What I do
wish to address is the crux of Friedman's manipulation, which consists
of focusing on the Palestinian suicide attacks. Friedman writes:
"The Palestinians are so blinded by their narcissistic rage that
they have lost sight of the basic truth civilisation is built on:
the sacredness of every human life, starting with your own."
Now this is
vicious demagoguery. The "sacredness of every human life"
may start with many things, by it definitely does NOT start with
your own life. It is not the "Palestinian narcissistic rage"
exposed here, but the blind narcissism of Friedman himself, who
seems to selfishly care about himself more than anything. This may
be nice for him, but such a person has no right to preach morality
As for the
life of others, things cannot be clearer. No moral system allows
murder. It is not up to you to end someone else's life. This is
one of several reasons why only very few backward countries still
practice death penalty: Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States. Except
for such few exceptions, all other countries have integrated the
"sacredness of every human life" into their legal system and forbid
taking the life of any person by another person.
who is the master of one's own life? Unlike the absolute ban on
murder, the question of suicide is morally and philosophically controversial.
The three monotheistic religions usually forbid suicide – but remember
the biblical suicide-bomber Samson, adored as hero in Christianity
and Judaism, opening a long tradition of martyrs.
was the great English philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) whose defence
of suicide became most famous. In his essay "On
Suicide" (1757) he proves that suicide violates no duty
to God, self or others. His argument goes roughly like that: God
has given humans the liberty to alter nature for their own happiness;
Suicide is an instance of altering the course of nature for our
own happiness; Therefore, suicide does not violate God's plan. (Click
here for details.)
possess a special inclination towards suicide? Probably not more
than the English. Here is what the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote in 1748:
"the English are apt to commit suicide most unaccountably; they
destroy themselves even in the bosom of happiness (…) among the
English it is the consequence of a distemper, being connected with
the physical state of the machine, and independent of every other
almost all liberal people nowadays would agree that suicide is not
a crime. Though some legal systems still formally forbid it, I've
never heard of someone punished for a suicide attempt. In fact,
a burning issue in modern legislation is euthanasia for terminally
ill people, where the question is not their right to commit suicide
(which is usually acknowledged), but rather the right to be assisted
in it by medical staff.
before Hume, philosopher Epictetus
(60-120 CE) also endorsed suicide, showing deep understanding for
its causes. There may be limits to what we can endure in this life,
he argued, and so, when things get too intolerable, we may wish
to end our lives. "Is there smoke in the room? If it is
slight, I remain. If it is grievous, I quit it. For you must remember
this and hold it fast, that the door stands open." This
may not be the case with the bombers of September 11th, but it is
precisely the case of the Palestinian desperation. Palestinian rooms
are now filled with smoke, and tear gas, and tears, and blood. May
Thomas Friedman never experience even a tiny fraction of the Palestinian
desperation, which he so heartlessly puts between hyphens.
we agree that suicide in itself is irreproachable, that the life
of every Palestinian belongs to him- or herself (not to Thomas Friedman),
and that people are allowed to do with their life whatever they
wish, including ending it, what's left of Friedman's argument? Not
much. If you re-read his column bearing this in mind, you see how
Friedman's balloon is shrinking to trivialities. Suicide bombing
is just another weapon, not better and not worse than any other.
Friedman is right: Palestinians have found Israel's weak spot. But
finding the enemy's weak spots is what fighting is all about; not
quite a New York Times scoop.
we drop the flawed "accusation" of suicide, the moral fault of suicide
bombers becomes obvious: killing innocent people. This is morally
reprehensible under any circumstances. Not all suicide bombers kill
innocent people, though: many of them explode next to Israeli occupation
soldiers. Others target settlers, whose innocence is questionable.
But true: many suicide bombers have killed and injured innocent
civilians, and this is unforgivable.
– yes, just like the American bombing of Hiroshima (but compare
the numbers). Just like the American bombing of the shelter in Baghdad
in 1991, killing 400 Iraqi civilians. Just like the Israeli bombing
of Kafr Kana in 1996, killing 100 Lebanese civilians. Unforgivable
just like so many of the present Israeli actions in the occupied
territories, in which innocent civilians are killed. Just like so
many of the American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq (and elsewhere),
in which countless
innocent civilians are killed and injured. The question of intention
is a poor refuge: if you enter Ramallah with 150 tanks, cutting
water supply and medical aid, if you drop tons of bombs on Afghanistan
or Iraq, don't tell me you never intended to harm civilians.
bias is now clear. He could have reproached Palestinians for targeting
innocent people. This would have been a sound accusation, though
it applies just the same to Palestinian hit-and-run snipers. But
he didn't. He preferred picking the suicide bombers, who are morally
not different from any other who kills innocent. Why?
Friedman is frustrated by the fact that American-Israeli might still
has some limits. The world would be so much better if might could
altogether abolish right! Alas, the smartest bombs cannot defeat
the human spirit. The weapons of the poor may not be as clean and
photogenic as ours, but they can still hurt. Capitalism isn't perfect.
Destruction profits are sometimes independent of the investment:
if you're run over by a cheap scooter or by an expensive limousine,
you won't always live to tell the difference. A sad fact for a globalisation
fan like Friedman.
But it's more
than that. Friedman's focus on suicide bombers is intended to dehumanise
the Palestinians. By blaming Palestinians of carelessness towards
"the sacredness of every human life, starting with your own",
Friedman is claiming that they do not care about their own life.
He is then patronizingly pretending that he does care about their
life (more than they do!), and now, having assumed responsibility
for the Palestinians, Friedman has a suggestion: "First, Israel
needs to deliver a military blow". Bravo. Look how easily the
great moralist Friedman is translating "the sacredness of every
human life" into "a military blow". All in the name
of "the basic truth civilisation is built on" what
So hit those
non-humans, says the enlightened humanist. And what then? Obviously:
then, "Israel must tell the Palestinian people that it is ready
to resume talks". I devoted an entire column, Against
Negotiations, precisely to this false consciousness: both to
the dangerous idea that bloodshed may lead to peace, and to "talks"
as a code-word for perpetuating the occupation. I won't repeat it
printable version of this article
was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has
a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and
is currently working on his PhD thesis. He teaches in the Tel-Aviv
University's Department of Comparative Literature. He also works
as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as
a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth.
Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter
from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.
Now?! Well, Maybe Later
Horowitz Rewrites the Past
Say No to
a Palestinian 'State'
Cares About the Palestinians?
in the Streets
Ideology of Occupation
War – Really Imminent?
State of the Army, Part Two
Settlements, Killing Peace
State of the Army, Part 1
Left Sells Out Peace