# You wanted a multipolar world? You got chaos
**Hamas terror attack was aimed squarely at the global order**
By Paul Mason
12 Oct 2023 for medium.com
The Hamas terror attack has triggered war in Gaza, a geopolitical crisis and now — from Sydney to New York City — outbursts of street-level anti-Semitism in the West. Unless it de-escalates quickly, it looks like a strategic turning point both for Palestinian nationalism and Israel.
I covered the 2014 war both from [inside Gaza](https://www.channel4.com/news/by/paul-mason/blogs/brit-gaza-fault-line-heard-lot) and on the streets with the Israeli peace movement. I’ve interviewed Hamas and seen how they operate up close. So, though I am no expert on the region, I can throw some concreteness into the current battle of abstractions.
Let’s start with the obvious: **Israel has a right to defend itself, rescue the hostages, arrest and prosecute Hamas and engage in lawful armed combat with its enemy**. But the international community has a right to demand proportionality, restraint, respect for international law, and condemn breaches of it. President Biden last night was right to emphasise the need for lawfulness.
People claiming the Hamas attack is the “violence of the oppressed” are deluded. Hamas rules Gaza like a mafia state: its operatives walk around neighbourhoods in twos, dressed in dark suits, prying into people’s business. They run the place on a mixture of terror, public service provision and the kudos of their fighters.
They are feared but there is widespread disrespect for them, especially among secular and nationalist sections of the population.
Paradoxically, the Western “anti-imperialists” trying to apologise for the terror attack, and the Israeli right calling for retribution against civilians, both need to identify Hamas with the Palestinian population of Gaza in order to justify violence. **But there is no basis for doing so**.
The fact that a violent action takes place in the context of a wider oppression does not make it either (a) just (b) lawful under international law or © effective in pursuit of social justice. In this case, Hamas’ act of terror looks set to achieve the opposite.
# What does Hamas want?
Hamas has offered a truce and asked for negotiations, stating that it has “achieved its objective”. If so, it’s logical conclude that the immediate objective was to demonstrate proof-of-concept of an unstoppable pogromist terror. Do as we ask or we do this again, might be a fair summary.
The wider aim, according to numerous [experts](https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/hamas-and-israel-irans-role#:~:text=The%20Iranian%20role%20in%20the,by%20training%20is%20well%20known.), is to force Hamas and Iran back into the power-broking process in the Middle East region, paralysing Saudi-Israeli rapprochement.
Iran’s leader Imam Khamenei, in a [speech](https://english.khamenei.ir/news/10146/The-usurper-Zionist-regime-is-coming-to-an-end) to the made International Islamic Unity Conference on 3 October, gave what now sounds like an early warning:
>*“The firm view of the Islamic Republic is that the governments that are gambling on normalizing relations with the Zionist regime will suffer losses. Defeat awaits them…Today, the situation of the Zionist regime is not a situation that encourages closeness to it. They [other governments] should not make this mistake. The usurper [Zionist] regime is coming to an end.”*
Hamas could only achieve the aim of ending Saudi-Israeli rapprochement with an attack designed to trigger massive retribution, risking a regional all-out war. So why, despite its formal [turn](https://digitalprojects.palestine-studies.org/jps/fulltext/214551) in 2017 to “anti-Zionism”, ditching the [1988 Covenant](https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp) and its violently anti-Semitic language, did the attack take the form of a deliberate and extreme slaughter of Jewish civilians?
Here Zeev Sternhell’s rule applies: the [pioneering historian of fascism](https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/2020-06-22/ty-article-opinion/zeev-sternhell-the-oracle-of-anti-fascism/0000017f-f4ec-d460-afff-ffeeb27a0000) taught us to “take fascists at their word”.
Both Hamas and the Islamic Republic of Iran have stated their aims of destroying the state of Israel often enough. But there’s a line in Khamenei’s 03.10.23 speech that, in retrospect looks explanatory:
>*“Thus, [the Zionists] are filled with grudge. They are filled with anger! Of course, the Quran exclaims: “Say, ‘die of your rage!’” (3:119). That’s right. Be angry, and die of your rage. And this will happen. They are dying. With God’s help, this matter of ‘die of your rage’ is happening now as regards the Zionist regime.”*
**“Die of your rage” might actually be a good summary of what Hamas intends Israel to now do.**
Enraged by the barbarity of the attacks, Israel unleashes unprecedented collective punishment against Gaza, triggering both Hezbollah and West Bank militants to join in the fight; this in turn prompts a wave of anti-Semitic demonstrations in Western cities, and draws the USA into a regional quagmire, testing the limits of American support for Israel. Meanwhile combat losses, and retribution over the complete failure of Netanyahu’s strategy of “managing” the conflict, raise political divisions in Israeli society to the point where its democracy fails.
