I had intended to not join recent discussions regarding the murderous terrorist rampage in Norway, leaving it to others to debate the significance of that horrific event (which many have done in the context of Right-wing vs. Left-wing, vs. Islamist terror – with varying ratios of heat to light).
But then it occurred to me that this site is as much about civil society as it is about BDS, and in that context there are things to say that might touch on what lead to the Norway rampage (if only obliquely).
For while the target of BDS is and continues to remain Israel and its supporters, the vehicle through which BDS tries to operate is civic society. Why go through such trouble to get this school or that church to sign onto the boycott or divestment program, if not to try to speak in the name of every member of that organization? For only by making such claims can BDS campaigners give the impression that their desire to see Israel punished through economic sanction comes from a large and respected institution (rather than a small, unrepresentative minority).
The “By-Any-Means-Necessary” tactics used to recruit these organizations into the BDS fold demonstrates how little interest boycotters have in these civic institutions, beyond their usefulness.
Take the seemingly trivial example of food co-ops, many of which operate under relatively loose rules and by-laws. To most of us, such loose governance makes sense in the context of a community of trust (the definition of a civic institution). For in such a trust community, it is assumed that individuals will take the needs of the larger organization and its members into account before acting (and thus air-tight rules and regulations are not required for normal, ongoing activity). But for BDSers, such loose rules do not represent the trusting nature of our civic life, but rather weaknesses to exploit for their own narrow ends.
But at the end of the day, this civic life is what holds our society together, providing endless building blocks which add onto each other one food co-op, one 4H club, one small church, one tiny town, one school, one city, one institution at a time. And when you tear at the fabric that holds such institutions together in order to achieve your own selfish ends, the damage caused has repercussions (even if those who pursue BDS are too self-centered to recognize, much less acknowledge them).
It’s important to note that small civic groups have proven far better at fighting off boycott and divestment calls than have larger institutions such as the United Nations which today finds itself steeped in Israel-hating animus to such a degree that it’s very mission is jeopardized, possibly permanently. How else to describe worthwhile battles (such as the fight against global racism) becoming simply one more mechanism for engaging in “war by other means” against the Jewish state (read Durban I, II and III)?
There are those who believe that civilization is an evolutionary process whereby each generation improves on the last as our society evolves towards global peace and prosperity (possibly overseen by global governance). But another way of looking at the world is as a place where our natural state is wild and where civilization is a result of strange accidents coupled by the will to live artificially. In such an artificial world, people cooperate for mutual gain in ways that do not necessarily benefit only the strong and ruthless.
In this context, anything that rips at the artificial constructs we create to build civilization around ourselves creates openings through which the ruthless, the violent, even the insane can gain the traction they desire to return to a state of nature in which the violent prosper. And thus ideologies that can justify limitless violence in the name of a higher good (as in “of course killing of Israeli schoolchildren or rocketing their homes is horrible BUT we must all stop to understand the desperation that the killers have been driven to”) opens the door not to victory over Israel, but victory over civilization itself.
For who gets to decide which ideology (regardless of whether its ultimate goal is noble, savage or simply insane) is allowed to play the game of “my beliefs justify my actions”? Over the last century, we have seen limitless political violence engaged in by true believers of the Left, the Right, the religious, the anti-religious. This game has been played by Europeans, Asians, Africans, people of all ages, genders, faiths and nationalities. And whether they are waving Mein Kampf, the Communist Manifesto, the Koran, or a 1500 page rambling personal manuscript dripping with anti-Islamist venom, the willingness to draw blood for their beliefs is what joins all of these agents of mayhem together into the ultimate cult of human sacrifice.
Many of the people who have been engaging in debate over Norway’s killing spree seem perfectly able to compartmentalize ideological murder (as in, “those who claim to kill for a belief system I disagree with are the ultimate representations of where that belief system leads, while people who kill in the name of what I believe are just a bunch of nuts”).
But here in the wider world, whenever we attack the very foundation of our civic life either at the individual or organization level, we are playing with fire. Certainly not all institutions and belief systems need to afforded given common respect or left uncriticized or untouched forever. But we should at least understand what we are doing when we decide to trash institutions for nothing more than our own gain, or define deviancy down to justify the behavior of only those who share our beliefs.