The west shudders — and learns a little bit how it is to be Israel.
Religious and ethnic hatred drive godless, gutless men to beguile the young into killing themselves and strangers going about their business.
In liberal societies such as ours this hate and killing are hard to understand. But they are human.
We, too, are only recently out of the chrysalis of hate. Four centuries ago God fought God and laid Europe to waste. Before that the Christian God fought Allah repeatedly to retrieve Palestine from Muslims.
Just 60 years ago Germanic hate precipitated the slaughter of 6 million people who had the wrong God. The survivors, called Israelis, used terror to win themselves a state in 1948. Since then they have felt the wrath of Allah and some neighbours have sworn to wipe their state off the map.
This modern pogrom is not the will or the work of God or Allah. It is the will and the work of tiny numbers of humans who have manufactured gods from their hate and have wound into their web others who, depending whether they are suicide bombers or ground fighters, may be intelligent and idealistic or little educated and without prospects.
Reason and love can’t undo this hate. Israelis understand that. Britain and the United States, which invented the ideal of liberty, are coming to understand it. They have been, and they feel, under attack.
The United States’ response to the attack on it just under five years ago was to invade Iraq, with Britain and Australia in tow. There is no evidence the invasion has lessened the hate. The evidence suggests the opposite, that Iraq is a recruiting and training ground for haters of the United States and Britain and the heirs and successors of their liberty.
Iraq itself is a battle zone of groups in thrall to different manufactured Allahs. Iraq is not, and shows almost no sign of becoming, the beacon to the region of individual liberty and democracy which the United States Administration’s neoconservatives fondly expected.
Instead, Iraq is a beacon of insecurity and sectional turmoil to a region which needs no such beacon.
Of course, in that region there is also an Allah fashioned by decent, tolerant people who want to live peaceably and prosperously. Islamic history is one of a belief in a superior religion but also of toleration of Jews and Christians. Those who kill and those who send the killers to kill are a small, aberrant minority.
In the days of hand-to-hand weapons, the damage such deviants could do was limited. But with modern scientifically honed weapons a small number can do great harm. And, in doing that, they can spread a great deal of fear — and generate hate in return against an undeserving decent Islamic majority.
So can there be a “proportionate” response”?
Our Prime Minister thinks so: the Israeli response to Hezbollah’s sporadic killing of their citizens was “disproportionate”. A fair number of Iraqis would likely say the United States’ response to the twin towers killings has been disproportionate.
But is it disproportionate for Israel to do what it can to stop those who, like Hezbollah, want to wipe it off the map and who are handsomely resourced and supported rhetorically (at least) by some neighbouring states, one of which may be about to own nuclear weapons?
What is symmetrical about Israel’s struggle with such implacable foes?
Sure, Israel (a) has by far the region’s most superbly equipped armed forces, which make it a regional superpower, (b) it has used that power to expand its presence and disproportionately and ruthlessly grossly mistreat Palestinians and (c) it has a powerful, generous and near-slavish friend in the United States, where a pro-Israel lobby cows and woos politicians of all stripes.
But its enemies have the numbers. Like all rich societies, Israeli Jews are not breeding fast and cannot expect a repeat of the big influx of eastern Jews after communist central and eastern Europe collapsed.
Palestinians, by contrast, are among the world’s fastest breeders. They will in due course swamp the Jews even in Israel proper, let alone in greater Palestine.
And Hezbollah is not just the most effective and intelligently run military force Israel has faced. It is also a well-funded welfare agency, dispensing medical and other assistance and thus embedding itself in the hearts and minds of a grateful populace. To attack Hezbollah’s fighters is in effect also to attack those Hezbollah helps.
So in conducting its relentless defence of its right to exist, Israel is also counterproductively hardening ill-will against it. It doesn’t help that there are haters in Israel, too: the Old Testament God was a god of vengeance.
But in turn Arab nations could usefully learn from Islam’s history of tolerating useful foreigners and draw on the Jews’ technological and entrepreneurial skills and energies to build their economies and enrich their peoples.
The Middle East, with all its oil, should be rich. Too little of it is. The hate of the few is in the way.