There is no moral equivalence for atrocity


I try to avoid politics on my blog. My focus is travel, culture and books.

But I’m unable to tear myself away from the scenes of barbarity making their way out of Israel through Twitter, and sites like Bari Weiss’s Free Press substack.

There’s one video I can’t get out of my head. 

A young girl is yanked by her hair from the back of a Jeep by a man with a pistol who shouts “God is great” over and over in Arabic. She has a streaming cut above one eye, and the seat of her pants is soaked with blood. It isn’t difficult to imagine what had been done to her, and what her fate must be. 

It disgusts me to see people celebrating this medieval barbarity on the streets of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. What have we welcomed into our societies? And why did it take our sorry excuse for a prime minister so long to condemn it?

Here in Berlin, members of a group called Samidoun held a flag-waving street party and handed out sweets in the Neukölln district in celebration of mass slaughter. 

Samidoun is registered as a not-for-profit in Canada, despite its direct affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was placed on a list of terrorist entities in 2003 under our Criminal Code.

The fundamental goal of Hamas is the destruction of Israel by armed jihad and its replacement by an Islamic State. They wrote this in their Charter — The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement — issued on 18 August 1988. We can take an educated guess at what such a state would look like after witnessing the atrocities of ISIS.

What were supporters of this group celebrating on the streets of European, American and Canadian cities? 

Terrorists — not ‘militants’ or ‘fighters’ — shooting unarmed kids at a music festival as they tried to run away.

Teenaged girls raped next to the bodies of their murdered friends.

A 23-year-old girl whose lifeless half-naked body — one leg bent at an impossible angle — is driven around in the back of a pickup truck and spat on by armed men shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). 

A grandmother whose home was broken into by a terrorist that filmed her murder on the woman’s own mobile phone and uploaded it to this grandmother’s Facebook page so her family would see it.

Babies with their heads cut off, and entire families slaughtered in their homes.

More than a hundred hostages were dragged back to Gaza, and Hamas is threatening to broadcast their executions on live television. The Israeli government is telling parents to delete social media apps from their children’s phones so they don’t have to watch family members being murdered.

The videos I saw from the day of the attack were filmed and broadcast by gleeful Hamas terrorists who are proud of what they had done.

Even the Nazis tried to hide the evidence of the industrial slaughter they orchestrated. They built death camps in isolated locations, and burned documents and dynamited gas chambers at the end of the war. 

These were not military attacks on military targets. This was not “necessary means” to achieve a goal. There’s no possible justification for such barbarity, and no moral equivalence. 

What does it take to celebrate such acts — and to film and broadcast them?

I’ve never been able to understand antisemitism. I’ve read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and I see how far back it goes, but I just can’t understand why. None of the historical or religious excuses for it make any sense to me.

My mom’s best childhood friend is Jewish. Her parents were like a second set of grandparents to me during my first few years (my mom’s parents both died young). They moved from my hometown when I was very young, and the old people died long ago, but I visit this family friend every time I pass through town. We talk about the growing antisemitism she sees in Toronto, and that I’ve seen here in Berlin. 

So-called social justice movements, and the utter shit being taught in our universities (especially by social science departments, of which I’m a graduate), have done much to normalize this scourge and make it worse. The apologists for Hamas in academia and among the “progressives” are really beyond belief.

I don’t think the average non-Jew has much understanding of how pervasive anti-semitism is. I think I’ve come to see it more after living in Europe, and Berlin in particular. 

The first time I came to this city in 2013, it shocked me to see police posted outside every synagogue and Jewish school. I thought it was just because of Germany’s history, but it’s not confined to here. 

I’ve also visited Auschwitz, and walked through the former ghetto in Krakow, and the quarry and factory where the Oskar Schindler story played out, and the sites of mass graves in the fields just beyond it. 

In traveling Eastern Europe, I encountered more and more sites of pogroms, as well as traces of once-vibrant Jewish communities in cities like Vilnius, Lithuania. At its peak, Jewish Vilnius had more than a hundred synagogues and prayer houses, and countless small shops with Polish and Yiddish names. That 600-year-long cultural flowering saw it referred to as the Jerusalem of the north. Today, only ruins remain. Some 95% of Vilnius’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. 

I don’t understand antisemitism any better than I did before I visited these places and read about them, but I’ve come to see just how pervasive it was and is.

I’ve also traveled to a dozen Muslim-majority countries, most of them Arabic-speaking, and met wonderful, kind, hospitable people in each of those places. Many were living under oppressive governments. Two of those countries are now being decimated by brutal civil wars of their own.