In a context where both Russia and China have complex hybrid destabilisation operations going on in Western democracies, and where the BRICS+ project is pursuing the active decomposition of the rules-based order, **this objective does not look as mad as at first sight.**
# Multipolarity is chaos
Contrary to the [homilies](https://mronline.org/2021/10/28/is-a-multipolar-world-the-answer-to-u-s-imperialism/) of the pro-China influence networks aimed at the global south, the “multipolar world” turns out not to be one of peaceful coexistence, but characterised by **extreme conflicts and genocide.**
There’s another 2000 words. I will publish the whole thing on my Medium site in the next 24 hours. To read the whole article now please subscribe …
In pursuit of systemic competition Beijing and Moscow are scraping at every open wound in the body geopolitic. Mass ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh; a Serbian provocation in Kosovo designed to trigger ethnic conflict; genocidal actions and rhetoric by Russia in its war against Ukraine; the genocide of the Uighur people and culture; the genocide of Rohingya in Myanmar; the Sahel’s descent into warlordism, terrorism and military rule — that is a heck of a lot of genocidal activity to happen in a short space of time.
But it’s what you get when you purposefully dismantle an international order based on treaties and explicit rules. And where elites in Russia, the USA, Brasil and parts of Europe are openly experimenting with ethno-nationalist politics.
# Chaos, then, is a feature of multipolarity, not a bug.
I doubt Netanyahu, and his project of replacing Israeli democracy with an oligarchic far-right autocracy, can survive this shock long-term. His project of tolerating Hamas, to play it off against Fatah, has failed. So in framing the response of the international community, we are also attempting to frame the response of any stable Israeli government that emerges from the current crisis.
Israel has signalled its military objective is to destroy Hamas. From my experience in Gaza I would say: *that is possible.*
But be in no doubt. It will need a sustained urban combat operation, a long-term military occupation, massive loss of civilian life, an existential refugee crisis in Sinai, and the diversion of US-supplied ammunition and resources from Ukraine. Attempting it with a largely conscript/reservist army, full of recently mobilised and enraged soldiers? Again it’s worth remembering Khamenei’s exhortation to Israelis to “Die of your rage”.
Typically, from my experience, combat in Gaza takes the following form. There is a street with children playing at one end; in the middle it is eerily deserted; at the other end is the IDF and above is an IDF drone. **But there is no front line.** The *mujahedeen* are in tunnels, popping up to take sniper shots or lay IEDs at night, and only committing ATGMs once a vehicle comes into view. **The only front line is, for most of the time, between the IDF and Palestinian civilians.** That’s what makes it a lethal environment for the latter. They can’t effectively shelter: and Hamas instructs them not to leave. There is no reason to believe that it will break from this modus operandi now.
In addition, the civilian population cannot flee — without the creation of formal safe routes south and a corridor into Egypt; and many will not move because as stateless people they believe they will never be allowed to return, nor to claim asylum elsewhere.
# So if Israel launches any significant attempt to seize, hold and pacify Gaza, there will be massive civilian loss of life.
As someone who’s been there during a war, and seen extensive civilian deaths happening right at my feet, I am appalled at the prospect of something qualitatively worse. If in addition the attack is prosecuted using the kind of collective punishment we’re seeing now — “damage instead of accuracy”, the deprivation of water and electricity to the whole population etc — not only will liberal sympathy for Israel evaporate, but the Muslim minorities in some Western countries will be radicalised.
That is what gives the international community legitimate right to demand Israeli response is *necessary, proportional and legal.*
# Danger of miscalculation
Both sides risk miscalculating. Hamas does not care what happens to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, many of whom hate Hamas. A chilling [Channel 4 News](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeuNRaNGQr8) report from inside Gaza shows Palestinian civilians frantically searching for medical help for their kids, where there is none. What happens to their minds after a month under bombardment of this severity would be uncharted territory for the people of the strip.
