Andrew L. Urban
It came to pass one day, an apple and a hand grenade came face to face.
– I am an apple, round and safe to eat. You can hold me in one hand.
– I am a hand grenade, round, inedible and dangerous to handle. You can hold me in one hand.
– My tree grows from seeds of love and forgiveness.
– My maker fills me with explosive fervour and hate towards apples.
When Bill Clinton famously echoed political strategist James Carville during the 1992 US presidential election with the quip, “it’s the economy, stupid…” he identified the economy as the key issue – the overriding issue at stake.
The quip has had a long and lively life since, because, like clichés, it is essentially true. And that observation can be made about many other aspects of politics; in the current global turmoil over the Israel war against Hamas, it is particularly apt. In the past few days, both the Biden and Albanese administrations responded to media questions about the rise of antisemitism by pivoting to condemn Islamophobia.
Apples and hand grenades are both round and can be held in one hand. But there is no comparison between the forgiving apple of Judeo-Christian culture and the hand grenade of unforgiving Islamic antagonism demanding submission to Islam.
To reframe the Clinton quote about the issue at stake in today’s idiom: it’s the hand grenade, stupid.
Thousands of university students and faculty members around the west have been demonstrating against Islamophobia and against Israel. As I write these words, I hear news about a letter from Harvard students condemning Islamophobia and blaming Israel for the Hamas attacks. In the immortal words of John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!”
They are not demanding that Hamas keep Gazans safe. On the contrary. Hamas terrorises Gazans as much as they terrorise infidels in the West. Nor do their leaders much care for the wellbeing of the ordinary Gazans as they care for their own. Senior Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh each have estimated net worth in the range of two to four billion US dollars. That is the pattern established by dictators and the old Communist parties, where leaders siphon off the riches while locking the population into poverty.
Islamophobia is not an irrational fear (phobia), but a well grounded, rational fear of Islamic extremism expressed through terrorism. Antisemitism is not a consequence of non-existent Jewish terrorism; indeed, it is antisemitism that has all the characteristics of a phobia. An old, deeply rooted phobia …
Hence the screeching calls for what they call a cease fire. In effect, surrender by Israel. Yet, “rather than supporting Hamas, the vast majority of Gazans have been frustrated with the armed group’s ineffective governance as they endure extreme economic hardship. Most Gazans do not align themselves with Hamas’s ideology, either,” according to Arab Barometer, a research network which conducted a survey in Gaza and the West Bank days before the Israel-Hamas war broke out.
Cynical politicians who seek to curry favour with Muslim constituencies aside, those who fail to differentiate between Islamophobia and antisemitism must be deemed either ignorant (misguided), malicious or stupid.
If stupid, we’re in trouble as much as if it’s cynical or malicious. “Against stupidity we are defenceless,” to quote from a letter written in prison by anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoffer.* “Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed – in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”
His warning was echoed some years later by Italian economic historian and member of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences as well as the American Philosophical Society, Carlo Cipolla. In 1976 he published his Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. There are five. The fifth is the most relevant for my purposes here: A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person. The corollary of the Law is that a stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit. Intelligent people, no matter how hostile they may be, are predictable. In contrast, stupid people are not. This difference makes stupid people more fearsome than intelligent people.
Perhaps a more apt reframing of that Clinton quote would be “It’s the stupidity, stupid.”
* Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian – not only an anti-Nazi dissident; his 1937 book The Cost of Discipleship is described as a modern classic.