REFLECTIONS ON NICK COHEN'S NEW
Revised 30 November 2006
This is a reply to an article in the New Statesman that is reprinted under it for ready reference. The article was thought to be remarkable enough to be the subject of what you can also turn to below, a piece in The Independent on Sunday. The reply is a full one -- but you can instead turn to a short one published by the New Statesman.
1. WHAT SORT OF ARTICLE?
Mr Cohen's article on me, which is below and which you might read now as well as later, reports in its first paragraph that a book of mine of 1976, Three Essays on Political Violence, says we should overcome squeamish liberal objections to violence of the Left and consider it as a means of saving Africans and others from short and awful lives -- save them from the violence of poverty.
There is no such recommendation in the book. There is no lack of what Mr Cohen speaks of as squeamishness about violence.
"...should anyone persist in regarding the effects of violence as no more than calculable expenses to be paid for the march of history, it will be as well to assert what should need no asserting, that here too we find facts of human experience. Bombs injure, maim, and kill. They end or devastate the lives of their first victims and they bring agony or ruin to the lives of their second victims, those who suffer through others being injured, maimed, or killed. The effects of explosions are not only those effects of which we find details in our newspapers. A man who is a blinded or a girl who loses a hand lives on, and, for everyone who is killed, there are others who continue to be affected." (p. 9)
The last sentence of the book is this:
"The deprivation and degradation that call up violence should never be absent from thought and feeling, and not so present in them as to obscure other terrible realities" (p. 116).
But no doubt the book can be taken to imply the question of the use of violence as a general means of saving Africans and others from deprivation and degradation. It does not, as Mr Cohen suggests, recommend such an answer, actually draw a reader towards one. It implies a willingness to see if there is one. A negative answer to the question has since then often been given by me. There is no departure from it in my current book, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7..., which prompted Mr Cohen's piece on me but is not mentioned in it.
As for the once modish idea that poverty is itself violence, or that to leave people in poverty is itself to do violence to them, the 1976 book nowhere accepts, tolerates or mentions it. That idea of what was called structural violence, Marxist in origin, when looked at by me in another book, presumably also on Mr Cohen's shelves, was of course rejected by me. As for the claim or utterance that not alleviating poverty is a kind of complicity with murder, no writing of mine has ever had in it any suggestion of it. What does the claim or utterance mean, by the way? Is that real murder or some other murder? Structural murder?
It is true that I did not concern myself in my book with the revolutionary violence in Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China, or with any other such large political facts, my three subjects being otherwise. However, if I did not dwell on the promotion of Stalin and Mao of the equality of the mass grave, or any other mass graves, I was pretty good at something else, which is the equality of graves. They include many other graves, including early graves, and small graves for children.
These are not the largest objections to Mr Cohen's article, but they do come to mind and raise a question. What sort of article is this? Is it by a man on a mission, hurrying somewhere, keen to do a job for a cause, or on a cause? Maybe for a very personal cause? Is there rather too much passion here, passion that makes mistakes? Passion having to do with his own fervent moral justification of the war on Iraq, those endless deaths of innocents and others, in which I think he persists? Passion having to do with now being an isolated and left-over figure among journalists on account of that justification, as he remarks himself?
Is the article also something else? Is it an instructive case, instructive as to a general truth? Is it worth studying in order to come to a better judgement on a cause, a better understanding of the worth of a cause? It is by a journalist of note, one who also writes books.
2. AN ORDINARY PROPOSITION ABOUT NEO-ZIONISM
The second paragraph of Mr Cohen's article -- I shall try to make my way through all of them in order since my hope is to make more than the usual reply open to retort -- is that 30 years after that 1976 book, in a changed world, I have not changed. I am maintaining that "9/11 and all that has happened since are a payback for our sins of commission and omission".
As for my being a left-over figure myself, in a world transformed since 1976, I confess that my line of life, the philosophical, is one of those that have never been much given to an attitude so common among political journalists, one of the things called realism. It is the attitude that great and other changes in political reality are in themselves proofs, that they establish truth of every kind.
I have never had a moment's dalliance with Marxism, unlike various persons now reformed and given to the idea that their past somehow confirms the validity of their different presents. But I have never thought that the Fall of a Wall refuted the propositions of Marx, Engels & Co., not for a moment. Victory in war, cold or hot, the triumph of national or wider interest by means of war, is not in itself argument. Nor have I been in danger of thinking, since then, that the hegemony of America justifies its moral ignorance, its victims in its own society, the war and aftermath in Iraq of Bush, Blair and Mr. Cohen.
There have been other reasons for persisting with reflection on violence. One hope of this reflection has been and is to make clearer and get heard a judgement of how bad things are in our own societies and elsewhere, how against humanity. You can try to do this by showing that the ordinary objections against violence to change these things are weak or worse -- and further that the different and strong objections to violence presuppose and hence support the very judgement of inhumanity that is the aim of the reflection.
By way of illustration, an argument against some violence from the premise of the recommendation of our method of democracy is weak, and does not much reduce the judgement as to the inhumanity. It is rightly replaced by an objection from the very predictable use of counter-violence by our hierarchic democracies, a counter-violence that makes clearer what our democracies are guilty of defending. You can see more of the nature of a socity by contemplating violence to change it, reflecting on what is really to be said against it, what a society or rather its beneficiaries will fight back for.
This is a little speculative, maybe not clear enough. Something else is different. Attend to the utterance in Mr Cohen's paragraph that I am still maintaining that "9/11 and all that has happened since are a payback for our sins of commission and omission". This vague argot about what I maintain about 9/11, the Iraq War and the 7/7 attacks in London, like more vagueness to which we will come, whether or not intended to forward a mission or a passion, is not in sight of my views. This loose talk is remote from them, antithetical to them.
