The Birth of the Tragedy

“I am convinced that opposite me sits ‘Ivan the Terrible’ of Treblinka”

Pinhas Epstien, 2, 23, 1987

“This man is Ivan, without a shadow of a doubt– Ivan from Treblinka. From the gas chambers–the man I am looking at now.”

Eliyhau Rosenberg 2, 25, 1987

Every aggression enacted by one man against another can be judged on two different levels: the ethical level and the level of Reason. Ethical judgment is supposed to rule whether the aggression was morally right or wrong. Judging whether something is morally right or wrong involves application of one’s intuitive faculties and therefore can’t produce clear-cut conclusions. Reason on the other hand, traces the causes that led to the aggression, applying rational faculties; it looks into the available evidence, the psychological context, the legal system, precedent cases, etc. Reason employs rational and analytical considerations, therefore it can be reduced to an argument with irrefutable results. In order to establish whether the aggression was justified we must synthesise both ethical judgment and Reason. This synthesis is usually regarded as ‘Justice’. It is important to note that this synthesis is far from being perfect or ‘free of faults’ but it is still the most acceptable process man can follow to achieve a fair judgment. Although ethical decision-making and Reason belong to very different categories of thought, man has proved capable of synthesising the two.

This process of synthesis can become far more complicated when we face major scale aggression that portrays an obvious injustice. This is when politics gets involved. In the following paper I will try to scrutinise the political mechanism that specializes in robbing singular man of his ability to come up with an accountable fair judgement. I will try to look into major crimes against humanity and to assess the political game involved in the transformation of their significance into political power. I will try to argue that current western political power is based on the downgrading of man’s notion of justice into the ethical mode devoid of Reason. I will also try to argue that this form of thinking is the birth of the ‘victim mentality.’

September 11th.

The attack on the World Trade Centre was a major scale aggression enacted by very few terrorists against very many innocent civilians. No one can justify such an attack in moral terms. Yet this attack can and should be assessed as an act of aggression. In other words it should be analysed both in ethical terms and in terms of Reason.

One is still entitled to ask for the Reason behind the attack: What is it that brought seventeen devoted men to commit such a suicidal atrocity? Should this attack be regarded as a declaration of war or rather as a form of retaliation? Is it just a mad, evil and murderous act or rather a legitimate struggle towards liberation? These kinds of questions are crucially important to ask, not because their answers are clear but precisely because their answers might be very vague. At the very least these questions might lead us to acknowledge our own rational boundaries. Raising these questions might even lead us to admit to the possibility of a different rationality, one that could legitimate putting our lives in great danger. The Americans should be the first to ask themselves these kinds of questions but sadly these questions are hardly heard in America. The reason for that is clear. On the surface, it is very sensible to argue that such questions are completely redundant since no rational explanation can justify an utterly inhumane crime. This argument is very popular and it is even seen as morally grounded but actually it is counter-productive. It makes society completely blinded to itself. More so, it makes society completely blinded to the possibility of other alternative and opposing worldviews.

I would argue that the failure to ask for the reasons behind crimes against humanity is a fatal crime in itself. It is a sophisticated political manipulation that aims at maintaining the current world order in which the rich become richer and the poor are kept deprived forever. This mode of thought, which I will soon define as ‘victim mentality’, is probably the real and only enemy of western culture. If we agree that rational reasoning and proper argumentation are seen as the highest of western ideals, than we must agree that robbing man of these very faculties is a clear offence against those western ideals.

The American administration’s reaction to the September 11th atrocity presents an intentional avoidance of the questioning mechanism and search for Reason. It is based on the adoption a purely ethical approach. President G. W Bush rightly condemned the attack ethically but at the same time he saved himself and the American people from facing the Reason that led to that attack. G.W Bush clearly tried to redefine the notion of justice. It was no longer a synthesis between ethical judgment and Reason but rather a purely ethical judgment. As I said earlier on, when one deprives oneself of Reason the whole idea of justice becomes redundant. Justice is turned into a mere intuition. Jurisdiction is no longer needed because you can save the suspect from the trouble of defending himself, his crime is utterly unacceptable to start with.

It is easy to explain why politicians prefer to degrade the whole idea of ‘justice’ into the purely ethical. First, since ethics applies the intuitive faculties, it allows policy makers to communicate with their supporters’ intuitions rather than with their reasoning. Second, in the age of electronic media, a message should be strong, clear and short. It is far easier and effective to stimulate intuitions with metaphors and emotive language rather than to present a tedious ‘well built’ rational argument. Third, politicians would prefer to keep the demarcation line between Reason and ethics as evasive as possible because it allows them to redefine the notion of justice to fit their own political agenda (Reason can jeopardise such an act). Fourth, Avoidance of Reason saves politicians from providing their voters with any conclusive evidential ground.

