The absurdist play The Arsonists, written by Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch and staged in 1958, opens with the middle-class protagonist, a businessman named Biedermann, commenting in exasperation on a wave of arson attacks in the community. The perpetrators reportedly manage to talk their way into people’s homes, take up residence in their attics, then proceed to carry out the destruction of the houses from within. Biedermann doesn’t understand how people can be so trusting and agreeable as to let this happen. “They should hang the lot of them!” he fumes about the firebombers.
No sooner are those words out of his mouth than his maidservant announces that there is a stranger in the hall who came in to get out of the rain and refuses to leave. The maidservant is too intimidated by the hulking stranger to send him away, and Beidermann himself is reluctant to seem insensitive or inhospitable. He offers the stranger, Schmitz, a little bread and wine; soon they are having dinner and cigars together. Schmitz compliments Beidermann both for his “humanity” in taking him in and for his “civic courage” in speaking out against the firebombers.
Through a deft combination of intimidation and persuasion, Schmitz talks his way into spending the night in the attic. Beidermann becomes defensive when his wife is alarmed to learn about the stranger upstairs. “How do you know he’s not an arsonist?” she demands.
“I asked him,” explains Beidermann who, in his concern to avoid seeming like a distrustful or possibly even bigoted person, has rendered himself helpless to address what he senses is a growing threat. As a Greek-style chorus in the play proclaims, “We fail to see clearly / What’s happening right now / Under our noses / Under our roofs.”
As the play unfolds, Biedermann is taken aback to discover a second uninvited stranger in his home, an associate of Schmitz, who is storing oil drums full of petrol in the attic. “Why… why are there suddenly two of you?” sputters Beidermann. He blusters and objects but eventually even helps the interlopers measure a detonating fuse and gives them matches. Though he is well-informed about the plague of firebombings in his community, he simply cannot fathom that this evil has wormed its way into his own home – and the safety and comfort of his prosperous free society has left him neither mentally, physically, nor spiritually equipped to confront it and prevent the inevitable conflagration.
The chorus chants, “The timid are blind, more blind than the blind. / Hoping the evil is not really evil / They welcome the evil. / Defenseless, exhausted by fear, they hope for the best… / Until it’s too late.”
The success of The Arsonists, also known as The Firebugs or The Fire Raisers, established Frisch as a world-class dramatist. In 1965 he was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society, among other awards. Early drafts of the piece had been produced as far back as 1948, in the wake of the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, and so Swiss audiences understood the play as a warning against Communism, but it also has been seen as a metaphor for Nazism and fascism.
In our own time the play obviously resonates with us as a metaphor for the ongoing incursion into the West by millions of immigrants (legal or otherwise) and refugees (legitimate or otherwise) from non-Western cultures whose values are proving incompatible with the liberal democracies of Western nations. Significant numbers of these newcomers seem to have less and less interest in assimilating into their host cultures; this is a recipe for division, unrest, and ultimately, civilizational collapse from within.
Europe has made mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East a centerpiece of its policies for decades, and they are reaping the whirlwind in the form of Muslim no-go enclaves where sharia is the law of the community, the nightly torching of cars in Paris suburbs, bombings in Sweden, surging Jew-hatred and attacks on Christian churches, and an overwhelming rise in rapes and sexual assaults. Instead of cracking down on these criminal elements, European elites force law-abiding citizens to conform to this new normal, such as by arresting citizens who post “Islamophobic” complaints online, and warning women to dress more modestly and stop going out at night.
America, at least since the arrival of the Biden administration, has followed suit, throwing open our southern border to an ongoing tsunami of unvetted migrants. So far, the United States has done a far better job than Europe of assimilating immigrants, but with millions pouring over the border and no end in sight, and a Democrat administration that prioritizes its citizens last and demonizes “whiteness” as society’s greatest threat, a clash of civilizations here is imminent.
But the invasion from beyond the borders of the Western world is only one menace to civilizational stability. Decades of indoctrination in our Left-dominated educational system have nurtured a subversive threat from within by successfully poisoning the minds of at least two generations of students. A disturbing percentage of them have been raised to despise their own culture – what little they know of it – as the repugnant legacy of white supremacy, oppressive colonialism, and capitalist exploitation. Instead, they embrace anti-white racism, violent anti-colonialist “resistance,” and the innocuous-sounding “democratic socialism” as strategies for tearing down the old Eurocentric civilization and erecting a multicultural (not multiracial – America was already multiracial – but multicultural) collectivist paradise on its ruins.
This generational and ideological divide has drawn America and much of the rest of the West into a literal civil war, as revolutionary organizations like the neo-Marxist Black Lives Matter and the anarchic thugs of Antifa have shown not only that they can set cities afire at will (while law enforcement stands by), but that they have captured corporate America’s boardrooms as well. It is a divide that will take a concerted counter-revolution to reverse.