My views, as Mr Cohen is entirely aware, have to do in part with neo-Zionism, the taking from the Palestinians at least their freedom in the last one-fifth of their historic homeland, the homeland of which they are the indigenous people, that final violation. One view is to the effect that American and British policies and actions, and neo-Zionism, have been a part, one part, of the explanation of 9/11 and of a good deal else.
They have of course not been the whole explanation. They have been necessary conditions rather than a sufficient condition. Certainly they have been necessary conditions of particular significance. Some of them have been the kinds of necessary conditions that sometimes, pretty ordinarily, are called root causes. In my view, to repeat, they have not been more than that.
This ordinary proposition, also a proposition about shares of moral responsibility, is very likely held by an overwhelming majority of of human beings, and still more of those who are tolerably well informed. The only significant group not holding it are very many Americans, deprived of the possibility of intelligent judgement by their ignorance. A lesser group of people, including Jewish people who have not sufficiently detached themselves from the neo-Zionism they do not actually avow, evidently must believe the ordinary proposition, despite not saying so, since they are informed people of ordinary judgement.
I have need to emphasize, given what is to come, one large accusation in particular, that the ordinary proposition of explanation and responsibility is of course not expressed by the talk in Mr Cohen's second paragraph of "9/11 and all that has happened since being a payback for our sins of commission and omission". This is also worth emphasizing for another and more general reason. The effect of the loose talk, however much intended, is to discredit or put in question the ordinary proposition.
Overstatement of an opponent's position is often enough the first recourse of a less than honourable participant in discussion. Overstatement is not inquiry. It is not argument. It used not to be the way of the New Statesman. It is not the way of proceeding of people actually concerned to have their possibly faulty thinking dissected by an available professor.
Let us pass by Mr Cohen's confidence about irrationality and rationality of political causes, his knowledge of which goes without explanation here. Let us also pass by his reports on the professor's person and dramatic poses, which may influence innocent readers of the New Statesman but not instruct them, and of course his news of a career grade not heard of until now in the university hierarchy, that of retired emeritus professor.
3. A TELEVISION PROGRAMME
We come to a television programme made as a reply to a programme of mine. Mine was "The Real Friends of Terror" in the Don't Get Me Started series on channel five. The reply was "No Excuses for Terror", by another journalist, Mr David Aaronovitch.
If Mr Cohen's detail about my marching up and denouncing the second programme is false, I confess to a lingering interest in the programmes, never having made one before. What is also false is that I ever was or am now furious that a different point of view had been aired.
On the contrary, I was and remain pleased. I have a record of defending the expression of diverse opinions, as my own unpopular opinions might lead you to expect. But I also supposed that comparison of the two programmes would be enlightening. It was. Indeed you can find my pleasure and its grounds expressed in something else to which you can sometime turn, my personal look at the two programmes. That look, you will guess, in Mr Cohen's words, is the closely-typed, 16-page attack on Mr Aaronovitch which I pressed into Mr Cohen's hands and now press into yours.
The falsehood about fury is not of the greatest importance, except in connection with the innocent readers. Nor is Mr Cohen's selection of one adverse review of the first programme, by a television critic in The Guardian -- to which review, among the very many neutral ones, there were quite a few antidotes.
"Ted Honderich offers his view of who are "The Real Friends of Terror", and there are no prizes for guessing who he thinks they are. Of course not everyone would or could agree entirely with Honderich's provocative arguments, but impressively he grants air-time to those who disagree with his conclusions, and it is worth tuning in if only to be familiarised with his Principle of Humanity." Financial Times
"Not merely a rant this week as philosophy professor Ted Honderich offers his thoughts on the causes of terrorism. He suggests the West's support of Israel encouraged the violence seen on 11 September and in subsequent attacks, before discussing suicide bombers with Liberal Democrat Jenny Tonge." Independent on Sunday
"This entertaining series of rants comes to an end with moral philosopher Ted Honderich's controversial assertion that Israel is ultimately to blame for the events that led to 9/11. More likely to get you hot under the collar than earlier editions. His argument is fascinating, but, to my mind at least utterly flawed." The Observer
"After the witterings of Ann Widdecombe and Selina Scott, this slot finally comes of age with a nicely argued film about terrorism, written and presented by the philosopher Professor Ted Honderich. He contends that we all share degrees of moral responsibility for the terrorism that afflicts our modern world and that "it's not just the terrorists who need to change or be changed". He sets his sights firmly on Tony Blair and George Bush as "friends of mass terror", but, unlike the recent Stewart Lee programme, he at least brooks some opposition to his thesis." Sunday Times
Is this quoting on my part vanity, of which Mr Cohen can try to make use in his further thinking? No doubt there is some of that in it. There is also something else. If you are engaged in a debate with someone who makes use of your haircut and whatever else to seek to diminish your arguments, a happy selectivity, mainly useful mistakes of fact, it may be excusable to reduce the effect on the innocent. Also, the falsehood about fury at the Aaronovitch programme and the chosen review of mine are possible indications of Mr Cohen's probity and the like with larger and certainly important matters.
Do you wonder what reason I had for bringing along my 16 pages for my interviewer who had in advance promised and warned me of a grilling by him? My reason was that my look at the two programmes might aid him in writing his piece and not getting me wrong. It might aid him in avoiding what was probably the principal shortcoming of the Aaronovitch programme. That was indeed exactly that loose talk of which you have heard in connection with Mr Cohen, about explanation, parts of explanations, necessary as against sufficient conditions, shares of responsibility, and so forth.
