John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and blogger. Many of his articles have appeared in English in +972 Magazine & elsewhere. I read this article in the Hebrew original in Local Call, was very moved by it, & I identify with its spirit, but didn’t find any English translation in +972. I messaged John Brown on Facebook, told him I felt it was important that it should also be published in English, asked him if I could translate it, & received his permission to do so. So here it is:
Anat Rimon-Or Responds to Attacks After Her Status on ISIL
by John Brown | Published in Hebrew in Local Call | 20.10.2014
Translated by Richard Flantz | 23.10.14
Is there a difference between bombing thousands of innocent Gazans or Iraqis and the beheading of a Western person? Dr. Rimon-Or became the object of a media offensive after publishing a status in which she called for a halt to the demonization of ISIL, and for thinking about other ways of acting. Now she responds.
Today it’s already possible to carry out mass killings while the person executing it sits safely, very far from his victims. The rigid departmentalized and hierarchical structures of modern armies make it possible for the direct executioners to evade responsibility with the excuse that they were carrying out orders, and that this is the only way to conduct matters in an army. True, to bomb a house in which there are 20 people, even if it’s known that 11 of them are children, is one thing, while to murder them with your own hand is a different matter altogether. It turns out that it’s also a very different matter to bomb thousands of innocent Gazans, Iraqis and Afghans than to behead a Western person. It’s almost madness to imagine that the occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan could have continued since 1967 had its inhabitants been decent Europeans. It’s hard to think that the State of Israel could have come into existence in such a situation.
Actually, it almost a trivial argument to say that killing, no matter how it is done, is morally unconscionable and is not very different from one case to another. And if we are shocked to the depths of our souls by killing of one kind, like the shocking killings executed by the Islamic State, and not by other killings that are executed on a much larger scale, and with means that are more violent (in my opinion) – we should at least examine well why this is so, and if this is a desirable situation & not a two-edged sword that condemns us to cycles of bloodshed.
Dr. Anat Rimon-Or recently expressed an argument along these lines on her Facebook page. This argument was pounced on by the right as if they’d found a great haul. Most was made of it by Sharon Gal, a talkbacker of the lowest kind, when he broadcast an interview with her that even by the standards of the Israeli media may be called shameful, and deliberately didn’t allow her to explain her thoughts because his only aim was to revile her in the ugliest way possible. Gal was of course afraid that Dr. Rimon-Or might ruin his fun with her explanations, so it seems to me reasonable to give her the opportunity to explain what she meant.
I’m glad she has chosen to do so despite the media slander she has experience, and here are her words:
A little before Yom Kippur I published a post which presented ISIL in a somewhat favorable human way, and suggested that Obama might do better to replace his bombing plans with an apology, an offer of compensation, and an attempt to arrive at a political arrangement. Responses claiming this was insanity and loss of moral direction were not late in coming, and aroused further responses in the printed media, on the web, and on television. Since then, threats that reflect (so it seems to me) on everything that is dear to me today and will be in the future, have been flooding all the channels that connect me to the net.
The verbally-violent responders aren’t responsible for their situation. For many years now the norm that has been dominant in the media states that any expression of support for anyone whom ‘we’ have defined as ‘our enemy’ is a sign of the speaker’s mental deficiency. This leaves only one mode of expression open to critical speakers: they must prove that they are sane. What has completely disappeared from the discourse is the possibility of discussing arguments, and of presenting a complex world picture. The ‘we’ is merely a public that has developed a form of behavior that meets any criterion for definitions of herd culture, and for those of a fascist public. This phenomenon in itself should have shaken the foundations of academia and especially those of the colleges of education, but like processes that preceded it, regrettably, it continues through their criminal silence. This is the very bottom of a moral abyss that numbs the senses of an entire public, and allows the denial of rights and the indiscriminate murder of anyone who is defined as an ‘enemy’. This abyss also makes it possible for the government to have total control over the people, and there is no way out of it, except the one that leads to collapse. There are people who are guilty for this path: intellectuals and members of the society who remain silent and journalists who speak the diseased discourse and nothing else.
