conferentie Ottawa: The Wrongfulness of Terrorist Actions: An Interfaith Perspective

Op 30 april en 1 mei as. hoop ik te Ottawa deel te nemen aan een conferentie op de St. Paul’s University over Religieus geïnspireerd geweld. Titel van de conferentie is

The Wrongfulness of Terrorist Actions: An Interfaith Perspective.

Vorig jaar nam ik al deel aan een vergelijkbare conferentie op dezelfde locatie. De bijdragen aan deze eerdere conferentie zijn inmiddels gepubliceerd: Mahmoud Masaeli (ed.), The Ethical Wrongfulness of Terrorist Actions, Ottawa, Commoner’s Publishing House, 2010. Mijn eigen bijdrage was getiteld:‘The Ethics of Suicide Terrorism; An Analysis of the Hamas Charter’.

Dit jaar hoop ik een bijdrage te leveren over de betekenis van een apocalyptisch (=eindtijds) bewustzijn voor religieus geweld. Ik wil mij toespitsen op de beweging van Meir Kahane, een joodse rabbi met een sterk nationalistische inslag en radicale ideeën over de oplossing van het Israëlisch – Palestijnse conflict: zo radicaal, dat zijn partij in Israël verboden werd en hij enige tijd later in New York, door een Arabisch fanaticus, werd vermoord.

Hieronder een korte omschrijving van mijn beoogde bijdrage:


Apocalypticism: source or impediment of terrorism?


Contemporary terrorism’s vocabulary seems impregnated by an apocalyptical discourse which is hardly familiar to the contemporary secular world. Apocalyptical traditions, mainly generated from Jewish sources some centuries before common era, rely on notions such as ‘world beyond’/‘coming world’, ‘aeon’, ‘alienation’, ‘mixture’, ‘call’, ‘arousal’, ‘awakening’, etc. They have a tendency to bifurcate world and history in order to provide space for a  coming kingdom of God. We can retrace apocalyptic vocabularies not only in ancient religious, sometimes more or less sectarian traditions (Manichaeans, Joachimites), but also in particular ‘secularist’ ideologies (communism, anarchism, syndicalism, fascism).

One could be inclined to reject apocalypticism in virtue of its apparent openness to using violence and to committing atrocities. Indeed, if this world as it is obeys to the ‘Prince of Evil’, it cannot but be abandoned altogether; investing in it would be fully senseless. However, we also see that some contemporary apocalyptical orientations avoiding any investment in this world as it is, completely reject the use of violence to bring about the kingdom of God. Most of these non-violent apocalypticists are Jewish: Walter Benjamin, Franz Rosenzweig, Jacob Taubes, Jacques Derrida, to name here a few.

In my contribution I will investigate some motives present in Jewish apocalyptical traditions that expressly prohibit violence. I will also shed an eye on one of the very few ‘violent’ Jewish apocalyptical currents, i.e. Meir Kahane’s Kach-party, to see whether it merely makes a different selection from apocalyptic sources, or if it interprets them differently and (ab)uses their irreducible ambiguity.

By doing so I aim at bringing some light in the obfuscating rhetoric many contemporary terrorists rely on.


Het is de bedoeling dat er een reeks conferenties over dit thema komt: in Canada, de Verenigde Staten en in Nederland/Leiden. Met enkele (nog aan te zoeken) collega’s van het Instituut voor Godsdienstwetenschappen hoop ik in 2011 een follow-up conferentie te Leiden te gaan organiseren, met als titel: Religion and violence: a religious studies perspective.

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7 thoughts on “conferentie Ottawa: The Wrongfulness of Terrorist Actions: An Interfaith Perspective

  1. Thanks for these stimulating remarks! I will answer them below. It is a happy coincidence that I have just started preparing my paper, so I can “kill two birds with one stone”.

    * about terrorism and ethics: yes, sure, ‘terrorism’ or rather ‘violence’ has been advocated as justified, e.g. by Georges Sorel, Sartre, Marx, to mention but a few recent philosophers. Of course the term ‘terrorism’ as such entails a disapproval,so no terrorist would ever call him-herself thus.

    * about Derrida’s ‘Jewishness’: I know all about it, this remains undecidable. Nevertheless, 1) Derrida has never denied or rejected his being-Jewish, even assumed it when being confronted with anti-Semitism; 2) he undeniably shares a particular future-orientedness with the other Jewish thinkers mentioned; 3) yes, one must be careful here not to claim too much.

    * why does a philosopher “by definition” not advocate violence? One can only speak about probabilities here. The same goes for theologians, who could be both pacifistic and violence-approving. There’s nothing in the respective definitions implying a pre-given relation towards violence.

    * as to Jews supporting communism and socialism: I think several reasons can be mentioned here (let alone that Jewish people can have many different allegiances). In pre-War Europe, communism was internationalistic, as opposed to those damned (mostly anti-Semitic) nationalisms arising everywhere. Communism held (and holds) an all-inclusive, non-racist promise. Judaism as such has a particular sensitivity to social justice, as has been reminded to us by Hermann Cohen (1842-1918) and of course Levinas. From the start it has provided social care for strangers and foreigners (and not only with the rise of Christianity! Too many hypocritical Christian theologians and philosophers have reduced Judaism to particularity whereas Christianity was supposed to first introduce universalism).

    * as to your last question: I completely agree. Jacob Taubes has shown (convincingly, to me) the uninterrupted links between Jewish apocalyptical traditions and Hegel/Marx. See his Abendländische Eschatologie (Berlin, Matthes & Seitz, 2007/1947)

  2. One feels compelled to question the title: was there anyone who ever said that terrorism was ethical or a just cause ? even though Chomsky (but not E. Said) have considered it the ultimate weapon of the disarmed poor in certain conflicts. The statement concerning Derrida is quite surprising as one should not expect 17th and 18th century Jews to have claimed Spinoza as one of them, in the aftermath of their condemnation of his ideas. Derrida never considered himself a “Jewish thinker”. I also wonder how should one be surprised that philosophers did not advocate violence (and I wonder why should one consider them as advocating the arrival of any kingdom). A philosopher, by definition, cannot advocate violence. It is rather from theologians that we see how some philosophical minds can get corrupted (St Augustine in the Epistle on the Pelagians; the Dominicans during the Inquisition…). As you mentioned Communism in the secular ideologies, could you shed some light on the reason why European Jews were widely supporting nascent Socialism and nascent Communism in Eastern Europe, but also in the Middle East ? Could there be some trace of the influence of some common “apocalyptic” expectancy in the afore-mentioned ideologies and in the afore-mentioned religion ?

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