The Logic of Total Victory, Israeli Exceptionalism, and Muslims

Of course, there can be no other topic for today’s khutbah than the obscenity of what is unfolding in Gaza, the moral outrage, and the endless stream of images of human suffering. Whether we like it or not, the West has led the modern world and defined the ethics of our modern institutions, for better or worse. For the past few centuries, a small percentage of the world has defined the rules of the game globally. This small percentage, not too long ago, were explicit colonial powers that took upon themselves the so-called “civilizing mission” in which they colonized, dominated, and subjugated indigenous cultures. And it is this part of the world that continues to define the ethics of our modern institutions even long after the formal end of colonialism.


It was largely a European and American idea to build the United Nations after the League of Nations. It was Europe and the U.S. that led the effort to draft the UN Charter, which is the basic constitutional document for the world we live in today. It is also these same parties that, for the most part, have defined the rules of the game within the United Nations. It was this part of the world that played the pioneering role in drafting the Geneva Conventions, which were supposed to define humanitarian standards in the very midst of the ugly and brutal reality of war. The very point of the Geneva Conventions, and the very point of humanitarian law, was to acknowledge that wars fought as zero-sum games, wars in which powerful parties vow to fight for victory at any price, at any cost, are fundamentally immoral wars. The sheer human cost of doing so is so obscene as to be unacceptable. 


That was the stark realization. Any educated person knows the huge price paid in World War II for these zero-sum conflicts, conflicts that aim not to negotiate, compromise, or reach a settlement but to eradicate and erase the enemy. These wars carry such enormous costs for human beings that the very edifice of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the various treaties and instruments on human rights were all supposed to convey the message, "We have learned from the brutality of World War II, and we do not want to repeat the sheer inhumanity of what took place when colonial powers struggled for bigger shares of the cake, for greater power over indigenous cultures and people, for a larger share in power and control."


What, in essence, ignited fascism in Germany and Italy? What drove the Japanese assault upon the United States? What inspired the leadership of these countries and appealed to ordinary people? It was fundamentally about shares. It was about the gains of British and French colonialism and American hegemony in the Pacific. It was the persistent sense among Italian, German, and Japanese intellectuals that the current distribution of shares was unfair, that they will always be second to these colonial powers. Japan consistently complained about how small its sphere of influence was in the Pacific and, in the years leading up to war, complained about American hegemony and American interventionism. 


The point is that we have already conducted an experiment in which human beings allowed the cause to drive their conduct, forgoing moral restraints and ethical reservations because they believed their cause was just. Since World War II, we claim to have learnt that this type of scenario results in endless misery for human beings. These types of wars, simply in terms of their collateral damage, harm, and suffering, are unbearable. All the institutions that monitor the legality of state conduct, including institutions like the Red Cross or the many organizations within the UN, are premised on the idea that we are not going to repeat this mistake. We are not going to repeat the mistake of assuming that the existence of a just cause justifies any means or justifies the lack of restraint in the pursuit of what a party believes to be a just cause.


This is so critical because of what is happening right now in Gaza. Recent generations have not experienced 1948, and they know very little about 1967. They have no memory of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Palestine, and no real memory of even the legacy of colonialism. Muslims today are facing a world in which the very same powers that created the institutions of normative morality in our modern world seem to be intent on betraying every principle they crafted and have supported since World War II. This is the reality that Muslims are waking up to today. 


Let us take a step back. You and I have not seen evidence of the atrocities alleged to have taken place, as claimed by Israel and the U.S. You and I have not seen murdered Israeli babies, decapitated or not. What I did see is evidence that leads me to believe that Palestinian fighters shot and killed unarmed Israelis who were not wearing military fatigue, which is clearly a violation of the rules of war. That would be a war crime. If Hamas fighters shot them in cold blood, that is a clear violation. But, as I have said repeatedly, the way we ascertain facts on the ground when there are allegations of atrocities is to engage the very same processes and institutions that these very same countries, the U.S. and the West, have created to investigate such claims.


