Introduction: The following piece is a commentary I wrote and circulated amongst friends on the 15th of September 2001, just four days after 9/11. At the time I didn’t regard myself as a writer. I was a jazz musician preparing for the publication of my debut novel.
During that time I didn’t know a single editor, journal or media outlet. My commentary was circulated on the net via emails. Eventually, nine months later, it was published by Counterpunch. This commentary was, in fact, my first attempt to comment on world affairs, ethics and politics.
I am slightly embarrassed about some of my early formulations. I want to believe that I am a better writer now. I am certainly more succinct and yet, I somehow managed to predict, already then, in September 2001, that the fate of the west was doomed and the collapse of Anglo-American strategy was inevitable. This paper is ten years old but its message may even be more devastating today.
The End of Innocence by Gilad Atzmon
15th September 2001
In the light of the tragedy and the devastating images from New York City, in the shadow of embarrassingly stupid remarks made by the major western ‘free world’ leaders and in the light of the call for a western jihad against a faceless enemy, I feel obliged to expose the lie that stands in the center of the current liberal democratic militant enthusiasm.
Being born in Israel in the early sixties, I was raised to believe that I lived in the ‘only democracy in the middle-east’. While being a soldier in the army I realized that I grew up among a people who deny the most basic human rights to millions of Palestinians. As soon as I was able to interpret my surrounding reality I had to acknowledge the terrible fact that this oppressive Israeli policy is being supported by America and the ‘free world’. Having managed to stop regarding myself as an innocent victim and detached myself from any Zionist beliefs, I have became very suspicious of manipulative right wing brain-washing and nationalist propaganda.
Since September 11th, we have been asked by every American official to join the struggle to maintain our ‘free world’. Ever keen to join righteous struggles for justice, I had to ask myself few questions first: Where is this free world that I am suppose to protect? Is it in the Gaza strip a land heavily populated by Palestinian refugees that has been turned into a concentration camp with the active support of the American government? Is the ‘free world’ to be found in the streets of Baghdad, where millions of civilians are deprived of medical supplies and food because of something that looks more and more like a personal debate between one person with a moustache and another person who hasn’t started shaving yet? Is there any room in the ‘free world’ for hundreds of millions of Muslim Arabs who watch the American administration supporting the continuous humiliation of their brothers in the Holy Land? Does the ‘free world’ which I am called to protect include all those dark corrupted Arab regimes heavily supported by the American government only because they happen to have huge oil resources?
If there is such a call to protect this kind of ‘free world’ I think that they will have to fight without me. I am not going to be there among the front line soldiers. As a matter of fact, in an attempt to make this world a better place, I will try to expose this phony and manipulative demand for a ‘free world crusade’. I want to believe that the common usage of the words ‘free’ and ‘world’ together is just a clumsy slip of the tongue. At the end of the day, the American leaders must know better than anyone else that the world is not free mostly because of their own discriminatory policy that opposes anything that fails to match western interests.
Since the horrifying collapse of the twin towers we are urged by the American president to protect our western democracy. So, there is an urgent need to scrutinize this call, a call may well lead to a new world war. What is democracy supposed to be? Originally, democracy was created to express the people’s will. Democracy claims to be the manifestation of the true spirit of the people. If democracy manifests people’s will and spirit, then within a democratic society people must share a certain kind of responsibility for their government.
Unlike in dictatorial regimes –in which the sovereign power is taking a personal responsibility for the whole state policy –in democracies responsibility is somehow shared between the elected government and the electing civilians. The civilians are sharing a direct responsibility with their elected government. When the American people vote for an intellectually immature politician to be their president, they must take a direct responsibility for the danger of a world war provoked by his infantile character.
Similarly, the Israeli people can be blamed and should be blamed for all the ongoing crimes committed by their government. The Israelis have been voting every few years in favour of the continuous oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people. It is crystal clear that the Israeli people have a direct responsibility for the miserable condition of their Palestinian neighbors. They are directly involved with the whole range of crimes against humanity that go with occupation. In a dictatorial regime the situation is very different. While the Israeli and American people enjoy the possibility of changing their fate, the German people under Hitler (for example) did not have any civil vehicle to oppose the criminal gang that turned their state into an industrial criminal organization. Unlike dictatorships in which citizens are emptied from their legal right to oppose the ruling power, in democracies civil opposition is a must. In a democratic society, every citizen is obliged to protect the whole community from committing crimes against humanity.