These explanations might throw some light on the bizarre rhetoric which stands at the core of the phoney ‘War Against Terror’. We do not have to bring Bin Laden to court because he is too much of a criminal anyway. Let’s just portray him as the ‘devil himself’ and then hunt him forever even if it means killing thousands of innocent civilians. We do not have to prove that Sadam holds an arsenal of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, it is enough just to dehumanise him and then to declare a third world war. The American administration wants us to follow our intuitions assuming that Bush’s ones must be good enough–don’t ever forget that he is an ‘elected’ president. He must therefore, represent the intuitions of the American ‘democratic’ people.

As we should have realized by now, the ‘War Against Terror’ has so far led to very miserable results. America is still in very much the same danger if not a far greater one. If anything, now it is the whole world that finds itself under severe threat. Very much like its big brother, Israel, who declared it’s own petite ‘War Against Terror’ is failing miserably too. The Palestinians, it seems, are more determined than ever to liberate themselves. It has been made clear that Israel’s chances of survival as a Jewish state are very slim. The reason is simple. Single dimension justice i.e purely ethical, makes people blinded and when people are blinded they make many mistakes because they fail to see where they are going.

The Origins of the ‘Victim Mentality’

Victims are people who find themselves suffering while being completely innocent (at least in their own eyes and within their personal or communal world view). I will try to argue that ‘victim mentality’ has a lot to do with the denial of Reason. In many cases the denial of Reason is fully understandable. For instance, a woman who has been violently raped might not find it interesting to learn about the personal difficulties that led the sex offender to force himself upon her. As a victim she might be willingly prepared to avoid Reason and to concentrate solely on dealing with her emotional and physical scars. This is perfectly understandable. Following the same pattern of thought, a family who lost their beloved son when a drunken lorry driver ran over him might not find it that crucially important to learn about the lorry driver’s personal difficulties and the Reason that pushed him to excessive drinking. It is natural for victims to detach themselves from the very events and Reason that changed the course of their lives. However, these cases do not establish ‘victim mentality’ but rather a normal psychological pattern of repression. ‘Victim mentality’ is a political term that refers to something far more general. It refers to communities that adopt a complete rejection of Reason. We can find light traces of ‘victim mentality’ among marginal political groups such as ‘feminist movements’ and ‘gay political groups’. Again, this is understandable given the discrimination against those very groups. It is far more interesting to find clear indications of ‘victim mentality’ within the very core of the world dominating groups. I am referring here to Zionist lobbies and the current American administration. These dominating groups regard the crimes against them as severe enough to support the rejection of Reason altogether.

The ‘victim’ pattern adopted by Zionists is unique in history. The Jewish people definitely suffered the most devastating experiences of horror during their long history. The Holocaust is probably one of the most horrendous chapters on human record. But we must also remember that the Zionists were more than clever in using this disastrous episode as a catalyst for liberation. The Holocaust helped the Zionists to bring the UN to support the partition resolution (1947) that eventually led to the declaration of the state of Israel (1948). On the financial level, Jews received compensation from the German government soon after the end of the war. Though the Jews had very good reason to regard themselves as victims, they are not victims any more. Nowadays they have a state, a strong army and a big enough nuclear arsenal to turn our planet into a complete wilderness. Funnily enough Israelis and Jews all over the world still regard themselves as victims. More so, Israel, founded in the shadow of the Holocaust, has made the ‘victim mentality’ into a leading industry both in tourism and in diplomacy. The way to the complete endorsement of the ‘victim mentality’ was a continuous denial of Reason, a complete rejection of the very Reason that led to the holocaust in the first place. I would argue that facing the very Reason would help the Zionists understand why they lose popularity nowadays.

