by Ted Honderich

This is a new discussion in the philosophy of terrorism of (1) the morality of Humanity, (2) Palestine and Israel, (3) right and wrong, liberalism, free riders, narratives, (4) definitions of terrorism, (5) objections to definitions not mentioning innocents, (6) the question of who the innocents are, (7) intentional action, (8) objections having to do with definitions, (9) inquiry, prejudice, pure inquiry, and advocacy, and (10) other innocents. The discussion was prompted by a forthcoming paper by Tamar Meisels of Tel Aviv University 'Can Terrorism Ever Be Justified?', which paper and the final reply to it by Ted Honderich will appear in a book edited by Stuart Gottlieb, Debating Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism (CQ Press, 2009). Tamar Meisels' book, The Trouble With Terror, has lately been published by Cambridge University Press. She also has a paper in the collection Israel, Palestine and Terror (Continuum) edited by Stephen Law and containing various replies to Honderich. Another Meisels paper to which you can turn, The Trouble With Terror: The Apologetics of Terrorism -- A Refutation. There is also a Honderich reply to other objections, in this case by the German philosopher Georg Meggle.

1. The Morality of Humanity

    Plainly we are much concerned with right and wrong. The fact is not obscured by the extent to which our dim politicians and others talk a little vaguely and ambiguously of the acceptable and the unacceptable, and make use of other locutions. They proceed in this somewhat covert way, presumably, in order to try to conceal the uncertainty and vulnerability of judgements of right and wrong, theirs in particular, and to evade challenges to their judgements and themselves.1

    In fact, to my mind, we are all yet more concerned with right and wrong than is shown by our overt and covert judgements. This is so since all the reasons we have and give for getting or keeping what we want for ourselves or others reduce to reasons of right and wrong if they are not plainly or discernibly such reasons already. Right or wrong is not one option among several in thinking of what to do. Consider someone who gives as her reason for getting or keeping something that she is just doing as everyone does, or that everyone is selfish. She is in fact giving the reason that her acting this way or being selfish is somehow right. What else could she be doing? Patently she is justifying her action, not opining about her society, not doing a little sociology or social psychology.

    If we are to be confident about and persuasive in our judgements as to right and wrong, as we want to be, we need to be consistent and to show ourselves to be. In fact to be inconsistent about something is to give and to have no reason for or against it. It is only by inconsistency that we actually fail to have reasons of right and wrong, but certainly we can do it. We do it a lot.

    For consistency, we need a general principle of right and wrong. We need such a general commitment, however much it requires filling in by comparing it with other attitudes, by specifying it further in terms of policies, practices and actions that it entails, by conveying its character as respectful or disrespectful or whatever. The principle must be, to us, more arguable than any other. Also, if it is to command some respect and be useful, it must be as literal, clear, specific and therefore as determinant as possible. Only if it is those latter things will it be resistant to self-interest and in particular to self-interest by way of self-deception.

    One principle, the principle of all or most of us in crucial circumstances where self-interest is not defeating our reason-having and reason-giving natures, is the Principle of Humanity. Like all reasons, of whatever generality or particularity, despite an illusion to the contrary, it judges actions, policies, institutions, societies and the like by consequences of them (Honderich 2003c, 112-32). The principle is as follows.

What is right is what, according to the best available information and judgement, is the rational means, which is to say the means that is effective and not self-defeating, to the end of getting and keeping people out of bad lives, with bad lives defined in terms of deprivation or frustration with respect to the great goods, the great desires of human nature -- a decent length of conscious life, bodily or material well-being, freedom and power, respect and self-respect, the goods of relationship, and the goods of culture. (Cf Honderich 2003b, 103; 2006a, 100; 2006b, 61.)

    It is of course a maximizing principle. It does not contemplate the monstrosity that there is nothing to choose between one and a thousand killings, torturings, or deaths by starvation or international sanctions because no individual suffers more than one of these. It is not the Principle of Utility or Greatest Happiness Principle, mainly because of its particularity and its not being abstract, partly because it prohibits exactly the unfairness and victimization for the greatest good that the Principle of Utility sanctions (Honderich, 2007; 2005a, 74-109).

    It is of course not the principle that the end justifies the means, if there is such a principle, since, as it states, the means must satisfy the requirements of rationality -- what is done must not be likely to cause more distress than it prevents. Rather, it is a principle that the end and the means justify the means. It is a principle that does not make much difference between acts and omissions (Honderich, 2003a, 73-88; 2006). It is a principle that seeks to have the recommendation of decent philosophy, which is a concentration on ordinary logic. So it is not a principle of moral, social or political convention.

    It is clear and literal as against, say, Immanuel Kant's wholly uninstructive imperative that we are to treat each person never only as a means, of use to us, but also as an end. Can you respect someone in dire need as an end without giving them real help? Can you respectfully let them starve? Can you make war on them? Who knows? The Principle of Humanity, in my view, is also more arguable than any other principle or morality. It has foundations in our human nature. It has what truth can be had by the attitudes that are our moral principles and moral judgements (Honderich, 2003c; 2003b, 1-57; 2003g, 166-9; 2006b, 58-83).

