Opinion |

The Book That Scares the Israeli Army

The IDF initially prevented a conscientious objector from taking a book about the atrocities of colonialism into military prison, but 'Exterminate All the Brutes' should be required reading for all draftees

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

At the beginning of the week, Haaretz military correspondent Gili Cohen reported an incident that didn’t raise much interest. I wouldn’t have dwelled on it, either, had it not mentioned a book that had made a deep impression on me: “Exterminate All the Brutes,” by Sven Lindqvist. Apparently this book, which cannot be praised highly enough, was taken from conscientious objector Hadas Tal as she entered military prison last week, on the pretext that it could foment a rebellion.

I certainly hope this is true. A good book should arouse rebellion, especially a book like this, which recounts in dazzlingly clear language and in a painfully tangible style the outrages “committed in the name of Progress, Civilization, Socialism, Democracy and the Market.”

Doesn’t the Israel Defense Forces want its soldiers and prisoners, who are serving sentences for diverse offenses – from disciplinary transgressions, through killing a wounded assailant, to refusing to serve in the occupied territories – to read about appalling things and rebel against them? Isn’t this the best way to help pre-draft youngsters, who write on Facebook something like “We must kill them all! Kahane was right,” to develop a moral consciousness?

Lindqvist, the author of the “dangerous” book, felt the unrest all around him and realized open racism was back in Europe. In 1992, when the book was first published, right-wing parties in Sweden (his homeland) were marketing xenophobia as patriotism, and rightist groups declared their readiness to “exterminate all the Jews and blacks.”

That year, the Iron Curtain folded and Stalin’s mass murder was weighed against the Jews’ extermination. There was also an argument – from which right-wing polemicists there and here still derive the cover for their self-righteousness – that the left bears a collective guilt for communism’s crimes. The Eurocentric worldview, presenting “modernism, development, progress and freedom” as European inventions, was also subject to renewed discussion.

“Exterminate All the Brutes” relates to Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness,” and follows in its paths, in the ways of slavery and oppression in Africa. Lindqvist, who hoped to find a recovering continent, discovered instead the roots of the ideas, sickening beliefs and racism of colonial imperialism, and reached a conclusion that was hard to swallow: What Hitler wished to create when he sought “living space” in the East was a European equivalent of the British Empire. The modus operandi – of which the Jews’ extermination was a twisted copy – he learned from the British and other West European nations.

You’ll doubtless be pleased to learn that the sadomasochist novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” was also confiscated from a female soldier who was imprisoned for disciplinary offenses, despite the fact the heroine’s lover disciplines her (and then some). That’s what happens when you try to fit a book to an offense – they’ll probably confiscate Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” from a soldier who smoked a joint.

The IDF spokesman said: “Any book can be brought into military prison, except for books with racist or sexual content.” “Exterminate All the Brutes” is about the atrocities of colonialism, about extermination in the Congo, about the intention to purge Africa of blacks, to render it worthy for white settlers from Europe. What can I say, a book with racist content. [The IDF later admitted its mistake and returned the book to Tal.]

Every time a book threatens the establishment, I’m happy. Because I’ve long lost faith in the power of literature to scare. The last time they tried to pick on a book, all those involved made a healthy profit. To improve a really great book’s chances of profiting from a scandal, I happily declare: For the attention of Naftali Bennett – “Exterminate All the Brutes” is a moral ticking time bomb.

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