Terrorisms in Palestine, A Principle For Judging Them, Definitions, Killing Innocents

by Ted Honderich

This is a reply to objections by the distinguished German philosopher Georg Meggle to Honderich's moral defence of Palestinian terrorism. It has to do with (1) the Principle of Humanity, (2) Zionism, Neo-Zionism, a Palestinian moral right to terrorism within historic Palestine, (3) Just War theory and the Principle of Humanity, (4) terrorism in general defined as causing fear, (5) terrorism in general defined as the killing of innocents, (6) objections to the Palestinian moral right, (7) the case of Palestine and the Principle of Humanity, (8) anti-semitism, Meggle, Jurgen Habermas, and the publisher Abraham Melzer. There is also another reply to objections, in this case by Tamara Meisels, of Tel-Aviv University.

1. The Principle of Humanity

    There are differences between peoples and classes within peoples with respect to material goods, say food. There are connected differences in other goods, say freedom. There are the means by which the differences in such goods, such satisfactions of desire, are maintained, and the means by which changes in the distribution of them are attempted. There are the means other than force or violence, including standing institutions and also conventions in ideas and feelings, and there are also the means of force or violence.

    We choose and confirm the differences in goods and also the means with respect to them. To choose or confirm is to judge differences and means as right or wrong, whatever our habits of avoiding the very words or our pretences of being above or detached from this morality. Right and wrong is the real content or tendency of supportive judgements having to do, say, with democracy or law. It is the real content or tendency of such political cant as that something is economically necessary or that something is »unacceptable«. The former predicate serves as the principal pretence and viciousness of our age, as with the profitization of public services. The latter evasive predicate has become established in the dismal politics of England, dragged down by a political class and almost all of its media.

    How are we to judge right and wrong? The idea of judging actions, policies and societies by the intentions of those who act, say Kant's notion of the pure good will, can catch attention for a time with small, personal matters. The worthlessness of the idea becomes newly apparent when someone contemplates that a policy out of good intention, but a futile or ineffective policy, is the right policy for dealing with starvation or mass rape. In fact there can be no reasons of right and wrong that are not about the consequences of actions (Honderich 2003). That our judgements of what it is right to do about a present action may have a lot to do with the actor's intention does not affect the point. Intentions in present action are guides to probable future actions, and hence to what we do about the present action, perhaps punish it, in order to try to change the future.

    It cannot be contemplated either, in my view, that there is an effective guide to right and wrong in international law, doctrines of human rights, Just War Theory, supposed economic realisms, hierarchic democracy, the ideologies of liberalism and conservatism (Honderich 2003b, 2005b), official religions, or the philosophical moralities rooted in social and economic classes and their ideals. Their degrees or extents of indeterminateness, manipulability, openness to selfish use and to self-deception, and the conflicts within each of them, and their worth as indicated by the appalling historical records of their consequences, are clear in any inquiry that has something of the general virtue of philosophy. That virtue is a concentration on the ordinary logic of intelligence.

    A great historical contribution of a philosophical kind with respect to right and wrong was made in thinking exemplifed by Utilitarianism (Lyons, Rosen, Singer).This tradition with Epicurus, Hutcheson, Hume, Helvetius, Bentham, Mill, Sidgwick, Hare and Singer in it has the unique recommendation of at least aiming at universality, a concern for all of us. The Principle of Utility is that the right action, policy or whatever is the one that with reason can be judged to be the one that will produce the greatest total of satisfaction of desires, the maximum possible amount. It is thus consequentialist, and of course maximizing. It does not contemplate the monstrosity that there is nothing to choose between one and a thousand killings or torturings because no one suffers more than one.

    That Utilitarianism puts a clear principle of decision in place of the congeries of stuff of most alternatives is also a necessary and a great recommendation. There can be nothing that deserves the name of being a decision-procedure that lacks such a thing. That the immediate subject-matter of Utilitarianism is desires and their satisfaction and frustration, that very subject-matter of right and wrong, is a further recommendation.