    It is in fact not the most difficult part of judging right and wrong in many circumstances. Any principle of morality issues in conclusions about particular things only by way of factual propositions about those things. It is often more difficult to judge these factual propositions than it was to establish a general principle and morality. These propositions include some about the bad or good lives of people now, these being in good part about their recent histories. They also include propositions as to the probability of consequences of things, say of terrorism, and comparisons of alternative possible consquences, say of terrorism as against peaceful negotiation. These cannot be a matter of calculation, let alone a calculus.

    The subjects of this paper are Palestinian terrorism, a judgement in support of it, and objections to that judgement having to do with the killing of innocents. The paper was prompted by Tamar Meisels' paper 'Can Terrorism Ever Be Justified?' (Meisels, 2009).

    We can best begin with a summary of the circumstances of the Palestinians and the Israelis now, partly in terms of their histories in living memory. The summary is not only factual. It also contains my judgements of right or wrong entailed by the Principle of Humanity with respect to the founding of Israel and Palestinian terrorism.

2. Palestine and Israel, a Summary

    Jews lived in the society of another people, the Germans, and by their enterprise and other strengths succeeded in it. They were at least resented. Use was made of this. Millions were horribly killed. Their having a place of their own in compensation was a kind of necessity placed on us all. It was not seen as a possibility that they have such a refuge formed out of a part of Germany, which indubitably ought to have happened.

    Having no state of their own, the Palestinians could be taken to be less than a people, and thus not open to a certain great injury. In 1948 a homeland for the Jews was taken from the Palestinians with the agreement of the victors in the war against the Germans. This was 4/5ths of the historic homeland of the Palestinians, the indigenous people. They had had nothing to do with the Holocaust. They were driven from their homes and otherwise violated in terms of the great human goods.

    The defence of the new Jewish homeland within roughly the 1948 borders, the project of Zionism in a clear sense of the word, subsequently acquired the further justification that the lives of the Jewish people became deep in a land.

    In 1967, there began the project of neo-Zionism, however related to Zionism. This was the terrorism that was the taking from the Palestinians at least their freedom in the last 1/5th of their historic homeland. It was resisted by them. Their terrorism and self-defence, the intifadas, gave evidence that in fact they had been a people in 1948. This is a further part of the fact that they have suffered a kind of Holocaust at the hands of descendants of people who suffered the first one.

    The Palestinians have continued to resist the terrorism of neo-Zionism by the only means that has a possibility of success, their terrorism. They have resisted the vileness that is the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Neo-Zionism. Their struggle is as much to be reverenced as is the existence and life of Israel within its 1948 borders.

    Against the Palestinians has been not only neo-Zionism in Palestine but the superpower and kept-ignorant population that is the United States. Against them, as well, has been the existence of semitism, a prejudice in favour of Jews in all things, owed in part to the greater prejudice of anti-semitism, a prejudice owed in part to the prejudice of anti-semitism.

    Despite this, the Palestinians have the possibility of achieving some goal of their terrorism. Their killing is not pointless. With respect to their goals, it is worth remembering the Jews who fought hopelessly to the death in the Warsaw ghetto. They fought for those who came after them.

    Given these various propositions, beginning with those on Germany, the Palestinians have had and now have a moral right to their terrorism against the ethnic cleansing of neo-Zionism in all of historic Palestine, including Israel.2

3. Remarks on Right and Wrong, Liberalism, Free Riders, Narratives

    There are four lines of thought and feeling in Meisels' paper about which I shall only make brief remarks.

    One line, not developed, is first indicated by the heading of the second section of her paper. The heading is 'Is Terrorism Ever "Right"?' Are the inverted commas around the word right, the scare-quotes, an indication of some known and indeed common attitude to the effect that the question of Palestine is one of self-interest that is universal, or of legality, or of Realpolitik, or of victory in war, or of facts, or whatever? Something other than right or wrong? I don't know.

    Any such thing, while tempting for many Israelis and others, would be a kind of pretence, as you have heard. It would also stand in flat contradiction with what follows in the Meisels paper. That is indeed overt and covert moral condemnation of what has been done and is being done by Palestinians. We do not escape the question of right and wrong. We do not fail to answer it.

    A second line of thought and feeling in the paper, certainly a main implication of it, is to the effect that we need to judge right and wrong in Palestine on the basis of the ideology or morality of liberalism.

    Liberalism, in my view, pretty widely shared, is a congeries of stuff. It is about selected individual rights, shifting and self-serving liberties or freedoms, some toleration, the state and a limited role for it, a proprietorial claim to reasonableness, democracy, legality, an individualism, private property, maybe the mixed economy, maybe the market, and more. Authoritative summaries disagree. At best liberalism is some decency, some feeling for good lives and bad lives, but a decency and feeling not carried into clarity and resolution (Honderich 2006b, 35-8).

    Its gravamen was not produced by John Stuart Mill, perhaps its founder, in his principle of individual liberty (Honderich 2003e). Liberalism was not brought to a fruition in the circularity and inexplicitness of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (Honderich 2003f). Liberalism certainly has no overwhelming or even great recommendation by way of its connection with our merely hierarchic democracy (Honderich 2003a, 105-15; 2003b, 135-54; 2006b, 38-58). Liberalism is forgetful about much, for example the truth that its talk of individual rights, say to bequeath property, has the effect of concealing the fact that equal or general or social rights, the rights of all, say to medical treatment, are no less the rights of precisely individuals.