The thought-patterns I remember from 2014 were these: people in Gaza knew that the resistance had launched rockets, or staged incursions, in order to extract some tactical concessions from Israel, and that the bombing would at some point stop. There were regular ceasefires and continuous mediation. There was food, for those who could afford it, and a continuous 3G signal for people’s cellphones. I also remember the vehemence with which in 2014, for example, Fatah sympathisers would quote Mohammed Deif’s claim that “Hamas only attacks the IDF, not civilians”.
The panic depicted on Channel 4 News suggests it has dawned on some people that these assumptions no longer hold. People fear they will be either massacred or forcibly expelled into Egypt, with the option of living in an Israeli occupied wasteland as the only alternative.
There may be no ceasefires, no foreign medical teams, no electricity or water. As I write, the rapid deterioration of medical care, and large numbers of child victims of Israeli bombing, already show a marked change compared to conditions at this stage of the 2014 conflict.
# So Hamas now either cements the loyalty of the population or its support collapses as a consequence of defeat.
But there is a danger of miscalculation for Israel too. Netanyahu’s far-right government completely missed the threat, actively stoked tensions in the West Bank and Al Aqsa, and could easily now double down on a self-destructive course.
Ultimately, you cannot hold two million people in an open air prison without a gaoler to keep order. If Hamas can’t do it, the IDF will have to be a permanent occupation force, or it will have to install the PA, or the UN will have to send a stabilisation force.
The very impossibility of all these outcomes shows why we need an internationally mediated peace, alongside a functional two-state solution, which allows the people of Gaza to live in peace, exercise democracy and travel across borders.
If Netanyahu’s endgame is a revenge fantasy of flattening Gaza and pushing its inhabitants into the desert, that’s not an endgame at all — only the casus bellifor a regional war.
# The BRICS+ ideology
The Gaza crisis is the latest example of how the Russian/Chinese “multipolar world” project works in practice. It doesn’t matter whether there is a chain of command that goes Moscow→Tehran→Hamas. There is a *chain of understanding* — seize every opportunity to militarise all conflict; exploit every unexpected breakthrough; make all violence symbolic; weaponise the information space and push conflict into the heartlands of “imperialism”.
It’s the information-era version of Tukachevsky’s [maxim](https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/November-December-2018/Blythe-Operational-Art/): assault the enemy throughout the depths of his formation.
Both Russian and pro-China proxy networks have created media outlets, money, content and social media amplification systems for the BRICS+ ideology. Its central tenets are that a multipolar world is better than the Charter system; that universalism and international law are over; that the West no longer has the right to use the structures of international governance to normalise concepts like democracy or human rights; and that everything that disorganises the rules-based order is progressive, even when carried out by reactionary political forces.
And that explains what’s happened in the West over the past five days: Palestinian solidarity movements that which were generally aligned with Fatah suddenly moving in the direction of overtly celebrating Hamas terror.
Arab nationalism no longer looks like the dominant ideology on the demonstrations we’ve seen in Sydney, London and NYC. Alongside it there’s a mixture of Islamism plus the “decolonisation” agenda of postmodernist academia. That’s why we’re seeing the phenomenon of left-wing politicians haplessly turning up to events where the crowd, as in Sydney, chants “Gas The Jews” or, as in NYC, wave images of Swastikas on their iPhones, or where as in Brighton speakers hail the murder of 1200+ Israelis as “beautiful”.
For the past two years, during the Ukraine war, this incipient red-brown ideology has been mostly contained: see the bedraggled Stop The War demos here, the pathetic rallies staged jointly by Sara Wagenknecht and the AfD, the failure of Zoe Konstantopoulou’s left nationalist party in Greece.
What they were missing were the masses. But with this conflict there is now a danger that the masses turn up, and are corralled into this emergent fusion of far-left/far-right politics.
I’ve spent the period post-2016 trying to equip the democratic left to defeat this ideology. It’s not about being “anti-woke”, or apologising for colonialism: it means teaching people that a cocktail of anti-humanism, anti-universalism and anti-rationality is a route to excusing the totalitarian states in Russia and China, and — now — the genocidal actions of their proxies.
