interview by Nick Jackson

The Independent
2 November 2006

Professor Ted Honderich is Grote Professor Emeritus Philosophy of Mind & Logic at University College London. He believes that we need to re-examine our attitudes towards terrorism and war.

Politicians talk about what's acceptable or legitimate. That boils down to what is right. Do we get what's right by going by democracy? The argument is that two heads are better than one, and more better than two. But that only works if what is in the heads gets equal and free expression.

In our hierarchic democracies, the best-off tenth has around 1,000 times the political power of the worst-off tenth. And equality and freedom go together. If we are unequal because I have a gun and you do not, you have no freedom.

So we need a fundamental principle to tell us when democracy is right and which human rights to defend. For me that is the Principle of Humanity. Take rational steps to get and keep people out of bad lives.

It gives you a conclusion about neo-Zionism, Israel's expanding since 1967 into the last fifth of the Palestinian homeland. The Palestinians have a moral right in historic Palestine, including Israel, to their terrorism against that ethnic cleansing.

Is saying the Palestinians have this moral right just a defiant way of expressing sympathy with the Palestinians? It's more.

What is a moral right? It's something confirmed by the fundamental moral principle. Also, if you really have a moral right to some end, and only one means of getting there, you have a moral right to the means. Everybody believes the Palestinians have a right to a viable state.

Is there some better way than terrorism? I don't think so. Terrorism is necessary. They have no alternative. The idea that neo-Zionism would have given in without the threat of violence is nonsense.

The 9/11 attack was wrong. It was partly aimed at neo-Zionism, but it was an irrational means to that end. Our war on Iraq, a terrorist war because of lacking legality, is also condemned by the Principle of Humanity.

We keep hearing that terrorism is the intentional killing of innocents, and that the war in Iraq is not that. Well, to kill innocents intentionally is to act in the knowledge that their deaths will be a consequence. The test is accepted in every decent legal system and morality. It takes someone lacking in moral intelligence, like Blair, to think or pretend otherwise.

If Blair or another warmonger moves towards war on Iran, we should all be in the streets to bring him down.

For excerpts from Ted Honderich's book, which also asserts the moral justification of Zionism as against neo-Zionism, the founding and defence of the state of Israel in its original borders, go to Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9-11, Iraq, 7-7...  The book is available now from Continuum International Publishing, £12.99. For reviews, go to Tam Dalyell and Steven Poole.

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