Project Fortress: The Barbarians of October

November 2023

As Israel wages its just and justified war against the foot-soldiers, infrastructure and high command of Hamas, those of us far away from the battlefield have an important role to play. Even as soldiers fight the brutal frontline battle and generals craft strategy and diplomats plan for some semblance of peace, people like you and me—everyday people of goodwill and reason and faith, informed citizens, students and CEOs, teachers and preachers, scholars and writers, parents and grandparents—must engage another front: the battle of ideas.

First, we must help those with ears to hear—well-meaning people in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our communities of faith—understand the nature of this enemy.

The barbarians of October were ordered to “achieve the highest level of human losses,” “kill as many individuals as possible,” “capture hostages” and intentionally target elementary schools. In a daylong orgy of murder, they burned people alive, raped women, bludgeoned fathers, murdered mothers in front of their children, brutalized pensioners, executed babies, dragged innocents into captivity, used civilians as human shields, and committed the largest-scale mass-murder of Jews since Hitler’s holocaust.

That’s the PG-13 version of what Hamas did—with Iran’s backing and blessing—on October 7. A fuller description of the butchery is available here and here.

What Hamas unleashed is at once shocking yet unsurprising. After all, Hamas learned these dark arts from ISIS—yet another gang of mass-murderers masquerading as holy men. ISIS orchestrated mass-beheadings of Egyptian Christians; crucified Christian children as young as 12; and nearly exterminated the Yazidi people. As proof of its savage piety, ISIS murdered thousands of Yazidis; forced Yazidi women into sex slavery; conducted a systematic campaign of rape; imprisoned children as young as eight; and even used mentally challenged children as suicide bombers.

It’s not fair to compare ISIS and Hamas to animals, for animals do not do the sort of things Hamas and ISIS have done. Perhaps the best description for their kind is a term our ancestors—un-poisoned by postmodernism’s plague of moral relativism—used for their lawless and shameless enemies: hostis humani generis. Hamas and their ilk are, quite literally, “enemies of all mankind.”

That leads us to a second mission we must carry out in this home-front battle of ideas: We must help those with ears to hear understand that with such an enemy there is no common ground or compromise. As my friend Dr. Marc LiVecche powerfully explains, Hamas must be ended—not understood, not reasoned with, not reformed, not contained, not degraded, not attritted. Like Hitler’s Nazis and Tojo’s militarists and bin Landen’s al-Qaeda and Baghdadi’s ISIS, Hamas must be ended—its leaders and foot-soldiers sent to wherever mass-murderers go when they meet their Maker. That is the endgame and purpose of this phase of the long war on terror.

The idea of waging “war on terrorism” has always been problematic. We cannot defeat terrorism, it was argued after the smoke and soot and fury of 9/11 began to fade, because it is a tactic or a method. Hence, we were told a “war on terrorism” is a misnomer at best and would be futile at worst. However, the civilized world has defeated or otherwise marginalized uncivilized behavior and methods. In his book “Surprise, Security and the American Experience,” John Lewis Gaddis points to slavery, piracy and genocide—counseling us that waging war on terrorism is not necessarily a futile enterprise.

In the same way, ending monstrous movements like Hitlerism and Hamas isn’t necessarily futile. It is, finally, a matter of will. Israel possesses that will—courtesy of the barbarians of October.

Speaking of will, it takes enormous moral and political will for the Israeli people to control their righteous rage and to prevent it from devolving into the very same sort of ends-justify-the-means mindlessness that characterizes our enemies. But the Israelis have constantly summoned that will—and they continue to do so today. Were she not governed by such restraint, by a moral code, Israel long ago would have turned Gaza and Syria into glass—and Hezbollah and Hamas into an unspeakable byword. But Israel has not done those things, has not matched inhumanity with inhumanity, has not forgotten the laws of war or the laws of God.

That brings us to a third responsibility we have: We must help those with ears to hear understand that all uses of force, all acts of violence, all wars, are not the same. As President Reagan observed, “There is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest”—or terror. It shouldn’t take old women being executed, teenagers being raped, babies being beheaded, the mass-abduction of children, the parading of corpses, or the wanton slaughter of innocents to grasp this truth. But that’s precisely the problem: Generations in America and across the Free World have been marinated in a poisoned culture that rejects the very notion of truth, of right and wrong, of good and evil.

Tell people constantly and relentlessly that truth is subjective and situational, and a society will become unable to see the truth or learn the truth or search for the truth or know the truth or believe the truth or defend the truth. And here we are. The world’s greatest cities have been turned into stages for mass-protests against Israel’s right to self-defense and Israel’s right to exist. They rally for Hamas’s unspeakable war crimes, march against an occupation that ended a generation ago, and demand free elections that Hamas won’t hold or allow. Oblivious to the irony, they freely saunter through those cities shouting what they want to shout, believing what they want to believe, loving whom they want to love, reading and thinking what they want to read and think, worshipping what they want to worship or not worshipping anything at all—all in support of monsters who don’t allow any of those freedoms. Generations living under the protective shield of civilization take the side of those who are literally dismembering civilization.

Millions in these generations are unwilling to believe what their eyes see or what the survivors say. Some even rationalize, defend or celebrate the Hamas massacre. And so, the world must yet again fight not only the horror of anti-Jewish annihilationism—handed down from Pharoah and Haman to Hitler, Hamas and Hezbollah—but also the scourge of Holocaust denialism. 

Hamas is evil; those who support it, defend it, rationalize it and march for it may not be evil. But they are certainly not right. At best, they are confused, scrambled, lost.  At worst, they, too, are enemies of mankind.

That leads to a fourth home-front mission: We must help our neighbors use the gift of discernment in this scrambled time and challenge organizations of influence—houses of worship, foundations, businesses—to take a stand for what’s right and against what’s wrong. As President Roosevelt said in an earlier hour of darkness, “We may take pride in the fact that we are softhearted; but we cannot afford to be soft-headed.”

The defenders and enablers of barbarism must be exposed and shamed and remined there is a cost for their choices, their silence, their words, their inaction and actions. We’ve seen some examples of this from clear-eyed university funders, no-nonsense policymakers, level-headed employers and CEOs and firms, and courageous corporate leaders—but not nearly enough. In this brewing backlash against hate and latter-day holocaust denialism, some are learning that the First Amendment indeed guarantees free speech—but not free speech without consequence.

A final mission—especially for those of us who are people of faith—is to help those with ears to hear understand that governments are held to a different standard than individuals. As a collection of scholars explains, “Christians have erred by holding the state to the same standard as the church or the individual, resulting in pacifism.”

For a nation-state, pacifism is neither practical nor biblical. Governments are expected to do certain things individuals shouldn’t do, and shouldn’t do certain things individuals should do. For example, turning the other cheek is indeed next to godliness for individuals, but such behavior is next to suicidal for nation-states. A government that turned the other cheek, “put away the sword,” forgave its enemies “seventy times seven” times, kept no record of wrongs, or never worried about tomorrow would expose its people to enormous risks, invite aggression, and ultimately be conquered, leaving innocents defenseless.

The God of the Bible calls upon government to deter aggression, to punish aggression, to administer justice, to hold back evil. Israel’s government is doing nothing more or less than that.

Alan W. Dowd is a senior fellow with the Sagamore Institute, where he leads the Center for America’s Purpose and the Project Fortress initiative. A shorter version of this essay appeared in Providence.

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