Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

4.9.2003 | Von:
Joshua Sobol

Terror and Democracy


It is the bloody reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that made me think of the challenge that the new forms of terror, and especially suicidal terror, constitute to Democracies.

The suicidal terror is a form of war waged by belligerent armed organisations against civilians with the deliberate goal of killing and injuring as many civilians as possible. The 1949 four Geneva convents as well as the 1977 two adjacent protocols postulate that parties engaged in a conflict must always discern between combatants and non-combatant civilians. It is strictly forbidden to direct an attack on civilians who are not members of the armed forces of the enemy. Attacks that target civilians deliberately are defined as war crimes (§ 85(3) of adjacent protocol 1, and §8(2) of the Rome constitution of the international tribunal for criminal actions.) The same International Rome Legislation defines as "Crimes against Humanity" any kind of acts perpetrated as a part of a vast or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, and which is implemented as a policy by a state or an organisation which carries out that policy."

These paragraphs incorporated in the International Law leave no place for doubt that suicide bombings and suicidal terror are by definition crimes of war as well as crimes against humanity. The leaders and members of terrorist organisations that implement this kind of strategy should be considered and treated as War Criminals. But since terrorist organisations are not administered according to stately rules, it is very difficult to establish a clear and authorised list of those who are directly responsible for masterminding those crimes against humanity. It is even more difficult to detect the perpetrators of the suicide bombings during the period of their preparation for their criminal mission. According to Shay Shaul´s study on The Shahids (Islam and Suicide Attacks) this period of preparation may vary between a few months and a few days. When should a potential suicide bomber be considered as a War Criminal and a "Ticking bomb"? Is it from the moment that he volunteered and was recruited for the mission? Is it only after he had accomplished the ritual of making his terminal declaration in front of the video camera of the terrorist organisation, preceding the period of his total seclusion and isolation prior to the carrying out of his criminal mission?

These dilemmas must preoccupy a law-abiding democracy whose civil population has been designated as a target by a terrorist organisation. And these questions are not easy to answer. They become all the more difficult to handle, because the psyche, the values and the beliefs of the targeted civil population are constantly aggressed and literally bombarded by the suicide bombers. Let me try to explain what makes it so difficult.

The terrorist strategy aims at breaking the morale of the aggressed civil population by a chain of suicide bombings, but it achieves quite the opposite. The experience of various countries that suffered recently of waves of murderous terror shows that the more violent the terror, and the more the aggressed population develops a stiff upper lip.

In the Israeli Palestinian conflict the suicidal terror can boast three notorious achievements: it smashed to pieces the Peace camp, rendering its discourse irrelevant; it brought to power in a landslide victory the toughest hawkish parties and it postponed to an unknown date the founding of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombings also managed to shut the hearts of the majority of the targeted Israeli civilian population to the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian population by the tough counter measures and the harsh repression applied by Israel in the re-occupied territories.

The policy of a Democracy being the expression of the will and feelings of the majority of the citizens, suicidal terror against a democracy brings about the transfer of power to the militant hard-liners, and to deeper and more bitter frustration of the population that engendered and applied suicidal terror. Therefore terror creates a vicious circle where terror and anti-terror reactions keep nurturing and escalating one another. This process leads to a paroxysm of violence the end of which cannot be foreseen.

This constant wild violence engenders a special way of thinking. Short of a proper name for it, I would describe it as exploding, self-contradictory thinking. Following a suicide bombing or a violent counterblow I often surprise myself strongly disagreeing with my own opinions. I change them, only to find that the new ones don't satisfy me either. It reminds me of Groucho Marx's famous saying with a slight modification: "these are my principles, and if they don't satisfy me, I have others." It could be funny, if it were not the result of shattering, murderous events. In our exploding reality, whoever sticks to his convictions of last week, must be out of sink with life. If you repeat today things you said yesterday, you are certainly out of touch with your own feelings. And to be out of touch with your heartfelt feelings and real emotions means to lose contact with the forces that make a democracy function. It means to become irrelevant to the democratic practice.

What is a Democracy?

Democracy is based on the principle of the sovereignty of the People. The People confide the task of governing the state to its chosen delegates, elected in free elections once every four or five years. The principle that the power must return to the people every once in a while reflects the fact that there is a constant transformation of ideas, opinions, convictions and beliefs of what is right and what is wrong, and that the old must give way to the new.

The democratic credo presumes that the human society is undergoing a permanent development, similar to the process of evolution and natural selection in nature. It presupposes that the environment is undergoing constant transformation, and society must be open to constant change in order to adapt to the changing environment, if it wants to survive, to improve and to flourish.

