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Mass suicide is more common than you think

The deaths of five dozen or so Hamas militants and sympathizers at the border fence separating Gaza from the State of Israel elicited a charge of Israeli “genocide” from Turkey’s President Erdogan, and milder reproaches from some other world leaders.  The Hamas government of Gaza, which both the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization, attempted to breach the border fence in order to infiltrate armed fighters into Israel.

It sent its militants on a suicide mission, forewarned that Israel would defend its border against an enemy officially committed to its annihilation. Hamas May 16 announced that 55 of the 60 persons killed at the border were its members, which should put to rest the canard that Israel fired needlessly on peaceful demonstrators.

What we observed during the past several days in Gaza is a mass suicide. There is something especially horrifying about mass suicide; in some ways it shocks us more deeply than the deliberate slaughter of civilians. Hamas had told the world for years that it loves death more than the Jews love life, but the theatrical sacrifice of dozens of its adherents at the Gaza border brings home a horrible truth: the modern world has an ambivalent attitude towards life. We observe the slow-motion suicide of numerous countries, including Iran, in the form of fertility rates so low that they portend depopulation by the end of the present century.

Backward cultures thrust into the modern world have the highest suicide rates ever recorded. The Guardian reported in 2013 that members of Brazil’s Guarani tribe are 34 times more likely to kill themselves than other Brazilians:

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Thursday, figures from Survival International suggest that the Guarani-Kaiowá are 34 times more likely to kill themselves than Brazil’s national average. This has prompted warnings that a “silent genocide” is underway. The community of 31,000 people, mostly based in the south-western state of Mato Grosso do Sul, is plagued by alcoholism, depression, poverty and violence after losing its ancestral lands to ranchers and biofuel farmers.  The problem is decades-old, but Survival says the rate has increased in recent years. Since the start of the century, one suicide has been reported on average almost every week.

The suicide rate among aboriginal Inuit youth in Canada is 11 times higher than the national average. A 2006 study by the US National Institute for Mental Health warned, “Indigenous people around the world have the highest suicide risk of any identifiable cultural (or ethnic) group. It is a youth epidemic.”

Human beings cannot bear their mortality without the hope of immortality, as I argued in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die. Indigenous peoples in the modern world know that their culture has reached its use-by date and despair. The Gaza suicides have the same motivation. In Hamas’ reading of Islam, Allah offers success to those who submit to him. The historical humiliation of the  Jews,  tolerated (sometimes) as a despised minority in Muslim lands, testified to the truth of Mohammed’s prophecy and the promise of Islam. The strength and prosperity of the Jewish State only can be an aberration, a passing exercise in colonialism rather than a permanent presence; otherwise the core beliefs of Islamic culture as Hamas understands it must come into question.

Washington’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem incites Hamas and its supporters, not because it excludes the possibility of a Palestinian state (on the contrary, an American embassy to Israel in West Jerusalem might set a precedent for a parallel embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem, as Daniel Pipes observes). The provocation lies in the premise that Israel’s presence in Zion is permanent. The world’s refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital humored the self-consoling delusion among the Palestinians and many other Muslims that Israel was a transient problem. What is Israel, after all, without Jerusalem, and if the world does not concede Jerusalem to the Jews, it really doesn’t concede the permanent presence of a Jewish State, according to the Palestinian narrative.

The path of least resistance, to be sure, is to humor fanatics, and that is why most of the world’s capitals have refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. By doing so the Trump Administration threw a bucket of cold war into the face of the Muslim world, requiring it to come to terms with the fact that Israel won’t go away. That does not particularly bother the Saudis, who know that Israel does not want to occupy Mecca but that Iran does. But it is an existential challenge to Hamas.

That explains why Hamas chose the US embassy’s opening day to stage mass suicides at the Gaza border. But there is another dimension to the problem. Unlike the unfortunate Guarani or Inuit, the jihadists understand the West’s susceptibility to horror. The incident at the Gaza border is not a simple case of suicide by policeman, but rather a weaponized deployment of the horror weapon.

That observation motivated this series of essays in the first place. Three weeks after the 9/11 attacks in New York I wrote in these pages:

Al-Qaeda wants no territory, no conversions, no loot, no slaves. It wishes to destroy the West and happily will sacrifice millions of Muslim lives in order to do so. Indeed, the mass sacrifice of Muslim lives may lie at the heart of its battle plan. It has more in common with the Dostoyevsky of The Possessed or the Wagner of The Twilight of the Gods than with the Muslim conquerors of the Middle Ages.

Evil for its own sake becomes imaginable only when the Christian civilization of the West abandons Christianity and stares into the abyss of its own destruction… Unlike the Western adherents of Nietzsche, who cried, “God is dead, and everything is permitted!” the Islamist radicals have invented a God who permits everything…

The grand vulnerability of the Western mind is horror. The Nazis understood this and pursued a policy “des Schreckens” (to cause horror) and “Entsetzens” (terror, literally: dislodgement). Horror was not merely an instrument of war in the traditional sense, but a form of Wagnerian theater, or psychological warfare on the grand scale.

The West is hyper-sensitive to horror because its own predilection for life is tenuous. What the former Pope Benedict XVI called a “culture of death” Birth rates in dozens of Western nations are so low that populations will decline sharply during the present century. That is not only true of the West: Japan and Korea are in rapid demographic decline. In the Muslim world, countries that have achieved full female literacy show birth rates as low as those of the West. Iran’s fertility rate has fallen from seven children per female in 1979 to about 1.6 children today. Excluding the Kurds (who have roughly three children per female), the Turkish fertility rate is roughly the same as Iran’s.

Optimistic, exceptional America regards the Gaza suicides as a grotesque attempt at manipulation and supports Israel’s right to defend itself. The pessimistic Europeans, who long ago traded their hopes for national future for a dilute and tasteless universalism, regard the Gaza suicides with horror. Those European nations who want to revive their national spirit, not surprisingly, are sympathetic to Israel. This week Romania, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic blocked a European Community resolution criticizing the United States for moving its embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority responded by recalling its envoy to Romania.

There is no consolation for Gaza. I cite Spengler’s Universal Law #23 as stated in my 2011 book: “The best thing you can do for zombie cultures is, don’t be one of them.”

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