Let us step away. There are claims that Myanmar committed a genocide against Rohingya Muslims. There are institutions to investigate this claim and ascertain the facts. But let us imagine a world in which there is, in fact, a powerful Muslim country that can act the way Israel and the U.S. acts. Imagine that without an investigation, without any verification, and without resort to any process, simply on the basis of journalistic evidence and the oral testimony of survivors, this Muslim country decided to send Myanmar a message and proceeded to bomb Myanmar to a pulp. They did not just bomb Myanmar to target military installations or people clearly wearing military or fighting insignia. They simply leveled Myanmar to the ground. 


Can you imagine the world sitting silently? 


Let us pretend that there is a very powerful Muslim country in the world. On the basis of the available evidence, China has engaged in a genocide against Muslims in China. Imagine this powerful Muslim country telling the world, "I am not in the mood for any investigations. I am not in the mood for any discussions or any back and forth. I am going to level Beijing. I am going to reduce the capital of China to rubble." Just imagine the reaction of the civilized Western world. 


Why even go that far? Imagine if there was a powerful Muslim country and, upon the occurrence of the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, when more Palestinians were killed than Israelis were killed on October 7th, this powerful Muslim country responds, "That is it, we are fed up. We have been massacred by Israelis since 1948, and this follows in a long line of massacres. We are going to go to war against Israel until total victory is achieved. And we are going to do what the logic of complete and total victory dictates, that is, we are going to pound our enemy to a pulp. We are going to start bombing Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities until we level everything that, we think, is of potential military significance." 


Just imagine what the reaction of the world would be. To be clear, even when the massacre of Sabra and Shatila took place, every militant response to the massacre was condemned by the West. I remember those days well. I remember how the response was always to say, "You cannot punish Israelis for what Sharon did. Sharon does not represent the Israeli people. You cannot even punish the Israeli military for the militant and fanatic faction led by Sharon."


In our experience with modernity, the claim of civilization has always been founded on the power of distinction. Civilized people distinguish. When the West wants to invoke the civilizational card, they distinguish. When the West accuses us of not being civilized, they effectively accuse us of failing to distinguish. They say that we have a mentality too unsophisticated to realize distinctions. 


But we now wake up to a world in which all distinctions seem to have evaporated. Everyone agrees that the Geneva Conventions are being violated. I do not even think the Biden administration itself can deny it at this point. So let us fully realize what is taking place, because it is important to just be clear about the facts. A corrupt, racist, and supremacist leader came to power in Israel. When that leader came to power, he brought with him other Israeli politicians, like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who firmly believe that none of the decorum of the institutions of international law apply to them. People like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are on record as saying that they have no regard for the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or any of the rules of international law when it comes to their conflict with Arabs and Muslims. They have been on record, numerous times, saying that. "As far as we are concerned, we can bomb Syria, Iran, and Lebanon as many times as we want. If the Egyptians do not obey us, we will bomb the Egyptians. We can displace the Palestinians. We can ethnically cleanse who we want. We can do any and all of that, and it does not matter because we do not believe in all the niceties that were built after World War II."


The attack on October 7th did not come out of a vacuum. Any reasonably intelligent person could have told you that things were eventually going to blow up because Netanyahu and his government, since coming to power, have made a habit of violating the sanctity of the al-Aqsa Mosque. This still continues, incidentally, even until yesterday. They have made a habit of allowing settlers to abuse and murder Palestinians without accountability. They have effectively given the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) a blank card to kill as many Palestinians as they wish, making it clear that no member of the Israeli military will ever be held to account for killing or maiming a Palestinian. This same government, upon the occurrence of this attack, has now started engaging in the public relations game, telling us that Hamas beheaded babies, engaged in mass rape, and murdered Israeli children. All these claims are extremely unreliable, for the pattern and practice of the same government is to consistently lie about what Palestinians do or not do. Clearly, this government has no moral reservations about lying. But suddenly, the same West that, in theory, condemns racism, in a single moment, has done precisely what it has been telling the world not to do since World War II, which is to accept the narrative of supremacist and fascist parties as beyond impeachment and as absolute truth.


 Let that sink in for a second. 


I saw an interesting clip from an Israeli television network. The clip is of a young Israeli woman who is being interviewed on Israeli TV. In the interview, she talks about how Hamas soldiers broke the door she had locked, breaking into where she and four others were hiding. The Israeli correspondent asked her, "Upon breaking down the door, did they assault you? Did they abuse or mistreat you?" She responds with complete calm, "No. They treated us well. They told us not to fear or be scared, that they are Muslim. They gave us water. They told us that they are going to be there for a few hours, but they are not going to hurt us." I saw this clip once before it was promptly removed, and I thought I had lost it until I found that someone else whom I follow had downloaded and preserved it. The interview is in Hebrew, and it is clear that it was promptly removed. 


