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Gaza: Another bonfire of enlightenment values

The genocidal response that Israel is unleashing in Gaza (following the brutal Hamas attack on October 7) is not the first bonfire of Enlightenment values that the world has seen.  And it will not be the last.  But it is certainly one of the most horrific.  And it will be indelibly remembered, worldwide, as the handiwork of Israel, avidly supported by the Global West. Richard Cullen reports.

LET US BEGIN by considering a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal where the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the world that Israel was fighting the “enemies of civilization” on behalf of “civilized nations everywhere”- which he prayed would support Israel – because “Israel’s fight is your fight”.  Mr Netanyahu repeated this manic hogwash when he met the Bulgarian Prime Minster in Jerusalem.

Within the op-ed, the Prime Minister spared us the horrific mass-murdering detail of how he and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) were doing this good turn for the world.  This exceptionally barbarous leader did, however, tell us that a ceasefire simply “will not happen”.  This would be a “surrender to barbarism”, you see.

An injured Palestinian child arrives at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City Oct 11, 2023. Image: Atia Darwish\ apaimages


Following the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, Europe experienced around a thousand years of continuous civil, international and civilizational warfare (mostly pivoting around the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam).  Then came the Renaissance followed by the Reformation.  Warfare subsequently intensified. 

But all of this local and geopolitical violence and the extraordinary rebirth of advanced, rational thinking provided the historical crucible within which the European Enlightenment was forged.  The remarkable flourishing of humanity-based thought during the Enlightenment eventually gave Europe an exceptionally well-grounded articulation of the centrality of protecting individual human rights within any modern polity, as a bulwark against the habitual, tribal blood-letting of the past. 

Salon de Madame Geoffrin, an image that marks the meeting of minds during the enlightenment.

These central Enlightenment beliefs were cast into a horrible Western bonfire as World War I erupted over 100 years ago and were even more appallingly incinerated – not least by Nazi Germany and Japan – in World War II.

Following the horrors of World War II, these Enlightenment principles were reaffirmed with intense conviction through the creation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Today, these values are once more being gruesomely cremated from one end of the Gaza strip to the other.  Israel has activated an incandescently disproportionate response to the intensely brutal Hamas attack on Southern Israel on October 7.  Indiscriminate, mass slaughter of civilians – and especially children – is a central terrorizing component of Israel’s siege-based revenge. 

According to Israeli forward-planning, this depraved scheme likely includes an ultimate complete cleansing of all Palestinians from the Gaza strip so it can be re-incorporated into Israel.  Craig Mokhiber, the Director of the UN office in New York characterised the horrors in Gaza as a “textbook case of genocide” aimed toward “the expedited destruction of the last remnants of indigenous life in Palestine”.

A constant stream of civilians are being injured in the conflict. Fars News image

Apart from constant, repugnant rationalizations from Mr Netanyahu: we have a member of his government suggesting that dropping an Israeli nuclear bomb on Gaza might be helpful; around 100 Israeli doctors urging that the largest hospital in Gaza be obliterated; the IDF deliberately bombing an ambulance convoy; IDF senior leaders radiating self-satisfaction as they review the latest carnage on TV; and fanatical settlers and the IDF running lethally rampant across the West Bank.  This list goes on and on.

Guy Rundle, writing for the Crikey website in Australia, has argued that “Israel has turned Gaza into death’s province”.  Jordan’s Foreign Minister recently said that Israel is “losing its humanity”. 


Popular X/ Twitter voice Caitlin Johnstone, more acutely, lately listed: “The Ten Dumbest Things We’re Being Asked to Believe About Israel’s War on Gaza” – all of which, it appears, are widely believed by much of the leadership across the Global West.  Number one is: “That Israel had no idea what Hamas was up to prior to October 7, but ever since October 7, has known about every hospital, mosque, school, refugee camp and water tower that Hamas is hiding in”.  Number ten is: “That Washington is powerless to stop this genocide that it is directly funding and supplying” (see:

The civilians deaths are turning the world against the global west, commentators say. Image: Fars News

Think of it, figuratively, in this way: Mr Netanyahu is a serial arsonist (armed, as usual, with an American supplied, top-shelf flame thrower) who is pledging to save the civilized world from an approaching, hugely threatening new fire (recently intensified by Hamas) that he has been fueling and fanning for decades. 


And what is the response of the Western world?  Joe Biden swiftly took himself to Israel to give Mr Netanyahu a big, thankyou buddy-hug (below).  And most of the leaders from the Global-West lost little time in following this specious American lead.  Consider Scott Morrison (surely Australia’s worst Prime Minister since World War II) who has just been to Israel to warn the world that it should not get “suckered in” to supporting a ceasefire. 

Meanwhile, Jordan’s Foreign Minister is just one of increasing millions around the world saying, today, that a ceasefire is an incontrovertible necessity.  Asked what made him claim that “Israel is committing war crimes” during his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he replied that it is a “statement of facts.”

The genocidal response that Israel, is unleashing in Gaza (following the brutal Hamas attack on October 7) is not the first bonfire of Enlightenment values the world has seen.  And it will not be the last.  But it is certainly one of the most horrific.  And it will be indelibly remembered, across the Global South and well beyond, as the handiwork of Israel, avidly supported by the Global West.

Richard Cullen is an adjunct law professor at the University of Hong Kong and a popular writer on current affairs.

Artwork at the top showing soldiers burning books by fridayeveryday.

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