4 FREE AND EQUAL EXPRESSION OF OPINION
There is something of greater importance in this neighbourhood. It is a matter taken up in a piece by a journalist and author of definitely a different sort, Richard Ingrams. It was he who spoke of Israel's Fifth Column. Evidently he was aware that the expression of opinion, the maintaining of balance, must of course be an equal or fair provision of opportunity for expression.
Mr Cohen might spend some words, not on my haircut, my dramatic poses, the illusion of my fury, a bad review, or on my bringing along some reading for him, but on something else. He might explain why there has been no Palestinian response to "The Real Friends of Terror".
If my programme condemns neo-Zionism and justifies Palestinian terrorism against this ethnic cleansing in historic Palestine, it also does something else. It justifies Zionism, the taking of four-fifths of historic Palestine from the indigenous people of it, the Palestinians. If I remember rightly, the programme defends the Jewish terrorism that contributed to the founding of Israel. Certainly I do so elsewhere. The Palestinians have a word to say about all that, as indeed do others on their behalf.
5 AN INTERVIEW
To revert to incidentals, if indicative incidentals, Mr Cohen remembers that he tried to calm me down and otherwise did his best to deal with a difficult character off his leash. Mr Cohen's history of the our meeting is at least partial and tendentious.
It was he who was emotional, obsessed, spluttering, in need of calming and maybe restraint. Somebody else remarked on that. Since we are to have from him some psychoanalytic or such-like insights, maybe there is room here for the interpretation that his carry-on was owed to a fact he reports, noted above. It is that his world from The Independent to the Daily Mail is asserting with various degrees of vehemence that his vehement moral justification of the war in Iraq has been and is -- what? -- well, faulty thinking to be dissected by a professor.
In any case, it was Mr Cohen who failed to conduct an interview at all, but instead sought to belabour his chosen subject with dim definitions and empty denunciations. Polite bafflement was not his way of proceeding at all. Opining, presuming, interrupting and hectoring is what he attempted to do and did some of. Listen is what he didn't do. Understand is what he was not in a fit state to do.
To go in for a little more couch-work myself, he says he found himself in front of an academic more used to giving lectures than listening to them. That is an utterance very apposite indeed, a Cohenic slip, an utterance that may have something to do with Mr Cohen's having tried to give a lecture to someone he wanted to listen to it and whom he was supposed to be listening to.
6 FASCISM AND A HOWLER
Come now to the matter of our speaking of fascism in connection with something or other having to do with Islam. Mr Cohen reports that he asked me a question having to do with the fact that the Iranian ayatollahs, al-Qa'ida and the Muslim Brotherhood are organizations which have "incorporated parts of classical fascist tradition". What Mr Cohen reports, that he asked that question, is false. As a journalist armed with a tape recorder, which I was not, he can check this and let us know, let us have the tape.
What happened, rather, is that he referred in a somewhat familiar way to something that I think he called "Islamo-Fascism" or something of the sort. That is, he referred to something or other having to do with Islam as a kind of fascism. My head certainly did not shoot back as a result, instead, of a measured utterance that something or other "incorporated parts of a classical fascist tradition". It was I, not he, who said, subsequently, that consistently with denying the Islamic thing to be a kind of fascism, you could of course find similarities between any two political movements, parts in common. You could do so, say, between fascism and conservativism. Mr Cohen's opening question to me was informed by no such care.
That it was not, but was exactly another piece of talk and assumption that might predispose the innocent, was precisely one cause of our dispute about the matter. Another was what I have been indicating to you already, that it was unclear in the beginning what Islamic thing was supposed to be fascist. It was not I who conflated al Queda and Islam, made that crass howler, or conflated Islamism, whatever that is, and Islam, but I who was trying to figure out what Mr Cohen was to be taken as talking about. He is not entirely subject to the idea that words are a means of communication.
When it came to seem that he was talking of al-Qa'ida, I did indeed say "I'm happy to take the correction. Rewrite the thing in terms of al-Qa'ida". What I meant, and could hardly have been taken to mean otherwise than, and what I am perfectly happy to assert again, is that if somebody turns out to to be talking about al-Qa'ida, however much is to be said against that supposed unitary thing, and they then say it is a kind of fascism, that is a piece of of labelling that does not advance inquiry or argument. It is at the level of intelligence of the New Labour party.
As remarked by me elsewhere, fascism was not religious. Further, in particular, it was not Islamic. It was narrowly national, consisting in nationalisms, despite an alliance. It was attached to parts of the German, Italian and Spanish cultures. It was without the evident and large component of humanity in Islam. It was hostile to equalities. It had a conception of a master race. It had pretentious intellectual and cultural roots. It had a different conception of leadership. It made use of sexual imagery. It was responsible for the Holocaust.
The plain fact is that al-Qa'ida, whatever is to be said against it, lacks more features of fascism than it possesses. It is less like fascism than is the Radical Right -- which, despite Mr Cohen's journalese, is not the same as fascism. It may be arguable that al-Qa'ida has a little less to do with fascism than does conservativism -- which is certainly not to make conservatism a kind of fascism.
Here is as good a place as any to remark on Mr Cohen's way with what is called the political spectrum -- Right, Centre and Left. This spectrum is now put to much use. Some personnel, inclined or committed to opinions which by a certain ordinary understanding may still be called Right Wing, perhaps for the war in Iraq, say there really isn't a spectrum anymore, that elements of what could be called Left, or Right, turn up in different places. Shades of red among the blues, I guess.
