The beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff outraged the Western world not because of the act's barbarism; after all, people have been beheading their enemies since the dawn of history. Moreover, decapitations are also associated with the French Revolution, i.e., with the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The source of the horror is that the beheadings were seemingly aimed at those very values by targeting figures that embody them – journalists.
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It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to harm a journalist, who is fulfilling the ideal of the universal man, who peels off his nationalist subjectivity and examines the world from on high, just as it was difficult at first to understand the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. “Go shopping,” said then-President George W. Bush after the Twin Towers fell. He thus recognized that the attack had been aimed not at American liberty, but at the American economic system masquerading as liberty. This is the same economy that, using the democratic ideal, had sold the world the illusion of economic mobility, open to anyone who demonstrates enough capitalist willpower, while in practice it has solidified a minority group’s control over the world’s primary economic resources.
Similarly we must understand that the enemy the Islamic State is battling is Americanism masquerading as “humanity.” He who holds the copyright on the concept of “humanity” enjoys the right to act most inhumanely in its name. The others, those who were excluded from “humaneness” by national or economic blockages – their wars are inhumane from the start. Reports by journalist Itai Anghel from Iraq in 2003 can teach us that America itself planted the seed from which the Islamic State sprouted when it blocked Ba’ath officers who had served Saddam Hussein from joining the new Iraqi army, even though they were prepared to subordinate themselves to America’s command. The revenge they promised has arrived.
Interestingly, this group was not the only one protesting this summer against the concept of the universal man embodied by the journalist. In Israel the Walla! news site launched a campaign called “First of all, Israeli.” The site protested against reporters’ neutrality and exposed it as a position that was merely a cover for non-neutral interests. Confronted with those “anti-Israel” interests, the editors of the site believe it was obligated to protect Israeli interests, first and foremost.
Walla! is correct in stating that we are first of all Israelis – that is, there is no place in the world that is not politically marked. But what does being Israeli mean? Narrowing down to national subjectivity doesn’t reduce the obligation to act in accordance with values; it just highlights the obligation to act in accordance with your own values. Being Israeli means knowing that your story is the story of the conflict. Being Israeli means knowing that as long as there is no two-state solution, the Palestinians are “the poor of your city.”
Israel’s political leadership must take responsibility for the future and understand that those who are expelled from the world into its “mental hospitals” will sooner or later explode. If Israel looks at Hamas and sees the Islamic State, it will eventually get the Islamic State. But if it’s wise enough to insist on interpreting the latest round of violence as part of the Palestinian national struggle, it will see that it has at its disposal not just the tools for a diplomatic solution to the local conflict, but an opportunity to create a common regional front against the ideology of revenge, Islamic State-style.