardice. “Mindless” may be a suitable word for the vandalising of a telephone box. It is not helpful for understanding what hit New York on September 11. Those people were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards. On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from.

It came from religion. Religion is also, of course, the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place. But that is another story and not my concern here. My concern here is with the weapon itself. To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.”

Richard Dawkins Religion’s misguided missiles, 15 September 2001

Two of the best accounts that I’ve read are both from Jews. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, and Isaac Saul, whose writings I recently discovered via Twitter.

“The word pogrom was not meant to exist in Hebrew. In the new Israel, the very idea of Jews being murdered en masse, their children butchered before their eyes, was meant to have been banished to the realm of bitter memory.”

“Because Hamas is not identical with the Palestinian cause: it is a curse on it. With a founding charter, never revoked, packed with explicit, medieval anti-Jewish hatred, it has become an Isis-style force of bloodcurdling cruelty, one that brings calamity down on its own people – a calamity that threatens now to become even more devastating.

It isn’t that difficult. You can condemn Hamas and name its actions as evil, even as you support the Palestinians in their quest for a life free of occupation and oppression. And there should still be room in your heart for a Jewish child whose last moments were filled with unimaginable terror – the same terror his grandparents, and their grandparents, thought they had escaped for ever.”

Jonathan Freedland After the pogrom in Israel, the angel of death is licking his lips

Isaac Saul is an American journalist who operates a news site, tangle.news. I chanced on a tweet from him

You can read his full post at Tangle News (scroll down to My take for his commentary). Here are some quotations.

“I don’t believe Hamas is killing Israelis to liberate themselves, nor do I believe they are doing it to make peace. They’re doing this because they represent the devil on the shoulder of every oppressed Palestinian who has lost someone in this conflict. They’re doing it because they want vengeance. They are evening the score, and acting on the worst of our human impulses, to respond to blood with blood”

“The Arab states had already rejected a partitioned Israel repeatedly before World War II and rejected it again after the Holocaust and the end of the war. They did not want to give up even a little bit of their land to a bunch of Jewish interlopers who were granted it all of a sudden by British interlopers who had arrived a hundred years prior. Who could blame them? It had been centuries since Jews lived there in large numbers, and now they wanted to return in waves as secularized Europeans.”

“Are Israelis and British people “colonizers” because of this 20th century history? Sure. But that view flattens thousands of years of history and conflict, and the context of World War I and World War II. I don’t view Israelis and Brits as colonizers any more than the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Romans or the Mongols or the Egyptians or the Ottomans who all battled over the same strip of land from as early as 800 years before Jesus’s time until now. ”

“Palestinians are devoid of any real unified leadership, and the Arab world is now divided on the issue of Palestine. Israel is unwilling to give the people in Gaza and the West Bank more than an inch of freedom to live. These are largely the refugees and descendents of the refugees of the 1948 and 1967 wars that Israel won. And you can’t keep two million people in the condition that those in the Gaza strip live in and not expect events like this. ” “

You cannot keep two million people living in the conditions people in Gaza are living in and expect peace. 

You can’t. And you shouldn’t. Their environment is antithetical to the human condition. Violent rebellion is guaranteed. Guaranteed. As sure as the sun rising.

And the cycle of violence seems locked in to self-perpetuate, because both sides see a score to settle:”

“Iran probably helped organize the attack and the money freed up by the Biden administration’s prisoner swap probably didn’t help the situation, either. Israel’s increasingly extremist government and settlers provoking Palestinians certainly didn’t help.”

“Nor does illegally continuing to expand and steal what is left of Palestinian land, as many Jews and Israelis have been doing in the 21st century despite cries from the global community to stop. A violent response was predictable — in fact, plenty of people did predict it.”

“Am I pro-Israel or pro-Palestine? I have no idea.

I’m pro-not-killing-civilians. 

I’m pro-not-trapping-millions-of-people-in-open-air-prisons. 

I’m pro-not-shooting-grandmas-in-the-back-of-the-head. 

I’m pro-not-flattening-apartment-complexes. 

I’m pro-not-raping-women-and-taking-hostages. 

I’m pro-not-unjustly-imprisoning-people-without-due-process. 

I’m pro-freedom and pro-peace and pro- all the things we never see in this conflict anymore.

Whatever this is, I want none of it.

Isaac Saul, Tangle News, 10 October 2023

There is scarcely a word in Saul’s post which I don’t heartily embrace. The bloodthirsty cycle of vengeance continues. Until somebody has the courage to break it, it will get worse.