Mr Cohen's principal use of the spectrum is to claim some kind of history, patrimony or present true membership of something on or towards the Left, which helps to enable him to justify the killing in Iraq and so on. This is the stock-in-trade, I would guess from a glance at a website, of the Euston group of thinkers, but my acquaintance with their thinking is slight. In so far as they depend on a proposition about personal history or whatever, they depend on a proposition best described as weightless.
So too, above all, with Mr Aaronovitch in his television programme. He, by the way, now in the wake of Mr Cohen, has refuted my view of his television programme, and I suppose much else, by the mighty cogency of identifying me to readers of The Times as "the strangely fatuous philosopher". My own sense of the spectrum of politics, which I recommend, is in terms of the Principle of Humanity, a subject for another day.
Towards the end of Mr Cohen on fascism, we come to the psychic or other insight about my hesitation as to whether I still call myself a socialist. That insight, maybe, is that I have an emotional connection to the Left, some Left or other, and so am against the Americans and such-like, and thus I have to take as Left the enemies they have, who are in fact a Religious Right. I leave it to you reader, to sort out this couch-work, one sentence of which may take you some time.
I know what I think and feel about Iraq. Iran too. I don't have to delve, really, into what personal history my opinions might have. Neither do you. They have to do with the morality of humanity. It is clearer than the label of socialist, less likely to give rise to hesitation. My reasons won't lead you to think about my past. Try that new book Mr Cohen doesn't mention, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7..., £12.99 on Amazon.
7 ACTS AND OMISSIONS
Leave my crass howler that was my tutorial endeavour to secure concentration on some definite Islamic thing with respect to fascism. Leave too the political spectrum. Leave also my too familiar way of referring to my principal teachers, and in particular to A. J. Ayer, who was spoken of by himself and by all who knew him as Freddie, and to whom I was close enough to be what I am, which is his literary executor.
Come now instead to the paragraph made use of in the New Statesman as a headline for Mr Cohen's piece. In the paragraph it is stated that for me if you don't give money to the Red Cross or Oxfam you are killing Africans as surely as if you had deliberately stopped a food convoy reaching a refugee camp. That statement about me by Mr Cohen is, despite its oddity, as good as false.The headline is as good as false.
Like all those who think and write of the subject of acts and omissions, nearly a multitude now, I do indeed distinguish between -- acts and omissions. I distinguish such acts as killing from such omissions as letting die. To speak of failing to contribute to the Red Cross as killing is to imply, first of all, a kind of intentionality in the omission that obviously is absent. This is consistent, as only a very slow learner will take time to realize, with the possibility and indeed the fact that some omissions are as wrong as some acts, some lettings-die as wrong as some killings. That has been my main concern.
Mr Cohen writes, further, of my taking your not contributing to the Red Cross to be your actually killing Africans -- that in my view "that you may never have given Africa a second's thought is neither here nor there". The first thing to be said about what Mr Cohen writes here is that it is inane.
Among the books I have been churning out is a very revised edition of that 1976 one that has been on my reader's shelves all his adult life. It is Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy. You will find in it, as in an earlier edition, the chapter "Our Omissions and Their Violence", which has much to do with intentionality. It is inane to report this discussion in the line that in your killing Africans you may never have given Africa a second's thought
Perhaps that requires qualification. To proceed in Mr Cohen's way is either not very bright or it is to engage in a responsible disservice to truth, even truth by one's own lights, a disservice by a partisan rather than an inquirer. Or to proceed in his way may be to be both not very bright and also culpable about truth. That one of these three things is the case with someone has a further importance.
As I have remarked, it must reduce one's trust in general, one's trust in anything said. It must reduce one's inclination to be charitable in looking for actual reasons for a cause, say the cause of neo-Zionism, say the cause that is the silence or indefiniteness or qualification of some Jews on the subject of neo-Zionism.
8 AFTER THE TERROR
We come now to After the Terror, another book of mine. It is said by Mr Cohen to begin with heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. World poverty is indeed much of the subject of its first chapter. To anyone whose first language is English, however, it contains no heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. None at all. It contains a lot of figures. Have a look for yourself, reader of the New Statesman. Test any proposition you have heard from me and will hear from me on this present occasion by going to a library.
The first chapter of After the Terror, by the way, should contain some heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. I didn't put them in, I guess, because of thinking someone would say my book started with heart-rending descriptions of world poverty.
Mr Cohen's paragraph about the heart-rending also contains the vagueness of which you have already heard, a stock-in-trade. That is the vagueness about explanation, causation, necessary conditions, sufficient conditions, shares of responsibility and so on. That is exemplified by just saying that someone insinuates that 9/11 was a consequence of the failure of the rich world to tackle malnutrition and disease. We will be hearing the vagueness made use of in an accusation in a moment.
I suppose Mr Cohen's following paragraphs, about al-Qa'ida and famine or AIDs in Chad and Malawi, may be the result of unintentional misunderstanding. What I was agreeing to without reservation was my own argument, more plainly one of my simple propositions, that of course Islamic terrorism is not the result of only the cause of poverty or neo-Zionism, or any like thing offered in defence of themselves by conceivable or actual terrorists. That, I repeat, is my "argument". It is not I who has ever put into play, ascribed to anyone, some absurd simplicity in explanation of 9/11 or anything else. Try Blair for that, and Mr Cohen.
It is worth adding that the plain and ordinary truth that radical Islamist movements are not the result of poverty -- do not have anything like a sufficient condition in poverty -- is consistent with something else. The movements do indeed occur in a context that includes Chad and Malawi, which context enters in a way into their explanation. Mr Cohen, if he read more, say After the Terror, would become better at such necessary distinctions. He is not good at distinctions. He does not have enough of them.
