After the Terror: The Fall and Rise of a Book in Germany

by Ted Honderich
This saga needs a brisk introductory summary, which is as follows. British philosopher writes book on moral state of the world after 9/11. In passing touches on and defends Zionism, (support for founding and security of Israel within roughly its 1948 borders). Also touches on and morally justifies Palestinian terrorism against ethnic cleansing of neo-Zionism (expansion of Israel since 1967 outside of 1948 borders). German professor of education and Holocaust centre director declares German translation of book anti-Semitic in German newspaper. Next day, doyen of German philosophers writes he recommended book for translation and it is not anti-Semitic, but apologetically. On the third day German publisher 'bans' book. Author then demands German professor of education be relieved of duties for misconduct inconsistent with academic principle. Large German controversy ensues. Author's lecture in Leipzig requires police protection, etc. Book retranslated and published in Germany again, by another publisher, Jewish. More lectures in Germany, etc.

For other adventures of the book and author, see Oxfam G.B., £5000, Neo-Zionism, After the Terror, and Medical Aid for Palestinians, and Ted Honderich and the newspaper LondonStudent. Also On Being Persona Non Grata to Some Palestinians Too. You can also see brief sample judgements by reviewers of the book.


My book After the Terror, of which you can turn to a chapter, was published in Britain by Edinburgh University Press, and in the United States by Columbia University Press, in 2002. It has subsequently also been brought out by McGill-Queens University Press. It is reflection on the moral state of the world prompted by September 11 -- a kind  of moral philosophy, centrally about the rich world's omissions to help those in wretchedness. We fail to do anything about a sample loss of 20 million years of living-time in four African countries.      

But, turning briefly to one example of our commissions as against our omissions -- which distinction between two kinds of actions no longer seems to me quite what it did -- the book condemns us and mainly America  for support of neo-Zionism. The latter, certainly distinct from Zionism, is the enlargement of Israel beyond its 1948 borders with all that this has entailed, the violation of Palestine.

The book declares the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism, such a right as the Israeli state in effect claims daily for its killings.         
The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper that in effect  has been neo-Zionist, particularly since acquiring a new editor, succeeded in getting Oxfam Great Britain not to accept £5000 in royalties from the book. This was done by threatening the charity with a story saying that it was taking money from a terrorist sympathizer. For an account  of all that, if you want it, turn to Oxfam GB, After the Terror, Neo-Zionism, and Medical Aid for Palestinians .

What is presently relevant, relevant to the German story you are about  to hear, is that not a word appeared in the Globe and Mail or in subsequent  newspaper or other accounts in Britain about the the idea  of the book's being anti-Semitic. What it was, rather, according to the newspaper and some other participants in the matter, was outrageous on account of assigning a moral right to some terrorism.            

As I see in retrospect, having been educated by experience since then, that is not quite right, in fact not at all right. It is not that the newspaper was outraged by my assigning a moral right to some terrorism -- any  terrorism. Not a word  would have been said by by the newspaper, not  a syllable, if the terrorism  in question had not been Palestinian terrorism  against the state  of  Israel. It would never have crossed the newspaper's mind to blackmail the charity. In all likelihood, at any rate, general moral principle or customary morality or respectability or the like would not have occurred to it.

Nor was the newspaper privately concerned with anti-Semitism, which it  discerned but for some reason chose not to mention. There would be no reason  not to mention it. What it was engaged in, as in the case of those neo-Zionists about whom you are about  to hear, was simply the  politics that supports the taking or keeping of more of the land and lives  and freedom and respect of the Palestinians. It is merely an awful selfishness on behalf  of a stronger people against their victims, the policy of beggaring them, killing them, imprisoning and degrading them.

In July 2003, the German publishing house Suhrkamp brought out a translation  of the book, Nach dem Terror, translated by Eva Gilmer. In early  August  one Mischa Brumlik, head of a Holocaust centre in Germany and a professor of education  at a Frankfurt university, wrote an open letter to a German  liberal newspaper,  the Frankfurter Rundschau . Its title amazes me  still. It is, apparently correctly translated into  English, 'Philosophical  Jew-Hate'. The Brumlik letter,   at which you can look, said the book was anti-Semitic, and demanded that the publisher withdraw it from sale.