The difference between Nature and Human society is that Cognitive and Emotional Election replace the Natural Selection in the human society. Since the elective process involves the act of choosing between Promised Solutions and not between Proven Solutions, the very act of electing is based on the recognition of the principle of the Freedom of Will.

Democracy is based therefore on the recognition of the rights of the human person to evolve, to change, to use the cognitive faculty combined with the free will as instruments for shaping and ever reshaping society, its prevailing laws and its manners.

This involves the recognition and the respect of The Other as an equal Human Being endowed with a Free Will equal to my own free will. Moreover, the principle of Free Elections, on which the choosing between unproven promises of solutions is based, makes it the duty of every member of the democratic society to give a full and public expression to her or to his changing elective affinities.

While the cognitive faculty is the expression of the rational component of the human persona, the freedom of will is the expression of instincts, feelings, imagination, unconscious urges, taste and other forces that animate our psyche and our behaviour. It is the expression of the irrational part of our being. Therefore Free Elections are based on our right to choose an option that we can partly justify by words and call by its name, but which is based at the same time also on the unnameable. It is our elective affinity, which constitutes that important part of ourselves, which makes us also fall in love and fall out of love with others.

Democracy is based therefore on our right to understand but also on our right to prefer, to like and to dislike, to choose an option or a person that appeals to us, to be guided to a certain extent by our eroticism. It is also based on the recognition that preferences, liking and disliking, and even love is not eternal, and that people fall in and out of love, and that they have the right to unite and to separate. A democratic society honours and respects the Erotic element of our being as much as it respects our rationality. Combine Eros and Mind, and give them full freedom, and you get the plenitude of the human being, but also the condition sine qua non for democracy.

This is the reason why democracy, which is based at its best on the equality of the anima and the animus, of the Dyonisian and the Apollonian principles, must in the long run bring about a full equality between women and men, between homosexuals and heterosexuals. By the force of its nature a democratic society tends to develop a life-loving civilisation, and a life oriented culture. The democratic civilisation celebrates youth, eroticism and the freedom and right of all grown up people to love whoever they love, and to give a full and free expression to their love, based on mutual free consent of partners. Democracy is based on the idea that nothing is greater and more important than the individual person, and that a society is not less and not more than the sum total of the individuals that constitute it.

Nothing sums up the characteristics of democracy better than Karl Popper´s definition of the Open Society, as opposed to its worst enemy, the totalitarian society and its intellectual supports, especially holism and historicism.

In this context holism is to be understood as the view that human social groupings such as religions, tribes, classes or nations are greater and more meaningful than the sum of their members, and that such groupings are 'organic' entities in their own right. That they are rightly acting on their human members to shape their destinies and that they are subject to their own independent laws of development.

Historicism, which is closely associated with holism, is the belief that history develops inexorably and necessarily according to certain principles or rules towards a determinate end. Such is the outlook of certain trends in monotheist religions, which consider the community of the believers to have a historical mission to wage a sacred war against the Infidels. Its secular variation was the dialectic of Hegel, which was adopted and implemented by Marx. In both cases society is considered as greater and more meaningful that the individual, and the individual´s shortcut to greatness goes through martyrdom on the altar of the sacred war against the infidel or the class enemy.

The link between holism and historicism is that the holist believes that individuals are essentially formed by the social groupings to which they belong, and that the group is in its right to claim the life of the individual. The historicist - who is usually also a holist - holds that we can understand a social or a religious grouping only in terms of the internal principles that determine its development.

These beliefs lead to what Popper calls 'The Historicist Doctrine of the Social Sciences'. This doctrine is akin to the Religious Doctrine of the Holly Goal of human history. It boils down to the principal task of the social sciences to make predictions about the social and political development of the Human kind. At the same time Militant Religious Fundamentalism assigns a task to the believers to destroy the forces that are acting against what they perceive as the sacred, teleological goal of History.

We see nowadays to what extent this view of history has lead to the worst human catastrophes of the past century, to what extent it was theoretically misconceived, and we can see how dangerous it may become when adopted as a strategy by fundamentalist religious ideologies. It leads inevitably to the use of worldwide terror as a strategic weapon against peoples and civilisations that stand in the way of the totalitarian project of this fundamentalist authoritarianism. In the case of the communist dictatorship it lead to centralised governmental control of the individual and the attempted imposition of large-scale social planning, which ended up in a monumental fiasco. In the case of the Fundamentalist religious regimes it leads to an even worse tyrannical control of the individual´s erotic behaviour. It goes to the extremity of an imposition of a uniform authorised dress designed to absolutely deny individuality, personality and sexuality by covering the human body and the human face, and banning eroticism for women and men alike.

