The zero lottery

by the Night Writer

A few weeks ago my wife and I were playing golf with some folks from New Jersey, lifelong East-coasters enjoying a little of the Midwestern experience. During the round a tornado siren went off, startling and somewhat confusing our guests, who wanted to know what the siren was for.

“It’s either a tornado warning or lightening in the vicinity,” I said, as I matter-of-factly dialed the clubhouse on my cellphone to get more details since the day was still clear and sunny. Ultimately it turned out that this warning was related to the storm that delivered a deadly tornado on the town of Hugo, MN, a dozen miles away from where we were. As we played golf we saw the skies darken and the ominous clouds coming, remarkably, from opposite directions. It was pretty much standard summer fare for my wife and I (we didn’t know until later that evening of the net effects of the storm), but our friends from Jersey seemed to find it rather amazing that people live in a place where deadly storms are a routine part of your existence.

Of course, Nature (as far as we know) hasn’t sworn to wipe us out.

I thought of this example the other day as I read Yaacov Ben Moshe’s post from Breath of the Beast entitled Welcome to Sderot.

Sderot is an Israeli town within range of Hamas rockets and the victim of the leadership policies of both the Israeli government and that of Hamas that requires a macabre calculus of acceptable losses that keeps both groups of leaders in power … while killing Jewish civilians. Hamas knows that launching rockets on a slow but steady basis, but killing only a few at a time will maintain its political power base with the jihadis, satisfy its foreign sponsors, while not seriously exposing itself to all out countermeasures from Israel.

Simultaneously, Israel’s government tacitly accepts a handful of deaths as being below the threshold of requiring dramatic and deadly response, knowing that it will be pilloried by foreign public opinion and seen as the aggressor if it does so. Ben Moshe cites JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) Report 781:

“For Hamas, the key is to keep the rocket attacks below an understood threshold and Israel’s response will be tolerable, precise and produce minimal collateral (Palestinian) damage. The Hamas pattern is to fire one, two or three rockets at Sderot. Wait a few days and do it again. Injure two, three, four Israelis. Kill one or two, but not more than that – this week. Increase the range and accuracy of the rockets incrementally. Hit Ashkelon, but just once. Then wait. Hit a shopping center, but if no one is killed, the Israeli response is unlikely to threaten Hamas rule. If Israel does retaliate, the world will probably be more annoyed by the “disproportionate response” than the original rocket attack.”

Ben Moshe continues:

As I was reading, though, something was bothering me. I was still stuck on the seemingly more limited issue of the terror involved. Who are these people who are being killed by the rockets? How do they live knowing that, only if some, unspecified number of them of them are killed and maimed, will their government be moved to do something about the terror under which they live? This dangerous and painful situation is only partially a product of the Arab/Islamist dream of annihilation of Israel. It is made possible by a combination of ruthless internal enemies (e.g. the far left peace movement), clueless dupes (e.g. Olmert, Livni, et al) and shortsighted erstwhile foreign “friends” who do not understand the reality of the threat. This motley assortment of fools and instigators hold Israel’s defense establishment, her regard for her own citizens and, indeed, her very moral, civic, ethical and intellectual integrity hostage.

His point, or part of it, is that the Israeli government has decided that the greater good for the country, or for itself, is to sacrifice a few for the perceived benefit of the many. Ben Moshe’s thoughts as he dwelt on this lead to a chilling analogy:

When Shirley Jackson’s famous short story The Lottery was first published sixty years ago in the June 26, 1948 edition of The New Yorker magazine, it set off the most violent reaction the magazine had ever experienced. In the story, the reader is gradually drawn into a nightmare- as what seems to be a “normal” American farming village gathers for some sort of annual community gathering. There is a lottery involved and little by little it becomes apparent that it is a “selection process”. The reader’s curiosity gives way to bemusement as the author quietly seeds in ominous details that build a sense of foreboding. Then, near the end of the story there is a sudden shift to horror when we realize that the “slightly too” nonchalant dialogue and mysterious references have been leading up to the revelation of a sacrificial rite. One person in the community is chosen by lottery to be stoned to death- sacrificed for “the good of all”.

It is little wonder that the story caused the explosion of controversy that it did. A scant three years after World War II, the cataclysmic battle against totalitarianism, here was a story that hinted that the enemy was not dead, but could lie ever so close beneath the surface in the most unlikely of places. Is this lottery totalitarianism? I think it is. It is a society that holds itself hostage in a suicide pact. The eerily believable rationalization that the lottery must be carried out because the welfare of the group is everything- the individual is nothing- is the brutal signature of fascism.

The weird, unconvincing quality of the “reason” that stoning one member of the community to death is “for the good of all” is also a dead giveaway. It is true that an oblique reference to the sacrifice having a good effect on the corn is made but there is a dispiriting vagueness about it and nobody seems to endorse it convincingly. In fact, the agricultural pretext is really irrelevant. The central drama of The Lottery is the absence of individual human value. In my post about Islamofascism, I quoted Louis Menand (ironically, writing in the New Yorker), “official ideology can be, and usually is, absurd on its face, and known to be absurd by the leaders who preach it.” This is another hallmark of totalitarian systems. These lottery victims are the moral equivalent of suicide bombers, human shields and hostages. They have no power to achieve anything. Their own genuine emotions and aspirations are anathema to the system in which they live. Only their annihilation is of value. Every one of them is a martyr- most of them just aren’t dead yet. They are, in every sense imaginable, dead men walking.

…The people of Sderot listen for the sirens all day and all night 365 days a year and all must wonder if today is the day that a rocket will come through the ceiling in a busy dining hall or a kindergarten classroom or a high school auditorium and finally be “enough” to force the government to use the power it has always had- but may not always retain- to eliminate the threat. They wait for the government to act. They pray for the rest of the world to recoil in horror. They face each day with bravery and hope. Just like the people in Jackson’s story, they are hostages.

