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Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Indefensible.

Canadian-British philosopher Ted Honderich apparently believes that "some forms of terrorism — including Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians — are morally justifiable." Jefferson Chase writes in the Boston Globe:

In a recent lecture, titled "Terrorism for Humanity," delivered at the International Social Philosophy Conference at Boston's Northeastern University, Honderich reiterated his more controversial belief that acts of terror are morally justifiable if they aim to better people's lives.

Time for an important distinction: Understanding someone's motivation — say, the motivation of a suicide bomber — is quite different from offering a moral sanction for their actions. Morality is not a fancy name for "by any means necessary." The allure of revolutionary violence is a profound temptation for some thinkers, but this really goes out of bounds.

Meanwhile, Ian Buruma asks, What's anti-Semitism got to do with it?

It is perfectly possible, of course, to take a critical view of Israeli policies, and of their support in Washington, without being anti-Semitic. It is equally possible to be critical of American policies without being irrationally and emotionally anti-American. Just so, you can be opposed to capitalism, or ''globalization,'' without wishing to unleash or condone suicide attacks on Manhattan. What is disturbing, however, is the way these views now increasingly come together in a hostile cocktail. Most mass demonstrations in Europe, and elsewhere, against the war in Iraq contained banners in support of the Palestinians, even the religious extremists of Hamas, and against the global symbols of capitalism. For some people on the left, being opposed to Israel, or Zionism, goes beyond specific policies in Gaza or the West Bank; Israel is seen as the colonial Western presence in an Arab world, an American client state locked into global capitalism. Even if the Israelis treated the Palestinians with the most scrupulous generosity — which they do not — this impression would persist.

Not every demonstrator against Ariel Sharon's government or American imperialism is an anti-Semite, to be sure, but the ready identification of Jewish interests with the United States or, in the past, with Britain is old and loaded with prejudice. Since the early 19th century, many Europeans associated the City of London, as Wall Street is today, with financial power, materialist greed and economic imperialism. To ethnic nationalists in Germany and elsewhere, Britain and France, with their relative openness to immigrants, were seen as mongrel nations, where citizenship could be bought for a crock of gold.

This is what Hitler meant when he called France, Britain and the United States ''Jewified.'' He took the view, popularized by all manner of third-rate scribblers, that a Jewish cabal was manipulating Western powers behind the scenes. French universalism and Anglo-Saxon capitalism, so it was believed, threatened the unique values of culture and race. And behind all this were the Jews, pulling strings in their cosmopolitan network of banks, newspapers and movie companies.

The United States is now the biggest capitalist power in the world. To the extent that it is an empire, it is driven by economic interests, but also, these days, by a mission to spread ''American values,'' as if they were universal. Hollywood is seen in the outside world as part of this, and so are Wall Street, the Pentagon and the International Monetary Fund. This, alas, is precisely the kind of thing anti-Semites have always associated with Jewish conspiracies. And since Israel is America's most favored ally in the Middle East, and the Palestinian cause has become the universal litmus test of liberal credentials, the idea that Jewish interests are driving American foreign policy is even more widely believed, if not always openly stated. American foreign policy and ancient prejudices are reinforcing each other in a vicious circle.

Do read the full essay. It offers some clear thinking about an extremely charged and complex topic. ("How to talk about Israel." Ian Buruma. New York Times Magazine 8.31.03, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 2 September 2003 at 5:56 PM

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Next: How to talk about Buruma.

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