Having heard of the neo-Zionist tactic of crying anti-Semitism, and indeed      encountered an absurd bit of it myself, quickly retracted, at  an American     philosophy conference, and also some callow student  stuff at an American university, I was not much bothered. It seemed to be true from what Brumlik wrote, as indeed it turned out to be, that I had written a hasty and clumsy sentence in my book about where Jewish immigrants from Russia had settled in Israel and the occupied territories. But that  detail -- it   was indeed a detail -- could not conceivably weaken my  line of argument in any significant way.

And as for the charge of anti-Semitism, there was so very much to say against  the nonsense of it. For a start, why had this not been noticed  by various publishers and their editors? And why had it not been noticed when I presented the book in the paper 'After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts', and indeed took the argument about a moral right further?

Why had the anti-Semitism in the paper not been discerned when it was read out in Columbia University, which is not short of Jewish academics tough enough to speak up, and the New School in New York, the University of Toronto, Brown University, Oxford University, London University, Durham University, Edinburgh University, and at meetings organized by philosophy magazines?      

Why had no single reviewer of the English edition of the book noticed this dark fact? How had The Guardian, that confident English liberal newspaper, failed to see it? Its diplomatic correspondent, Martin Woollacott, has his head screwed on and is a careful man. There was the literary editor of The Times too, Erica Wagner, who picked out After the Terror as the best reflective book having to do with September 11. Was she asleep too? And the reviewers in Australia and Canada? And Baroness Warnock too of the House of Lords, one of the endorsers of the book on its English jacket?
Then there was all my other writing -- say the stuff on the Principle of Equalityand egalitarianism and in particular on personal respect and self-respect, and the articles on John Stuart Mill, and the book on punishment, and the support for a morality of concern that is all about the badly-off. and the earlier book on political  violence. Even the books and papers on determinism and our human hopes, in particular our life-hopes, and also our hurts and deprivations of great goods.      

The number of anti-Semites among people with my set of familiar Left Wing or 'progressive' English attitudes, old Labour Party members and the  like,   demonstrators against nuclear warfare and so on, is of course vanishingly small. We are not rural conservatives or the envious petit bourgeoisie or old English squirearchy or whatever. You couldn't conceivably defeat the strong  presumption that any person  with my known attitudes is not an anti-Semite by means of some limp  utterance about anti-Semitism turning up everywhere, or some easy allegation  out of history about the Left in some other country, say about Communists in Russia.
It also occurred to me early that people could look at my industriously confessional philosophical autobiography. They would  there discover something much better than no mention of Jews or Jewishness, which would have been but a weak defence against the   charge  of anti-Semitism. They wouldn't, either, just find facts about my refusing  to visit Germany because of the Holocaust until the Wall came down, and my  having been married to a Jewish woman, and having Jewish family members now,  and a telling want of concealment, not the strategic silence of an anti-Semite,   about my not being in love with either Brooklyn or bagels.              
Rather, they would find a lot of human interaction with Jewish colleagues, Jewish women and so on, some of it competitive, some of it judgemental, but none of it other than human. None of it condescending -- none of it different from interaction with other people. Most of the villains in  the book, so to speak, are non-Jewish. In such a book, taken by all reviewers to be a striking attempt at truth, by some to be a foolhardy one, this was as good as a disproof of the libel.
If people wanted more, they could look at incidental writings as against books -- say  a  couple of paragraphs about anti-Semitism in a New Statesman review of A. J. Ayer's second volume of autobiography. Praise of him for having stood up against anti-Semitism at his old school, Eton. Have a look yourself reader. The paragraphs are towards the end of the item.
Nobody, if they actually thought for a moment about the half-joke that it's always an anti-Semite or it's likely an anti-Semite who says 'some  of my best friends are Jews', would take it for a fact, let alone a fact of any use in serious argument. Anybody would realize that someone's real connections and relations of an ordinarily close and good character with many members of a race, group, minority or whatever are simply the best proof there can be against the idea that the person in question has racial feelings or the like. What would be a better proof?

