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A Wake-Up Call to Evil
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A Wake-Up Call to Evil

It’s time for sober, serious American leadership on the world stage.

Women react at a scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a street Monday in Ashdod Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

On the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, much of Israel awoke to evil: Hamas terrorists breached Israel’s border with Gaza and slaughtered innocent men, women, and children. They went house to house in border towns, terrorizing families, executing men, women, and children and taking others hostage. They stormed police stations and executed Israeli police and soldiers. They paraded the bodies of Jewish people through the streets of Gaza in a macabre celebration of evil. 

As of this writing, more than 900 Israelis are dead, thousands are wounded, many are still held hostage in Gaza. A nation is reeling from its worst attack in half a century. Thankfully, the United States and Western governments are responding in solidarity with Israel. America is mobilizing a strike carrier group closer to Israel, and the Biden administration is readying an emergency aid package to one of our closest allies. And our allies are not only condemning Hamas, but cutting ties to Gaza and pledging support for Israel. 

Still, the U.S. needs to wake up to the evil the Hamas attacks represent: This is time for sober American leadership, not the naive and sophomoric politics we’ve indulged over the last several years. The reality is that when America ceases to be a leader in the world, evil actors fill the vacuum. 

To start, when murderous authoritarians broadcast to us who they are, we should believe them. The ill-fated agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban, compounded by the Biden administration’s stubborn insistence on leaving Afghanistan and embarrassing lack of plan for withdrawal has projected American weakness and given bad actors around the world a green light to pursue their expansionist ambitions. Exacerbating all this is President Joe Biden’s unwillingness to give up the folly of a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear capabilities. Yet if reporting in the Wall Street Journal is correct, it was Iran who helped to coordinate the Hamas attack (though Biden administration officials have said they’ve not yet found such a link to Iran).

What’s more, a not insignificant minority of the left, poisoned by a fictitious narrative of Israel as an apartheid state, not only struggles to find the words to condemn Hamas barbarism but even celebrates the attacks as “freedom fighting” with demonstrations in New York City, London, and elsewhere. The state of Israel, like every nation in human history, has made mistakes, but securing its own right to exist is not one of them. These same Palestinian liberation groups repeat the antisemitic tropes once heard in Berlin and Munich. A responsible Democratic Party would excise this cancer from its ranks instead of allowing its mouthpieces to hold positions of influence and seats in Congress. 

Meanwhile Republicans, once thought of as the adults during foreign policy crises, now have their own growing up to do. A small contingent of Republicans, including a few who would be president, push to make America more isolationist. There is an important conversation about American foreign policy commitments, but we cannot pretend that closing our eyes to evil magically makes it go away. In a nonsensical move that only a week of history will prove to have been folly, a handful of attention-seeking lawmakers removed the speaker of the House, effectively rendering the majority in the House of Representatives unable to respond to a crisis. Dictators in Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow will not grant us a pause while we navel-gaze. And conservatives have their own housecleaning to do when it comes to the antisemitic voices in the online bro culture who share sympathies with their counterparts on the far left.

It’s not just elected officials who need the wake-up call. Our civic institutions must broadcast moral clarity as well. Harvard, once a proud citadel of American education, now hosts 31 student groups that released a statement blaming the Jewish people for their own slaughter at the hands of terrorists. And it’s a similar story over at Columbia University. The media also has a role to play. Though many heroic journalists risk their lives to report from the Middle East, some news outlets have succumbed to moral equivocation with headlines that make October 7 seem like a simple “conflict” rather than the barbarous assault on humanity that it is.  

Thankfully many religious leaders have spoken up to condemn the attacks, but too many are still strangely silent. Geopolitics may be complicated, but evil is not. The leaders, influencers, and celebrities who quickly clutch pearls at every minor injustice, real or imagined, should speak. You don’t have to separate compassion for the Palestinian people—victims of decades of self-dealing leadership—and condemnation of Hamas. 

We need voices saying unequivocally that Israel has a right to exist and a right to defend herself. American support doesn’t mean unconditional approval of every policy by a specific Israeli government. American support doesn’t mean we forget the plight of peaceful Palestinians. But it does require that we not flinch in the face of evil and abdicate our role as a force for good in the world. 

Every generation of Americans faces a test of moral courage. We’ve met fascism, communism, and radical Islamic terrorism. Let’s pray we pass this test as others have, and that we have leaders and institutions worthy of our high ideals.

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of several books, including, Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loves.