The Fault Line Exposed
Nothing has exposed the depth and breadth of this fault line quite like the October 7th surprise attack in Israel by the terror group Hamas, in which an estimated 1400 innocents were murdered, and the subsequent surge of support for it among young people and the cultural elites throughout the West. In the aftermath of that savagery, which historian Victor Davis Hanson calls “pre-civilizational,” supporters of Hamas and the so-called Palestinian people throughout the Western world – from New York to London to Sydney –made their Jew-hating, genocidal, anti-Western intentions defiantly clear.
Instead of the universal support one might naively expect for unarmed innocents horribly butchered by terrorists, the arsonists among us felt emboldened enough by that slaughter in Israel to celebrate it in the streets, on college campuses, and of course in the online toilet of social media, and then to launch a new pogrom against Jewish students and communities throughout the West.
A reported hundred thousand demonstrators, some waving ISIS flags, packed the streets of London chanting their full-throated support for Hamas’ act of “resistance” against the “colonialist” Israelis. The doors of Jewish residents and shop owners in Paris have been tagged with the Star of David – a chilling echo of the Holocaust. Hundreds of Jew-haters, some waving Palestinian flags and many shouting “Allahu Akbar” – “Allah is greatest” – violently stormed the airport terminal in the Russian Republic of Dagestan in search of Jews arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv. Had they found them, there would certainly have been brutal mob violence. This is just a fraction of examples of unabashed Jew-hatred in the wake of October 7th.
Predictably, the loudest and most radical Western supporters of Hamas’ bloodbath of Jewish “occupiers” were students and far-Left faculty who banded together on college campuses to fly Palestinian (and sometimes ISIS) flags, gleefully share memes of armed paragliders honoring the ones who sailed into a music festival in Israel to lay waste to hundreds of concertgoers, and to raise their voices in the genocidal chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Students among our most elite institutions such as Harvard University, where over 30 student organizations signed a statement declaring they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” proudly expressed their solidarity with the “oppressed” Palestinians and cheered the “military operation” against the “settler colonialists.” Princeton students gathered to chant “Long live the intifada!” – a call for Jewish genocide. Students at George Washington University projected pro-terror, anti-Israel messages such as “Glory to our martyrs” and “Divestment from Zionist genocide now” onto a school library wall. Cornell University professor Russell Rickford proclaimed at a rally that he found the mass murder of Israeli civilians “energizing” and “exhilarating.” Jewish students at NYC’s Cooper Union College were forced to barricade themselves in the library as a bloodthirsty Muslim and leftist mob tried to break down the door to get at them. Other examples of shocking campus Jew-hatred abound.
In response to this vertiginous spike in Jew-hatred, the Biden administration naturally announced it was launching a campaign to combat… Islamophobia.
For years, I and many others – including Doc Emet Productions’ Gloria Greenfield, through her documentary films – have been warning about this fault line, the growing civilizational crisis in the West, broadcasting a clarion call that we are in the fight of our lives. But it was shocking nonetheless to see the terror attack on Israel – like Pandora’s box – release such demonic evil into the world.
A grimly positive perspective on this is that now we know who among us still possesses a shred of humanity, on the one hand, and who celebrates the gang rape, torture, and literal butchery of Jews (in particular) and Western “colonialists” (in general) on the other. The battle lines between good and evil, between love and hate, between civilization and barbarism, between what could be the last generation of Western civilization and the first generation of a new Dark Ages, have been drawn more starkly than ever before. Now there can be no mistake or denial of what we are up against: evil incarnate.
It is impossible to hear or see gruesome details of the massacre of civilians in Israel on October 7th – a date that will live in infamy – without the paralyzing sense that you are staring into The Abyss – the face of true evil. Yes, as the Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn brilliantly noted, the line between good and evil cuts straight through every human heart, and certainly all of us have been guilty at some point or another of bad things.
But the vast majority of us never cross the line into evil. It is a black hole of malevolence that no average person can wrap his or her head around even when faced with it. That innocence is largely a result of the West having elevated itself above the barbarity and selfishness of the past through the civilizing ideals of liberty, individualism, and Judeo-Christian morality. This is a positive evolution for humanity, but it also puts us at a psychological disadvantage when confronted by the kind of atavistic evil on display during the terror attack in Israel. Except for the most battle-hardened warriors in military and law enforcement, most of us, like Beidermann, are unprepared to confront it, and so now our houses are afire.
Those privileged young people who support this evil from their Ivy League dorm rooms are not the revolutionaries they fancy themselves to be; they are just automatons indoctrinated to shed their humanity and hate their political and religious enemies – but they have sufficient numbers and political/cultural power now not to hide it anymore.