This is not a conflict of Jew vs Muslim, or Arabic-speaker vs ‘the West’. It’s a terrorist attack against unarmed civilians, many of them women, children and elders.

I don’t pretend to understand the convoluted history of the Middle East or the beleaguered Middle East peace process.

But I do know that it’s possible to want a better life for Palestinians who live under the brutal, self-serving yoke of Hamas, to support a solution where normal people in that troubled region can live in peace AND to condemn the cold-blooded brutality perpetrated by the savages of Hamas against Israelis.

Like the appalling 9/11 slaughter in the United States, the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust is a crossroad of history. 

Some will stand against this savagery, and some will justify it with tales of suppressed rage and academic-sounding jargon. 

I don’t know what kind of person can look at those videos and attempt to excuse it.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Ryan. Sharing your thoughts, feelings is your right. Thank God there are people like you. Technology is great but it does today allow instantly sharing activities from around the world with others. How does one learn to hate? Recall Trumps gang 9/11 wanted to hang Pence?
    I say you have a large following & expressing your feelings is good.

  • Ryan – I discovered your writing and podcasts earlier this year (through the David Thompson podcast) and I have really enjoyed reading and listening to your work. Thank you for writing this article. You’re 100% correct. There’s no excusing what Hamas did this past weekend. I’m not Jewish either but I consider them to be friends and I cannot understand the hatred that many people feel toward the Jews. Good for you for putting into words what I, and I’m sure many people, feel about the atrocities committed last weekend and the disturbing rise in anti semitism throughout the world. Take care.

  • Thank you sooo much for your comments on this nightmare we are witnessing. It really helps to have an experience writer put my anger and frustration into words. As much as I enjoy your travel writings, I am greatly appreciate that you pause and sue your gifts to put this atrocity into words.
    Rev. Phil Kettering

  • Great article Ryan. I don’t understand this brutality or people celebrating it, and anti-semitism makes no sense to me either.

  • Hello Ryan,
    Did I dream it, or did I first “meet” you on a YT channel that you and a friend had, showing all sorts of great mobility exercises?
    So a long time enjoying your work, especially Meaningful Journeys.
    Very disappointing above piece imho.
    Nobody can excuse barbarity, no-one should even try to.
    Unfortunately many Israelis consider all Palestinians as terrorists or (if they are children), potential ones, and if they are old, parents of terrorists.
    And these armed Hamas men, therefore think that the Israeli Jews should similarly be eliminated.
    Neither party was born hating the other. Hate has been taught to them.
    Now even the very large number of Israelis that want a peaceful solution, may support the massive destruction that is being carried out on Gaza, where the odd Hamas terrorist will of course die, but along with thousands of innocents. This suffering, this barbaric collective punishment, will be largely ignored around the world.

    • Hi Christopher,

      Yes, I was part of an online fitness publishing business in a previous life. It was how I paid for my travels.

      Re: your disappointment, perhaps you missed the part of my essay where I said, “it’s possible to want a better life for Palestinians who live under the brutal, self-serving yoke of Hamas, to support a solution where normal people in that troubled region can live in peace AND to condemn the cold-blooded brutality perpetrated by the savages of Hamas against Israelis.”

      I don’t pretend to know what “many Israelis” think, or what Palestinians think. And I don’t condone the slaughter of innocent non-combatants. I think I made that clear in my essay. As for Hamas, they made their views and aims clear in their own manifesto. It’s best to take them at their word.

      The fact that people celebrated this slaughter around the world — and in my own country — disgusts me. I’ve never seen Israeli air strikes on Hamas positions in Gaza celebrated with street rallies.