    Liberalism is not conceivably as well based and determinant as the Principle of Humanity. That principle is not mentioned in the Meisels article although it is laid out and fundamental in the books mentioned (Honderich 2003a, 2006a). This is a large and telling omission. Why is the principle not considered, at least in passing?

    Why is a better principle not produced in order to help us, say, to make a choice between innocents? There are innocents killed on both sides in Palestine, of course. If you say that a principle will not make such things simple, that is readily agreed. But do you propose not to have any general and determinant means of being consistent, of satisfying that first requirement of argument and humanity? Will you just judge by your loyalties? If so, surely, you rule yourself out of serious consideration. We all have kith and kin.

    That liberalism is indeed a congeries of stuff, by the way, certainly so when judged by philosophy's concentration on ordinary logic, is already indicated by something close to hand. That is something like the raison d'etre of the Meisels article. It is the proposition that liberals are now unsure whether it is their commitment to support the Palestinians, because of what has been and is being done to them, or instead to condemn them because of their violence. Liberalism is not made clearer by the article's implied declaration in the end that basically it is against all terrorism, including terrorism thought to be somehow 'legitimated' by the eventual formation of a state.

    A third line in the article is that the Palestinians are guilty of 'free riding' in attacking and killing innocent people. That is to say they are not paying their way by limiting themselves, as it is supposed others do, and in particular their opponents, to attacks on non-innocents. Evidently the argument, scarcely more than a usage, depends on what can be said in defence of or explanation of killing innocents in particular and awful circumstances.

    There is a gulf between the case of something like a fair society where (i) people in general pay their way in various senses while (ii) some others don't -- that subject of liberal rumination -- and the case of a conflict where (i) a vicious ethnicism is killing, depriving and degrading a people, almost all of them innocents, indubitably the indigenous people of a land, and (ii) some of them engage in 'free riding' by fighting back in the only way they can.

    Who can really say seriously that the two cases are usefully judged by saying that the latter people in their self-defence against destruction are not paying their way? Shall we also judge what the Germans did in the Holocaust by saying they were not paying their way? It seems to me the weakness of liberalism is indicated by the effrontery of the use of the little idea with Palestine.

    A fourth line in the Meisels article is about the history of historic Palestine, partly about the proposition that the Palestinians have in fact had an alternative to their terrorism, that it has not been and is not their last resort. Meisels says elsewhere, more generally, partly about what she speaks of as Zionism, 'Zionism has its own narrative, the Palestinians have theirs, and Honderich has his...' (Meisels, 2008)

    It is my view that the factual propositions in the summary above are no 'narrative' but rather are in several senses a true account, one that is widely agreed, certainly agreed by the so honourable and courageous Israelis who stand out to their cost against neo-Zionism and semitism, that prejudice in favour of Jews in all things. It is possible to have confidence in the factual propositions in the summary despite also believing what was said above, that factual premises for conclusions of right and wrong are more difficult to establish than a general premise of right and wrong. Truth exists. Truth does not always or even often have two sides to it. There are real rapes.

    One general thought pertaining to the summary of Palestine above has to do with any conflict between the rich and the poor, also the powerful and the weak, and a history of no success in peaceful negotiations between them. The rich and powerful had so much more to give up. They could easily have made concessions. Why did they not do so? If they did not give anything up, they showed themselves to be at least self-concerned in a way that demonstrates the necessity of recourse by the poor and weak to means other than negotiation. A people is left one option by an adversary that will negotiate it to death.

4. Definitions of Terrorism

    Here is a definition of terrorism in general, the definition used by me and others in connection with the several terrorisms in historic Palestine.

Terrorism is (i) violence, (ii) smaller in scale than war, (iii) social and political in aim, (iv) illegal, and (v) prima facie wrong since it is indeed killing, maiming and destruction (Honderich, 2003a, 97-100; 2006a, 14-16, 153-5; 2006b, 86-92).

The definition  does not define terrorism as violence against innocent persons or the like. Nor does it define it as pursuing its aim by way of fear or terror caused by the killing, maiming and destruction.3

    The definition does of course cover state-terrorism, on account of the illegality of it and its also satisfying the four other requirements. It therefore covers Israeli state-terrorism. It is worth noting in passing that the definition goes with another one, of terrorist war. That is different from terrorism only in being larger in scale (2006b, 89-90). Neo-Zionism unquestionably is and has been all of terrorism, state-terrorism and terrorist war, again in terms of satisfying the requirements. You can argue neo-Zionism is more against international law, incidentally, especially in the form of U.N resolutions, than is Palestinian terrorism.

    Here is the different definition of terrorism offered by Meisels.

' the intentional random murder of defenceless non-combatants, with the intent of instilling fear of mortal danger amidst a civilian population as a strategy designed to advance political ends' (Meisels 2009, ts10c).

5. Objections to the Definition Not Mentioning Innocents

    Passages in the paper by Meisels are strong expressions of a familiar sort of objection to the first definition and others like it.

'There is a growing academic reluctance to define terrorism as a specific and fiendish deed. We now have a considerable body of academic literature that expresses sympathy, and at times outright justification, for Islamic (particularly Palestinian) terrorism' (Meisels 2009, ts 1d).