What Happens Now?
In response to the terror assault, the Jewish state rightly declared war on the jihadists of Hamas, with Israeli leader Bibi Netanyahu vowing that every single member of the terror organization is now a dead man walking. And predictably, the mainstream media, left-wing politicians, and globalist institutions like the United Nations Security Council that are packed with enemies of the Western world, demanded that Israel exhibit “restraint” in its response and refrain from “disproportionate violence.” Has one of these individuals and global entities ever called for Hamas terrorists to show “restraint”?
What violence is “disproportionate,” by the way, to the burning alive of families, the gang rape of captured females, the beheading of babies and toddlers, the torture of old people, and the kidnapping of hundreds more who live in terror that their beheading will be live-streamed on the internet? What would the anti-Israel Left consider an acceptably “proportionate” response to that? The answer is that the only response the Left considers appropriate is for Israel to sit on its hands and submit to its own extermination.
Seeing the surge of support for – even celebration of – the barbaric evil on October 7th throughout Europe, Australia, and America, it is easy to feel disheartened and believe that it is too late, that we are witnessing a point of no return in the West’s collapse. Like the characters in The Arsonists, the West has been too blind for too long to see the evil, and/or too timid to nip it in the bud. Our political and cultural elites have even welcomed it. Many in the West, like Max Frisch’s character Beidermann, simply could not grasp that things could get this bad, that the evil could be among us. Our civilizational values and prosperity made us soft and tolerant and naive, allowing an infestation of subversives to burrow their patient way deeper into the culture until, lo and behold, they owned it. And now here we are.
For those who think the current surge in enmity against Jews is just another flareup linked to Israeli-Palestinian politics and has no larger implications: as the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks noted, “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.” Having been raised to reject their own culture and to worship “the Other,” the Western supporters of the butchers who came for the Jewish innocents on October 7th will not hesitate to come for all the designated Western “colonialists” whom they deem to be oppressing the purportedly marginalized and powerless black and brown populations. This time it’s civilizational.
The enemies of the West, the arsonists trying to burn our civilization down, believe they are on the right side of history, that victory is inevitable, that their collectivist utopia of equity is within reach if only they wipe away everything that came before in the cleansing fire of social justice retribution. Those among them who dream of a worldwide caliphate are confident they will prevail through demographics alone – “we’re multiplying, and you Westerners aren’t,” they crow, and demography is destiny.
But demography is not irreversible. “Sometimes the fire can be prevented,” the chorus in The Arsonists declares. Yes, it can – but not if we don’t recover a civilizational pride and self-confidence, the courage to stare down evil, and something the West hasn’t had in half a century: the will to win. There are many conservative voices musing aloud that all civilizations rise and fall, and that perhaps it is simply our time to fall. We cannot afford to tolerate this defeatist mindset. Step aside, doomsayers, and let the rest of us fight this war.
And it is a war we can win. Culture-savvy political leaders like Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, conservative activists like Matt Walsh and Christopher Rufo, and grass-roots groups like the parental rights organizations Moms for America, Moms for Liberty, and Parents Defending Education have shown that the defenders of sanity and civilization can fight the arsonists and win.
Our values of tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the like, which can potentially sow the seeds of our own destruction, need not be a suicide pact. The pact we must make to keep our civilization alive is with our ancestors and descendants: to honor and defend the cultural legacy of the former, and to bequeath it to the latter. It is not necessary to jettison our values in order to make a righteous stand against the subversive elements whose goal is the torching of our civilization.
The first step toward starving that fire of oxygen is for the West to ruthlessly evict the arsonists from our attic. This is no small task because their infiltration is deep and wide. We must stop being petrified by accusations of racism (Islam is not a race), of Islamophobia (we are not in the grip of an irrational fear of Islam), and of intolerance (like Beidermann). We must, for starters, begin tightening national borders; deporting the supporters of terrorism among foreign-born visitors and illegal aliens; banning subversive organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups CAIR and the Students for Justice in Palestine; ousting the imams of mosques who promote Jew-hatred and sedition; and overhauling our broken educational system and purging it of radical activists and Marxist tools like Critical Theory. Just as Israel has the moral right not to tolerate the genocidal jihadists of Hamas in its midst, the West has no obligation to tolerate people or ideologies that are actively undertaking our destruction.
On a grander scale, the West must set about reversing its decline in three areas critical for a thriving culture – faith in God, love of country, and commitment to families – and begin rebuilding a culture of confidence in the future.
This is obviously a monumental undertaking that is easier said than done – but the alternative is to hand over our matches to the arsonists.
Originally published at Doc Emet Productions’ Deep Dives Into Critical Issues blog
Follow Mark Tapson at Culture Warrior