    Despite this, and certainly paradoxically given its impulse of universality, the Principle of Utility fails for the dramatic reason that it is blind to the distribution of satisfaction. This remains so, despite what is said, for example, about diminishing marginal utility. In a sentence, the principle can justify unfairness, intolerable inequality, victimization, slavery, wrongful punishment and so on (Honderich 2005). It fails, like so much else, because of the manipulability, openness to self-deception and so on, in this case partly owed to generality and abstractness about satisfaction, happiness and the like. These are weaknesses also evident in the distantly related ideology of liberalism and such vaguenesses as The Common Good and The Public Interest.

    There is another consequentialist and of course maximizing principle that is more particular and hence less manipulable and the like, and without the blindness to unfairness and so on. It is the Principle of Humanity, the fundamental principle of morality.

»What is right is what, according to the best available information and judgement, is the rational means, which is to say the effective and eonomical means, to 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 2003, p. 103, 2006a, p. 100, 2008, p. 61)

    The Principle of Humanity, of course like all alternatives to it, is an attitude. That is to say it has desire in it, some of it in the form of empathy, and so it obviously is not a factual or logical truth. But it is more rooted in human nature than any other attitude despite our selfishness and self-deception. It is rooted, more particularly, in our shared great desires and in our having and giving reasons for what we do, necessarily general, as all reasons are.

    Differently, the principle not only justifies but also is strengthened by certain of its particular entailments. These have a special role. Who supposes that the wrong of a man's torturing a child for purpose of his sexual excitement is only to be deduced from a general principle? It is more the case that it is the principle that is supported by the entailed proposition, rather than that the entailed proposition is supported by the principle. It is natural to say that such propositions corroborate or confirm the principle. We shall be returning to this matter of special entailments or consequences later, at any rate to what may be one such entailment or consequence.

    The Principle of Humanity also stands in a more ordinary connection with particular propositions of right and wrong with respect to the differences between peoples and means of maintaining or changing them. Here it is at least more natural to say just that the propositions are supported by the principle that the propositions depend on being entailments of the principle.

    As with the special entailments, the principle stands in this kind of ordinary connection with particular propositions, of course, only by way of concepts of several kinds, say that of terrorism, and of course factual premises of several kinds, say about the probable effect of terrorism. The factual premises, to my mind, are of greater difficulty than the principle itself. They are harder to confirm than the principle itself.

    Still, as remarked, the principle has a unique foundation in our human existence. Also. we all converge on it in circumstances where selfishness and self-deception and manipulation of by others are not the story, often enough in our judgements on conflicts elsewhere. Further, it claims the recommendation of deriving from the concentration of philosophy on ordinary logic.

    The morality of Humanity, it is worth adding, needs characterizing in terms of more than the proposition that is the Principle of Humanity and in terms of related lesser propositions. This is so since it is indeed an attitude, like all alternatives. It is first of all a resolution and an invitation to stand against deference to law, hierarchic democracy and related conventions. It is an invitation to stand against these large things which it takes to derive from the self-interest of discriminable economic, social and political classes and of peoples. Marx in my judgement was wrong about much, beginning with a whole theory of history (Honderich 2003c). He was not wrong about everything, and he was in effect among the great moralists.2

2. Zionism, Neo-Zionism, a Palestinian Moral Right

    To leap now to several of the propositions entailed by the principle, one concerns Zionism, understood not in the usual way or ways, but more clearly. Zionism so understood was the establishing and now is the maintaining by all actually necessary means of the state of Israel in roughly its original borders of 1948. The proposition entailed by the Principle of Humanity is that this Zionism has been and is right. A second proposition has to do with neo-Zionism, the taking from the Palestinians since 1967 of at least their freedom in the last 1/5th of historic Palestine, the land of which indubitably they were and remain the indigenous people. –

    This second proposition is that the Palestinians have had and do now have a moral right to their terrorism in all of historic Palestine, including Israel, against the ethnic cleansing of neo-Zionism. (Honderich 2003, pp. 24–9, 150–1, 155–86; 2006b, pp. 110–1, 111–8, 183; for discussion of the proposition and related matters: Kapitan, Law, Lyon, McBride, Meisels, Norman, Primoratz, and Shanahan, all in Law 2008a.)

    To have a legal right to keep or get something is to have the support of the positive law of the land in keeping or getting it. To have a moral right is to have the support of the fundamental principle of morality. As you have heard, it is my conviction that that principle is the Principle of Humanity.

