Malise Ruthven discusses the Beirut massacre

Malise Ruthven

In discussing the cruelty of the Inquisition, the great historian of rationalism, Lecky, noted the intimate connection between the Medieval Church’s constant contemplation of martyrdom and the willingness to inflict it upon others. The monks and friars who excelled in the persecution of heretics, he suggested, had been brutalised by constant exposure to agonising pictures which they associated with the truth of the Christian faith. Several modern writers have interpreted this paradoxical inversion, in which the persecutor sees himself as victim, as a collective version of paranoid projection: just as the paranoiac murderer can feel terrified of his harmless victims, so a dominant social group can perceive itself as threatened by the people whom it exploits and persecutes. As Norman Cohn has written in his masterly study of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Warrant for Genocide, ‘what these people see as the enemy is in fact the destructiveness and cruelty in their own psyches, externalised. And the greater the unconscious sense of guilt, the more fearsome the imaginary enemy.’

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