Being a citizen within a democratic environment becomes a heavy moral burden. In other words, it becomes a moral commitment. Unless the members of a democratic community take an active role in opposing the wrong political decisions made by their government, they lose their innocence. Every single member in the democratic community becomes responsible for the whole society. Unfortunately, in those democratic societies which conduct military, imperial and capitalistic affairs overseas, the civilians become instantly responsible for all those who live on those foreign lands. Following that line of thinking, the Israelis who regard themselves mistakenly as a democratic people, should be made responsible for every possible aspect of Palestinian life. For instance, the Israelis need a good excuse to justify the denial of Palestinian civil and human rights, or, at least, should explain the exclusion of the Palestinians from the democratic game. The Americans should justify their support of evil and corrupted regimes all around the world. Since there is no sign of any apologetic behaviour either on the Israeli or on the American front, we can conclude that Israeli and American societies are far from being innocent. When an act of terror takes place against Israeli and American people, the victims cannot present themselves as innocent. At most they can hide under the light shadow of naivety.
We are moving towards a new phase of political life in which ‘free people’, the citizens of the free world, are emptied of their innocence. People are drained of innocence unless they decide to fight for it, unless they start to oppose their government’s wrong policies.
Living in an era of growing terror activity and facing the unique phenomena of suicidal attacks should raise many questions among the attacked. I remember being myself under the terror of suicidal attack whilst an Israeli soldier in the early days of the Lebanon war. I can recall asking again and again what brings people to sacrifice their life over an international conflict. In our western society, soldiers have to fight from time to time but they always wish themselves to come home alive. According to our western understanding, young people go to fight in order to guarantee a better future for their own community. In general it can be said that western people go to fight because they try to improve their conditional state of being in this actual world. Western people fight because they want to live. They want more from life than life can give. Yet, it is still hard to understand what motivates thousands of American soldiers to jump into the blue cold water of Normandy and to turn it into red. The will to live doesn’t explain why Americans rushed to die in Vietnam (or indeed in Afghanistan), but we must believe that it has something to do with the acceptance of the call to save the ‘open society’ from ‘its enemies’. A vague promise that guarantees better life but always turns out to be fairly self-destructive.
In as much as we can try to empathize with the poor soldier that swims or marches towards his death, the suicide bomber is far more difficult for us to deal with. On the surface, it is very hard to see how the collapse of the twin towers and the evil murder of thousands of civilians can improve the condition of any one anywhere. How can the death of thousands of people make our world any better? Since we cannot really provide any rational answer that is consistent with our western methodological approach, we are left with some very fundamental questions: How is it that someone is willing to give his life just to kill me? What have I done so wrong that turns someone into a mass murderer? How can I manage to turn some remote culture into cold horrific inhumane criminals? Did we do something wrong? Are we still doing something wrong? Are we stopping our governments from supporting the continuous Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people? Did we oppose our governments’ sanctions against the Iraqi civilian population? Did we ask our government to ban Israel from developing nuclear and mass destructive weapons? Why do we ban the Arab states from having weapons of mass destruction while we keep plenty of them in our bunkers? Because the answer to all these questions is probably going to expose a great deal of ignorance toward people living in miserable conditions, I allow myself to claim that we do not really care about anyone but ourselves. Hence, we cannot see ourselves as ‘innocent victims’ anymore. At most, when being hit, we are just victims.
Since we do not show any care for anyone except ourselves, we have managed to lock ourselves within a western self-centred phony sense of ‘freedom’. ‘Freedom’ that very soon, is going to turn itself against us.