What could refute it? Certainly not what somebody just says, somebody who has his own fish to fry -- somebody with a political motive. Certainly not some self-certified peerer into the depths and recesses of other people's minds. 
Do I hear you say, reader, remembering your Shakespeare, methinks he doth protest too much? Well, I am pleased to say that I protest even more, hopefully to good purpose, in some of the other writings to which you are invited to turn. Among my reasons is a general one.

What matters to you about yourself, reader? Do you think of yourself as  in a particular way decent? Have you over years done something loyal, something that now sustains you in your awareness of your imperfections? Is your identity to yourself something that depends on your having learned to do something well? Have you depended on the reasonable idea that you are intelligent enough, financially straight, or maybe just not embarrassing socially professionally or socially? Trusted by colleagues, or a mother who cared for a child?

Well, reader, methinks you could spend a minute or two thinking on your reaction to a libel against you with respect to what you care about. Say an incidental libel, made use of for a further indecent purpose. Say a libel  not easy to deal with by refutation, however good the refutation, and one likely to linger and to be useful to whatever adversaries one has. A libel that a few people will act on.

But go back to the day after Brumlik's letter was published. On that day Germany's outstanding philosopher, indeed the doyen of German philosophers, Prof. Jurgen Habermas, wrote a piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau saying that he had personally recommended my book to the publisher for translation, as indeed he had. Further, he had read it again last night to check, and it was definitely not anti-Semitic. Still, like any good German finding himself in the neighbourhood  of an allegation of anti-Semitism, he was apologetic -- if he had hurt any feelings, he was sorry, etc. He was not among my most forthright defenders, or outstandingly consistent, and the title of his piece in the German was somewhat puzzling. Turn to A Shirtsleeves Tract: Why I Recommended This Book. There is also the original German piece.

The day after that, to my great surprise, indeed shock, Suhrkamp announced they were banning the book. Subsequently it became clear that what they were doing was just not reprinting, having sold out their first print-run of 3,000 copies.
I was now, among other things, outraged at the stupidity, or the lie, or  the vile self-deception, of taking me for or branding me as an  anti-Semite. It was no longer just nonsense. In a German context, anti-Semitism is of course not a matter of who you would prefer not to have in your local golf club, or even who you would like your daughter not to marry, but about gas chambers.  It is also about neo-Nazis and the desecration of cemeteries.

A pity I was not then better informed. I could have avoided a bit of personal  hurt. The slur of anti-Semitism is a long-running, widely-used and well-catalogued  fact. It is a political tool, mostly used when neo-Zionism is in new need  of defence. It is used, of course, against critics of Israel who are themselves Jews. Seemingly with the aid of psychoanalytic insight, as it was once confidently known, they are perceived and announced to be 'self-hating Jews'. Noam Chomsky, the greatest moral judge of this age, is of course at their head.

In fact, rather than being unusal, singled out, I was joining thousands, indeed tens of thousands. Joining a company that is for the most part  honourable and honest and without racial prejudice. The people I have in mind are, very simply, Left Wing or something of the sort and thus opposed to the vicious unfairness of what is being done to the Palestinians. Exactly what they are not is prejudiced. See for example the  book The Politics of Anti-Semitism , edited by Alexander Cockburn  and Jeffrey St. Clair. See in particular the first chapter, 'What is Anti-Semitism', by the philosopher  Michael Neumann. He does not need the certification of  being Jewish.

The Frankfurter Rundschau published an open letter from me replying to Brumlik's charge and demand, leaving out my important first paragraph, which touched on the ordinariness of claims of moral rights to violence and killing, certainly including the  ongoing claims of the Israeli state. My letter did not omit my own Jewish family  connections. The letter concluded by demanding that  Brumlik's university consider  sacking him for his gross violation of  academic principle.
Being inclined to sue him for libel, I took some German legal advice, from a renowned source. It  was to the effect that I might win a case against him, but the  probability could not be high. He had taken care to write, whatever the obvious and indeed overwhelming implication about me, that it was my book that was anti-Semitic, as distinct from its author. And  there was a German law about 'free comment'.