    A distinction between kinds of what is called irregular warfare is reported (Meisels 2009, ts pp 4-5). There are campaigns by guerrillas, whose primary targets are military personnel and not civilians. There are the actions and campaigns of political assassins, whose targets are political officials. There are, thirdly, those irregular fighters who target civilians.

'[There are] three categories of irregular warfare, each warranting a different moral attitude. ... For the most part guerrillas themselves uphold the disitnction between combatants and civilians, primarily targeting the former.... [So there is a] vital distinction between modern terrorism and guerrilla warfare, along with its normative implications ... Next, we find political assassination, which, despite what Honderich would have us believe, is clearly distinguishable from terrorist strikes of the 9-11 type. ... Terrorism more strictly conceived, however, is distinct from both gerrilla warfare and assassinations. It allows for no fusion of terms, or confusion of various forms of political violence of the kind attempted by Honderich...' (Meisels 2009, ts 4b-5b).

'Since Honderich’s view of “terrorism” makes no distinction between various forms of political violence, it justifies the subsequent comparison between these examples and the case which appears to form the foundation of Honderich’s agenda: that Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians is in fact justified (Meisels 2009, ts 2d)
Certainly, if terrorism is conceived so widely as to include all forms of political violence with no moral distinction between them, then that means “we are all terrorists,” with the U.S., Great Britain and Israel leading a rotten bunch' (Meisels 2009, ts 2f).

'It is precisely the unequivocal Kantian “Thou shalt not”...prohibiting the arbitrary use of rational beings, which requires Honderich to take great pains towards obscuring the distinction between terrorism and other forms of political violence which do not fall so clearly under this liberal commandment' (Meisels 2009, ts9d).

'Once again, terrorism, properly distinguished and defined, is the intentional random murder of defenseless non-combatants, with the intent of instilling fear of mortal danger amidst a civilian population as a strategy designed to advance political ends. This understanding inclusively obscured'. (Meisels 2009, ts10c).

6. Who Are These Innocents?

    Each of a number of parts of the subject or subjects of Palestinian terrorism against innocents calls out for more attention than it can have here -- and could have in the Meisels paper. Still, two subjects can perhaps be treated more explicitly and fully than in the Meisels' paper. They are of particular relevance to the gravamen of her objections above. One subject has to do with innocents, as they are usually called, and the other subject has to do with what it is to do something intentionally, in particular kill someone intentionally.

    Is the first subject really innocents? Or is it civilians? Or innocent civilians, or non-combatants, or innocent non-combatants, or citizens, or private citizens? All are mentioned and run together. This is careless, or useful in argument, or both.

    Innocents are persons not guilty of a crime or offence, not responsible for an event yet suffering it, free from moral wrong. We can suppose an innocent in the present context is in some sense or senses all the the three things. So innocents here are such in virtue of not doing or not having done something or certain things. That is why they call for special attention, which they get in all decent moralities, most certainly including the morality of humanity, partly because of the evidence they give of what they will do in the future.

    But whatever the good record of innocents is, present and past, it obviously may be lacked by civilians, non-combatants, citizens, and private citizens. Members of all four categories, for a start, can instigate killings. The conclusion must be that an objection to terrorism in this neighbourhood must have to do with innocents rather than civilians, non-combatants, citizens, and private citizens.

    We still have a question. Who are these innocents? What is it that they do not do? They cannot possibly be understood simply to be persons who do not commit crimes or offences according to an existing legal system. Someone who hid a Jewish child from the Nazis, against the law, was certainly not guilty in the sense now relevant to us, but innocent and better than that. It cannot conceivably be Israel's positive law, the law of the land, or any other such law, that determines who are the innocents.

    Nor are they to be understood as persons who do not kill or otherwise do violence to others, whether or not legally. This understanding would for a start make all soldiers non-innocent, including Israeli soldiers.

    Innocents, rather, are presumably persons who do not intentionally do other things, maybe kill under certain circumstances, or benefit from such killings. More generally, innocents do not act in or benefit from certain projects. What are the projects?

    It is notable that Meisels gives no explicit answer at all. Is it conceivable that we are to suppose that the ideology of liberalism gives us the answer? We may have to wait a long time for it. As remarked already, liberalism is what is somehow indeterminant with respect to Palestinian terrorism, in some way given to support this terrorism that also appalls it.

    Needless to say, there is in the context of Palestine an answer that comes to many minds, and may be implied by Meisels herself. She may be taken to imply that the innocents are persons not actively engaged in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, more particularly Israelis not actively engaged in it. Innocents are people not themselves killing or wounding Palestinians. It is indicative that in her paper she regularly mentions non-combatants, and in fact it is non-combatants who are specified as the victims in her definition of terrorism quoted earlier.

    But it will not conceivably do to understand innocents as just non-combatants. As any tolerable morality or law asserts, those who instigate killers, pay for them, defend them, profit from them and so on are not innocents. I am not innocent if I choose to benefit from killings of Palestinians in the neo-Zionist cause. For a start, I thereby contribute to the probability or certainty of more killings by the movement on which my benefits continue to depend. I can be counted on not to condemn it.

