November 22, 2012

Words Are Weapons of Mass Destruction

This is a must read argument by David Keyes, Executive Director of Advancing Human Rights and co-founder of

Keyes was called a "pioneer in online activism" by The New York Times and contributes to Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He has written for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Reuters, The Huffington Post and many other leading publications, has appeared on MSNBC, PBS and Bloomberg TV, and has spoken on human rights in the US Congress. He created the First Annual Saudi Women's Grand Prix. He graduated from UCLA in Middle Eastern Studies and completed a Masters in Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University. He speaks Arabic and Hebrew.

Here is Keyes in a short video from 2011, discussing the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.

Keyes's article appeared in Foreign Policy, regarding Hamas, whose leaders commonly call the death of all Jews and all Americans. In other words, for genocide. As the world blinks and looks the other way.

How comforting for a Jew or Israeli, threatened with extermination, to understand that only others are seen as victims of hatred and aggression.

Keyes says:
Instead of welcoming independent thought, Hamas has filled Gaza’s airwaves, summer camps, and schools with the most incendiary rhetoric imaginable. Children are taught a mix of unremitting hatred and wild conspiracy. Perhaps most troubling is glorification of death. Hamas leaders like Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh proudly declare that “death for the sake of Allah is our most supreme desire.” The deputy speaker of the Hamas parliament, Ahmad Bahr, explicates a hadith by saying, “When a man is having sex with his wife, he should be praying for a son who would wage jihad for the sake of Allah.” Of Americans and Israelis, he adds, “They are cowards, who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah.” How can children in Gaza love life over death when their leaders teach the opposite?
Democracy in Gaza cannot succeed under such conditions. Language is both a reflection of society and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hamas’ rhetorical war on liberalism, dissent, sanity, and compromise is strangling any hope of civil society and democratic transition in Gaza. It’s hard to arrest every dissident, but make an example of a few and threaten the rest, and you’ve achieved the same goal. Tolerance does not occur in a vacuum. It is cultivated in families, schools, media, and the language of everyday life. Stifle free speech and mindless policy has a way of making it to the top.
Some are tempted to draw equivalency between incitement in Gaza and incitement in Israel. It goes without saying that there is a degree of hate-speech in every society.
For those that only seem able to see things by way of comparison:
More important than the clear quantitative difference between the extreme rhetoric that sometimes occurs in Israel and the government-sponsored hate-speech in Gaza is the space allowed to confront such extremism. In open societies such as America and Israel, radicalized speech is countered by a vibrant free press in which political leaders are routinely castigated and held accountable for their words. Closed societies like Gaza do not allow for dissent to challenge authority, and therefore hate-speech reigns supreme.
Perhaps the message Keyes tries to deliver will be heard and understood in the larger context of this struggle, not only when it comes to the war of words, but analysis of the actions that follow and the manner in which the actors treat both others and their own.

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