ISIL has been defined as an enemy with demonic qualities that have nothing behind them but the drive to kill and murder. Like Hamas before it, in July-August of this year. This image of the murderous demon should be exploded, because it never has any connection with the people or the organizations that it is stuck onto. Its sole function is to legitimize unjustified murder. It’s possible that the people or the organization referred to are very cruel, but what creates the demonic image is not the cruelty, but the intention to exterminate. This can apply to Jews, to Hamas, or to ISIL. That is why we need to reject the image of the murderous demon. We have to find, behind it, the human statement, which is always there (even if the organization, for its own reasons, conceals it well), and to point it out as a basis for an arrangement that will stop the bloodshed.
People ask me: “Do you justify the beheaders? The traders in women? The enslavers of children?”. I’ll come to each of these further on. In the meantime I’ll just say that when someone seeks revenge and murder he positions himself as a judge. When someone seeks peace, he positions himself as a listener.
When ISIL becomes a murderous demon, with no motive other than murder in the name of Islam, every Muslim in the world becomes potentially guilty, and the discourse that remains open to him is the one that deals with the question: ‘Is this Islam, or is not this Islam?’ This is again a dangerous discourse, which encourages more young people to join extreme groups, and not because murderous imperatives are inherent in Islam, but because this is a discourse that does injustice to Islam.
What, actually, did I say in that post that became so provocative? I said that there was something captivating in the way an organization armed with butchers’ knives, vans, and advanced editing programs to turn the power relations and to remonstrate towards the entire West. It’s true, regrettably. If it weren’t true ISIL would not have attracted young people from all over Europe. And precisely because it is true, we need to understand it. We need to understand it by understanding the cruelty of how the Third World is exploited by the West every day, and every hour, and by understanding the West’s patronizing attitude, which demands gratitude, towards migrants to it from the Third World.
The prevalent view is that those who join ISIL are ‘mad’. That’s correct, if you insist on identifying the organization as a murderous demon and nothing more. That is a position that leads those who take it to no place other than the one that leads to more bloodshed.
As for the public beheadings: it is indeed terrible and horrible because it is the murder of innocent people committed in order to frighten. But on that basis, it’s evident that that the bombing of neighborhoods and villages from the air is much more terrible, because many more innocent people die, because its purpose is to spread terror, and because the media act to conceal this, instead of exposing it. And we haven’t yet counted the number of starved people in various parts of the world in the process of producing airplanes in comparison to those in the processes of producing knives. This is true, regrettably, also with regard to murders by means of rifle bullets.
The trade in women for purposes of sex: I personally am for the bombing from the air of everyone who trades in sex, and of each of its consumers. The realization of my fantasy would lead to the murder of half of the men in Israel. We don’t have to go as far as ISIL.
Slavery: I’m definitely against it. At the same time I refuse to see the slave trade of ISIS as a pretext for war. I know lots of smartphone owners who know that that the horrible and terrible slavery of children, which takes many victims in Africa and Asia, is the basis for their mobile phones. This doesn’t prevent them from complaining that the phone is ‘too flexible’ (yes!), and it doesn’t prevent them from confusing the refugees from Africa with the phone makers, from claiming that the refugees are migrant workers and demanding their expulsion. Here we have a much graver form of slavery, and a much graver attitude to laborpower: work for me for a dollar a day, throughout your entire childhood, and all your children too if you reach adulthood, and then get out of my territory for which your enslavement produces its wealth. This attitude is shared by all consumers in the West. I’m against child labor, and against slavery altogether, but bombing ISIL is not the solution to this problem.
What this means is that we shouldn’t confuse the different use that ISIL makes of cruelty with its degree of cruelty. And anyone who bombs people in the name of humane ideas would do better to take a good look at himself before sending weapons to exterminate masses of people in the name of those ideas. This message aroused the impression that I’d gone out of my mind: after all, the norm is that anyone who deviates from the rules of the discourse that glorifies ‘us’ and freely permits shedding the blood of the ‘enemy’ us not sane. This is a very sick discourse that is a symptom of a dangerous reality.