     The short answer in the present context to the question of who the innocents are, what it is that they do not do, must be along certain lines. The innocents are those who do not intentionally somehow take forward the project of neo-Zionism or choose to benefit from it when they could do otherwise. A more general answer to the question of who the innocents are will be that they are those people who do not stand against the Principle of Humanity.

    I readily allow that there is much more to be said of innocents generally and of kinds of them. A little has been said elsewhere by me, in one of the books mentioned by Meisels (2003a, 158-162) but undiscussed by her. I leave the understanding of the category of the innocents killed by Palestinian terrorism clearer than it is left by those who use it against the Palestinians, but not clear enough.

    Still, in sum, it is evident that there are greatly fewer such innocents than is ordinarily supposed, and is supposed by Meisels. Also, they are of different kinds. Some are not very innocent.

    It is my own present inclination, by the way, to take the innocents as not including people who refrain from absolutely and explicitly condemning neo-Zionism. Some of these speak of understanding neo-Zionism. Some take the problem of Palestine to be complicated or the claims of both sides to be controversial. It is my own inclination that it is a condition of innocence, anyway one kind of innocence, at least to hold that there is another and very different view.

    It is that the Palestinian problem is simple (Neumann, 2008). What is right is that Israel, without condition, qualification, negotiation, delay or any other such thing withdraws from and accords to the Palestinians their freedom in the last 1/5th of their homeland and otherwise recompenses them fully.4

7. Intentional Action

    What is it intentionally to do something? The question arises not only in connection with what you have just been hearing about, innocents killed by terrorism, but also in another connection of importance, having to do with war and the like.

    A man's wife leaves him. He goes to the apartment he knows she is in, with glue for the door lock and gasoline. As he gets there, he sees someone else go in, a cleaning woman. He sticks to his plan. The two women might have got out of the burning apartment somehow, but they don't. In court he pleads guilty to only one murder, on the ground that he did not intend to kill the cleaning woman. The judge disdains his argument and convicts him of two murders. The husband sends a note of condolence and excuse to the family of the cleaning woman. They loathe him for it.

    Can he change the mind of an appeal court or change the feelings of the family by establishing that he did not intend the killing of the cleaning woman since in a sense he wanted only to kill his wife? No he cannot.

    Can he change the mind of the appeal court, more particularly, by establishing that if he had had the option of killing only his wife, maybe at that time, without killing anyone else, he would have taken that option? No, he cannot. He cannot begin to establish to the satisfaction of judges and family that he did not intentionally kill both women in the only relevant sense. It does not matter much that if he could have killed only his wife, he would have.

    Can he change the minds of the judges and family by convincing them that when he poured in the gasoline and threw in the matches he was then thinking only of his wife, that he had only her on his mind and in his feelings? No, he cannot.

    Can he do so by saying in some vague sense that he was targeting only his wife -- maybe a sense related to the one in which it is said an American soldier firing a rocket has one person in the cross hairs of the telescopic aiming device and not the person he sees or knows to be a yard away who is also about to be killed? No, the husband cannot save himself this way, any more than the American soldier.

    Can the husband change the mind of the appeal court by convincing the judges that he had natural justice or religion on his side with respect to his wife, that he was taken up with that personal conviction? No, he cannot.

    Can he change their minds by producing a philosopher's analysis of what it is to intend something -- say an analysis beginning from the proposition that an intention is a predictive belief about a future event based in a certain way on an instrumental or causal belief and a want (Honderich, 1988 or 1990, 216-31)? No, he certainly cannot.

    The example of the husband is as good as any other in reminding us all that what it is to intentionally to do something in the relevant sense is to act with the foreknowledge or reasonable belief  that a thing will be the probable or certain consequence of the action. There is no need to consider elaborations here. No other idea carries any significant weight with respect to intention in any decent court or in the human life that is codified by decent law (Honderich 2003b, 172-4; 2006b, 155-9).

    No doctrine of what is called Double Effect, for example, will begin to persuade the Israeli mother of a dead child of a certain thing. No such doctrine will begin to persuade her that the Palestine suicide-bomber who saw the child near the Israeli border guard did not intentionally bring about the death of the child as well as the guard.

    The subject of the intentional killing of innocents is therefore the subject of actions known to carry at least the probability of deaths of innocents. It is not any other subject. Meisels offers no alternative. In my view she cannot.

8. Objections Having To Do With Definitions

    She objects, as you have read, that I and others take up a definition of terrorism that covers three things, three kinds of irregular warfare, and that this has the effect of somehow excusing or reducing the culpability of one of them by associating it with the other two. That is, the objectionable general definition of terrorism covers guerrilla war, and political assassination, and intentionally killing the innocent. The third of these things, intentionally killing the innocent, by inclusion in the single general subject-matter, is in effect excused or made less culpable by the inclusion of the first and second. They are less condemnable -- despite the fact that it has to be granted that the gerrillas and the political assassins only for the most part do not kill or endanger innocents.

    I do not suppose that Meisels accuses the many people who use the general definition of a conscious intent to avoid or reduce the difficulty of defending the killing of innocents by putting it in a category with seemingly less culpable things. We would of course deny this accusation of a plot in argument. An author can choose a subject-matter without any such intent, as I did in passing. It was, in particular, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (2003a, 24-5).

