Sean Hannity, Russell Brand, and the meaning of violence
This is probably not the last thoughts on violence that will pour out, and some passion is always involved when speaking of such issues.
I have recently been sent a video about a ‘powerful’ response by Russell Brand to Sean Hannity from the Fox News. Certainly most people don’t even watch Fox News, and rightly so if Hannity is to be taken as a representative. Yet, there has been an interesting development that is troubling from both sides to the party.
Brand has some valid points, I would give him that, and Hannity is perhaps “childish” (as Brand terms him), next to “rude” and “unreasonable” – though these two are even more debatable than the first. Note that in any of the three notions used, there a certain moral highpoint taken – Hannity is assumed as someone who cannot be taken seriously for his views. He is ‘childish’ and ‘unreasonable’, why take him serious? This derogatory attack by Brand is indeed part of the problem: we do not take other views seriously and what is worse, dismiss them outright. Would you talk politics to a child?
Nevertheless, the most powerful part of the segment comes from the poor guest at the show. And I quote: “It’s very telling to me, and should be telling to your viewers as well by the way, that the moment you have a Palestinian voice on your program, who begins to explain the legitimate grievances of Palestinians on the” – and at this moment he is interrupted….
The truly telling part here, is not the question of terrorism. Certainly Hamas is by our Western standards (and political-moral claims; not solely political claims!1) a terrorist organization. The question we should ask at this point, and indeed a question that should be asked when there is a talk of terrorism in general, is the question of violence. We cannot ignore, from a moral and political point of view, the role of violence. And it is without doubt that violence is primarily one-sided. The numbers of casualties on the two sides reflect nothing else, if they do not reflect this!
Back to the show (which since has had a comic ‘playground’-type, to stick with Brand, back and forth), one should not forget the most important aspect from the selected fragment, and the reason why I want to point out why it is so powerful, is exactly the point of violence. For let us not (and never) forget, the most prominent of theorist on violence: “violence begins where speech ends” (Arendt’s Essays in Understanding, 1994, p. 308; get it from Amazon) – the main thing you can observe here, despite Brand’s own polemic, is the systematic silencing of the Other’s speech act. The Palestinian is not given the right to speak, he is literally silenced. If we are to have an understanding of terrorism (and if we are to understand whether Hamas is a terrorist organization), we should ask ourselves this question: do they, in some way or another, silence their victims?
The answer is yes; I am not playing games here. But let us not pretend to a higher morality; for we are silencing them as well – we are an equal source of violence in the region! Or have you heard the Palestinian plight on Fox News recently? The act of terror is not one-sided here. Quite the opposite. What happens in Gaza may indeed be beyond our understanding as bystanders to the conflict. What we can observe though, through the excerpt, is the tremendous violence towards Palestinians through systematic silencing of their speech. I am not saying that Palestine is the only victim here, or that US/Israel is to be blamed for everything (how could anybody seriously say that?); but it is time to look at our own actions first, and not justify our actions on the basis of other’s.
Next to the book above, I also recommend a somewhat controversial essay by Arendt: On Violence (also on Amazon).
- I emphasise this because by solely political claims there can be not such thing as a terrorist organisation. Strictly politically speaking, terrorism is a warfare tactical move. What makes it an act of terror is already a moral point invested onto an autonomous domain of politics. More on this for another post.