In the same way that I will not believe Hamas blindly when it says it did X, Y, or Z, you cannot blindly trust a source like Netanyahu’s government, a source with a clear track record of lies and hatred against Palestinians and Arabs.


This is a critical point. For the sake of argument, let us assume that, indeed, Hamas committed all the atrocities of which it has been accused. The very logic of human rights, of humanitarian law, and of the institutions built after World War II states that just because your enemy is a criminal does not mean that you can be a criminal in turn. Millions upon millions of people lost their lives in World War II so that humanity could learn this lesson: if you meet evil with evil, all that remains on the face of the earth is evil. The whole edifice of the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Charter, and everything else is that we will no longer engage in the equations of colonialism. 


What are the equations of colonialism? Think of the precise scenario that took place throughout the colonial era. European settlers go somewhere, and European settlers are assaulted, murdered, and mutilated by what European settlers call “barbarians,” meaning indigenous people. Whether this took place in South America, North America, Africa, or Asia, it was always the same. European settlers are assaulted by natives, so therefore the natives are barbarians. What does the equation dictate? Colonialism comes in and wipes out the natives, punishing the assault against the colonizer through total victory.


The very logic of total victory is a genocidal logic because one cannot be totally victorious over a people unless you completely vanquish them. It is incredible to see even law professors forget this. The very logic of the institutions of human rights and humanitarian law is to say, “No more. A wrong cannot justify genocide. A genocide cannot be countered with another genocide. Just because you suffered a genocide does not give you the right to commit a genocide.” The very logic of modern institutions of morality and law is that there are rules even when you have an entirely just cause on your side. 


Everyone knows this. I am sure everyone in the Biden administration knows that Israel is violating about 100 provisions in the Geneva Conventions in its assault upon Gaza. Everyone knows. Bombing hospitals. Bombing UNRWA schools. I saw a report that in just one week, there have been one hundred thousand instances of extreme hate speech against Palestinians and Muslims on Twitter in Israel alone. When I say extreme hate speech, I mean statements along the lines of, "These are animals, wipe them out.” Of course, there was not one instance of intervention by Twitter. Everyone knows the Netanyahu government is espousing a genocidal war. Everyone knows the same powers today that stand with Israel originally drafted, authored, theorized, and invented the very rules that tell us to not target hospitals, schools, or go after unlawful institutions. Not to cut off water or electricity. Look at the obscenity of the aid caravan at the Egyptian border, which has yet to enter. Twenty trucks! The whole media attention is about twenty trucks. What are twenty trucks going to do in a population like Gaza? That is about one minute’s worth of aid , and yet we have the obscenity of the entire world going back and forth, "Oh, the twenty trucks are in, they are out, they are delayed.”


That is, of course, the whole point. I mentioned in my previous khutbah how an obsession seems to have nestled in the Israeli mind: “We have defeated the Palestinians. The Palestinians should have surrendered. We are not observing the terms of the Oslo Accords because why should we give terms to people we have defeated?” 


I listened to Ben Shapiro's partner and close friend, Jeremy Boreing, on Piers Morgan’s show. He blew my mind. He said that since World War II, it seems the West has forgotten how to win a war. According to Boreing, the problem is that since World War II, we no longer fight to win. He cited Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. I have heard the same thing from Ben Shapiro himself. Do you know what it means to win a total victory? The last time the U.S. nuked a country was Japan in World War II. According to the logic of Boreing and Shapiro, what we have done wrong in Afghanistan and Iraq is that there is still an Afghanistan and an Iraq standing. The logic of total victory that these people are fantasizing about means going back to the paradigms of either “victor” or “vanquished.” Wat Ben Shapiro and his partner are bemoaning that they did not attain a full victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. What that means is that the U.S. should have nuked the Taliban because that was the only way to attain a complete victory. The U.S. should have nuked Iraq so that Iraq loses even its will to live. No doubt, this is exactly what they are saying and fantasizing about for Palestine. 