    Also, if it is relevant, the transition in titles of editions of a book, from those using the term political violence to those using the term terrorism, is readily explained, as indeed it was in one of the books (2006a, 4-5). There was a large change of ordinary usage or terminology in a world of new events, 9/11 above all, a change from political violence used rarely and by some to terrorism used constantly and universally.

    Is the gravamen of the quoted objections by Meisels that a certain factual mistake was made by many of us, including the U.S. army, in defining terrorism without specifying that it is intentional killing of the innocent? That is, is the gravamen of the objections that a definition is chosen that goes against the ordinary use of the term, whatever does or does not follow from that supposed mistake? That a definition is chosen that goes against dictionaries, whatever does or does not follow from that? Well, the best dictionary I know, The New Oxford Dictionary of English, defines terrorism as 'the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political ends'.
    Also, Meisels is brave but not fully convincing in facing an embarrassment to her. In the course of what evidently is her argument or implication that her definition is true to usage and dictionaries, she finds herself allowing that one author with whom she is in sympathy differs from another in that he uses the term 'terrorism' to include political assassination, which purportedly does not much involve killing innocents. He is not alone. So too do her own countrymen and women include political assassination in terrorism. As she reports, if judgementally,

'Israel's frequent reference to this assassination of minister Zeevi as 'terrorism' is an unfortunate example of inaccurate political speech...' (Meisels, 2009, 6d). 

There can be little doubt that contemporary English usage, whether or not it is inaccurate political speech, does not regard terrorism as necessarily consisting only in the killing or attacking of innocents.

    But I leave this matter of usage, which is of much less importance than others. Survey dictionaries to get a better answer if you want. Hire a lexicographer. The result, as I say, for reasons to be given in a moment in connection with any definition, will be unimportant.

    The general subject of definitions is of some philosophical and other interest, and has three sides to it (Abelson, 1967). There is the matter just noticed, conformity with ordinary usage. There is also the evident fact that definitions can also be a matter of stipulation. Decisions are taken as to how to use a word. There is, thirdly, the ancient idea that definitions may catch a real essence of something, maybe Beauty or The Good. There is the question of whether or how conformity with usage comes together with stipulation. I doubt that Meisels supposes there is an essence of terrorism that is neither a result of linguistic usage nor of stipulation.

    Consider the fact of stipulation, that different definitions of terrorism, whatever their relation to usage, are to an extent stipulated or chosen. This is indeed the case with the two definitions we are contemplating, the first not mentioning the killing of innocents and the second doing so.

    Meisels will agree, I am sure, despite some loose talk in her passages about definition quoted earlier, particularly the second, that she does not intend something that is incredible. It is that those who use the first definition of terrorism or something like it, thereby take themselves to be able to do something like deduce that some terrorism is justifiable. Or, maybe slightly less incredibly, they suppose their use of the first definition somehow logically or conceptually removes an objection to terrorism as they define it -- the objection that it includes killing the innocent.

    It might be contemplated that they suppose one of these things because they take a definition to specify all the properties of a thing, every last one. This is easily dealt with. My definition of an automobile does not include every fact about one. More importantly, that my definition does not include the fact that it can used for murder does not remove part of my objection to murder by automobile. Nor, patently, does a definition of terrorism that leaves out the intentional killing of innocents remove anything at all of the objection to terrorism that it includes intentional killing of innocents.

    This is a place to note what might have been noted in the responses to Meisels above, that despite having taken up the definition of terrorism not mentioning killing the innocent, I considered the objection that some terrorism is wrong, and more particularly that some Palestinian terrorism is wrong, because it is the killing of innocents (20003a, 158-162; 2006b, 63m 111-15, 155-9). The subject itself has been discussed by me, and very much more of immediate relevance to it has been discussed. The largest thing of immediate relevance to it, of course, is the circumstance that the killing of innocents seeks to change.

    To return for a moment to the subject of entailments of definitions, it may also need saying that there is no possibility whatever of Meisels' getting straight from her different definition of terrorism to the conclusion that terrorism is wrong. Or rather, to go more slowly, let us assume that her including 'intentional random murder' in her definition does not go so far as condemning all terrorism as wrong -- say including the terrorism that was a part of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. We are not to understand her definition in that way, which would simply beg the question at issue from the outset. In which case there can be no logical step from the definition to a condemnation.

    The general fact of this whole matter of definitions is that any definition of terrorism that is not useless and indeed inane in argument, in virtue of already asserting the justification or condemnation of its subject, logically or conceptually allows for any judgement for or against what is singled out by the definition.

9. Inquiry, Prejudice, Pure Inquiry, Advocacy

    This point and others have in the past led me to make a distinction, anyway to attempt a distinction, with an upshot about definitions of terrorism (2006b, 84-7). The distinction was between two things, the first of which was called inquiry. This was the sort of thing that can be expected to happen pretty often in university lectures and seminars, in good books and articles, in some exceptional journalism, and so on. Inquiry is to some extent informed and restrained by ordinary logic, which consists in the large contribution towards truth that consists in clarity, consistency and validity, and completeness. The truth being served by this logic is not only factual truth but also whatever truth or justification we can aspire to with respect to right and wrong.

