For decades now, Americans convinced of their moral superiority to the rest of the world have sat around wondering what could possibly motivate someone to engage in suicide bombing. Who could do such a thing? How? Why? The insanity of it all!
Now consider the last few months: under duress, Americans, whether left or right, have taken to the streets to protest various things, oblivious to the fact that in doing so–whether violently or peaceably–they’re likely spreading a lethal disease vector amongst themselves and others. When the right does it, the left attacks them. When the left does it, the right attacks them. But no ideological group seems entirely immune to the temptation to take to the streets in the middle of a pandemic.
Think about that the next time you’re tempted to pass incredulous moral judgment on the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, or Al Qaeda. Americans are collectively going insane after three months of pandemic-induced hardship, and a few (admittedly egregious) acts of racial brutality. I don’t mean to minimize that, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what it’s like to suffer the kind of hardship that’s par for the course in Gaza, Jenin, Nablus, or Hebron–to name only the places at the forefront of my political commitments.
As far as those places are concerned, we’re not talking about a mere three months of half-hearted and half-enforced “lockdown.” We’re talking about decades of the real thing combined with decades of active state-sponsored expropriation, de-development, and military assault–the grinding day-in and day-out of being locked down, stolen from, shot at, and bombed. Any idea what that might do to a person? Maybe time to rev up that moral imagination a bit, and cast a glance beyond our own parochial concerns.
A person standing in judgment over others is obliged to have the standing to judge. You lack that standing when you condemn what they do, but practice the same thing in an outwardly different but morally similar guise. The more duress Americans experience, the more floridly irrational they become; the greater their irrationality, the fewer of them retain the moral standing they so often presume to have when it comes to the irrationality of non-Americans. There’s a lesson here for discerning minds about the relationship between duress and moral virtue. Something to reflect on in a calm moment, whenever we get one.
I couldn’t reproduce the graphic in the middle of the first of these two articles, but the contrast between COVID-19 in Palestine and COVID-19 in the U.S. is worth thinking about. Palestine has suffered 435 cases, and 3 deaths. Gaza has suffered 65 cases, and 1 death. The United States has suffered 1.81 million cases, and 105,000 deaths. The population of Palestine is 5.02 million. The population of the United States is 328.2 million. I’m not an epidemiologist, but the disproportion seems remarkable.