New pogroms and cowardly old mob mentalities

3 mins read
mob mentalities
People attend a demonstration to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as part of a student walkout by students of New York University, Oct. 25, 2023. (OSV News photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

(OSV News) “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free…”

Watching a news report of a group of students chanting the line, I wondered if they were even cognizant that their refrain, repeated so full-throatedly and relentlessly, was a call for genocide.

“What did you do in college, Mama?”

“Well, darling, I wrapped a keffiyeh around my red hair, covered my pasty Irish American face and went out calling for the eradication of an entire nation and race of people … don’t look at me like that, everyone was doing it!”

Because that’s the sort of thing you do when your brain is not yet fully developed and you’ve been trained in neither critical thinking skills nor the sort of nuance that must flavor authentic justice — when your reason is still malleable, and it’s so much easier to go along with a moment, particularly if you get to feel powerful and anti-establishmentarian as you do it.

Following the mob

Someday, perhaps — if those students ever do learn to think critically; if they ever do discover that the world is much more about shades of gray than black-and-white absolutism, they may come to realize exactly what it was they were chanting for in 2023, exactly what they doing while standing, bravely face-covered in Harvard Square calling Jews “dirty, dirty animals” who “should be exterminated,” or cheering as Jewish students were locked away for their own protection at Cooper Union College, as threats against Jews canceled classes at Cornell, as Jewish travelers were being hunted down at a Russian airport.

They might even have the good sense to repent of it — to feel shame as they recall that all the cheers, all the chants, served a demon of chaos and mass murder.

Another broadcast showed a march in New York City. A maddeningly shrill female voice prompted the marchers with the same terrible chant (it’s gone global, now, and become as ubiquitous as Taylor Swift, although the glam factor is more shabby chic). What struck me as I watched was how obedient the mob was. If the caller changed her inflection, so did the crowd. If she emphasized a different word or a distinct syllable, the crowd obeyed without missing a step, or a beat.

Without a thought.

“From the river, to the sea! Mommy, Daddy, look at me! I’m being an automaton, a useful tool. Gonna get those Jews out of Israel and into … into … hey, where are we going to get those Jews into, anyway?”

“Oblivion, silly! Ghazi Hamad, the Hamas spokesman, said they’ll repeat the October 7 attack again and again until Israel is annihilated!”

Choosing reason over evil

It is to be hoped that these marchers may eventually bring what reasoning skills they possess to task and consider that war is a genuinely terrible affront to human dignity, but that outright genocide goes well beyond war by viewing human beings as something “other than” and expendable — and that willfully seeing people as such is a symptom of serious mental illness or something worse, an oppressive spiritual illness choosing evil.

It takes an unthinking mob to serve evil. Ignorance, joined to mob mentalities, hastens the most repellent and cowardly sort of human behavior — pogroms, and lynchings, craven insurrections, disingenuous demands and anarchist-led violence. The chase-downs and beatings are usually cheered on by the mad, who justify it all with lies their followers want to believe. They are usually sane enough, however, to stay far away from the roiling, bloody streets they’ve urged on.

A mob permits anonymous participation in heinous acts by people who might never have moved beyond a vague fever dream discussed over DM’s and Cheetos, if left to themselves.

Antisemitism isn’t new

Some blame social media platforms for the speed with which the antisemitism we’re witnessing has surged, everywhere. I’m sure it’s contributed, but algorithms can’t fully explain it. Throughout history it seems the scapegoats to genocidal hate all have a turn — women who healed with herbs, indigenous peoples, people of color, the Irish — but the Jews have regularly reappeared on that list, bobbing up to the top like juicy apples meant for biting, century after century.

And of course there was Jesus of Nazareth, the mindless mob’s greatest victim, “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…” (Is 53:5). Jesus was a Jew, one led “like a lamb to the slaughter,” but with a pure and transcendent purpose.

The last time the pogroms came, the last time mobs marked houses with stars of David and clamored to get their hands on the Jews, too many obeyed — they followed the law. They, too, went like lambs, corralled into ghettos and hoping for the best. Then they held hands and walked into ovens at gunpoint.

Quite understandably, they will not do so again.

And God help us all if this madness, this naked evil currently preying upon society does not soon subside.

“This kind of spirit does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).

Elizabeth Scalia

Elizabeth Scalia is culture editor for OSV News.