    Inquiry is different from what happens in the politics of our democracies, in most of their media, in second-rate books and articles, on so much of the web, paradigmatically in what was to me the moral stupidity of Bush and Blair, and so on. This second sort of thing can have the name of being prejudiced contention, or just prejudice. It is a matter of vagueness and the like, begging the question, not answering the question, double standards, being at least unstrict about attending to all the truth, and a good deal more. The aim of prejudiced contention is not truth but something else. Its relation to truth is at best the relation of selling to truth. In our hierarchic democracies the aim or aims of prejudiced contention are those evident in the ideologies of conservatism (Honderich, 2005b) and liberalism.

    With respect to inquiry, it possible to believe, indeed to know, that definitions do not matter. So I believed in the past. They make no substantial difference, even no significant difference, with respect to the conclusions drawn. Indeed, this can be regarded as part of what it is for something to be inquiry. In particular, definitions do not matter in inquiry about terrorism, thinking about terrorism. Certainly definitions can be inconvenient or otherwise, get in the way of proceedings, give rise to confusion and so on, but, as you have heard, they do not determine outcomes.

    Meisels' objections and also objections by Georg Meggle (2005b, 2005a) have led me to a kind of change of mind. More particularly, their insistence on definitions that include killing of the innocent, however well supported their insistence, has led to this change of mind. It is also owed to my including Messels, and certainly Meggle, in the class of inquirers.

    The change of mind is not to the cynical proposition that there is no inquiry, that it does not exist, but to the proposition that there is a kind of inquiry that is not so pure as the rest of it. There is something other than pure inquiry in addition to prejudiced contention. It is what can be called advocacy.

    It goes beyond reliance on logic as a means to factual truth and also what kind of truth or justification we can aspire to with respect to right and wrong -- which truth is a matter of our shared great desires and our having general reasons. Advocacy aims to influence, notably by means of persuasive definitions (Stevenson, 1944). Advocacy has the aim of getting a certain agreement of others with respect to right and wrong. If you say that inquiry does not actually divide neatly into a purer part and advocacy, but that there is a spectrum, no doubt that is to be granted. It no more stands in the way of the distinction than the fact that colours shade into one another stands in the way of the distinctions between colours.

    Evidently philosophers and others are sometimes engaged in advocacy. I have been engaged in it in the past, and am now. This paper is advocacy.

    In this new realism, I am more content to persist in the definition of terrorism that does not include the killing of innocents. It would be contrary to my aim in my advocacy to do otherwise, an aim that has the distinction of having been made clear. To take up the definition that includes talk of innocents could have some effect in persuading you away from what I take to be an entailment of the Principle of Humanity having to do with justification of Palestinian terrorism. It would make you, or maybe lesser brethren, less ready to agree.

    But since this is advocacy in which I am engaged, not prejudiced contention, I am also ready to give reasons in defence of my definition. As you may expect, and have heard already, they have to do with innocents and not-so-innocents, intentional killing, war, and also what is distinguished as guerrilla war and political assassination.

    War intentionally kills innocents on an immeasurably greater scale than terrorism. War intentionally kills innocents in terms of the fundamental fact of intentional action generally. The deaths of innocents, often in very great numbers, are foreseeable probabilities. In our own lifetimes we needed only World War Two as confirmation, but we have also had the American and British terrorist war on Iraq.

    To come exactly to the point, the definition of terrorism in terms of killing innocents is motivated by and depends for its effect precisely on an explicit or inexplicit comparison with war and like things. The definition lives and breathes in that comparison. It is a false comparison. Terrorism is no worse than war in the given respect. The false comparison is something that no one committed to the Principle of Humanity can think of tolerating.

    Given this consideration of war alone -- forget about irregular warfare -- there is full reason to persist in exactly the definition of terrorism that does not mention killing innocents. This is not the reason, of course, that this definition is at least as true to ordinary usage and dictionaries as the other one. It is that this definition serves the necessary and great purpose of advocacy of the end of the morality of humanity.

    You will remember that an additional item in the Meisels definition of terrorism was that it is what instills fear of mortal danger in a civilian population. I shall also persist in the definition not mentioning fear. The reason, you will know, is the same as with the killing of innocents. War does more to cause fear than terrorism ever did. The contrast is false, and against what it is right to do.

    One final comment here. If you were to persuade me to add the item about killing innocents to my definition, I would not add it alone. I would add other items. They would be as true to facts and would be no more questionable as items of advocacy or persuasion than mention of the killing of innocents.

    One addition of course would be to the effect that terrorism, in intentionally killing innocents, is not thereby different from war. A second addition would be that some terrorism, much of what the newspapers and politicians call terrorism, is a response to ethnic cleansing or another great violation of a people. A third addition would be that the terrorism that kills innocents and has the support of the Principle of Humanity is directed to the saving of other innocents as we ordinarily speak of them, more of them, and also innumerable other victims (2003a, 1-29; 2006b, 94-105).

10. Other Innocents

    If there are reasons for choosing one definition of terrorism against another, it remains true that advocacy in justification of any particular terrorism, or in condemnation, cannot be importantly owed to definitions. If some attention is rightly paid to a definition in the piece of advocacy you are now reading, the definition goes very little way in argument to the conclusion that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism against the ethnic cleansing of neo-Zionism in all of historic Palestine.