9 ANTI-SEMITIC AND WHY
We come now to what has led me to belabour into clarity the distinction between what I believe and say, along with most of the rest of the world, about the explanation of 9/11, the Iraq war and 7/7, and, secondly, what Mr Cohen says or implies I say.
Two propositions are now assigned to me. "Al-Qa'ida isn't the fault of poverty, it turns out. It's the fault of the Jews." There follows a third and inconsistent proposition, in fact quoted from me, that the prime necessary condition of 9/11 was neo-Zionism. The third and inconsistent proposition does not remove the second one, or, to be more careful, does not remove what is here most important, the effect of the second one.
The effect of the contradiction is uncertainty and more than the raising of a question. It is more than the raising of the question of whether my view of 9/11 is anti-semitic. It is more than the raising of the question of whether I am an anti-semite. Yet more than the raising of the questions is done by what follows, about my sounding a little anti-semitic when I blamed all of a lot of violence on "the Jew".
What Mr Cohen's whole piece pretty much amounts to, then, its burden, when you put aside a lot of stuff, is not a veiled but an unveiled if safeguarded imputation of anti-semitism that is based on a ludicrous falsehood, stated or implied, about my beliefs as to the explanation of 9/11, the weighting of necessary conditions, responsibility, and so on. To this is added the familiar dimness or lowness that I and those like me, more or less the rest of the world, do not distinguish between the Jews and neo-Zionism.
To look back a bit, what were those usual objections he mentioned to the proposition that neo-Zionism is an original and greatly significant cause of the terrorism of which we know and what goes with it? Is one of those usual objections that Canada is so far from Palestine that the latter can have no effect on the former, maybe that there is no action at a distance? Maybe no airmail. Is another one of those usual objections that there are other necessary conditions of the terrorism, maybe the Iranian revolution? Does that rule out neo-Zionism as the original and significant cause of the terrorism?
Does Mr Cohen never light matches? Has he never lit matches? Does he not comprehend the distinctions between the matchhead, the presence of oxygen, and the striking? Does he suppose, also, that it is false that he made the match light by striking it because it would not have lit without the oxygen?
This article is not the work of someone to whom attention needs to be paid. I am sorry to have obliged myself, by a careless undertaking, in a very much better interview with Joy LoDico of The Independent on Sunday to pay it attention. Her interview, by the way, is also to be found below, after Mr Cohen's.
But my being sorry to have spent time on Mr Cohen is mitigated by something else. He does indeed provide us with a good case, an instructive case worth studying, of what can be done for a certain cause, the little that can be done for it. It should increase resolution against that cause.
10 THE OBLIGATION OF JEWS
Should I be rueful now that I crossed some line, some convention of use to neo-Zionism, and touched on the matters of Jews and their obligations and in particular Mr Cohen and his obligation -- Mr Cohen whom I took to be Jewish and still do. I leave to others, by the way, the interpretation of his gnomic or Kabbalistic utterance that he is no more Jewish than is David Aaronovitch.
Rueful I am not. It needs asserting and repeating that it is Jews first of all who must without equivocation condemn neo-Zionism. They can have a little more effect on it than others. They have the special obligation that comes with that fact. They have a special obligation that must overcome the plain fact of special kinship, loyalty and other connection that understandably unites Jews, owed in one part of the history of anti-semitism. They have more obligation than anyone else to resist change away from decent Jewish moral attitudes, to maintain their membership in the high tradition of Jewish realism and compassion -- to resist change in those attitudes owed to the pressure of being Jewish.
They need to look to their proper and great leaders, including leaders of us all, Noam Chomsky at their head. Those who are of a reflective turn of mind need to get onto their bookshelves The Case Against Israel by Professor Michael Neumann. It offers the clarity, perhaps the Jewish clarity, that the Palestinian problem is not complex, not difficult, not a problem. The decent solution is simple, without need for bargaining or hesitation or qualification.
It is, of course, that Israel withdraws immediately, now, without negotiation or any other delay, from the last 5th of the historic homeland of its indigenous people, the Palestinians. To declare that without caveat is the part of Jews actually against neo-Zionism.
11 WALKING OUT OF AN INTERVIEW
The libel of anti-semitism matters greatly, as does the obligation of Jews. What does not, but is worth attending to for the innocent readers, is whether they are to be impressed by Mr Cohen's walking out of the interview, as he implies he did. In fact he didn't. Not at all.
If you walk out of somewhere, like the Security Council or a house or a kitchen, the person or persons left behind know it. Anyway somebody else knows it. That is what walking out is. No one thought Mr Cohen walked out. In fact, I think, the interview ran over the time asked for by him, a half-hour. The debate in which I was to speak at the Battle of Ideas festival in the Royal College of Art, whose starting time he knew, since he had promised in advance to come and refute me in the debate, was about to begin. Its chairman was hovering in the neighbourhood of our table. Mr Cohen has an easy way with facts, both small and large.
I should have thought more about complimenting him on what I thought was right about his book of some time ago, attacking New Labour, and remembered more of it. I should not have given in to a temptation to soften some plain speaking, to be as amiable as possible in disagreement, to coat a pill. It was not much owed to the optimistic idea of a good write-up. I have been aware of Mr Cohen's passion for the righteousness of the killing in Iraq, and been under the impression that he had read my views on that sordid barbarousness from its first conception in the current book which must have occasioned the interview.
12 ANTI-SEMITISM AND A BOOK
Let me again return to something that matters. It is the libel and slander of anti-semitism, and in particular its use against me by Mr Cohen. My concern now is not the supposed basis for it in a ludicrous falsehood about my views, but the thing itself. In this connection, I refer you to that current book.