Wake up people! Even Biden says Hamas must be “wiped out." What does the logic of “wiped out” mean? Israel is bombing hospitals, schools, and homes, saying that Hamas is in all these places. I do not know what happened to logic. It is as if people have ceased being able to think. If Israel is telling us that Hamas is in the hospital, in the school, in the home, in the mosque, then, to “wipe out” Hamas, as Biden says we must, how are you going to do that without wiping out the hospital, the school, the mosque? And what happens to the people in the hospital, the school, the mosque? 


We are confronting a very ugly and stark reality. The very people who invented the rules of war in modernity; the very academics, intellectuals, and politicians who authored the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; who said that we do not live in an age of “victor” and “vanquished”; who said, “No more” and “Not again” to the wars of colonialism in which an indigenous population commits an atrocity and so is wiped off the face of the earth; the very people who said “No more” to the logic of total unrestrained and unfettered war; these very people have abandoned their ideals.


What is truly shocking is that they have affirmed something that Muslims suspected all along, namely, that their ideals do not extend to Muslims. When it comes to dealing with us, Muslims, they are willing to forgo, forget, and put their ideals aside. Every politician who does not support a ceasefire and is not condemning what Israel is doing knows fully well that they are trampling upon humanitarian law, human rights law, and human rights ideals. What they are saying is that because Israel was wronged, Israel can become medieval again. They are allowing a medieval exception when it comes to Muslims. "When it comes to Muslims, go medieval on them. Do the medieval, Talmudic thing of obliterating your enemy." This is, indeed, a new challenge and this is, indeed, a new world. The “Talmudic thing” is, of course, a reference to the laws of war in Deuteronomy and what it says about the vanquished enemy. Through the hard work of Jewish moralists and ethical theologians, this was reinterpreted, rearticulated, deconstructed, and challenged. In other words, what is being lost—among the countless things being lost in this obscenity and ugliness—is Jewish ethics and the hard work of Jewish theologians and moralists. 


But let us also identify the elephant in the room. It is not the fact that the West has decided to betray its own principles. It is not even the fact that the West perhaps has never believed in its own principles vis-a-vis Muslims. The elephant in the room is not the fact that the so-called “civilized” and “democratic world” is abandoning all what it claims to have believed in, adhered to, and adopted since World War II. The elephant in the room is Muslim weakness. It is how weak and vulnerable we are.


Our weakness is so painfully evident. Look at how the Al Saud fought for the Hijaz, in other words, look at how they surrounded and suffocated the Hijaz, murdering fellow Muslims. Now compare this to the fight of Arabs against Israel in 1948. It clearly tells you who is in charge. It clearly tells you who is giving orders, and who is carrying out orders. But we were weak in 1948. We were weak in 1967. The same even in 1973. We are always on the weak side, and there are distinct reasons for this. 


Look at all the demonstrations taking place all over the Muslim world. Hear the chants of the Muslim masses. “Open the borders! Allow us to help our brothers and sisters in Gaza!” Imagine if we had rulers in the Muslim world who actually translated this into a reality. Imagine if we had rulers who said, loud and clear, “If you are going to victimize Gaza, it means you are going to have to go to war with all of us Muslims.” Imagine if the logic followed by Muslims was the same logic that confronts us when we deal with Israeli violence, time and again. What we quickly learn is that it is not just fighting Israel; it is fighting Israel, the U.S., Britain, France, and other countries who send the message that Israel does not stand alone. As we speak, there are Americans who have flown to Israel to join the war effort against Palestinians. They are allowed to do so by law, and there will be no legal repercussions because our laws do not designate Israeli forces as a terrorist force. So joining them in murdering Palestinians is not an act of terrorism. Yet no Muslim or Arab leader dares to allow his people to translate sympathy with the Palestinians into any type of action. The Muslim weakness is undeniable. 


There is another reality, and this is also part of Muslim weakness. From as far back as I can remember, from the days I was a child, I grew up with the ingrained idea that the big boogeyman, the scary monster, was Israeli air power. Since the 1960s, I learned that Israel goes wherever it wants, bombs wherever it wants, and kills whoever it wants using air power. I often wondered, what allows for this absolute supremacy from the air? I have imagined what it would take for a Muslim country to actually develop a type of weapon that could counter Israel’s absolute air supremacy. Do you know what is required? What is required are institutions of research and experiment. We would have to re-channel our resources into supporting every brilliant young scientist who might have an idea that would lead to the scientific advancement and progress needed to know how to prevent an airplane from bombing Muslims with impunity.