It was my understanding that the probability of winning in court had to do with the general state of German attitudes and feelings, in particular guilt about  the Holocaust and  related feelings, with respect to any matter that can be tainted by a charge of anti-Semitism. The German lawyer said my better recourse was standing up for myself  outside the courts.
What happened next was what surprised me most, and, incidentally, confirmed    what has just been said about the general state of German attitudes and feelings. This was a 'firestorm' about the whole thing in the German  press, radio and television. The controversy apparently widened to German  guilt, anti-Semitism more generally, etc. The Frankfurt  paper alone  had published 11 stories or articles on the matter at one date. If memory serves me correctly, it had published more than 25 in the end.

There was a long German television programme, in which, from our garden  in Somerset, I defended myself. Brumlik, according to the several translations  I have got, distinguished himself further on the programme by saying a certain thing in a suitably garbled sentence or two. This was that the proof of my anti-Semitism was that in my book I blamed the tragedy of Africa, the 20 million years of life lost, on the state of Israel.

To read my book with something like good will and ordinary attention, and  to draw this conclusion, would be to fail a test of rudimentary intelligence. Do have a look. It won't take you long. There are only a very few pages on Israel and Palestine, and both 'Palestine' and 'Israel' and 'living time, 20 millon years lost' are in the index.

The scale of the whole German discussion was astonishing. As of 17 September 2003, a search of the web by Google using the German title of the book and my name would initially turn up 138 newspaper pieces, radio things and such-like. You would get 1,000, not all reprintings or whatever of the 138, by going to the last screen and clicking on a link there.  One more statistic: Google actually said on its first screen that  there were 44,500 items on the web -- I don't know what  this meant, but  it certainly meant something.      

Certainly the controversy, of which I have little grasp, not being  able to read German, did not all go against me. Brumlik was certainly disdained in a number of pieces. I am not sure if the controversy went against me in a definite way at all. Various persons said the book was not anti-Semitic. More did not take a view. Quite a few condemned or questioned the publishing  house -- which, it turned out, had Jewish ownership and a Jewish history itself.      
Then there was far better news. In later September two other German publishers   put in to republish the book. I chose the first one in the field. He is Abraham  Melzer, and it is not irrelevant that he is Jewish. He has published, in his very mixed list, a number of Jewish books. He is also an Israeli.

Contracts, it seems, may also be signed with another German  publisher for the translation of two others of my books presently being published in English.These are a new edition of my old political violence book, now out from Pluto Press, intelligent and radical and not notably racist, and one of three collections of my papers, Political Means and Social Ends , coming out from  Edinburgh University Press.

It is to be added that After the Terror, my anti-Semitic work, has now been republished in an enlarged paperback edition by that distinguished publisher, with a new final chapter, 'Later Thoughts on Terrorism for Humanity'. They had time to think again in Edinburgh, say that circumstances had changed. The book has also been published by yet another publisher blind to its nature, in this case McGill Queens University Press  in Canada. Do they do Mein Kampf as well?

And, while I am on this theme, how is it that the organizers of the 20th International Social Philosophy at Northeastern University in Boson did not see the contents of After the Terror when they read it, as indeed they did, after the Oxfam fuss and before issuing their invitation to me to speak? Why are they publishing the result of their invitation in their proceedings?

How has it come about that the editor and the internationally established publisher of The Journal of Ethics have dignified by publication the paper 'After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts', the paper read at Columbia and so on?

What about the editors of the long-running journal, The Monist ? Presumably they have missed the anti-Semitism in 'Twenty Millions Years of Living Time' because of being distracted by the wily camouflage, the sharp paragraph about the German railwayman who made himself comfortable by certain means after he had the thought that he ought to be doing something about the genoicide of the Jews? 

How have organizers of meetings at upcoming conferences of the American Philosophical Assocation, the great institution of the APA in its several divisions, failed to see what they are doing in issuing invitations to me? What about the literary festivals? Should the editors of German journals in the philosophy of mind not be chary of publishing my tainted thoughts on the nature of consciousness? How does it happen that they aren't? Are all these persons in an anti-Semitic plot, or at least colluding with anti-Semitism?

In October I went to the University of Leipzig, so honourable in  its defence  of a right of free speech, as is its Professor Georg  Meggle, to  give a lecture, there titled 'Is there a Right to Terrorism?'  Turn  to either the shorter version or the full text ,  under the title  'Palestinian Terrorism, Morality, and Germany'. There is also a German translation of the shorter version.