If Democracy is based on the view that society is no more and no less than the sum of its individual members, the Fundamentalist terror regimes are based on the view that individuality should not be allowed to exist. Therefore the very notion of society is alien to them. The human being is considered as a particle of a mass. The individual is tolerated so long as he merges and gets lost in the masses that run the streets shouting one slogan and murmuring the same words while repeating the same rituals with the same gestures.

Democracy is based on the idea that what happens in history is the largely unplanned and unforeseeable result of the actions of free individuals. It is based on the assumption that large scale social planning to an antecedently conceived blueprint is inherently misconceived - and inevitably disastrous - precisely because human actions have consequences that cannot be foreseen. This is all the more true about societies that impose on the individuals a strictly ritualistic behaviour that bans any possible originality, any imaginative activity, any fruitful erotic creativity (since every fruitful creativity is erotic by definition).

Such a society is doomed to a colossal failure when confronting a free, open democratic society. Therefore it is doomed to nurture feelings of resentment and frustration. Since it cannot compete with an open, democratic society, the closed holistic grouping tends to nurture negative dreams of destruction. It can only wish to destroy the symbols of the free society. Yet the most meaningful symbol of the open society is the free individual who celebrates her creativity, her eroticism and her love of life. Therefore the resentful, frustrated non-individual who is the product of the holistic closed society can only dream of destroying as many free individuals as possible while destroying his own hated, aborted and non-fulfilled life. It is the vile dream of the death bound suicide bomber to merge with a crowd of youngsters celebrating their beauty, their joy of life and their eroticism, and to blow himself up amidst those free and life-celebrating individuals drinking their beer and dancing in a pub. See in that connection the terrorist attacks against cafes and nightclubs in Baly, Israel and Russia (the Nord-Ost attack).

The Dream of Prophecy

Popper argues that historicism and holism have their origins in what he terms 'one of the oldest dreams of mankind - the dream of prophecy, the idea that we can know what the future has in store for us, and that we can profit from such knowledge by adjusting our policy to it.' (Conjectures and Refutations, 338).

The open society is based on the non-predictability of the future because it is founded on the freedom of will of the individual, that is: on the erotic power of the individual. This non-predictability horrifies the holistic totalitarian society. The holistic totalitarian society cannot accept and cannot integrate the erotic principle as the quintessence of the expression of life of the individual.

The totalitarian holistic society is not only the enemy of the open society but is also bound to try to destroy it, because the liberation of eroticism constitutes a death threat to the totalitarian holistic society. The fundamentalist religious groupings experience this non-predictability as a threat and an assault against their very raison-d´etre.

Therefore it is not unlikely to speculate that the onslaught of murderous and mass-destructive terrorism unleashed by Prophetic-inspired groupings against victorious democracies, coincided with the spectacular downfall of totalitarian regimes, and the no less spectacular triumph of Democracy, brought about by an unprecedented and unpredictable flourishing of the open society at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Erotic and the Neurotic

What is eroticism? When a living organism shows more interest in another individual of its species than in oneself; when it is willing to open itself to the other, to get as intimate as possible with the other, to the point of being ready to penetrate or to be penetrated by the other and to merge its most intimate substance with the other´s, we say that this living organism is erotic.

The erotic state is crucial for the survival, for the proliferation and for the further evolution of the species. When an animal is erotic, it does not fear The Other. It seeks closeness and it takes the initiative to establish contact and intercourse with The Other. When an animal loses interest in other members of its kind, fearing their closeness and showing symptoms of phobia of fondness, when it develops an isolationist behaviour, and becomes aggressive towards any other individual who comes near it, we say that the animal is sick, and that it behaves in a neurotic way.

The erotic state generates life, whereas the neurotic condition is death-bound. A neurotic organism cannot interact harmoniously with its environment. It becomes so aggressive to the outer world, that it ends up by alienating itself to the entire system with which it must coexist in order to exist. Shutting itself off to any metabolic exchange with its environment, it is doomed to devour its own substance, to eat itself up and to poison itself on its own excretions. It becomes self destructive unto death.

What is true for individuals is true also for human societies and civilisations. A human society and a culture can be erotic or neurotic. An erotic culture is open to intercourse with other cultures. It is eager to absorb and adapt what is vital and erotic in other cultures, and to make it its own.

Sodom and Gomorrah are the archetype and the epitome of the neurotic culture.

