Where violence is the first resort

Aftermath of bombing of Aleppo, Syria, yesterday. Yes, some of that debris used to be people.

Aftermath of bombing of Aleppo, Syria, yesterday. Yes, some of that debris used to be people.

At least 76 people, including 28 children, were killed yesterday when regime forces bombed a rebel-held section of Aleppo with so-called “barrel bombs,” drums packed with explosives. It also seems to be the case that chemical weapons have been used at least four times this year, including on several occasions following the attack near Damascus that attracted so much attention.

Although both the Iranian-backed regime and the rebels (supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar) are remarkably vicious, the regime has done more damage because of its greater firepower. As always in this kind of warfare, civilians make up most of the over 100,000 dead, and all of the millions of refugees in neighboring countries — who are now suffering in the winter weather.

Somewhat less well-publicized is the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq. The NY Times reports that nearly four dozen people were killed in Iraq today (Monday), with another 19 over the weekend. Most died as a result of suicide attacks or car bombs, but in a particularly ugly incident 12 Shiite pilgrims on their way to a shrine in Karbala were taken off their bus and executed by shooting. More than 8,000 Iraqis have been killed in “sectarian violence” this year, the UN says.

Violent incidents have been reported in the last few days in Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Thailand, Yemen, etc. The Muslim world really is aflame, and it is not because of ‘the occupation’, or indeed anything remotely connected to Israel.

Oh, there would be plenty of violence in Israel if its enemies were not deterred by the threat of force. But that is all that stops them.

These are cultures where violence isn’t the last resort — it’s the first.

One can argue that Western cultures have done worse. The Catholic Church persecuted Jews for hundreds of years. The Germans gave us the Holocaust, and the US and Great Britain killed hundreds of thousands in WWII by massive strategic bombing of enemy cities, including the use of nuclear bombs against Japan. Western colonialism often involved great violence against indigenous peoples. The US practiced a particularly cruel form of human slavery for at least 200 years.

This is undeniable. But Western cultural ideals oppose violence, and Western societies seem to be capable of some degree — perhaps not enough, but some degree — of moral evolution. The Church has renounced Jew hatred and embraced tolerance of other religions. Slavery will not rise again in the US, and its vestiges in the form of racial discrimination are being extirpated. Western military doctrine is evolving in the direction of reducing civilian casualties rather than trying to create them. War itself is treated as something to be engaged in only when necessary, not a noble adventure to be welcomed.

On the other hand, Muslim culture is based on the Quran and the life of Muhammad, in which war to expand the territory of Islam and the subjugation of non-Muslims, are positive values. These cultures did not experience the questioning of traditional beliefs that the West did in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, so they are in general closed to the kind of moral evolution that the West has undergone. Of course there are exceptions. But they prove the rule, which is exemplified by the well-educated Mahmoud Abbas whose regime venerates terrorists who murder civilians, or the Iranian Ayatollahs who preach genocide.

Let’s face it: all cultures are not equal (but different). Some are more evolved — or capable of evolving — than others.

Some people are civilized, while others are barbarians.

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2 Responses to “Where violence is the first resort”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I do not see great moral evolution in the present Western attitude to Israel. I do not see it in the Western world’s largely looking away at the civilian carnage in Syria, and Iraq. It is true that the European nations no longer go to war with each other as they did a bit more than half a century ago. It is true that there are ideals of non- violence and respect for human rights which are paid lip-service to by the U.N. and the international community. But in effect most of these nations are hypocritical human rights violators when it is in their interest to do so.
    And with all this it seems to be true that the Islamic culture is the most violent, is the greatest source of terror, and does condone this violence openly in way other world- cultures do not.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:


    The West has evolved away from the excesses of violence seen in the past. Certain things are unthinkable today that were standard procedure 70 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that Western nations have become what you could call moral actors.

    As far a the UN is concerned, it is sui generis. It has taken the banality of evil to new levels.