Evolution, children and murderers
In the history of religion children are a separate chapter. Clerics recommend love and care, but this care encompasses absolute obedience with the possibility of killing the wayward child. In our time it is still practiced in Islam, mainly against daughters whose behavior is not liked by their parents or other relatives.
A religious culture often breaks down instincts formed by evolution, allowing for cruelty against one’s own children (though, frankly speaking, the evolutionary instinct of taking care of the young does not protect them against infanticide among humans nor among other animals). The protection of one’s own children, however, is so strong an impulse that it can easily be exploited both by religious and secular rulers. The blood libel, with a long history of falsely accusing Jews of kidnapping and murdering Christian children for ritual purposes, can be best described as a phenomenon of exploiting this protective instinct for religious and political aims. These accusations hark back to the first centuries of Christianity, but they became a real scourge in the Middle Ages, when they were the source of countless pogroms, murders by mobs, trials where admissions of guilt were coerced by torture, burnings at the stake and finally, confiscation of property and extremely profitable cults of the alleged victims.
The Church was aware of the villainy behind these accusations, which may be seen in the attempts to stop the canonization of the children whose deaths were blamed on Jews. The Vatican eagerly accepted such cults, whether of William of Norwich (who disappeared in 1144) or Hugh of Lincoln (who disappeared in 1255) or Simon of Trent (1475). Christian blood libel has survived up to our times, and you can still find people who deeply and honestly believe in it.
There are many good books about the blood libel, but significantly fewer about the exploitation of children in political propaganda. As yet I haven’t seen any attempts to look at it from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. Many people have noticed the love tyrants have for a photo-op with small children; there are books that show ties between fanatical ideologies and brutal programs of child-indoctrination from the cradle, of raising children to become murderers, of child soldiers, and, finally, of using children in war propaganda by accusing the enemy of cruelty towards children, of deliberately murdering children, of brutal treatment of those who are small, weak and defenseless. A child, especially a specific child with a name and a surname, a child transformed into a symbol, has long been used in propaganda campaigns, and proof that the accusations were suspect or straightforwardly false does not weaken the power of such a symbol. (It is exactly in evolutionary psychology that the explanation may be sought.)
The exploitation of children in war propaganda that accompanies Arab-Jewish wars is extremely interesting. In Arab anti-Israeli propaganda material we can find literally hundreds of pictures of children killed in Syria and other places in the world with captions stating that these children were killed by Israeli soldiers. In our time, when thanks to modern technology it’s relatively easy to find the original picture and to debunk the fraud, you might think that such actions would be counterproductive. Nothing could be more wrong. The effectiveness of such actions is perfectly illustrated by Mark Twain’s remark: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. (Earlier Francis Bacon put it a bit differently: “Audacter calumniare, semper aliquid haeret” – Slander boldly, something always sticks.)
A child in war propaganda has an additional advantage – it moves not only “our” side but evokes empathy and sympathy from bystanders. Especially when our hatred of the eternal enemy can be tied to the eternal prejudices of these bystanders. A hurt child allows the incitement of hatred, and hatred is magic. It bewitches, it whips up the desire to murder, it allows one to share lofty emotions, to share the desire to murder in conjunction with a vision of one’s own nobleness.
Surprise has often been expressed at the ease with which Westerners embrace and repeat every lie about Palestinian children killed or otherwise hurt by all-powerful Jews. Recently (though mainly on Israeli or pro-Israeli websites) many return to the New York Times issue with pictures of 67 children who lost their lives during the eleven days when Israel defended itself from another terrorist aggression from the Gaza Strip.
This newspaper earlier published a photo of an Israeli policeman standing over a bloodied man, and the journalist who sent this photo must have known that the policeman was defending the life of an American-Jewish tourist who was beaten by an Arab mob, but labeled it as a picture of a Jewish policeman harassing a peacefully demonstrating Palestinian. This same newspaper published a picture of a grieving father holding his dead baby, suggesting that Israel was the culprit, though the paper knew that the child was killed by an “errant” Hamas rocket. This same newspaper, which never missed an opportunity to suggest Jewish cruelty against Palestinian children, this time went a step further by presenting its readers with pictures of 67 children who “wanted to be doctors, writers, engineers” and whose life was tragically stopped.
The American newspaper didn’t write that the blame for the deaths of these children rests firmly and exclusively on terrorists from Gaza armed and financed by Iran. It skipped the information about the attack on Israel with thousands of rockets, it skipped the earlier history of murderous rocket attacks, terrorists attacks, and arson. Most of all, it skipped the ideology of these terrorists – to fight Jews to the end of the world, to glorify “martyrs”, to raise children to be murderers from their most tender years – and the constant endangering of the lives of their own civilians.
No, according to this newspaper, evil, devious Jews just decided one day to kill scores of Palestinian children.
Why did these children die (besides the fact, non-essential for this reputable newspaper, that Israel was defending itself against aggression from terrorists)? A tiny bit of skepticism in the editorial office would be enough to put forward a few questions which somehow never crossed the mind of anybody in this editorial office. Were there child soldiers among them? It is not difficult to check this, and you can quickly find pictures of some of the same children (teenagers) in uniforms and with weapons in their hands. (Is raising children to be murderers and using children in armed conflicts equivalent to hurting children? Not for the New York Times if it is a conflict with Jews.) Another question which the editor had a duty to ask was how many of these Palestinian children were killed by rockets that were supposed to kill Jewish children but fell short and landed on the homes of Gaza inhabitants? (Did the editors of this American newspaper have the information that hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets fell on Gaza territory, destroying both human life and infrastructure, including the power plant and waterworks? Of course they had this information and decided not to forward it to their readers.) Could the editors of the New York Times be unaware of the fact that the strikes by the Israeli Air Force were extremely precise and targeted rocket launchers and stores of the terrorists’ rockets, and that civilians died not so much from Israeli strikes as from explosions of rockets stockpiled by terrorists and deliberately placed among the civilian population? I doubt if there is any such possibility that they were unaware of this.
Is it possible that the decisions how to report about armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Nigeria or Congo and how to report about this specific conflict were influenced by the fact that here on the one side are Jews and on the other people who have similar prejudices to ours and in whose propaganda we simply like to believe?
The most famous newspaper in the world not only didn’t care to ask the most basic questions before the publication of material produced in co-operation with Palestinian propagandists, but didn’t do anything – after the mendaciousness of this tear-jerking propaganda article was revealed by others – to inform its readers that they had been misled.
Do we have here another drastic example of the modern blood libel which is supposed to incite anger and hatred by appealing to our instincts formed by evolution in order to strengthen centuries-old prejudices?
Did those prejudices disappear, go away into oblivion, and Western societies are free from them? As if! Less than a hundred years ago tens of millions of Europeans in just a few years fell in love with the idea of murdering European Jews, and this idea was supported not only by millions of Germans but also by millions of citizens both of countries occupied by Nazis and of countries that defended themselves against Nazis.
We can effortlessly find Christian clergy still promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, stating, among other things, that the kidnapping of Christian children and ritual murders were facts because the “guilty” were convicted by courts, and so we have proof of it. Recently one of my friends described such a case of a priest and a lecturer at a Polish Catholic university, laughing at the depth of his stupidity. I, however, am far from laughing or shrugging off such cases. Presenting facts shown by historians doesn’t make people stop believing in the blood libel. There are no studies on the extent of the disseminating of false myths in churches, as well as (which I think is more important) on links between the old and discredited legend about Jewish bloody rituals and its newer versions which are propagated in a different, more convincing language and from quite different pulpits.
Translation: Małgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson