Rounding up on Kayla Mueller

How Some Conservatives thanked ISIS

Buh-bye, Kayla.  Have fun with your 72 Yasser Arafats.
— Debbie Schussel, February 10, 2014

The circumstances of her death are still coming to the fore.  Aid worker and activist Kayla Mueller, an ISIS hostage captured in August 2013, supposedly died in a Jordanian air raid on February 6.  While much of the commemorative nature of Mueller’s death veered into the land of over sweetened reminiscences and nobility, an undercurrent of dislike bubbled to the surface.

The rejoicing and scolding did not take long to slither their way into the public arena.  But what was striking about the vitriol was that you could be forgiven for thinking that Israel, rather than those associated with ISIS, had engineered the circumstances of her death.  Lee Kaplan of the Israeli publication Arutz Sheva could only see in Mueller’s death “another Rachel Corrie propaganda story in the making, and the western media is falling for it again, or embracing it on purpose.”  Dismiss, he insists, any notion that “she was a wonderful altruistic young woman”.

The sense of being killed, not merely for one’s ideals, but the group one idealises, is the leitmotif here.  She was, says Kaplan pointedly, “a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who spent at least two years working with that terrorist support group.”  The ISM had released a statement to the effect that Mueller had gone to Palestine “to stand in solidarity with us.  She marched with us and faced the military that occupies our land side by side with us.”

Then come the sharp stings – at least from his perspective.  She protested against the Jews in Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) “after a 20 year long court decision recognised the Jews’ legal rights to homes they were chased from in earlier wars launched by the Arabs.”

Then come the suggestions that she was “a human shield in support of terrorists”.  The equation for that is simple: if you squat, protest and resist in “half-demolished buildings”, fear Israeli settlers, and seek to protect a bit of earth for other people, you must be such a shield.

The frothily manic conservative Debbie Schlussel decided to spare few tears, none, in fact “for the newly departed Kayla Mueller” who “was a Jew-hating, anti-Israel piece of crap who worked with HAMAS and helped Palestinians harass Israeli soldiers and block them from doing their job in keeping Islamic terrorists out of Israel.”

Again, fine distinctions are irritations best avoided – Palestinians are the head splitting problem, and supporting them constitutes an act of violent collaborative terrorism that deserves a cleansing act of retribution.  Palestinian homes which are demolished are deemed terrorist dens – obviously – and taking refuge in them as an act of protest is tantamount to throwing bombs at the Israeli state.

Things get even more tendentious.  Schlussel, more broadly speaking, detests Americans, if indeed they deserve to be termed that, who tend to find their way into the hostage quarry of the ISIS war-machine. “Every one of these hostages has been an America-hater” a rather idiosyncratic observation at best.  In a twist that shows that perversions share common ground, Schlussel effectively embraces the decapitating acts of the ISIS captors as those of pedagogic good riddance.  Those who went to cover their deeds bit off more than they could chew.  These “journalists” keen to add a moderate tone to such “democratic” decapitators were simply getting their just desserts.

This is foreign policy through a lens that is not merely distorted but fractured – death by ill-adopted ideology.  Such activists get killed precisely because they help the Palestinian cause, a fabulous inversion cosmic in its distance from reality.  The very fact that such figures venture into war zones such as Syria and Iraq with humanitarian wishes is an object, more of suspicion, than celebration.  Why, suggested Conservative-Headlines.com, was “this young American girl… in Syria in the first place.”  Had she been a guided missile, that might have been a different story.

Not merely did Mueller find herself barracking for the Palestinian cause, she was, tut tut, barracking for what conservative outlets identified as a form of “Marxism”, a claim at best half-baked, at worse, disingenuous.  “The fact is that Kayla Mueller was a Cultural Marxist who talked about her ‘privilege’.”

Editor-in-chief at Breibart, Joel Pollak, took the condescending line.  The spirit of the dead Mueller was hauled before his reproachful gaze.  “Sad that Kayla Mueller was anti-Israel activist.  If she understood both sides she might have avoided idealizing the enemy that killed her.” Even the otherwise moderate Haaretz suggested that Mueller’s starry-eyed idealism did, in fact, lead her to her demise. The road through pro-Palestinian activism leads to death.

Pollak’s selective understanding of his own idealised-state of Israel comes full circle with such individuals as Rabbi Ben Packer, American born, but one of Schlussel’s blessed who has gone so far as to declare himself “Supreme Commander” of Heritage House, a militant settlement in East Jerusalem that acts as a magnet for Israel’s own foreign fighters (Electronic Intifada, February 11).  Packer also offered his few bits worth, suggesting that all his sympathy for Mueller had “gone”.

Such otherwise scatterbrained bile seeks to obscure one suspicion that has its place.  The role of humanitarian agencies and non-government organisations in general remains a contested issue.  Where there is conflict, these organisations, and their activists, sprout like enthusiastic fungi.

Altruism rarely exists as the purest of elements – it tends to be corrupted by local arrangements, rendered squalid by compromises that seem to fly very much in the face of the mission. But Mueller’s death has done much to reveal another side of the criticism, one that worships Israel while battering the Palestinian cause. ISIS effectively becomes an avenging angel against the cult of Palestinian moralising, the reactionary conservative’s vicious fantasy come true.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.