    A strong and perhaps the strongest objection to this proposition about a Palestinian moral right, in my judgement, has been well articulated by Georg Meggle. He is true to the great reality of philosophy as concentration on ordinary logic. To debate with him is risky. He is not a wordy expositor of some plasticine consensus, say liberalism, let alone the conservatism now exemplified by such things as the New Labour Party in England. (Honderich 2003b, 2005 b)

    Not everything worth doing is worth doing well. In what follows, I shall have to give a critical impression of his objections rather than deal with them in their forceful detail.

    The subjects, all more or less briefly treated, will be these: the worth of Just War Theory as against the Principle of Humanity in judging terrorism in general and Palestinian terrorism in particular; the means of fear, the emotion of terror, being included in a general definition of terrorism; the killing of innocents being included in a general definition; objections to the moral right of Palestinians to their terrorism, again having to do with the killing of innocents; the case of Palestine and its partly corroborative relation to the Principle of Humanity; anti-semitism, Meggle, and Habermas .

3. Just War Theory and the Principle of Humanity

    It is to be granted that Just War Theory, which Meggle refers to as the classical theory of the justifiability of violence, is superior to alternative attempts to deal with the question of violence -- those other attempts mentioned in the beginning, including international law, hierarchic democracy and so on. That is not to say that Just War Theory, this body of strong thinking, is the best means of judging right and wrong with respect to war and related violence. The theory, in a sentence, is at least less determinate than the Principle of Humanity and thus more open to manipulation and the like.

    The core of the theory in its original and indeed later form was that a justified or right war, and by conceivable extension any justified terrorism, was necessarily a war or terrorism of self-defence. Self-defence was understood in a plain and literal way, as no more than a nation state's defence against invasion or other attack. It is to the credit of those at work in the Just War tradition that they saw the need to clarify, develop or add to or the theory in a large way reported by Meggle.

    As a result of this progress, a just war may not be self-defence in the plain and literal sense, but a war against »very severe and systematic violations of human rights« (Meggle 2005b). Just wars include wars of »humanitarian intervention«, but not only such violence. More relevantly, and by extension, there can be justified terrorism by fighters of a people in their homeland includes terrorism in defence of the human rights of the people. This necessary extension of the doctrine of the just war, in my view, is its new weakness, indeed its new failure.

    This is a consequence of its inclusion of a doctrine of human rights or conceivably one of the other alternatives to the Principle of Humanity mentioned in the beginning. One short story of appeals to human rights, however useful they have been in certain contexts, is that these appeals rest on no clear principle as to what these rights actually are, what rights are included. The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights is an outstanding example of this failing. Nor is there a clear principle as to the settling of conflicting claims as to human rights. Both neo-Zionists and Palestinians do claim to have had their human rights violated, to be justified in all they do, including their terrorisms, by their human rights.

    Meggle says (2005c) that we two do share most of my world-views. I suspect that his actual use of Just War Theory resolves itself into something close to the attitude that is the Principle of Humanity -- a principle not invented by me but derived from  a history of common use. It has been the principle of the Left in politics when that tradition has not gone astray.

    My main conclusion here, however, is that the best basis for judgements on terrorism in general and on Palestinian terrorism in particular is indeed the Principle of Humanity. It cannot be Just War Theory, despite that theory's manifest superiority in its various parts to much else, certainly to what Meggle and I may agree is the delusion of at least American and British governments on terrorism, the moral stupidity exemplified by Bush, Blair and Brown.

    That is not to say that the Principle of Humanity gives anything like easy answers. Anything that does give such answers is mistaken. Anything that makes life simple is mistaken. What can be maintained is no more than that the Principle of Humanity is the best decision-procedure available. This is a matter of what can be said for it, its foundation in facts of human nature and its relative effectiveness as a decision-procedure.

    Compare for a start Kant's principle of treating each person as an end and not only as a means. Or, to descend from what is still reflection of great intelligence and force, compare the drivel of the New Labour Party in the society from which I write, forever announcing the rescue of children in poverty by new »initiatives« while increasing relative poverty, the inequality that at least matters most.