I went to give the lecture, which takes matters forward, but also, so to speak, to meet Brumlik, who was also invited. He declined to come, saying that he would not share a platform with someone who had called for him to be dismissed from his university position. So too did Prof. Dr. Habermas decline to turn up and explain his views further.

The lecture, as several of the German newspapers said, was a case of  philosophy   under police protection. The 20 riot police and  plain-clothes officers were needed, seemingly against more forces than those of the neo-Zionists -- but all brought to the scene by the dirty morals and dirty politics of Brumlik's proposition of anti-Semitism.

Some  protesters, it seems, including  those who occupied part of the platform with their banner, were ultra-Left personnel. It was a bear-garden, but the lecture was given, and simultaneously translated by the courageous Beatrice Kobow. After the  lecture, while Ingrid and I were being spirited away by police, a student lost some teeth to the protesters. For a couple of accounts, if you read German, try the websites of the Frankfurter Rundschau and the Leipziger Volkszeitung .

The Frankfurter Rundschau's account, light-hearted but certainly with a purpose, managed to imply that I had recanted the inflammatory proposition in my book. I wrote a piece for them respectfully putting this right. After taking thought, the liberal newspaper declined to publish it. Rather, they published a piece by Brumlik seemingly saying that I had changed my mind. This prompted me to get my piece into the honourable publication Junge Welt . You can  read this declaration in English or in German .

Like the lecture, it has to do in part with being silent about a rape because your father has committed a murder. It repeats the proposition, which I believe, that my accuser has degraded   the standing of a university professor, and   hence that he should be relieved of this line of life.

Not long after coming back from Germany, I had another experience  also   mistakenly taken by me to be more special than it was. Critics of neo-Zionism  get  the attention of some individuals good with computers and the web. Those   individuals, at least some of them around New York and Boston, send out email  messages that say they come from a critic of Zionism. The messages have the name of being spoofs.       

If you would like, have a look at 'mine' . Somewhere between 20,000 and about 750,000 of these were sent out, as indicated by the 20,000 or so that went to e-mail addresses that did not work, and  resulted  in 'failed-delivery' messages back to me -- these being an  intended part of the operation. Subsequently, there were some pretended honest protests , at the same level, to the web service provider who was harbouring this Nazi and letting him send  out these messages saying 'Kill the Jews!'.

It was indicative of something, no doubt, but only momentarily an embarrassment to me.

What has been written about Nach dem Terror in Germany, as already indicated, is beyond my summary. Some of it is of interest, and  of wider interest. The neo-Zionist stuff of which I know surely is often not truthful. Certainly it is not true. But some items from America are also worth noticing. However they are to be classified, they show that Germany does not have a  certain monopoly.             
The Boston Globe's piece, by one Jefferson Chase, was at least wonderfully    misleading in what it said of Habermas's letter. The Globe just left out that Habermas denied the book was anti-Semitic. The Globe also said I assert what I explicitly deny in the book, that acts of terror generally are morally justified. It omitted to mention that Brumlik's less academic line of life is in a Holocaust center. It failed to report that pp. 29-9 of my book make it clear beyond doubt that those who seem to have learned racism from their abusers, in my view, are not Jews in general, but neo-Zionists. Or forget about the context. They are identified by the very next sentence.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, read widely in American universities, carried a piece by Prof. Richard Wolin, ' Are Suicide Bombings Morally Defensible? '. You can also read my reply to him. Its last paragraph summarizes most of my attitude to the several controversies about the book.
Finally, four postscripts and a general conclusion.

There were ongoing ructions at my erstwhile publisher, Suhrkamp, the widow of whose founder reported in an article that I said on television that Germany is now managed by Jews. A  board of advisors, I think including Prof.  Dr. Habermas, either resigned or was pushed. It may be that this has something  to do with the matter of    Nach dem Terror. So it is said  in the German press, certainly.                  

The Leipzig lecture, it seems, is to come out in a German philosophy journal. The journal is not connected with the University of Leipzig.

