Here’s a saddening example to start us off: An eight-year-old girl is among those being mocked and assaulted by religious extremists in Israel.
She is being treated as less than human, and undeserving of decency and dignity, and this is wrong.
Naama herself is Jewish, and goes to a religious school, but she is not part of the ultra-Orthodox community. These Haredi Jews hold to the strictest, most conservative interpretation of Jewish law, and object to Naama’s “immodest” form of dress – which includes “long sleeves and a skirt”.
Regardless of the nature of their objection to what seems (to me) entirely reasonable behaviour and unremarkable attire, these extremists’ methods of expressing themselves include calling an eight-year-old child a whore, spitting on her, and throwing rocks at journalists who come to report on the case.
The othering techniques being used by the religious extremists in this case are clear. The children attending this school are probably not even making their own decisions about how to dress; expecting them to already adhere to your own set of principles is unreasonable, and abusing them for this difference is unconscionably cruel. But they’re part of an out-group, and so these zealots have conveniently labelled them all in their minds as undeserving of decent, humane treatment. Because they’re of a different religion, it’s easy to dismiss their autonomy, and rationalise any suffering laid upon them as merited.
Unsurprisingly, this rationalisation is easily extended to anyone connected to these young people, regardless of their motivations or diversity of views. Children, parents, journalists: they’re all the enemy, a big homogeneous mass of other.
Looking in the other direction, I disagree with the Israeli cabinet minister who described the religious extremists in question as “psychopaths“. I suspect (from an admittedly uninformed standpoint) that it’s unlikely that most of them possess that particular personality disorder. They’re human beings too, who’ve arrived at what seems to us a bizarre set of priorities, and who have successfully dehumanised these children in their minds to an extent that enables them to commit extreme cruelty, while distancing themselves from any feelings of guilt. This, sadly, is all too natural a set of human behaviours, and by no means requires any abnormal mental health condition.
Nobody in this story is a monster. There are no “others”. They’re all just people.