4. Terrorism in General Defined as Causing Fear

    A definition of terrorism with a good history is this:

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.

The definition is close to those of Noam Chomsky (2005; 2008) and indeed the American Army. All the elements of the definition, of course, need clarification (Honderich 2006b, 83–9). That the violence is social and political, for example, is the fact that it may have the aim of a people to have their own homeland. (Cf. Coady 2004, Held 2004.)

    Terrorism as defined of course includes state terrorism or other somehow official terrorism, terrorism with state support. The definition must bring to mind something else, something differing only in its second element. That is terrorist war, of which the American and British war on Iraq is an outstanding case.

    Meggle's preferred definition of terrorism in general is that it consists of acts of violence intended to cause fear, which fear is intended to affect a government or governments, and so to serve a social and political end (2005a). This differs from my general definition above in that it includes the element (6) that the social and political aim of terrorism is pursued by the means of causing fear, terror or horror. It is notable, and germane to something you are about to hear, that an alternative label for the means in question is also accepted, one taken from an American campaign in the war on Iraq. Terrorism, we hear, like the campaign in this war, uses the means of »shock and awe«.

    The Principle of Humanity can and has been enlarged or filled in by specifying policies and practices, One of these is equality in certain large contexts, despite the end of the principle not being a relation or relative one, but an end having to do with bad lives judged in absolute terms. Another policy or practice that ought to have been given more attention in enlarging the principle is the policy of truth. It is, of necessity, more of a means to the end of the Principle of Humanity than truth is for those who support opposing principles. Their principal means to their ends, in my view, are conventions and then policemen and armies. This is paradigmatically true of conservatism and liberalism.

    Does truth require a definition of terrorism that includes its having the property of causing fear?  The Principle of Humanity owes much to philosophy as ordinary logic, a concentration on the three epistemic virtues of clarity, consistency and validity, and completeness. Does philosophy in particular require a definition of terrorism partly in terms of fear?

    There is also a different question. Is the matter of a definition of importance in this book you are reading? Is the matter important, that is, in the context of inquiry?
That is something different from politics and almost all journalism and the like. In inquiry, the stuff of much academic life if certainly not all, there is time for adding and no bar to adding other conceptions to a chosen definition of anything. To a chosen definition of terrorism as, say, evil done by monsters, you can add exactly the conception of terrorism specified earlier, of course taking care to give another name to the thing, say political violence. You can then, if you want, deny there is much terrorism in the world and say what you want in defence of political violence.

    For such a reason, I myself have in the past had the idea that definitions of terrorism are not crucial in contexts of inquiry (Honderich 2006b). If there remains some truth along those lines, I have changed my mind somewhat. Definitions of terrorism in terms of fear appear in what indubitably is inquiry, indeed inquiry I admire (Kapitan 2008, Primoratz 2008, Meggle 2005a).  No doubt it is possible to make too sharp a distinction between inquiry and other things.3 Let us then look at the question of choosing definitions.

    To repeat, does truth require a definition of terrorism in terms of fear? Well, the best current dictionary I know, The New Oxford Dictionary of English, defines terrorism as »the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political ends«. I take it that the definition in leaving out fear as necessary is not false to ordinary usage, whatever the value or disvalue of being in accord with ordinary usage. But something else is more important.

    Definitions of anything in dispute, maybe in any context, serve other ends than truth. They serve desires that are the essence or indeed the stuff of attitudes. That is not to say that all definitions are like some, which actually go against truth. My end, so to speak, which I have the virtue of avowing rather than concealing or not making explicit, is that of the Principle of Humanity. Where truth serves that end, which it almost always does, it is pursued. Are you taken aback by the implied exception about falsehood? I ask you, reader, not to forget that you too would readily lie in almost any circumstance to save an innocent life.

    One dispute between supporters of the Principle of Humanity and its adversaries has to do with terrorism as against war. The dispute has to do with terrorism as ordinarily referred to in our hierarchic democratic politics and the usual media as against war and official terrorism. An example of the latter is the state terrorism of neo-Zionism. This dispute is pretty well the whole context with respect to disagreement about terrorism and its definition.