In order to have these resources, however, we would need to fund research, 90% of which would lead to nothing. That is the nature of scientific research. But we must be able to protect our scientists. We must be able to fund the experiments, fund the trial and error of our scientists, and commit the resources to carry out their scientific imagination into actual prototypes. But it is impossible to do that if we do not have the political will. If your country is so corrupt that there are spies at every corner, and your scientists can be assassinated at any time, and you feel broken and vulnerable, then you cannot do that. You cannot do that if your military and your elite are so corrupt that the funds that could be dedicated to scientific research are instead diverted into the pockets of corrupt generals who put the money in bank accounts in Switzerland and Dubai, and then spend it on villas, cars, and yachts.


Muslim rulers are authoritarian dictators who do not represent their people. They are the source of our weakness. It is impossible, with this type of leadership, to even start down the road that would provide some kind of counterbalance, a path that would, in fact, be a favor to the West in restoring its rationality and in quenching the insanity of its bloodlust. For when the powerful are met with counter-power, the powerful often calm down and pause and think. 


Muslims have to abandon everything else and focus on rehabilitating the art of governance in the Muslim world. Muslims in the U.S. and Europe must become the active agents, through the institutions of power in the U.S. and Europe, for forcing reform and change in the Muslim world. It is Muslim rulers who have allowed the genocide to take place in Palestine right now. They are truly responsible. They are so weak that neither the U.S., Israel, or any other power gives them any weight or regard.


I am going to finish with one final example. It is so shocking that it needs to be preserved in history. The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, recently met with the German chancellor. This discussion showed the quality of people who rule over Muslim populations. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi says that Egypt is completely opposed to exiling Palestinians and pushing them into Sinai. In the course of saying this, however, he makes an unbelievable proposition. He says, "Israel has a desert in the Negev area." The Negev is a desert along the Egyptian border that is unsettled and in which there is nothing. Sisi says, "Israel can displace the Palestinians to the Negev Desert until they finish their war and destroy Hamas, and they can then allow the Palestinians back into Gaza if they want."


Of course, this is a Freudian slip. He was not at this point reading from a text, He was speaking freely. But it truly betrays how lowly, submissive, spineless, and irrelevant these rulers are. The ruler of the biggest Muslim country in the Middle East, over one hundred million people, is telling Israel, "Go ahead, punish the population of Gaza. Displace them. Put them in the Negev Desert. Go ahead, finish off Hamas. Destroy Hamas, and then allow the population to return to Gaza, if you want."


If you want. This remark was not even covered by Al Jazeera. Not a single khatib seemed to even notice it. We are so defeated, so broken that even when our rulers speak as criminals, we do not notice. Something like this would be enough, for people who are truly alive, people who have a sense of pride, to overthrow their ruler. If the Egyptian people were actually living, this statement alone would be enough to overthrow the ruler overnight. How can you possibly suggest not only a war crime but a genocide against fellow Muslims? But, of course, his comment garnered no reaction. I do not know if Egyptians even noticed it. Or take another example. The UAE is the only country in which there was not even a demonstration in support of the Palestinians. The UAE has even banned the raising of Palestinian flags. Emirati Media is entirely blaming the Palestinians for their own plight. In fact, they even implied in their media that it is probably true that Islamic Jihad is responsible for bombing the Al-Ahli hospital.


I truly hope we wake up, because any true Muslim who wants to find solutions for our Ummah must first confront the reality of how dead we are. 

The Movement to Reinvigorate Beautiful and Ethical Islam has begun.  Join us.

Your donation to The Institute for Advanced Usuli Studies will help fund important work to combat extremism and ignorance. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity dedicated to research and education to promote humanistically beautiful and morally elevating interpretations of Islam. We seek to support our brightest minds to advance knowledge and to build a community of individuals founded on dignity, respect and love for all of God's creation. See The Usuli Institute Credo for our statement of values. Please give generously to support a beautiful, reasonable and vibrantly human Islam for future generations to come. All donations are tax-deductible and zakat eligible.


Subscribe to Our E-mail List for Weekly updates and Latest News: