Last week, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a Tel Aviv bus, propelling pounds of densely packed metal shrapnel into the vehicle's passengers. Five people were killed instantly, and 60 others wounded.
The event presumably failed to darken the day of Ted Honderich, a Canadian-born philosopher who teaches at University College London. Last week, he told an audience in Toronto that Palestinians have a "moral right" to blow up Jews. And he encourages them to exercise it: "To claim a moral right on behalf of the Palestinians to their terrorism is to say that they are right to engage in it, that it is permissible if not obligatory."
In Britain, where Honderich now lives, his theories have generated controversy. A disgusted Daily Telegraph reviewer called his new book, After the Terror, "one of the worst books I have ever read." But on his Canadian tour, Honderich was greeted warmly. Following his lecture at the University of Toronto, audience members lined up to respectfully parse the fine points of his philosophical theories. And since Honderich blames the West and Israel for what happened on Sept. 11, the CBC naturally regards him as star material. On Sept. 8, Michael Enright interviewed Honderich on national radio -- an opportunity Honderich used to repeat his claim that suicide bombings are a proper response to Israel's "rape" of Palestine.
Honderich is a symptom of a poisonous, unapologetic hatred of Israel that is now part of mainstream campus culture. In the United States and Europe, academics have tried to boycott Israeli scholars -- but not those from, say, Syria or Iraq, whose violent "rape" of dissenting minorities makes Ariel Sharon look like the world's most tender lover. Here in Canada, Sherene Razack, director of the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the University of Toronto, has distributed hysterical mass electronic mailings accusing Israel of "atrocities beyond belief," and calls on Canadian academics to demonstrate "solidarity" with the Palestinians.
Do all of these pronouncements rise to a sort of soft anti-Semitism -- as Harvard University President Lawrence Summers argued last week? It's an attractive theory. While anti-Israel academics claim they are merely standing up for the world's "oppressed," they have a remarkable habit of ignoring anyone who doesn't happen to be oppressed by Jews. In Chechnya, many times more Muslims have died at the hands of Russians than Palestinians at the hands of Israelis. In Sudan, more than a million Christians and animists have been killed by a genocidal government in Khartoum. But last time I checked, Europe's profs weren't targeting Russian chess players or Sudanese mullahs. All their wrath and attention is reserved for Israel and the United States. Following Honderich's lecture last week, I asked him whether the people of Lebanon would be justified in using terror to fight back against the "rape" committed daily by 35,000 Syrian troops. He had no opinion. "I'd have to look at the situation," he told me. "I don't know much about it."
But anti-Semitism -- even the indirect variety Summers talks about -- can't be the only culprit. Like most of the academics who bash Israel, Honderich does not come across as a bigot: In fact, he suggested in his speech that early Zionists too had a "moral right" to terrorism. The real problem is more generic, and has to do with the lingering instinct among academics to romanticize terrorism as an expression of righteous class struggle. Honderich and his European colleagues still see Yasser Arafat as Che Guevara in a kaffiyeh.
Indeed, Honderich spent a good deal of his speech talking about poverty in Africa and the evils of capitalism (which he calls a "vicious economic system"), and suggested both had something to do with the assault on the World Trade Center. "Is it possible to suppose that the Sept. 11 attacks had nothing at all to do with ... Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Sierra Leone?" he asks in After The Terror. "In thinking about it, remember that the attacks on the towers were indeed attacks on the principal symbols of world capitalism."
Never mind that the first major al-Qaeda supported attack against Americans came nine years ago in Somalia, where the United States sacrificed the lives of 18 soldiers in an attempt to distribute food to famine-stricken Muslims. Never mind that the words "Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Sierra Leone" appear in al-Qaeda exhortations rather less frequently than, say, "exterminate the infidels wherever you find them." Never mind the West's campaign to liberate two million Muslims in Kosovo. Never mind that the majority of al-Qaeda murderers are middle-class doctors, engineers and civil servants from Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich sheikhdoms. By the deluded lights of warmed- over Marxists, it all comes down to class struggle. Apocalyptic Islam and anti-Semitism are just clever cover stories for liberating the masses.
William F. Buckley once said that he'd be better off living in a country governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by tenured members of the Harvard faculty. He's still right. A five-year-old child has the sense to know that slaughtering innocent civilians is wrong. To convince yourself otherwise, you have to spend years hanging around a university.