    For the main parts of that advocacy, you must look elsewhere (Honderich 2003a, 24-9, 155-186, 184; 2006b, 94-125; 2008). Still, let me bring together in a certain way the principal facts that must be the reality of any attempt to justify Palestinian terrorism. They have been touched on above a few times, first in the summary of the circumstances of the Palestinians and the Israelis, then in connection with liberalism, and also a moment ago, but they can do with more explicit expression.

    There is a necessary distinction to be made. It is between the innocents or innocent victims we have mainly had in mind so far and other innocent victims.

    The innocent victims we have mainly had in mind are individuals killed or directly harmed by an explosion, shooting, or other piece of violence. More particularly, we have been thinking about Israelis killed or directly harmed by Palestinian terrorism, Israelis not themselves advancing or intentionally benefitting from neo-Zionism. 

    There is also the category of their counterparts among the Palestinians -- the innocent Palestinians killed or directly harmed by Israeli terrorism including state terrorism, and also Israeli terrorist war. They are innocent in the sense that they are not themselves somehow engaged in resistance to neo-Zionism and not gaining from this resistance. There are more of these Palestinian victims than Israeli victims, three or four times as many. This fact is important in several ways, but it is not the most important fact.

    There is a category of innocents far larger than these two. It consists in Palestinian victims of neo-Zionism who have not been killed or been directly harmed by a piece of violence. They have not been shot by an Israeli soldier or settler. Rather, they have lost their lives or been indirectly harmed as a result of earlier events with general effects. They are victims of earlier neo-Zionist decisions to carry forward the ethnic cleansing of the last 1/5th of Palestine. They include victims whose lives have been degraded by the effective threat carried by earlier neo-Zionist killings and other actions. Some live in refugee camps. Some die for want of medical supplies stopped in neo-Zionist blockades.

    These victims are exactly and absolutely as innocent as those we have had in mind up until this point. They are not engaged in resistance to neo-Zionism or gaining from this resistance. It is true that we do not immediately call them innocent victims. Maybe we do not ordinarily call them innocent victims. This is because of the absence of a particular piece of violence against an individual, or a few individuals, or because there is not a non-innocent victim on hand. This fact of language is nothing whatever to the point. They are innocent victims. A habit of the English language and maybe other languages does not even touch this fact.

    The justification of Palestinian self-defence, their moral right to it, is most importantly this fact of these Palestinian innocent victims in their great numbers. The Palestinian people since 1967, to go back only that far, have been violated -- they have been deprived by neo-Zionism of every great human good. All the Palestinians have been deprived of some or all of decent lengths of conscious life, bodily or material well-being, freedom and power, respect and self-respect, the goods of relationship, and the goods of culture. Means to these great goods have been transferred to Israelis since 1967.

    So in brief (1) there is no comparison between what has happened to Palestinians and what has happened to Israelis in terms of being deprived of the great goods not as a direct result of violence. (2) This violation of innocent Palestinians in terms of the great goods makes numerically insignificant the losses to both Israelis and Palestinians directly on account of violence.

    It is a recommendation of the Principle of Humanity that it is explicit in what is allowed by almost every human moral or political doctrine or project, certainly Zionism and neo-Zionism. That is that the killing of innocents can be forced upon us (2006b, 111-118). The morality of humanity is more concerned with innocents, so named or not, than any of the large alternatives to it.5


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1. I thank my wife Ingrid Coggin Honderich for thoughtful and troubling objections to a draft of this paper. We remain in disagreement about the proposition that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism.

2. For some recent writings on these matters, related but not the same in inclination, see those by Chomsky, Cohen, Kapitan, Karmi, Lyon, McBride, Meisels, Nabulsi, Neumann, Pappe, Primoratz and Shanahan, in Law, 2008a. Many of the papers in this book comment on my opening paper in the book, 'Terrorisms in Palestine'. See also Chomsky, 1999, 2005; Nabulsi; Pappe, 2004; Primoratz, 2004.

3. Compare the good consideration of definitions of terrorism in Coady, 2004.

4. G. A. Cohen and I are not in full agreement about Palestine and Israel. I do not mean to conscript him to a cause, but do recommend his 'Casting the First Stone: Who Can, and Who Can't?'

5. Tamar Meisels is to be commended and has my admiration for not joining those who confuse or choose to confuse condemnation of neo-Zionism with anti-semitism. She does not in this way give in to the prejudice of semitism or too much defer to it. This just compliment to a philosopher is given more force by a comparison that perhaps understandably sticks in my mind in connection with my book she criticizes,  After the Terror. When it was translated into German by the publisher Suhrkamp, having been recommended for translation by Jurgen Habermas, and known to have been recommended by him, he wrote a newspaper article ( on the charge of anti-semitism against the book brought by one Brumlik. Habermas, to his credit, affirmed the book was not anti-semitic. But he did so in such an apologetic style, and with such additions, as so to qualify his judgement and to be little defence of the book. Suhrkamp's decision the next day to 'ban' the book as anti-semitic was no surprise. The second German publisher of the book, Abraham Melzer, Jewish himself, was closer to truth and humanity.

For Honderich's reply to objections by the German philosopher George Meggle, go to Terrorisms in Palestine, A Principle for Judging Them, Definitions, Killing Innocents.
You can also turn to an interview with him in the Danish newspaper Information by Mads Qvortrup.
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