Sam Harris to “Anti-Zionists”: Imagine Hamas’s Response to Israeli Human Shields

Professional atheist Sam Harris responds to those “anti-Zionists” who ask why he never criticizes Israel. During the course of his answer, he states the following:

The truth is that everything you need to know about the moral imbalance between Israel and her enemies can be understood on the topic of human shields. Who uses human shields? Well, Hamas certainly does. They shoot their rockets from residential neighborhoods, from beside schools, and hospitals, and mosques. Muslims in other recent conflicts, in Iraq and elsewhere, have also used human shields. They have laid their rifles on the shoulders of their own children and shot from behind their bodies.

Consider the moral difference between using human shields and being deterred by them. That is the difference we’re talking about. The Israelis and other Western powers are deterred, however imperfectly, by the Muslim use of human shields in these conflicts, as we should be.

He further states:

Now imagine reversing the roles here. Imagine how fatuous—indeed comical it would be—for the Israelis to attempt to use human shields to deter the Palestinians. Some claim that they have already done this. There are reports that Israeli soldiers have occasionally put Palestinian civilians in front of them as they’ve advanced into dangerous areas. That’s not the use of human shields we’re talking about. It’s egregious behavior. No doubt it constitutes a war crime. But Imagine the Israelis holding up their own women and children as human shields. Of course, that would be ridiculous. The Palestinians are trying to kill everyone. Killing women and children is part of the plan. Reversing the roles here produces a grotesque Monty Python skit.

If you’re going to talk about the conflict in the Middle East, you have to acknowledge this difference. I don’t think there’s any ethical disparity to be found anywhere that is more shocking or consequential than this.

This is a brilliant counterfactual. I have never seen it put quite like this. Let’s assume that this will become another point that “anti-Zionists” refuse to answer.

I have long suspected that one element of “anti-Zionism” is actually bigotry toward Arabs: to be more precise, the soft bigotry of low expectations. Radical critics of Israel don’t expect much from Arabs; the standards are so low that all actions are written off as reactions to something else. When followed strictly, this logic leads inevitably to the conclusion that Arabs can do no wrong, since everything they do is somebody else’s fault by definition—even using their own children as shields.

What do you think?

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