It may seem a stretch to invoke Alexis de Tocqueville to explain the conflict in Gaza, but Tocqueville was arguably the most insightful political theorist to ever put ink to a page. While many people have encountered Tocqueville through his Democracy in America, few have read his equally important work on revolution, The Old Regime and the French Revolution. And it’s that work that goes a long way toward helping us understand how we got to the events of Gaza.
Tocqueville did not see the French Revolution as the outcome of the work of the revolutionary radicals. Rather, he concluded that those who were least interested in having the revolution were, ironically, its unwitting creators.
So too with the events in Gaza: would there have been an Israeli incursion into Gaza if those who went into the streets to stop Israel — those who never wanted that incursion into Gaza — had earlier gone into the streets to protest the rockets that rained down on Sderot for seven years? Would there have been an incursion if the self-proclaimed peace and justice crowd had done something other than providing forums for blatant propagandists justifying murder?
You see, the essence of terrorism is not to change regimes but to influence the public agenda. Terrorists crave legitimacy and justification. They develop a symbiotic relationship with the media. They need sustaining support in the faith community and the peace and justice community.
Throughout history, no regime has ever fallen to terrorism. In fact, with two historical exceptions, Cuba and Nicaragua, no indigenous regime has ever fallen even to guerrilla warfare, a mode of warfare far and away more potent than terrorism. Everyone who understands the ways in which regimes change understands this reality.
Acts of terrorism, brutal, despicable, and often nonsensical, function as exercises in propaganda, with multiple messages for multiple audiences. There is a message for the society being attacked, but since every player in the game knows that the society being attacked cannot be overthrown by the terrorists, that message is largely inconsequential. No regime rolls over and goes away because a restaurant is bombed or an airport is shot up. Even the collapse of two skyscrapers and the deaths of 3,000 people only create a hardened resolve and a willingness to go to war.