We now have two sides, each vowing to wipe the other off the face of the earth. How can this be happening in 2023? Most people just want to live in peace and happiness. One would have thought that, after two world wars in the 20th century, people would have learned more sense. It seems that we are slow learners. Our primitive savagery is never far from the surface. I can only conclude that mankind has a long way to go before before it reaches a civilised state.

As Steven Pinker says, we are heading in the right direction. It’s not so long since all states butchered their citizens. Some still do. It remains to be seen whether mankind learns to manage its affairs better before we are all wiped out by nuclear Armageddon or climate change.

The excellent cartoonist, Ben Jennings, put it perfectly in the Guardian.


I’m baffled by the way many people on the left, with whom I usually agree, are making apologies for Hamas. They are no more worthy of support than ISIS/Islamic State. They are murderous thugs who use barbaric tactics to impose their own perverse interpretation of Islam on the rest of the world. The appalling thing is that the barbaric behaviour of Netanyahu’s government gives them (a bit of) plausibility.

I’ll add here references to subsequent writings which I’ve found helpful. First, the excellent Anne Applebaum points out that their are no longer any rules of war.

There Are No Rules

States and quasi-states are using extreme, uninhibited violence against civilian populations.

By Anne Applebaum 9 October 2023

“In Ukraine, Russia has once again used artillery, cruise missiles, and drones, including Iranian drones, to hit an even wider range of civilian targets: houses, apartment buildings, churches, restaurants, ports, grain silos. Just last week, Russian missiles hit a shop and café in the small village of Hroza, killing more than 50 people. This kind of strike had no conventional military justification. The point is to create pain, cause civilian deaths, and sow disruption—nothing else. Russian propagandists praise the destruction and call for more: “We should wait for the right moment and cause a migration crisis for Europe with a new influx of Ukrainians,” one of them told a television talk show.”

“The Hamas terrorists paid no attention to any modern laws of war, or any norms of any kind: Like the Russians, Hamas and its Iranian backers (who are also Russian allies) run nihilistic regimes whose goal is to undo whatever remains of the rules-based world order, and to put anarchy in its place. They did not hide their war crimes. Instead, they filmed them and circulated the videos online. ”

“Democracies, led by the United States, bear a lot of the blame too, either for refusing to enforce anything resembling order when they could, or for violating the rules themselves. George W. Bush condoned interrogation black sites and torture during the War on Terror.”

“Donald Trump went out of his way to pardon American war criminals and continues to advocate extrajudicial murders, among other things implying that the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deserves to be executed. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has notably indulged the most extreme voices in Israeli politics, including political figures who explicitly seek to undermine Israel’s independent judiciary and Israeli rule of law, and parties whose members openly advocate for the mass expulsion of Arabs from the country. ”

“Open brutality has again become celebrated in international conflicts, and a long time may pass before anything else replaces it.”

And another piece from The Atlantic, which points out that Iran has set a trap for Israel.

Israel Is Walking Into a Trap

Storming into Gaza will fulfill Hamas’s wish.

By Hussein Ibish October 13th,2023

“Like almost all other acts of spectacularly bloodthirsty terrorism, Hamas’s assault on southern Israel was designed to provoke an emotional and equally or even more outrageous response by the targeted society.”

“Iran and Hamas are counting on Israel to attack Gaza with such ferocity that the international sympathy of the past week toward Israel, even in the Arab world, evaporates quickly and is replaced by outrage at the suffering inflicted on the 2 million residents of Gaza.”

“So now Israel will triple down on the dehumanization and collective punishment of all of these “human animals.”

“Tehran couldn’t ask for more.”

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3 Responses to Bloody Religion

  • Muscleguy says:

    Good to know you’re still with us DC. Not only is the Natanyahu gov murderous but it let itself be hoodwinked by Hamas and most of the army was elsewhere.
    As for the stupid arrogance of holding a rave up against the fence with scanty clad women etc. Words fail me. 

    • NM says:

      Ah, Muscleguy: victim-blaming there. Those sluts were asking for it, yes?

    • Ah NM, why can’t you see further than the length of your nose?  But you are right in that there is a desperate need to think differently about the concept of rationality so that people are better equipped to claim the experience of being emotionally triggered.I have found the following SEP entry particularly helpful https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/risk/ . I look forward hearing your thoughts on it.My best, M

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