While admitting that Jews had very good Reason to regard themselves as victims at a certain point in time, there is still room to argue that the Zionists could be the first to learn about the reasons that led to their own destruction. They could study the European far-right accusation concerning their domination in world banking and finance. They could learn about the bourgeois and capitalist concerns regarding Jewish involvement in revolutionary and anarchistic proletarian movements. About the xenophobic rejection of the ost juden and they could even learn about the Nazi allegations that they were planning to take over the world with ‘Abstractions’ (Marxism, Psychoanalysis and even Relative Theory and Catholicism). Irrespective of their validity, Israelis and Zionists never tried to face any of those accusations. Quite the opposite, they avoided them altogether by labelling them ‘anti- Semite nonsense’. By doing so they established a notion of justice based solely on their own intuitive ethical judgment. For Israelis the use of Reason is viable as long as it supports their one and only intuition i.e. Jews have the right to live in Zion regardless of the consequences. This form of ignorance made the Israelis and Zionists unqualified to realize their own reality. Moreover, because the Israelis are no longer trained in the process of synthesizing Reason with ethical judgment, their capacity to establish solid arguments is pretty slim. It might sound funny (or very sad) but many Israelis do not distinguish anymore between Nazi war criminals and Palestinian innocent civilians. Many of the Israelis and Zionists go even further and tend to regard the whole gentile world as a vicious and merciless enemy. If the ‘gentile world’ (goim) means the human race we must admit that many Jews see themselves as facing a battle with the human race. (this might explain the enormous size of the Israeli nuclear arsenal). In general, every diplomatic condemnation of Israeli policy is taken by the Israeli people as an anti-Semitic offence. Following the Israeli election and the expected rise of right wing support it is clear now that the vast majority of the Jewish Israeli population do support the oppression of the Palestinian people, but even that doesn’t stop them from regarding themselves as victims. I tend to link this bizarre state of mind–of being an oppressor and victim simultaneously–to the clear deterioration of the Israelis’ use of Reason. I assume that the Jewish over-use of their holocaust memory is to be blamed. The Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who found his death in the Columbia disaster was so proud to carry with him to space victim symbols and holocaust souvenirs. Learning from the press that the Columbia expedition was a purely scientific mission, I am left wondering whether Ramon’s scientific mission was to distribute the ‘victim mentality’ in outer space. Anyhow, less than an hour after the devastating crash, Sharon announced that Ramon “was a victim of science”. No doubt the notion of victim is in a continuous terminological flux amongst devoted Zionists.

The case of post September 11th America is very similar. The American Administration, like the post holocaust Jews, adopted a victim thinking pattern which allows them to make intuitive judgments without providing any real rational arguments. At the moment America is shooting and bombing anything that doesn’t agree with America. Anyone who doesn’t agree with America’s policy is an ‘Anti- American’, “you are either with us or against us” said the American President copying the Zionist ‘intuition’ i.e. ‘You either support Israel or you are an anti-Semite’. This form of American behaviour is based on a righteousness that is typical to the victim i.e. to people who deny Reason.

The next crucial question to ask is whether we can do something about it? Can we help the Zionists or the Americans to escape this dead end journey? The answer is No. We can’t do a thing. This is the birth of the new tragedy. We can’t help the Israelis nor the American Administration because they are both kidnapped by their own ‘victim mentality’. Unfortunately, we must let the Israelis destroy themselves, something they are starting to get very good at. We can only pray that the Bush presidency will end before he manages to destroy our planet. Why can’t we help them? Because both the Americans and the Israelis have been hijacked by themselves. When you are imprisoned by the Other you might eventually liberate yourself but when you are imprisoned by yourself you might find yourself locked behind your own bars forever.

Some interesting cases to think about.

1.The case of Ivan John Demjanjuk:

The story of Ivan John Demjanjuk started in 1975 when a list of names of alleged Nazi war criminals was circulated in the US senate. The list originated in the KGB allegedly out of material captured by the Red Army. Mr Ivan John Demjanjuk was blamed for being ‘Ivan The Terrible’, a particularly sinister operator of a gas chamber in Treblinka death camp. Despite the American having identifying Demjanjuk as having being a guard at the geographically separate Sobibor camp it was the ‘eyewitness survivors’ who placed Damjanjuk at the Treblinka Camp. Demjanjuk went through eighteen years of legal battle. First he was denaturalised of his American citizenship (1985). Soon after he was extradited to Israel to stand trial as a war criminal. All along his legal battle Demjanjuk denied the charges. He claimed that he had never been ‘Ivan the Terrible’.

On April 18th 1987, twelve years after the whole legal saga started Damjanjuk was sentenced to death by the Israeli court.

In 1990, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB archives were opened to the general public. Only then the shocking truth revealed itself, the ‘Trawniki Certificate’ that led to the suspicions against Ivan John Demjanjuk had been found to be a soviet forgery (done in order to frame the Ukrainians as Nazi supporters).

Not long later the Israeli supreme court had to admit that the whole Demjanjuk saga was a fabrication from beginning to end. On 22 September 1993 Demjanjuk was released. The Israeli supreme court had to dismiss the ‘eyewitness evidence’.

The question to be ask is how can an eyewitness stand in front of an another old man he never saw before and blame him for being vicious murderer and a war criminal?

