An interview with Ted Honderich in the wrong place

The controversy about my After the Terror , which you can read about in The Fall and Rise of a Book in Germany, resulted in a proposal for an interview by what I took to be an ordinary publication connected with an ordinary publishing  house. The editor said he had in the past interviewed such as Chomsky, Boutros-Ghali, Moishe Arye Friedman, Francis Boyle, the two British M.P.'s George Galloway and Clare Short, Menachem Klein, Peter Ustinov, Gore Vidal, and so on. Pretty good company. So  I answered some emailed questions. As it turns out, the National Zeitung is on the extreme Right Wing in Germany. My appearing in it has caused surprise or worse to some German friends and allies. I would not have had anything to do with the publication if I had been better informed, and am sorry I was not. The interview, which appears below, has no syllable of support in it for any Right Wing. You might also look at the last section  of a lecture of mine that touches  on neo-Nazism. The title put on the interview, 'Worse Than Moellemann?', refers to a German politician who resigned as a  result of his criticism of Israel or anti-Semitism, and then died in a strange accident. Will someone inclined  to neo-Zionism now announce that the interview in this unsavoury publication finally proves that I really am an anti-Semite? Will Brumlik, the Holocaust researcher and Frankfurt professor of pedagogy, reveal this proposition in the welcoming columns of the Frankfurter Rundschau? Let us wait and see. But I do not need to wait in order to know something  else. It is that Germans are like the rest of us, and so few of them will  believe such tripe.


Your book After the Terror was called anti-Semitic. What was your response?

My first response was hilarity, and satisfaction about publicity for the book. I rang my Jewish ex-wife to have a laugh -- and my Jewish step-son the next day when Prof. Dr. Habermas declared the book not anti-Semitic. My second response, when Suhrkamp Verlag dropped the book, was rage and grief. It is no good being associated by such an action with gas chambers and desecrated cemeteries. My final response is just that a libel has been made use of in the dirty morals and politics of neo-Zionism, the post-1967 violation of Palestine. I have joined the large company of men and women in fact honoured by the libel. At our head is the great moral judge of this age, Noam Chomsky, a Jew.

Do you think that criticism of Israeli politics is taboo in Germany because of German history?

Certainly the required moral condemnation of neo-Zionism seems to be taboo. This is in a way to the credit of Germany. Some mistakes are to the credit of a people. I have in mind that Germans do not want to do anything that will make racist awfulness more possible. Also, so to speak, they want the credit of their own reformation, which is human enough. But morality isn't simple. What is to the credit of a people may also be wrong. Germans would be heard if they spoke their mind on Palestine. They would get a special hearing on account of their silence so far. As mentioned in my Leipzig lecture, the situation of Germany is like that of someone whose father murdered a woman and because of this is keeping quiet now about an ongoing rape by her son.

What must change in Israeli politics to solve the conflict in the Middle East?

Certainly there is no political solution that will be owed, so to speak, to the Palestinians just giving up their terrorism, announcing that it is all over and the rest is to be talk with Sharon. The rapacity of neo-Zionism, in fact demonstrated by doves as well as hawks among past Israeli leaders, goes against such a thing being a real solution, an end to conflict. Killing will break out again. There could be a political solution, so-called, if America was not so stupid -- I mean made incapable of decent judgement by ignorance. But American hierarchic democracy as it is will not allow the rise of moral intelligence. It isn't in the interest of oil-presidencies and the like.

The 'War on Terror' after September 11, 2001, was a radical change in US foreign policy. What do you think about the new doctrine of preventive war?

The doctrine of preventive war is the doctrine of making war without even traditional good reason. It is attack rather than defence, and attack is almost always wrong. It is, at best, a too humanly costly means to a good end. It is also probable, certainly possible, that preventive war is irrational in the sense of not serving the selfish ends of those who make it. 9/11 illustrated newly the old fact of escalation in human affairs. I have just been through the pretty absurd security stuff in several American airports, taking off my shoes and all that. No doubt it is mainly aimed at persuading terrorists that America must also be doing other more effective things. But nothing is likely to work. It is obvious that if you go in for preventive war -- that departure -- others will also make departures from what has been the norm. Larger departures than shoe-bombing.

What are the consequences of the 'War on Terror' for human rights world-wide?

No doubt there are the consequences of individuals being unfairly treated by being subjected to wrongful suspicion, detained without trial, subjected to torture and near-torture, killed just to try to discourage others. Of course I am against most or all of that. Like a lot of terrorism itself, it is not an effective and economical means of reaching a decent end -- the end of the Principle of Humanity. But this fact of the violation of human rights is actually trival against the violations that our democracies have been engaged in for decades in their ordinary line of business. Every human has a right to a decent length of life. Taking only a certain sample of four African countries, we are letting it happen that there is a loss of 20 million years of living time.

Do you think the 'War on Terror', especially the war on Iraq without legitimation of the UN, has caused increasing anti-Americanism?

There is no doubt about that. Even Americans can see that. How much of the world do they feel like going on holiday in these days? What they don't see is that anti-Americanism is a reaction that natural, well-based, and right. Here is just one relevant thought. A lot of fairly sensible Iraqis and others thought America and Britain had two reasons for the attack and occupation: Sadam and American and British self-interest. That was a little too charitable in my view, but understandable. Now Sadam is gone. So there is just one reason now. It is not concealed by the prate about democracy by, say, the proven liar who is the elected leader of my country.

What do you take the reasons to be for the refusal of the US to join the international criminal court of the UN?

Clearly the reasons are again ill-judged self-interest. They are not the only good reasons in these and related situations -- reasons owed to humanity and the Principle of Humanity. Of course the explanation of the refusal, at bottom, is the American stupidity. The English were for decades pretty stupid about their empire and the unqualified good it was supposed to be doing. But maybe they were less benighted than those victimized millions whose knowledge is owed to 'news' on American television.

What do you think about the situation in Iraq? Do you think that the US should leave the country?

Of course control of Iraq by America and Britain should end immediately. Right now. We should give them back their natural resources too, right now. There can be no serious question about this. Not all moral questions are hard. Whether there should be some non-violating control of Iraq for a while, presumably by the UN, is of course another question.

                                                                                               8 February 2004


For the interview translated into German in the National Zeitung , go to  http://www.dsz-verlag.de/

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