    A supporter of the Principle of Humanity is faced with an implicit or explicit definition of war that excludes an indubitable element of it, that it gives rise to fear, that it gives rise to more fear than anything else. There is a lesser but related practice with official terrorism, say the terrorism of neo-Zionism. This excludes from war and official terrorism what it shares with all terrorism, that it makes some use of fear, an undesired and damaging emotion that it brings into being. War and official terrorism, further, also create and use fear to a political end.

    The exclusions have effect, enough to change a mind or two, enough to enter into necessary conditions of deaths by official terrorism.

    I myself do not propose, where truth allows, to take up any definition that serves a wrong end. I do not propose to inhibit or affect inquiry, as now seems to me possible, by taking up a usage that serves those whose general end is not that of getting and keeping people out of bad lives. I do not propose to take up a definition that serves the end of improving the lives of only a chosen people or a chosen class of people. I do not propose to take up a definition that others, more respectable or entirely respectable in my terms, fall into agreement with out of an inclination to a convention.

5. Terrorism in General Defined as the Killing of Innocents

    These reflections are relevant to a larger matter, the issue of whether terrorism in general should be defined as having another element additional to the five with which we began and the sixth about fear. Should we take up a definition that includes (vii) the proposition that terrorism is violence against innocent people, in particular the intentional killing of innocents? Or civilians or non-combatants? It is pretty clear that this project is best pursued in terms of innocents. Meggle speaks of »illegitimate targets«, who are left undefined, but are specified as including innocent children -- »innocent kids or even babies« (2005a, p. ???). [Re page numbers, T.H. has only a print-out of an emailed version. May he ask an editor check the book or whatever for a page number? Sorry.

    Truth certainly does not require defining terrorism as being against innocents. Look at the Oxford dictionary entry again. If you have an American dictionary instead, one that informs you that any adverse judgement on neo-Zionism is anti-semitism, and then moves on to define terrorism as being against innocents, consider the habits instead of your newspaper or television. Certainly the terrorism that is reported is very regularly violence against soldiers, members of security services, suppliers of arms, and political officials directly involved in a conflict. Ordinary public usage does not suppose terrorism is necessarily or even ordinarily against the innocent.

    That is still not the main point.The main point is that this definition of terrorism stands in contrast to an implicit or explicit one of war and official terrorism. The definitions of war and official terrorism do not include the proposition that they are in part the intentional killing of innocents. In fact they are, to a far greater extent than terrorism as ordinarily understood.

    The definition of terrorism in terms of the killing of innocents is often a tool, fully conscious or a matter of culpable self-deception, in support of a certain end, an end other than that of the Principle of Humanity. In connection with Palestine, that end is typically at least understanding if not more explicit support of neo-Zionism. This definition of terrorism, to my mind, is typically part of semitism, that counterpart to anti-semitism, that prejudice in favour of the Jewish people against any other people. The definition is also often taken up by others, neither neo-Zionist in sympathy nor semitic in the special sense,  as a kind of deference to convention. The definition may sometimes be taken up as a kind of credential or shield on the part of people who are uneasy about what they can say in understanding or support of terrorism.

    I do not consign Meggle to these latter categories, but invite him to consider this matter. Maybe I feel some confidence about the result of his consideration. If you are committed to anything like the Principle of Humanity, as against such a thing as American ideology with respect to the war on Iraq, you may join me in saying that nothing on earth will persuade you to take up this definition of terrorism that is at worst a tool in a vicious cause and at best a deference or timidity.

    All of this depends, of course, on more than can be laid out or even touched on here. One item has to do with what it is intentionally to kill someone -- what it is, more particularly, intentionally to kill an innocent person. The only important answer, also the fundamental answer of any legal system, save perhaps for the most primitive, is that intentionally to do anything is to act with the knowledge that your action certainly or probably will have a certain consequence.4

    Bush, Blair and Brown have been to the fore in intentionally killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, overwhelmingly more innocents than any Palestinian terrorist. They have done so as certainly as a man kills somebody he knows to be in a house with his wife who has left him when he sets fire to the house, as he says, only to kill his wife. Their definition of war does not include this fact. It is different from their definition of terrorism. They are not good models, but the worst of models.