This is what the eyewitnesses had to say in front of the court:

“I am convinced that opposite me sits Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka” , Pinhas Epstien, 23.2.1987

“This man is Ivan, without a shadow of a doubt- Ivan from Treblinka. From the gas chambers-the man I am looking at now.” (Eliyhau Rosenberg 25.2.1987)

What kind of psychic mode leads to such a performance? Unless Mr Epstien and Rosenberg were complete villains which I doubt, I assume that it is the ‘victim mentality’ that should be blamed. It establishes a form of loathing that goes far beyond Reason. Both Epstien and Rosenberg must have been standing in front of a harmless and an innocent man while thinking to themselves “even if you are not ‘Ivan the Terrible’ you are the one”. As we can see the victim mentality permits us to perform a new logic that allows one to be ‘P’ and not ‘P’. ‘It doesn’t matter if you are not ‘Ivan the terrible’, as long as you are him”. This kind of obvious logical contradiction becomes possible only when ethical judgment denies the existence of Reason completely.

2. Rabbi Farhi’s case:

On January 3 2003, Rabbi Farhi, a leading figure in the French Jewish community, was stabbed and his car was set on fire. According to Rabbi Farhi’s report to the police, he was attacked by a masked man who shouted “Allah hu Akbar”, God is Great. This description didn’t leave much room for the imagination. Rabbi Farhi was clearly marking out the religious orientation of the suspect. The attack was seen around the world as a devious anti-Semitic attack performed by an Islamic militant. Following worldwide outrage French President Jacques Chirac denounced the attack publicly by saying “this odious act arouses indignation”.

Two weeks later, the French papers Marianne and Le Figaro reported that some doubts regarding the Rabbi Farhi descriptions of the attack were raised by the police and a medical expert who checked him soon after the event. There was a severe mismatch between Rabbi Farhi’s story and the physical injuries to be found on his body. According to the newspapers reports, it is more likely that the Rabbi stabbed himself and faked the whole saga.

Did he or didn’t he inflict his injuries on himself? The verdict is still out on that and I am not qualified to judge. What is interesting is the idea that people might injure themselves. Within Israeli reality this kind of event is more than possible. If the Zionist identity is associated with suffering, this very suffering becomes essential to its existence. In other words, unless Zionists find somebody to inflict pain on them they must inflict pain on themselves. It is not a coincidence that Jewish history is an endless chain of holocausts, pogroms and discrimination because suffering is crucial for the Jews, it helps them maintain their essential victim mentality. Israeli and Zionist media outlets cover any attack against Jews around the world assuming that it must be racially motivated i.e. anti Semitic. Jewish identity is intimately entangled with anti-Semitism. It is the Jew who needs to be hated.

Most Israeli and Middle Eastern political analysts agree that Sharon’s power is fuelled by Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians. Statistics prove that there have been more terror attacks under Sharon than under any of his predecessors. Sharon understands pretty well that he will remain in power as long as the Israelis are subject to terror attacks. In order to support his power, Sharon must make the Palestinians attack and the best way to encourage them to do so is to terrorise them. The Israeli army assassinates Palestinian political leaders and Civilians on a regular basis. The IDF deprives the Palestinian population of food and medical aid. If this is not enough, Sharon is delaying the building of the sinister ‘separation wall’ between Israel and the west Bank just to insure that Palestinian terrorists have a simple access to Israeli populated centres. Very much like the alleged Rabbi Farhi’s saga, Sharon is dangerous to himself and his people, he puts their lives at a risk deliberately. In a society that is driven by broken ethics and a clear denial of Reason all those activities appear to be more than legitimate. Sadly enough for the American people, Bush is not too far behind his Israeli mentor. Very much like Sharon, Bush is doing his very best to infuriate the Arab people all around the world. He humiliates them and frames them continuously, he supports their biggest enemies as well as the most devious of their tyrannies. Like Sharon, Bush understands that only a major terrorist act against America can provide him with his people’s support. I think that by now we are allowed to conclude that societies that are trapped in ‘victim mentality’ become hostages of their most direct enemies. A terrifying bond can be seen between our most devious western right wing leaders and the most merciless terrorist gangs: between Bush and Bin Laden and between Sharon and the different suicidal squads.

The only question left to ask is what Tony Blair should to do amongst these two fanatic immoral hawks? At the end of the day, he is leader of the labour party. It is horrifying to admit but at the moment, only a massive terror attack against the UK could help Blair’s sinking political career. Our prime minister is already in Bin Laden’s hands. The British people must help him out. They can still do that only because they are not victims yet.

GILAD ATZMON was born in Israel. He now lives in London, where he is one of Britain’s most acclaimed jazz saxophonists. His band, Orient House Ensemble, has just released a brilliant new cd titled Exile. He has also published his first novel, A Guide to the Perplexed. He can be reached at:


Gilad Atzmon’s latest book is: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics