Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
29 November 2006

In answer to Nick Cohen

In the 20 Nov issue of the New Statesman the philosopher Ted Honderich was interviewed by Nick Cohen

By Ted Honderich

Nick Cohen’s article took a little skin off me, reminded me to get my hair cut, and made me aware of time passing by elevating me to a rank not much heard of before, retired emeritus professor. No doubt his article was true to the Blair principle of the right thing to do, which is sincerity.

Nick reports I’m an isolated and left-over figure, still true to a 1976 book of mine that says we should overcome squeamish liberal objections to violence of the Left and consider it as a means of saving Africans from short lives. Well, there is no lack of squeamishness in that book, and it can be taken to imply a question about the violence but not an answer. Its last sentence sums it up: “The deprivation and degradation that call up violence should never be absent from thought and feeling, and not so present in them as to obscure other terrible realities”

In his paragraph used for a heading of his piece, he says that for me if you don’t give money to the Red Cross or Oxfam you are killing Africans as surely as if you had deliberately stopped a food convoy reaching a refugee camp. That statement about me is surely between tendentious and false.

Like all those who think and write of the subject of acts and omissions, I do indeed distinguish between — acts and omissions. I distinguish such acts as killing from such omissions as letting die. This is very consistent, as only a slow learner would take time to realize, with the possibility and indeed the fact that some omissions are as wrong as some acts.

My book After the Terror is said by my interviewer to begin with heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. World poverty is indeed much of the subject of its first chapter. But it contains no heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. None at all. It contains a lot of figures. That first chapter, by the way, really should contain some heart-rending descriptions of world poverty. I didn’t put them in, I guess, because of thinking someone would say my book started with heart-rending descriptions of world poverty.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

What sort of article is Nick Cohen’s? Is there passion here that makes small mistakes and maybe large? Passion and hurt having to do with his fervent moral justification of the war on Iraq and the aftermath? With his now being an isolated and left-over figure among journalists, as he remarks himself?

My stuff, the morality of humanity, of which you can learn quickly from my website — justifies Zionism, not vaguely understood but taken as the founding and maintaining of Israel in roughly its original 1948 borders. The morality of humanity also condemns neo-Zionism, the taking from the Palestinians at least their freedom in the last 5th of their homeland. It gives to them a moral right to their liberation-terrorism against neo-Zionism in historic Palestine, including Israel.

It judges 9/11 to have been monstrous, a wholly irrational means to ends that included resistance to neo-Zionism. It also condemns our Iraq War as moral barbarism for our intentional killing of many thousands of innocents. It as entirely condemns the terrorism of 7/7 in London. It maintains Blair is not effectively an enemy of such horrors as 7/7, since he is not tough on both terrorism and the causes of terrorism.

All this involves the judgement and common belief that neo-Zionism and American and British policies and actions in support of it have been a part, one part, of the explanation of 9/11, Iraq and more. They have of course not been the whole explanation. They have been necessary conditions rather than a sufficient condition. Certainly they have been necessary conditions of particular significance, making for very considerable responsibility.

Nick Cohen reports this judgement in three sentences. “Al-Qa’ida isn’t the fault of poverty, it turns out. It’s the fault of the Jews.” There follows a third and inconsistent sentence, in fact quoted from me, that the prime necessary condition of 9/11 was neo-Zionism. The third sentence does not remove the effect of the second. It is more than the raising of the question of whether the common belief is anti-semitic. It is more than the raising of the question of whether I am an anti-semite. There is also the report that I blame all of a lot of violence on “the Jew”.

What this comes to, then, is a safeguarded imputation of anti-semitism based on a something at least mistaken about my common belief as to the explanation of 9/11 etc, the weighting of necessary conditions, shares of responsibility, and so on. Am I an anti-semite anyway? See my recent book Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7…. Start with the pages given in the index under ‘Jews’.

Should I be rueful that in the interview I touched on the matter of their obligation, and in particular Nick Cohen’s? Rueful I am not. It needs asserting that it is Jews first of all who must without equivocation condemn neo-Zionism. They can have a little more effect on it than others. They have the special obligation that comes with that fact.

I pass over all that stuff about my crass howler about Islam and fascism, which is my interviewer’s simple misunderstanding. Something else doesn’t matter much either, but is worth attending to. Did he walk out of the interview, as he implies, maybe thereby impressing innocent readers? He didn’t. Not at all. If you walk out of somewhere, like the Security Council or a kitchen, the person or persons left behind know it. Somebody else knows it. That is what walking out is. Was he doing it in his own head?

Do you want in the end to have from a former emeritus professor a mark or grade for his essay? Something light-hearted about the dark matter of journalism in England effectively in support of the terrorism of neo-Zionism? Well, have what you want. A mark, a mark. I suppose something in the lower Betas, maybe a Gamma, in the marking scheme for first year undergraduates in some course or other. Maybe Sports Science. Something like that.

Content from our partners
<strong>What you need to know about private markets </strong>
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action