One month after September 11th, 2001, Cambridge classicist Mary Beard published her perspective on the deadly attack. “When the shock had faded, more hard-headed reactions set in. One of these reactions being that, however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming,” she wrote. “World bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price.” I wonder, did a single reader mistake her politics after finishing that line?
Who, exactly, “had it coming,” Mrs. Beard? The passengers whose flights were hijacked by al-Qaeda? The Americans who jumped from the twin towers to their deaths? The first responders who were killed when the buildings collapsed? Those men and women were not “world bullies”; they were innocents.
Twenty-two years later, the moral dilapidation that Beard embodied has resurfaced after yet another atrocity, this time in Israel. Never before have progressives burned their moral credibility as rapidly, and with such fervent self-righteousness, than in the wake of this month’s slaughter.
The attack was committed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. On October 7th, Hamas fighters burst through Gaza’s border with Israel armed with one objective: “Kill as many people as possible.” Militants gunned down concert goers as they fled for their lives. They repeatedly threw grenades into a bomb shelter filled with unarmed civilians. They raped women, butchered infants, murdered the elderly, set families on fire, and took hundreds of hostages. Tragically, their mission was a success: at least 1,400 Israelis were killed.
Every American with a functioning moral compass—liberal or conservative—looked at these events with horror. They expressed condolence for Israel and its citizens, Jewish and Arab alike, whose lives were demolished by Hamas. But one segment of the population reacted differently. Drenched in pungent ideology, the most calcified fragment of progressivism leapt to justify the terrorists’ brutality.
Before the bodies were cold, members of the far left released a plethora of appalling statements. A letter signed by over thirty student groups at Harvard University read, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The Democratic Socialists of America, which counts multiple sitting congressmen as members, proclaimed that “today’s events are a direct result of Israel’s apartheid regime.” The organization’s San Francisco chapter called to “decolonize Palestine — from the river to the sea.” In other words, to wipe Israel off of the map.
For many Democrats, these statements were alarming. How could an ideology that claims to champion peace deliver such sickening responses to an act of terrorism, carried out by an entity whose stated purpose is genocide?
The explanation lies in the writings of Karl Marx, one of modern progressivism’s intellectual forefathers. Marx propounded a theory that history was, in fact, a science defined by unbending principles of motion. If one knew the rules of history, he believed, understanding the past and predicting the future would become a foolproof, logical exercise.
In Marx’s judgment, all historical developments were the product of competing class interests. His ideological descendents have added another principle to the paradigm: that history is rife with oppression, and that stronger, richer nations invariably persecute their weaker, poorer counterparts.
Their framework was corroborated by Russia’s monstrous invasion of Ukraine, a far weaker country, early last year. Yet under the same theory of history, an unprovoked attack against Israel simply cannot exist under any circumstances. After all, Israel possesses one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East, has an advanced economy, and holds significant geopolitical influence. Gaza under Hamas, meanwhile, is extremely poor and holds virtually no regional sway.
As per progressive doctrine, Hamas’ barbaric incursion cannot be reconciled with this imbalance of power. To accord with the science of history, Israel must deserve to be attacked; it must be the sole aggressor. The stronger party in a conflict must always be the villain. Therefore, a revision of plain reality is needed.
When a Palestinian militant group accidentally fired a rocket meant for Israel into a hospital in Gaza, Hamas falsely claimed that Israel had targeted the hospital to inflict mass civilian casualties. Western media outlets immediately took Hamas at their word, and plastered the terrorists’ propaganda directly onto their front pages. Perhaps they wanted the story to be true.
Across the United States, flyers depicting the faces of Israelis who were kidnapped by Hamas and taken to Gaza are torn down and discarded. Like inconvenient outliers in a scientific dataset, they must be removed from sight.
Here at Stanford, a lecturer forced his Jewish student to stand apart from the rest of the class as a representation of what “the Israelis did to Palestinians.” He later asked his students to disclose their national origins, and then categorized each of them as either a “colonizer” or “colonized.” The instructor might as well have grabbed the world by the collar and screamed, “Follow the rules, damn it!”
Alas, the truth refuses to conform to any preconceived standards. History is not akin to chemistry or physics, as Marx asserted; rather, it is untidy and unruly.
With its ruthless massacre of Israelis, Hamas has shattered the progressive mind by disproving its theory of history—just as al-Qaeda did twenty years ago, when it punched the world’s strongest nation in the throat. We are once again reminded that virulent progressivism is to basic moral decency what acid is to flesh: highly corrosive and deeply disfiguring. Much like Hamas, it belongs in the ash heap of history.