You will find in it not only condemnation of neo-Zionism, and moral justification of Palestinian self-defence, but also, as I do not hesitate to say, evidently sincere justification of Zionism, the founding and perpetual securing of the state of Israel within more or less its original 1948 borders, including justification of its terrorism. You will find more than that.
You will find pages to which you can be directed by the entry for Jews in general in the index. Four bits of the book, of different kinds, come to mind, the last being the closing lines in the book, having to do with an earlier libel of anti-semitism of which you can read, by one Mischa Brumlik of Frankfurt. You may tolerate my quoting these bits of the book.
"The greatest suffering of a single people in the 20th Century was the killing of something like 6 million Jews by the German state during World War 2. There was some knowledge of this on the part of the German people and no significant resistance. The Holocaust also carried with it humiliation and fear, indeed a denial of all that gives value to human life. It was a manufacturing of what it is insufficient to call bad lives.
No explanation of the Holocaust, in terms of the natures and activities of both non-Jews and Jews, no reasonable idea about exaggeration in connection with the Holocaust, no carelessness about who else died in it, no anti-semitism or Jewish self-criticism, can reduce the overwhelming force of this fact. Nothing makes it less than monstrous.
There is something smaller, if significant, that is now about as clear. It is that at the end of the war, a homeland for the Jewish people ought to have been created out of Germany. It was not the Palestinians who voted for Hitler in a German democracy and then ran the death camps. It was not the Palestinians who for conclusive reasons, quite separate from retribution, should have given more than help to the Jews, more than compensation. It is Germany, beyond question of doubt, out of which a homeland for the Jews ought to have been carved.
A further thing is now as significant and as clear. It is that such a thing was not at the end of the war conceived as a possibility. The right place for a Jewish homeland and sanctuary could not be thought. It was not only not within any range of options in fact considered, but, so to speak, was not a conceivable option. I leave it to others to reflect on the explanation of this fact. That it was a fact, that something did not exist in thinking and feeling, and hence that a possibility did not exist in the world, seems beyond question.
To this absence in thought and hence in reality of a possibility has to be added something that was present in both thought and reality, a kind of necessity. After Belsen and Buchenwald, it was a human necessity that some homeland for the Jews come into being. What I have in mind, as you may guess, is a kind of fact of somehow human and factual necessity as distinct from what there also was, a moral necessity." (pp. 98-9)
"...Israel is now also the homeland of the Jews. A half-century has passed since 1948. A homeland has come into being. Its human existence is a reality entirely independent of whatever can be said of an ancient past. It has come into being and lives of Jewish people are in it, including the lives of many so honourably and courageously opposed to the neo-Zionism of their state. They have human rights there. They can weep too. Something of the lives of many Jews who are not there is also there.
Whatever was true and right in 1948, a matter of judgement to which we are coming, the lives of the Jews in Israel are now deep in a land. Their identity is there, their desires, their hopes. So is the past that was the Holocaust. They have now endured where they are. Their great goods as a people are there. They have escaped discrimination there. Their self-respect, their relationships and their culture are bound up in or with the place. There is sacredness in this fact too." (pp. 104-5)
"To this certainly can be added something else for those who lack my faith. In World War 2, Jews in the Warsaw ghetto fought to the end. They fought hopelessly, it is still said. They could not hope to live. They bring to mind that there can be a realism in what is hopeless. You can fight, rightly, not for yourself or your time, but for those who come after you. The Jews did so. The Palestinians can." (p. 110)
"It is my own view that the libel of anti-semitism is principally a side of neo-Zionism or a want of perfect detachment from it. The libel is useful in trying to take more Palestinian land. You, reader, are in a position to know something of whether you have been in the company of an anti-semite, what Brumlik called a Jew-hater. Think back on what you have heard. I trust you, and truth." (p. 187)
I come to an end. Mr Cohen's couch-work in the last three paragraphs of his piece and more travesty about claims of fault, and whatever else, do not call up more effort on my part. I leave them to you. As for the mentioned philosopher at the Open University, you will find his thinking and feeling about After the Terror at the website called Democratiya. I will not be making the mistake of undertaking to reply to it.
Is some conclusion on Mr Cohen required?
You have heard some superiority expressed by me. Is it to be taken as an idea of the superiority of an academic to a journalist? It is not. I do not believe in any such general superiority. Nor, being sane, do I suppose for a moment that in the division of labour with large questions of right and wrong, journalism is less important than philosophy. Robert Fisk and others like him are more important to our human hopes than the likes of me.
Rather, I have expressed the superiority of that ordinary logic of intelligence, readily found in decent journalism, as against any carry-on that lacks the virtues of this logic, these being clarity and in particular analysis, consistency and validity, and completeness. This ordinary logic, not only when actual inquiry is in question, is indeed superior to something else. That, in the case of Mr Cohen, is at best a shabby piece of work, open to easy refutation that becomes tedious quickly. It consists in refutation by haircut, argument by enunciation, instruction by evasion, proof by intonation, demonstration by naming, truth by word-smithing. I have, despite wanting to make more than a reply open to retort, and Mr Cohen's piece being an instructive instance of a kind of thing, gone on too long about it.
Do you want in the end to have from a former emeritus professor a mark or grade for Mr Cohen's essay? Something light-hearted about the dark matter of journalism in England in support of the terrorism of neo-Zionism? Well, have what you want. I am a little out of touch with undergraduate examining. I am easily saved, however, in my estimate of the Jews, from thinking Mr Cohen in particular to be a supernatural figure. But a mark, a mark. I suppose something in the lower Betas, maybe a Gamma, in the marking scheme for first year undergraduates in some course or other. Maybe Sports Science. Something like that.