Ben Moshe goes on to remark on Muslim mathematicians having developed the concept of zero, observing with grim irony that, “…at least under the most fundamental application of their religion-as-political-system, zero is the human condition.”

If there was outrage in 1948 over the publication of that short story, how could there not be outrage today when an Israeli government dares Hamas to kill one more Israeli and see what happens and when they do, dares them to kill another one. Over and over again the children of Sderot draw lots and when one of them is torn apart by ball bearings or has a leg blown off, what happens? Is it somehow “for the good of all” that they suffer?

Is it too far a leap to suggest that, of all the grim ironies, the most insidious is that of the West’s blindness to its own willingness to trade blood for peace, to cutting off fingers and feeding them to dogs under the table so as not to upset the place-settings?

Do you believe that it is about The Nakba or The Occupation or The Settlements? Do you allow yourself the fantasy that there is a way to stop the madness- a sacrifice big enough to satisfy this ravenous cult?

Then what did the innocent victims die for on 9/11- or Madrid- or London- the Darfur? This is part of the same grotesque lottery that has been going on for 1500 years. In spite of the sacrifice of the innocent victims of 9/11, it is all too easy for us to deny that we are hostages too, but those “zero beings” from the Islamist void will not be happy to delete only Israel. They have “selected” them for annihilation first but it is nothing personal, you understand, just a sacrifice to prove there is no value to human life. There is no value to anything that does not affirm the spiritual vacuum of Islamism. It is not because they worship Allah, nor is it is that they believe Mohammed was a prophet. It is that they believe that he was the only prophet, that they know the absolute truth and that it is their mission to ignore (and destroy) all evidence to the contrary. If you believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they will not rest until they destroy you too.

The Jihadists are not interested in cease-fires or peace. They are happy to tell you what they want. They want the world to live under Shari’a law. They believe that anyone that doesn’t want that is sub-human and deserves to be killed. This is nothing less than another confrontation with the evil of fascist, totalitarianism, and that is a beast whose hunger cannot be sated with souls, nor can its thirst be slaked with blood. The lottery they are holding is to determine not if you will be destroyed but when you will be destroyed. We are all citizens of Sderot- its just that most of us don’t know it yet.

This type of post is hardly my forte. Grasping the political, economic and military realities of this situation is something my friend Jeff Kouba does much better than I. I know, however, that Yaacov Ben Moshe is hardly an unbiased observer, or without his own agenda. Even discounting for his perspective, I still finding myself counting my fingers.

5 thoughts on “The zero lottery

  1. I like the image of feeding fingers to the dogs under the table very much. I also appreciate that you pulled back from saying that my whole point had to do with the sacrifice.

    My only issue with your very thought provoking post is the way in which you speak of my point of view as a “bias”. I would contend that there is a major difference between point of view and bias and that, on the whole, I am careful not to let my personal biases get in the way of my writing- or at least never to allow them to blind me to reasonable and substantial alternatives- Unless, of course, you are referring to my freely admitted bias in favor of being as accurate and honest as possible and toward placing a higher value on life and liberty than on not offending others with direct speech. I do not think that you will find anything that I have written that sacrifices accuracy for the enforced decorum of “correctness”

    I suggest that there is nothing biased about discussing the problems that are created by people who are on record as having sworn to kill you and destroy the two countries dearest to your heart. Not to do so would, indeed, be equivalent to cutting off your own fingers to feed to the dogs.

  2. Thank you, Yaacov –

    I’ll grant I perhaps use “point of view” and “bias” interchangeably; perhaps a dangerous imprecision in today’s culture. It was certainly not intended as a criticism. Everyone who communicates has a point of view and understanding that helps in understanding the text. What I don’t like are those who pretend they have no POV/bias but will weasel their views into a piece subtly or by omission of certain details. I don’t think anyone who reads your excellent blog will ever mistake your passion for the subject and desire for the West to wake up to the foxes gnawing at our tent ropes.

    I know much less (almost nothing) about JINSA as an organization, however. While I think JINSA’s assessment is as logical as it is chilling (and demonstrative), I can’t – in my own effort to be as accurate and honest as possible – assign unquestioned credibility to their report without taking more time to research this further; time I didn’t want to take before calling attention to your passionate warning. Hence, my own caveat. What I tried to do with my conclusion was indicate that while some might dismiss the watchdog as too-vigilant, we ignore his barks at our peril.

  3. Yes, of course, I didn’t mean to sound as though I was jumping in your face. I appreciate your scruples and care as much as I do your kind words.

    Speculating on the motivations and tactics of an enemy from an alternate cultural dimension is always a dicey proposition isn’t it? The JINSA analysis is really a perfect fit though- not only because it was exactly in line with my own- but because it fits the whole cultural analysis.

    My foundational posts on fascism, Kundera and Solzhenitsyn complete the picture- Willingness (even eagerness) to sacrifice friends and foes alike for the goals (destroy Israel and the west, then institute Shari’a), the worthlessness of the individual, the lack of any humor or recognizable warmth of feeling and the uncanny ability to exploit the openness and democracy of the enemy and turn them against him.

  4. NW, I finally remembered to read this comment thread and was happy to stumble on the reference to the Czech writer Milan Kundera. He was what I was reading as I unconsciously shifted rightwards while living in France. I’d have to read the books again in English to see if there’s any “there” there, but Yaacov’s post has whetted my appetite. If you haven’t read Kundera, you might want to consider it when you’ve got some time for a peculiar novelist.

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