Because of the very basic character of suicidal terror activity, the terrorist, as long as he succeeds, is always the first to die. He is the first to be punished and he is delighted about it. By punishing himself, the suicidal fighter manages to demolish our common western sense of justice. He cannot be brought to trial. He cannot be confronted with his own wrongdoing. Since he is the first to die, among his victims, he is probably the first to meet God. Within his own philosophical and cultural presuppositions, the ‘shaid’ guarantees himself a luxurious state in heaven. While on earth the ‘free world’ granted him misery and humiliation, confronting God, he is listed among the greatest martyrs. The terrorist, from his point of view, is not concerned with our human sense of morality and justice. He prefers the heavenly supreme court of justice. As we all know, God allows himself to demolish the whole world in order to purify it from its sins. Following that line of heavenly supreme justice, the suicidal terrorists are conducting a Biblical war against us. They are fighting a religious war in the name of Allah. They attack the core of our new religion, the religion of money and wealth. If we accept that money and life-style have become the spiritual mediator of new man, by hitting the world trade center, the terrorist has managed to destroy the ‘free world’ temple, the ‘Mecca of wealth’.
Although nobody has yet managed to win the war against terrorism, it looks as if the Americans are trying to pull us all into a pointless crusade against the most extreme form of terrorism, the suicidal one. Except for the fact that conflict with suicidal terrorism can lead to an enormous catastrophe, we are made blind to the fact that categorically, suicidal terror is unbeatable. Western man can never win against this enemy. In our culture ‘life’ is regarded as the highest human value. In our culture, the death penalty is regarded as the worst possible punishment. It is a trivial and obvious truth that a culture that regards life as the most sacred value can never win in a conflict with a culture that regards death as a supreme spiritual souvenir. When it comes to a conflict with all those millions of Muslim people that are living in extreme poverty, there is very little that we can take from them except their life. Since it seems as if they are completely blazé about giving their life away, the West is conditionally deprived of victory. We can never win in the battle against the real Other. The Other that is conditionally different from us. When you cannot win a battle you had better call off the war and start to listen to your enemy. If we really insist on considering ourselves as free agents in a ‘free world’, we must learn in detail the fury of all those remote Islamic cultures. We must confront our wrongdoings, we must look in the mirror.
We must understand that the victory in the ‘battle against terror’ leads us to a logical conflict. By winning the battle we are losing our freedom altogether. The suicidal terrorist takes his conviction and determination to die from a mighty spiritual force. While it is clear that the spiritual call to hand over your soul to God can bring some people to conduct some terrifying crimes, that very spiritual lesson is completely legitimate within our western cultural boundaries. The call for a physical sacrifice is reflected in all religions to a certain extent. In that case, in order to protect ourselves from the suicidal terror, our only way to fight back is to clear our streets of certain spiritual leaders. Unfortunately by doing so we cease to be a ‘free world’. By the restriction of the freedom of speech we empty ourselves of the most fundamental essence of liberty. Thus, a victory in the war to maintain our ‘free world’ will be the end of our freedom. We will turn into an oppressive culture. In that case I would prefer, again, to call off the war all together.
Our only way to become free in this world is to start to listen while knowing that we might not understand. To accept the differences, to welcome the existence of different ideas and remote world-views. We must learn to regard the act of terror as an act of despair, as a call for help. If we are as strong as we think we are, we can move on and help this world to be a bit better. We must open ourselves to the Arab world and to understand Islamic fundamentalism. We must learn to accept lack of a dialogue as a legitimate form of co-existence. We must move towards better sharing procedures of the world’s wealth. We have to remember that this war is not ours unless we really insist on making it ours. This war belongs solely to the Americans and their Zionist counterparts. We must remember that Europe can have a different role. The European can engage by providing the American people with the terrible truth of their wrong international policy regarding the Middle East and the Islamic world.
If this message gets through we might save this planet from a unique form of political incompetence represented by the new American administration. If this message does not get through, we are going to face a very different world in a very short time. If we don’t listen, if we just decide to use our mighty forces against hungry civilians, we are probably going to turn central London into a pile of rubble.
In honouring the memories of the victims buried under what is left of the world trade center, we must try to consider a peaceful approach, lead our world into the next phase of multi-culturalism, to the land of compassion and forgiveness.