  • Hi Ryan,
    I agree with you. There should be peace in this world.
    I am writing this in London, England. I will return to Canada next week.
    I have just spent 10 days in Yerevan, Armenia (South of Georgia, where you last reported from).
    Raping and murdering innocent civilians attending a peace concert is barbaric.
    Unfortunately, so is bombing entire quarters of Gaza, leaving the civilian population homeless at best, and starving, hurt or dead at worst. Bombs falling from the sky on civilian targets under the guise of ridding a neighboring state of terrorists kills the same way the terrorist organizations kill. The victims end up dead. I just heard on the news today “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”
    Yes, you do not understand the convoluted politics of the Middle East. But the entire region has suffered by colonial powers distributing land that was not theirs to begin with to opposing parties for one reason or another.
    I was born in Beirut, or Armenian parents, survivors of a genocide that to this date goes unrecognized by the perpetrator. Armenians are indigenous people of parts of Anatolia, including the Van region, Mount Ararat, Nakhitchevan, and Artsakh.
    You know all about Stalin’s legacy. The creation of Nagorno Karabakh as a region within Azerbaijan, and giving Nakhitchevan to Azerbaijan ia part of that legacy.
    In September 2020, Azerbaijan, assisted by Turkey, Syrian mercenaries, Israeli and Ukrainian drones and other sophisticated weaponry launched a war against Armenia and Artsakh. No one spoke up. It made economic and geopolitical sense to those that participated in the carnage.
    Two years later Azerbaijan closed the Lachin corridor, the only source of supplies to Artsakh. There was no condemnation of the nine-month blockade that left the civilian population stranded without power, food or medicine.
    Less than two weeks ago, over 100,000 ethnic Artsakh Armenians crossed over into Armenia. The government and local agencies are working hard at sheltering them and reintegrating them into their new homes.
    Ryan, and friends of peace everywhere in the world, we live in an unjust world, where even respected states, such as the democratic, freedom-loving ones we belong to, suppress the rights of indigenous people with all forms of justification. They test their theories out on the smaller, lesser-known nations, and once that works out, they repeat the experiment on a bigger scale.
    The war on Ukraine came soon after the war on Armenia. The world had calmly stood by and watched (or completely ignored) what was happening in a forgotten, mountainous region of the world.
    The blockade of Gaza is right on the heels of the near 10-month blockade of Artsakh. For the Azeris, the Turks and their allies, it was a successful operation of ridding their territory of its non-Azeri population.
    Speaking up for the rights of civilians displaced by war, new zoning laws, or immigrants (otherwise known as ethnic cleansing) is an alternative to opening up the war chest to sell (and test) new weapons and to create new victims in this never-ending cycle of violence. The entire Middle East region deserves to live in peace,
    How many more holocausts will we tolerate before we say “Nevermore, anywhere, anytime.”

    • Hi Anni,

      As you say, the convoluted history of the Middle East — both colonial and more recent — is beyond the scope of my knowledge. I saw a similar centuries-long legacy of conflict and inter-group hatred in the Balkans. I sometimes wonder if even a mental contortionist could begin to sort it out. That’s why I confined my remarks in this essay to condemning last weekend’s terrorist atrocity, reflecting on the rising anti-Semitism I’ve seen in Europe, and expressing my disgust at those in my country who celebrated and justified such barbarism. That’s not the Canada I knew growing up.

      I also think that, when an organization publishes its genocidal goals — as Hamas did in its own Charter — it’s wise to take them at their word. If only people had taken Mein Kampf at its word, perhaps mass slaughter could have been averted. Attempting to extend a hand of friendship or truce to the likes of Hamas or ISIS or Hezbollah will only get it torn off. I hope the Israelis can eradicate the scourge of Hamas without endangering the lives of those poor Gazans unfortunate enough to be ruled by them.

      These recent Abraham Accords seemed like such a promising development for stability in the region. I fear that’s now ruined.

      Thank you for taking the time to write about your family, and the Caucasus. I have an American friend whose family survived the Armenian genocide. He grew up in Syria and then Beirut, before emigrating to the US to build a new life for himself. I was with him years ago in Syria and Beirut and remember the stories he told me about his family. I was planning a trip to the Van region last year to see some of those abandoned towns. The friend I was to go with was ill and we put it off (with great reluctance). I still hope to go there, and Armenia as well. I didn’t have enough money to extend my recent trip from Georgia.

      I’ve been following the news about Nagorno-Karabakh, and trying to understand the role of Turkey and others in backing Azerbaijan. It feels like troubled regions like this with previously frozen conflicts are being used in proxy wars among regional (and larger) powers who are jockeying for dominance in a new multipolar order. And I fear things will get worse as the US turns inward in what is shaping up to be a bitterly divided national election.

  • Yes, these stories are horrifying as one reads them. I have not seen any images, thank goodness -it seems anything truly repulsive has been hidden. I remember the Religious Studies program I was in during the early 2000’s at GMU, and as most of the classes I was in focused on Islam, Muslims made up the majority of the classes. What was strange was, when talking about Sufism and the more mystical sides of Islam, none of them seemed to project any strident opposition or counter-opinions to this expression of their faith. This seemed revelatory to me at the time, especially as a Christian, because I saw that they were just like Christians and Jews in that the majority were simply….mild, inoffensive believers.


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