26 November, 2006
TIME OUT WITH NICK COHEN
THIS WEEK: TED HONDERICH
Monday 20th November 2006
FOR TED HONDERICH, IF YOU DON'T GIVE MONEY TO OXFAM OR THE RED CROSS, YOU ARE KILLING AFRICANS AS SURELY AS IF YOU HAD DELIBERATELY STOPPED A FOOD CONVOY REACHING A REFUGEE CAMP
I've had Professor Ted Honderich's books on my shelves all my adult life. I won't pretend to reach for them often, but the argument of his 1976 essays on violence has stayed with me. Inequality kills, it runs. The poor have shorter lives than the rich, not only in famine-ridden Saharan hell-holes but in Europe and North America, too. We should, therefore, overcome squeamish liberal objections to the violence of the left and consider the possibility that it might end the greater violence of poverty. Honderich did not dwell on the record of revolutionary violence in Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China in promoting the equality of the mass grave. Nevertheless, it struck me that his claim - that our failure to alleviate poverty was a kind of complicity with murder - stood up.
Thirty years on, and the world has been transformed. In the Seventies, there were revolutionaries from Peru to Cambodia. Today, with the exception of the Maoists of Nepal, no radical movements of the far left are close to seizing power. Everything has changed except Ted Honderich, who is churning out books on how 9/11 and all that has happened since are a payback for our sins of commission and omission. I can't say I'm a fan. I am hugely suspicious of the belief that irrational movements have rational causes, but maybe I'm wrong. Everyone, from The Independent to the Daily Mail, is saying so, asserting with varying degrees of vehemence that we are the "root cause" of Islamist violence. Who better to dissect my faulty thinking than University College London's former Grote professor emeritus of the philosophy of mind and logic?
Our meeting began badly and got worse. I had arranged to talk to him at a conference at the Royal College of Art in London's museum district: a bland, modernist building overshadowed by the exuberantly gothic Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums. The college is an anonymous place where it is easy to miss people, but there was no missing Professor Honderich. Six foot five inches and 73 years old, he was all flowing grey hair and dramatic poses as he marched up to me and began to denounce a Channel 5 documentary by Times columnist David Aaronovitch. I hadn't the faintest idea what he was going on about, but so vigorous were his condemnations that I assumed he had been pilloried.
Only later did I learn that Honderich himself had made a documentary for the channel (which The Guardian described as a "fatheaded" attempt to blame Islamist terrorism on "almost everyone but Islamist terrorists"). The station's controllers then commissioned Aaronovitch to argue that you couldn't make excuses for terror. At no point did he mention Honderich. Nevertheless, the professor was furious that a different point of view had been aired.
It took me a while to work that out, and I responded with polite bafflement when he pressed a closely typed, 16-page attack on Aaronovitch into my hands. I glanced at it and saw the professor was suggesting that Aaron ovitch was a part of "Israel's fifth column". I should have realised then that I was in front of an academic who was more used to giving lectures than listening to them.
What interested me, I said, as I tried to calm him down, was that in the Seventies, when he had originally argued that revolutionary violence may be justified, there actually were movements of the revolutionary left. Now, nearly all the violent threats to the status quo come from the far right. Did it make a difference to him that the proponents of violence were the Iranian ayatollahs, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, organisations which had incorporated parts of classical fascist tradition?
At the mention of fascism, the professor's head shot back. "Fascist tradition? I think that's an amazing utterance as a matter of fact. It's an utterance, by the way, which is gone for by the makers of that Aaronovitch programme . . ." Dear God, the man was obsessed. I stemmed the flow by doing what I suspect few of his students have dared do and interrupting.
"Er, yes, fascist, they want to oppress women, kill homosexuals, promote Adolf Hitler's Jewish conspiracy theory, abolish democracy, establish an empire . . . surely you admit this is the radical Right dressed up in religious robes?"
He didn't, of course, and couldn't. When I had asked if he still called himself a socialist, there had been a long pause - a very long pause - before answering that he remained a member of the Labour Party "in the hope of one day getting rid of Blair". I began to understand the reasons for his hesitation. If you make a positive commitment to left-wing politics, you have to stand with your comrades in, say, Iran or Iraq against their persecutors. You don't explain away the religious Right with "root-causery".
"First, fascism is a nationalist movement," he began as he went through his comforting checklist. "Second, it has a leader principle, and there's nothing like a leader principle in Islam. Fascism lacks, above all, the overwhelming element of humanity; there is a humane element, a humanity element, in Islam. The idea that al-Qaeda or Islam is properly called fascist is really an extraordinary idea and is, if you will allow me to say so, an attempt to cook the books against al-Qaeda and Islam."
His voice was as monotonous as a metronome and it was only after a minute that I shook myself and noticed that he was conflating Islamism and Islam. I have my problems with the accusations of Islamophobia that are thrown around so freely. I can develop phobias about any religion which places the supposed dictates of its God, or gods, above the laws of free parliaments. But I fully accept that to say all the world's 1.5 billion, or so, Muslims support jihadism or salafism is false and prejudiced. Yet here was a former emeritus professor of logic, a philosopher who drops the names of his friends "Freddie" Ayer and Stuart Hampshire, making a crass howler. I pointed this out.
He boomed back: "I'm happy to take the correction. Rewrite the thing in terms of al-Qaeda."