By way of another postscript, in no way uncertain, Nach dem Terror is now in print and in shops again, translated by Thomas Fehige, thanks to the admirable Melzer Verlag. Abraham Melzer is doing a service not only to me, as it is good to be able to point out clearly in the last few lines of the book's own Unrueful Postscript.   

The fourth postscript here arises from my having had to look just the other day at my book Conservatism, published in 1990 and translated into German soon after as Das Elend des  Konservativismus. On pp. 161-2 of the English edition, it comes to the  subject of Conservatism and anti-Semitism. After glancing at the anti-Semitic  Edmund Burke of Reflections on the Revolution in France  in this connection, it turns again to an English Conservative and member of the New Right of our own day, the philosopher, writer and journalist Roger Scruton. Three of my paragraphs, the second one quoting some lines from Scruton, are as follows.      

To come up to date quickly, and to put aside German and French Conservatism, and Fascism, and Fascist remnants in Britain, there has been a noticeable ambiguity in some writing of the New Right. Scruton again:

'...while it is a long-standing principle of British law that the fomentation of hatred (and hence of racial hatred) is a serious criminal offence, it is not clear that illiberal sentiments have to be forms of hatred, nor that they should be treated in the high-handed way that is calculated to make them become so. On the contrary, they are sentiments which seem to arise inevitably from social consciousness: they involve natural prejudice, and a desire for the company of one's own kind. That is hardly sufficient ground to condemn them as 'racist', or to invoke against them those frivolous fulminations which have been aptly described as "death-camp chic".'

I take it that the persons who engage in the chic in question are those whom other Conservatives describe as merely fashionable liberals -- persons sometimes identified as inclined to the modishness of Hampstead, a salubrious part of London once thought to be enlightened in politics. In speaking of racial exclusiveness and indeed racism, they may connect it in a way with Dachau and Buchenwald. That they speak truth is not to be allowed to excuse them. Whatever they are charged with, I would rather be of their number than to have been able to use the odious description with which the passage ends. There are things about which is not near to decent to be obscure.

To take those judgements of mine to be the judgements of an anti-Semite would indeed, I think, to be lying or stupid or vilely self-deceived. It  would, more importantly, be a matter of engaging in dirty politics with a grisly purpose.

The same is to be said, certainly, of reading the judgements and then still according any respect to the libel against After The Terror. An honourable man who had fallen into a libel, by whatever means, might be expected to recant it.

To make out that someone who in such a circumstance and way condemns possible anti-Semitism is himself an anti-Semite is go against overwhelming presumption. It is to go against a presumption almost always dead right in a serious matter in the real world. To go against it is to rely on not merely unscientific but also weak, self-serving, manipulable and now discredited theories of psychoanalysis or the like.

There is also a general conclusion to be drawn from all of what you  have heard. What is most  important, to my mind, despite my own preoccupation, is not a correct judgement in this personal case, my case, seeing through this particular bit of the   dirty morals and politics -- or even an awareness of the general fact of  such dirty morals and politics.      

There are Zionists, as you have heard, Jewish and non-Jewish, of whom I am one. There are also neo-Zionists, Jewish and non-Jewish. The category of neo-Zionists includes people who make use of or tolerate the libel of anti-Semitism.

This libel, you can conclude, is important in a certain way. It throws a light on the principal contentions of these people in favour of neo-Zionism. It throws a light on their historical claims, their invoking of 'democracy' against 'terrorism', their condemnation of the killing of civilians, their claims about the threat to Israel's existence, their denials of their racism, their judgement on honourable Jews and Israelis opposed to neo-Zionism, and so on.

To be someone who makes use of the libel is to be someone rightly doubted in these other principal contentions of neo-Zionism. You cannot trust the other contentions and judgements of such a person.

Not to see this, not to declare it, is to abandon the true victims of this day, the true victims of discrimination and so much more. The Palestinians have need of us.        

                                                                                              19 March 05

Prof. Dr. Paech's 'Open Letter to a Discerner of anti-Semitism' -- English / German. 'Worse than Moelleman: An Interview in the Wrong Place' -- English
An interview by Max Lorenzen of the Marburger Forum: English / German
'Are Suicide-Bombings Morally Defensible? A Reply to Richard Wolin' in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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