When Heidegger made his infamous Rector´s Speech in Heidelberg in 1935, to announce the new vocation of German philosophy to exclude everything that is not purely German, he pronounced the death sentence of the short lived nazi civilisation, whose self destructiveness was only matched by its imminent neurotic nature. The Nazi civilisation engaged in ethnic cleansing. The Communist civilisation indulged in ideological cleansing. At the same time the English and the American democracies opened the gates of their academic and scientific institutions to those scientists, artists, intellectuals and writers who were racially and ideologically unwanted in the neurotic regimes that prevailed in Europe in those dark times of the European civilisation. If English became the Lingua Franca of our time, it is partly because it was the language of the democratic erotic culture that was eager to interact with the contribution of those damned foreigners who were kicked out by the neurotic, totalitarian terror that prevailed in Europe at that time.

Neurotic Terror and mysogynist civilisations

Eroticism has to do with the uninhibited interaction and intercourse between the feminine and the masculine. Non-erotic Societies and civilisations develop a neurotic attitude towards femininity. They repudiate it, they ban it, they cover it, they unsex it. They cover the faces and the bodies of women and they mutilate their sex organs.

It is remarkable that suicidal terror springs from human groupings that practice apartheid between the sexes. The world of today can be divided into societies which have abolished the apartheid between men and women, and societies that are imposing it with ever more violence.

The sex apartheid societies confine their males to an exclusive male sub-society. Deprived of tenderness, love and free eroticism, those poor males develop an emotionally sick combatant society that despises life and develops an adoration of death. The Taliban regime that prevailed in Afganistan furnished the most dreadful example of such a society. The summary public executions of women covered in Chadors and Burkas on the playgrounds of stadiums constituted the climax of this paroxysm of apartheid.

It is interesting to note that while the Western European democracies boycotted the racial apartheid in South Africa, they hardly react to the sexist apartheid of which women are the victims under fundamentalist regimes. It is typical that those human groupings that practice the fiercest apartheid against their own women, are the ones to produce the most appalling specimen of suicidal terrorists.

This apartheid against women could be the litmus paper and the guideline for the reaction of European democracies to the new terrorist challenges. To return to Karl Popper, it is time for the Open Societies to identify their enemies, and to treat them like enemies. Suicidal terror directed against civilians should unequivocally be defined and dealt with as a crime against humanity. Leaders and organisations that use this terror should be pursued and brought to trial for crimes of war in international tribunals.

The time has also come to define the characteristics of apartheid against women. Women should be entitled to full equality with men in the right to do any work, to wear any clothes they wish, to show their face and their hair in public, and to do everything that men are allowed to do. Any regime that restricts any of those liberties should be considered as apartheid regime, and should be boycotted by the democratic open societies.

The time has come for Democracy to become as militant in the defence of its principles as its enemies are bent on destroying them. Let us not forget that freedom is one of those things that fall out of use when you are not using it.

Thank you.

Event series

Mapping Memories

Mapping Memories is an event series focusing on commemorative culture in Eastern Europe and beyond. Current events include conferences, summer schools and practical workshops.

Mehr lesen


Konferenz zur Holocaustforschung

Die Internationalen Konferenzen zur Holocaustforschung dienen dem Austausch zwischen wissenschaftlicher Forschung und der Praxis politischer Bildung. Sie entstehen aus einer Kooperation der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/bpb und Partnern aus der Wissenschaft.

Mehr lesen


Themenzeit im Themenraum

Themenzeiten: Kompakte Informationsmodule und anregende Diskussionen mit männl. und weibl. Experten zu Themen der politischen Bildung.

Mehr lesen


Checkpoint bpb – Die Montagsgespräche

Alle zwei Monate montags diskutiert der Checkpoint aktuelle Fragestellungen aus Politik, Gesellschaft und Forschung – anspruchsvoll, unterhaltsam und gerne auch kontrovers.

Mehr lesen


What's up, America? – Perspectives on the United States and Transatlantic Relations

Mehr als die Hälfte der Europäer steht TTIP positiv gegenüber – in Deutschland und zwei weiteren Ländern jedoch ist die Ablehnung innerhalb der Bevölkerung groß. Anhand dieses Fallbeispiels beschäftigt sich die Podiumsdiskussion mit der Frage, wieso wirtschaftliche Fragen auf beiden Seiten des Atlantiks und auch innereuropäisch auf so unterschiedliche Art und Weise diskutiert werden.

Mehr lesen

Blog zur Fachkonferenz

Medienkompetenz 2014

Zielsetzung der Fachkonferenz Medienkompetenz 2014 ist es, theoretische und praktische Konzepte angesichts aktueller digitaler Umbrüche und vor dem Hintergrund bestehender Modelle der Medienkompetenz zu diskutieren und weiterzuentwickeln.

Mehr lesen