No chance, I thought, and moved on to his philosophy. Honderich is a consequentialist. That is, he believes that the consequences of a decision or failure to make a decision are more important than motives. For Honderich, if you don't give money to Oxfam or the Red Cross, you are killing Africans as surely as if you had deliberately stopped a food convoy reaching a refugee camp. That you may never have given Africa a second's thought is neither here nor there.
After the Terror, his response to 9/11, begins with heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. The insinuation is that he believes that the attacks on New York and Washington were a consequence of the failure of the rich world to tackle malnutrition and disease.
"Surely, you don't believe that," I say. "Al-Qaeda has no connection to famine in Chad or Aids in Malawi."
Surprisingly, given the space he devoted to the state of sub-Saharan Africa, he accepts my argument without reservation. "I think that's the kind of utterance we've really got to fight against. To say that radical Islamist movements are the result of poverty is the last thing I would say."
Al-Qaeda isn't the fault of poverty, it turns out. It's the fault of the Jews. "With respect to 9/11, its prime necessary connection is neo-Zionism. Not the establishment of Israel but the expansion of Israel into the last fifth of historic Palestine and I stick to that absolutely."
I put the usual objections, that we've had Ba'athism, the Iranian revolution and al-Qaeda campaigns from the Philippines to his native Canada. Wasn't he worried that he was sounding a little anti-Semitic when he blamed all this violence on a filthy little war over a patch of land on the eastern Mediterranean? Wasn't he once again turning the Jew into a supernatural figure responsible for half the violence on the planet? He wouldn't accept that. Nor would he accept that he had switched from defending the far left to defending the far Right. "There is a great deal of continuity in my work," he said with orotund satisfaction. "There is, and I'm perfectly happy about that." He was "delighted" not to be like "a lot of people, of whom perhaps you are one, who have managed, as you would say, to educate yourself and change your views under various pressures. One of them, by the way, is the pressure of being Jewish."
This was getting ridiculous. I'm no more Jewish than is David Aaronovitch. You don't have to be Jewish to oppose psychopathic Right-wing movements. You just need to have had an education in the anti-fascist tradition.
But there was no stopping him. Not only Jews in general, but me in particular were responsible for mass murder.
"Everything is very dark at the moment and you are making a contribution to it. The world is ever darker. It's a shitty place now and you are also responsible, [you] bear a part of the responsibility for 9/11 and 7/7." Without pausing for breath, he added: "I liked your book, by the way, on new Labour."
Old hands at interviewing never walk out. But I'm new to this and was overcome by the urge to escape. More than anything else, I was unnerved by his ability to denounce me one minute and flatter me the next. "Well, I've got another one on the way," I said. "And, trust me, you won't like it."
With that, I headed off, past the posturing mannequins of the Victoria and Albert Museum, past the fossilised dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum and into the welcome embrace of the dangerous city. It was only when I was making my way home through Tavistock Square that I realised the "root cause" of the errors of Honderich and those like him. In a review of After the Terror for the online journal Democratiya, Jon Pike, a philosopher with the Open University, told me something I hadn't realised about the 7/7 attacks. The bus bomb in the square exploded just round the corner from Honderich's University College. Emails flew across the net, as academics checked that the bomber hadn't killed their colleagues. All the philosophers survived to carry on speculating. University College's sole fatality was Gladys Wundowa, a Ghanaian cleaner and charity worker.
If Honderich could have brought the bus bomber Hasib Hussain back to life and asked him what kind of society he had murdered her to create, what would he have said? If that sounds too speculative, look at the societies being created by the movements Honderich explains away as the fault of others. Would feminists, socialists, liberals, religious minorities and atheists be happy living in a Palestine ruled by Hamas rather than Fatah, or modern Iran, or Afghanistan, if al-Qaeda and the Taliban come back, or Iraq if the "insurgents" win? Would emeritus professors?
It's a poor consequentialist who can't think about consequences. Honderich can't because, I think, the emotional consequences of admitting that not all the darkness of the world is the fault of the west would be too great for him to endure.
This article first appeared in the New Statesman.
by Joy LoDico
The Independent on Sunday
19 November 2005
Journalist Nick Cohen has not had the last word afer his curious interview with Ted Honderich in the latest New Statesman. Cohen went to challenge Honderich, the Grote Professor Emeritus of Mind and Logic at University College London, about the post-9/11 world, but walked out halfway through the interview and penned a point0scring and antagonistic report of the meeting. Honderich was unimpressded with Cohen, likening his abhility to grasp the issues as equal to that of "a first year undergraduate". Cohen, also a columnist with The Observer, stated from the start that he took issue with Honderich's view that the West bears some blame for the rise of terrorism.
Honderich now intends, at the least, to print a "full response" to the piece on his website. "He (Cohen) is either not very bright or he is a partisan, seemingly a malign one, or quite conceivably both," says Honderich. "I've been interviewed, say, 100 times, and I've never experience a non-interview like that one. It consisted of him blustering on about Islamofascism. In the end I decided not to be 'interviewed' by this character but tostick in some of my own words along the way. It was principally him come to lecture the professor. It [the article] is perilously close to the libel of anti-semitism. It would be hard to read the piece without getting that suggestion.
"I am not an anti-Semite and I invite anyone to lay hold of my current book Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7... and consider whether those are the opinions of an anti-Semite."
You can now turn, if you want, to excerpts from the current book, published in the United States under the title Right and Wrong, and Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7.... You can also turn to Ted Honderich's look at the television programme 'No Excuses for Terror' of David Aaronovitch. For other responses to his propositions, in particular his justification of Zionism as against neo-Zionism, go to On Being Persona Non Grata to Some Palestinians Too, and Some Moral Philosophy.
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