The conflict in Israel and Gaza is much bigger than the Middle East, says Bishop Joseph D’Souza. Peace requires Western democracies to stand up to extremists, not appease them


Source: Wikimedia

Members of the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, take part in a military parade in Gaza

Violent religious extremists of different faiths remain the greatest threat to peaceful co-existence in our time. Those of us who live in the majority world are very aware of this dangerous reality. Religious extremists disrespect the value of innocent human life and are saboteurs of peace.

The hideous terrorist attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians on October 7 invited Israel’s fierce response. Our hearts go out to the Palestinians in Gaza who are now also victims in this war. While most of the conversations focus on what is taking place on the ground, what is often lost is that there is a larger, undeclared war underway - between radical Islamism and a commitment to humanity, preserved by Christian democratic values.

Freedom of speech can never be an excuse for violent hate speech

As Isaac Herzog, President of Israel, wrote in The New York Times: “Against our will, we in Israel find ourselves at a tipping point for the Middle East and for the world and at the centre of what is nothing less than an existential struggle.This is not a battle between Jews and Muslims. And it is not just between Israel and Hamas. It is between those who adhere to norms of humanity and those practising a barbarism that has no place in the modern world.”

A worldwide threat

If Hamas is not dismantled, not only is Israel’s future threatened, but the spectre of extremist Islamist violence will raise its ugly head throughout the free world. They will seek to sabotage all efforts at peace and coexistence between those God has created in his image, whatever their religions. The Palestinians, used as human shields figuratively and literally, will be their victims too.

Unlike many in the majority secular West, I share my perspective as a minority Christian from the majority world. Here’s what I know: Islamist extremists despise the existence of the Christian West almost as much as they despise the existence of Israel.

When the Iranian regime calls America the “Great Satan,” they mean it. These vile threats cannot be taken as hyperbole. When any terrorist organisation – most of whom are funded by Iran – declare anyone unlike them “infidels”, they are serious. Killing infidels is, for Islamist extremists, a legitimate and just cause. Whether Hamas, ISIS, Al-Qaeda or the Lashkar-e-Tobia of Pakistan, they must be stopped.

No sanctuary

Unfortunately, all too often, these extremist voices go unchallenged in the West, even as moderate Arab nations have lost any such need to indulge them. Those countries know that Islamist fundamentalists do not represent the majority of Muslims, who simply want to live in peace, but they are far more aware of the threat that violent extremists pose.

As Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the then-foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, warned European delegates at the Tweeps Forum back in 2017: “There will come a day that we will see far more radical extremists and terrorists coming out of Europe because of lack of decision making, trying to be politically correct or assuming that they know the Middle East, or they know Islam, far better than we do. And I’m sorry, but that’s pure ignorance.”

Islamist extremists despise the existence of the Christian West

The foreign minister was right. Europe and the United States have let naivety guide their decision making. As a result, we are witnessing an eruption of anti-democratic values being given sanctuary in democratic countries across the world. Freedom of speech can never be an excuse for violent hate speech. There should be no room for Hezbollah, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas - or their sympathisers - in these countries.

Open eyes

Creating a truly multicultural society requires a steadfast refusal to appease extremist groups that make threats of violence - no matter their ethnic or religious affiliations. Blindness to this threat is often perpetrated by leftist thinkers, who have a naive view of human evil, and despise their own Christian democracies far more than they despise those who would do them harm.

The kind of anti-Semitic protests that are seen in Western democracies today, led by tens of thousands of Islamists, must be taken seriously. Shouting slogans that call for Jews to be driven out “from the river to the sea” is a call for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.

Extremist Islamic groups do not want peace. Their vision of global dominance always results in violence. Civilised society has no option but to defeat them. The emergence of Hamas and the brutal, inhumane attacks on Jews - both in Israel and around the world - must not be seen merely through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as important as that is. This is far bigger than Israel. It’s about the rest of us, too. Democracies that respect the rule of law are worth fighting for.