When Western young activists defend Hamas

When the horrible war in the Middle East is over, it will be time to analyze why part of the radical youth in Western countries, mainly in the US and the UK among students, but also sometimes in France, has shown itself so violently, so aggressively close to Hamas, and so deliberately hostile to Israel1. There is nothing in the lifestyle of these young people that would bring them close to an Islamist movement, and yet even some Queer groups have defended it adamantly. Hamas’s sadistic cruelty during the October 7 attack, its genocidal profession of faith, didn’t stop this youth from seeing its fighters as genuine resisters to Israeli “colonization”. They didn’t even think in terms of the old debate on ends and means (Lenin vs. Camus); they took up the cause of Hamas, unduly equated with the whole Palestinian cause – when it would rather be the gravedigger of it.

Some of these young people, those with a conspiracy mindset, dispute the reality of the atrocities or don’t want to acknowledge the sadistic cruelty inflicted on unarmed civilians. Others recognize them, but as mere elements in the attacks-reprisals cycle that has marked the confrontation for over 70 years; it relativizes them, speaks at best of “crimes of war” as they are always committed, hence this stubborn refusal of the word “terrorism”.

Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter

One can’t understand the radicalism, the virulence of these young activists for the Palestinian cause, and hence (therein lies the problem) for Hamas, if it is forgotten that the two great movements that have occupied them over the last ten years have failed politically, and that there therefore remains a militant energy, a snarl against the world as it is, with some good reasons for it, that seeks to employ itself as it can.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Occupy Wall Street movement demanded an alternative to financialized capitalism. Substantial, purely technical reforms were carried out, but nothing resembling a challenge to the capitalist model. The failure of the protest is obvious.

The second movement that has occupied this youth is the celebrated Black Lives Matter, linked to the Critical Race Theory and committed to eliminating systemic racism in all (western) societies. This movement, which is at the heart of the Woke sensibility, has mobilized campus youth to a great extent, but its political record has been catastrophic, since it has contributed mightily to political polarization in the United States and thus, unwittingly but very predictably, to the election of Donald Trump in November 2016. Silly slogans such as “Defund the Police” have run their course.  You don’t repeat to a predominantly white society that it is inherently racist and must give up its privileges, without creating resentment in white working classes who don’t see themselves as privileged. They may well re-elect Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election, which defies comprehension. Here again, political failure is patent.

Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter created hopes of a revolutionary nature in Western, campus-based youth, and the disappointment, the anger at the meager results achieved had to be vented in a new direction. For a frustrated and discontented segment of Western youth, the Palestinian cause has become a point of fixation. In it, they believe they find their favorite themes: the fight against modern forms of colonization, white privilege, the emancipation of non-white peoples, the fight against Islamophobia…

However, this is not enough to explain the determination to embrace the Hamas cause that shines through in these demonstrations, and especially the ferocious joy in tearing down the placards affixed to remind people of the existence of the Israelis of all ages, kidnapped on October 7. How not be surprised by these videos shot on campuses and in American cities, in London, by the joyful chants and slogans calling for the outright disappearance of Israel (a de facto genocidal project), by this zest for tearing down placards, all with a good conscience and a sense of entitlement?

Watching the videos of the snatching sessions, often carried out, incidentally, by very young women showing no solicitude for other young women, the idea comes, however, that this is the reality these young people can’t stand. The faces of those captured are, strictly speaking, unbearable to them. They have to disqualify this reality as propaganda, designed to conceal and make people forget the Palestinian suffering, that of the people bombed today in Gaza. These posters remind them that the Israeli victims are real people, martyred, and that their executioners are cruel and sadistic, not valiant fighters for anti-colonialism. Reality erupts in a world well reconstructed by decolonial themes, so present in universities (in the Humanities departments above all) and which have become the dominant intellectual climate in many institutions, and certainly among a large number of Western students and intellectuals.

Their vision is Manichean, reality is not. They can sense this if they have two cents’ worth of intelligence, and tearing down these flyers means putting an end to a cognitive dissonance for which they were unprepared2; it means rediscovering in their inner self and in the group the coherence of decolonial ideology, that perverted form of anti-colonialism of yesteryear 3, which goes some way to explaining the astonishing determination of those filmed tearing them apart. With this act, they evacuate a psychological tension that is beyond their strength.

It’s impossible for them to admit that they’re not on the side of good, or at any rate that historical situations have a complexity that doesn’t allow everything to be resolved by the concepts they are used to. They could have decided to put up placards about the Palestinian civilians killed in the bombardments, but this was not the path chosen. That would literally be representing the complexity of the situation, not canceling out what’s bothering them.

Cognitive dissonance is also the explanation for the silence of certain feminist movements in the face of massacres that deliberately sought the sexual humiliation of Israeli women, through rape and murder. Admitting that these Hamas fighters carry the most vicious form of machismo deep down inside them is beyond them. Sorority stops at Israel’s borders, at the necessities of the fight against the “colonial privileges” they imagine Israelis to be the beneficiaries of. For this kind of feminism, silence is the way to regain a compromised mental equilibrium.

We’re not far from the blindness of the militant generations who refused to acknowledge the existence of the Stalinist gulag or the massacres of Maoism, incompatible with the Manichean vision of the world proper to communism. Wokism, literally the movement of the awakened, has not made them very perceptive or lucid about themselves or about the world. The wars in the Middle East are unfortunately too serious, too cruel, and this one in particular, to allow dilettantism. When they sober up, the time will probably come for depression, the kind that struck Stalinist or Maoist militants when reality finally set in.

Serge Soudray

Translated from the French by Nadia Trétaigne

Read here our selection of articles in French and English on the current war.


1In the Arab-Muslim world, hostility to Israel and empathy for Palestinian sufferings have other causes.
2In social psychology, Wikipedia tells us, cognitive dissonance is the internal tension inherent in a person’s system of thoughts, beliefs, emotions and attitudes (cognitions) when several of them contradict one another. The term also designates the tension a person feels when a behavior contradicts his or her ideas or beliefs
3It’s not for nothing that these young Western militants recall the War of Algeria at every turn, without knowing much about it.
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