# That Harvard statement…
A case study of this is the [statement](https://www.palestine-studies.org/en/node/1654370) issued by 31 Harvard student groups saying they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all the unfolding violence” — just hours after the Hamas attack began. They have been condemned by elderly conservative alumni, but I think it’s better to engage them.
The logic of the statement is pretty simple. It makes no mention of the *actual terrorist attack*, the calculated killing of civilians, the hostage taking or use of disgusting imagery to instil terror. Its title refers simply to the “Situation in Palestine”.
The only concrete reference to what is happening comes in the line:
>*“The coming days will require a firm stand against colonial retaliation. We call on the Harvard community to take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians.”*
From this implicit premise — the non-existence of Israeli victims, or Hamas war crimes or genocidal intent — flows the conclusion:
>*“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame. Israeli violence has structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years.”*
This, of course, is a direct echo of pro-Kremlin propaganda over Ukraine, where “NATO aggression” is the only thing to blame for Russia’s criminal aggression.
The logic is that Israel is responsible for everything Hamas does *because* its violence has “structured every aspect of Palestinian existence” since the Nakba.
It is a ridiculous assertion. By the same logic Israel was also “to blame” for the Black September movement, Leila Khaled, Yasser Arafat, the Oslo accords, and the two Intifadas.
The logical implication is that Palestinians have no agency whatsoever. That Hamas murders civilians because Israel has “structured” Palestinian reality to make that inevitable.
For people presumably wedded to “decolonising” the curriculum, it is a shockingly colonialist premise.
Our task — on the democratic and internationalist left — is to offer the signatories of this statement a route out of this. Learning to use formal logic might be a start. Accepting, as Marx says, that “history is nothing but people pursuing their aims” regardless of how oppression structures their behaviour, might be a second. Reference to some basic shared ethical principles might be a third.
But we need to understand how closely this hyper-deterministic and anti-universal world view maps onto the ideology presented, for example, by Putin at [Valdai](http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/72444) last week. For Putin there is no single human civilisation, only civilisations, which must be rooted in ethnicity establish their co-existence through the survival of the fittest:
>*“There are many civilisations, and none is superior or inferior to another. They are equal since each civilisation represents a unique expression of its own culture, traditions, and the aspirations of its people.”*
In a way, what Putin preaches is an “intersectionality of the peoples”: identity politics raised from the level of the individual to the level of the ethnic group.
And it turns out anti-Enlightenment leftism makes it pretty easy to converge with that view. The common assumptions are disdain for universalism, scorn for international law and human rights, repudiation of the Enlightenment (and thus liberalism, social democracy, humanistic Marxism and anarchism) and worship of any totalitarian government that delivers economic development.
This is the modern incarnation of Stalinism, and — to the surprise of nobody who has studied actual Stalinism — it has no problem seeing fascists like Hamas as the “agent of progress”.
# Two irreconcileable lefts
There’s much [soul searching today](https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/10/a-left-that-refuses-to-condemn-mass-murder-is-doomed.html), especially in the US media, about why so many on the left, and in academia, have thoughtlessly cheered on mass murder. The answer is that, first over Ukraine, and now over Hamas, the global left is rapidly splitting into irreconcileable camps — as Edward Thompson [recognised](https://www.marxists.org/archive/thompson-ep/1978/pot/essay.htm) it would, under the influence of post-structuralism in the 1970s.
One camp, he said, is a theology. The other a tradition of active reason. The first repudiates liberalism and universalism. The second recognises its debt to liberalism and wants to make universalism consistent. The first claims international law is a sham; the second knows that, though the institutions of the rules-based order are flawed, they are better than chaos.
Today, the first is on the side of Putin, Khamenei and Assad. The second knows that you can stand with the Israeli people under attack while simultaneously standing up for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
And here’s the ultimate irony. The entire Palestinian project of a state has, since 1967, relied on [resolutions](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_Nations_resolutions_concerning_Palestine#:~:text=Resolution%20681) passed at the United Nations and on international law. In short, on the multilateral rules based order.
Those who advocate a multipolar world without treaties, laws and norms of state behaviour need to understand how perilous such a world would be for the people of Gaza.
Those flaunting their joy at the murder of Israeli civilians need to understand the licence this creates in the minds of rightwing ethno-nationalists in our own society. What Hamas did to the kids of Kfar Azar, the far right wants to do to you.
Solidarity to all my friends in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.