Ever since September 11, 2001, Muslims have been attacked for not condemning “Islamist terror” strongly enough. Not just Muslims like me – a large number of religious Muslims have been clear in their condemnation of such violence. But some angry and intolerant voices have been highlighted to tarnish all Muslims. In addition, Muslims who, while condemning the violence, have tried to see it in historical context, have been falsely accused of not condemning the violence.

As Amr Hamzawy, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Program, notes, “The initial Arab public response to Hamas’s acts of terror set a secular and moderate tone. Hamas’s October 7 actions conflated the boundaries between legitimate resistance to the Israeli occupation and siege of the Palestinian territories, which categorically does not include targeting civilians, and crimes of terrorism. In response, Arab governments, civil society organizations, several media outlets, and some influential social media accounts were quick to condemn the violence and call for the protection of life on both sides. When governmental and nongovernmental voices ignored the targeting of Israeli civilians, their one-sided opinions were quickly marginalised.”

Terror, obviously, needs to be condemned, and it is not difficult to recognise an act of terror: it involves violence against civilians and others in a bid to evoke fear and anger. What Hamas did on October 7 was clearly that, and the fact that Israeli governments, with tacit Western, especially the United States, support, have been pursuing a consistent policy of displacement against Palestinians is no excuse to justify such violence. Hamas had to be condemned, and it was, including by me.

But genocide is just as easy to recognise as terror. This is the dictionary meaning of genocide: “The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.” What is happening in Gaza today is a genocide against Palestinians – and what, some may legitimately claim, has been happening in and around an expanding Israel for decades now is a kind of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stepped down on October 28 over the organisation’s limited response to the war on Gaza, noted in an interview: “Usually the most difficult part of proving genocide is intent because there has to be an intention to destroy in whole, or in part, a particular group. In this case, the intent by Israeli leaders has been so explicitly stated and publicly stated – by the prime minister, by the president, by senior cabinet ministers, by military leaders – that that is an easy case to make. It’s on the public record.”

Why is it then that the United States and other Western nations are failing to condemn genocide as genocide? Why is it that people who accused religious Muslims of not condemning “Islamist terror” strongly enough are not even using the word “genocide” to describe what is happening in Gaza, or the expression “ethnic cleansing” to describe its larger context and purpose?

Even when US President Joe Biden finally spoke of the need for a humanitarian pause, he did not do so in the context of the on-going slaughter of Palestinian civilians: he wanted a pause to get the hostages out of Gaza, so that presumably, afterwards, Israel forces could continue their bombardment of refugee camps and civilian homes. But surely, just as it is totally wrong of Hamas to hold civilians as hostages, it is totally wrong of Israel to bomb civilians.

The argument that Hamas is “hiding behind civilians” does not cut ice, as Gaza is a thickly populated and small tract of land. The only way Hamas could operate outside civilian areas would be if its militants essentially lined themselves up against the border with Israel in the open desert. This, it appears to me, they are unlikely to do.

But, yes, Israel does have a point too. Hamas has needlessly endangered the citizens it ought to have protected. Israel, with its Zionist policies, endangers its citizens too, but it has ways by which to protect them: safe rooms, bunkers, a vastly powerful army, and above all Big Brother America who does not just watch but intervenes when required.

What does Hamas have?

Tunnels under Gaza to hide in while Palestinian civilians do not even have that? If Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should be taught a lesson by the electorate for his viciousness and failures, so should Hamas – and its vacuous backers, like Iran – be held accountable for giving Zionists a convenient excuse to perpetrate this genocide.

Hamas spokesmen seem to argue that their terror attack brought the matter of Palestine back on the global agenda. But their desperate October 7 incursion lost them much support – such as that of Thailand, whose innocent workers in Israel were killed or kidnapped – and laid Palestinians open to devastation.

It is easy to get carried away by all those zombie shows on CNN discussing how the terror attack had been planned. The October 7 attack was not just brutal, it was as little thought out as the current bombing of Gaza. It worked because Netanyahu and Co, having allowed Hamas to survive as a political force that gave them strategic advantages, had simply not expected it to do something so dramatically brutal.

That Hamas had no real political strategy in mind is underlined by the fact that they do not even seem to know where all their hostages are and did not have the political vision to spare or release citizens from non-combatant nations, such as Thailand.

Apart from the genocide that is being perpetuated, the most that Hamas’s terror attack will achieve is a greatly truncated and hobbled “Palestinian state”, which will not be allowed by Israel and the West to prosper or survive. It will just be a conscience-clearing exercise by the West, once the genocide is over, so that when it folds up in 50 or 70 years, they can say, well, what can we do? The Zionists will snicker: We said so.

But just as (white) Americans and Palestinians need to think about who leads them into the future, so do Israelis. Do they want to be led by people who can only imagine Israel as a military state in perpetual danger from its neighbouring spaces? Do they want to be represented by people who dishonour the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust by applying the term “anti-semitic” to anyone who simply wants a fair chance and an honourable life for Palestinians? No one else can answer these questions for Israelis, Palestinians, or Americans.

Tabish Khair, the author of several books, is an associate professor in the Department of English, University of Aarhus, Denmark.