6. Objections to the Palestinian Moral Right

    It is one thing to define terrorism in general in such a way as to prejudice whatever argument there can be for some of it. To define terrorism in general as the killing of innocents is not to engage in argument but, at worst, to try to defeat it or affect its force by a means that cannot have the support of the morality of Humanity. But of course there is a question other than the question of general definition.

    Terrorism by any decent general definition, certainly including my own, does cover or include what does not have to be specified in it, the killing of innocents. The situation is the same as with any definition of anything or event in the world. There are truths about armies and wars that are not included in definitions of them.

    You have heard an affirmation of the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism against the ethnic cleansing of neo-Zionism within the whole of historic Palestine. Meggle, despite having a general attitude akin to that of the Principle of Humanity, denies that right with respect to some Palestinian terrorism. He does so with respect to Palestinian terrorism against the innocent. He is at least inclined to support other Palestinian terrorism.

    Certainly there is some or much Palestinian terrorism against innocents. It includes the killing of innocents that is intentional in the only sense that matters, mentioned above, such that death of an innocent or innocents is foreseeable as a probable consequence of an action or campaign.

    Meggle makes distinctions of value between kinds and facts of intentional action (2005a, 2005b). I take it that they are in accordance with the fundamental conception of intentional action as action with a foreseeable consequence. Let me here pass by his distinctions and only say something of his general objection to justifying Palestinian terrorism against innocents. In his objection, terrorism in a certain sense against innocents is spoken of, in an English translation, as strongly reprehensible terrorism. Terrorism in another sense, not against innocents, is spoken of as weakly reprehensible terrorism.

»Are there situations in which terrorism can be justified -- and justified with the Principle of Humanity in mind? Your answer, Ted, is a clear yes. This answer is too unilateral for me. The right answer, according to me, should have two sides, a yes and a no. That is not a contradiction. There are two kinds of terrorism -- at whom the terrorism is directed makes the difference. Weakly reprehensible terrorism targets the oppressors and only them. The best example is just guerilla warfare. Strongly reprehensible terrorism is a terrorism that targets a third party, namely innocents -- children, for example. ...

Let us assume that we have already accepted your Principle of Humanity as the core of our ethics -- and we have accepted also that this principle can sometimes be served by use of violence. Your next step in justification is this: If this violence serves its humanitarian end only if it takes the form of terrorist violence (and the other frame conditions mentioned above apply as well), then terrorism can be morally permissible. It might even be a moral obligation. ... I find it terribly hard to believe that the if-then sentence will ever hold in reality...if the terrorism in question is to be understood as strongly reprehensible terrorism. Do you really believe it? You would be the first person who believes that humanity can be bombed into the world by murdering children.« (Meggle 2005c, p. ???) ???). [Re page numbers, T.H. has only a print-out of an emailed version. May he ask an editor check the book or whatever for a page number? Sorry.

    There is too much that needs to be said of this, too much even for summary here. You must hear from me, reader, that immemorial line of authors: Read my books. You will agree that I have not been shy about citing them. Still, something can be said in the meantime, maybe something a little new.

    Objection must obviously be made to a possible definition of innocents that safely puts into the category of the innocent everyone but »members of armed forces and security services«, those who supply them with arms and ammunition, and »political officials directly involved in the conflict« (Meggle 2005a, p. ???). My definition of innocents would not leave out armed Israeli »settlers«, civilians with guns who destroy the homes and olive groves of an indigenous people and take their land as a building site for »settlements«. I am sure that on second thought Meggle would agree.

    Much more needs saying. One thing is that there is something consistent with the moral truth, asserted above, that Israel in its original 1948 borders is rightly defended by means that are actually necessary. This Zionism is to the effect that Israelis have a right to their lives in 4/5ths of historic Palestine. Does this entail that all Israelis are innocent in being there? In what sense are they innocent? I do not deny there is a sense.

    But there must remain a difference in decency between two peoples. The first people have a claim to a homeland taken by them from no one, a people now suffering and whose very existence is threatened. These are the Palestinians. The second people have a right to a homeland, a homeland taken by them from the first people. Those of the second people, very certainly not all of them, not those honourable Israelis who condemn neo-Zionism without qualification, must contemplate that there is another sense, also a real sense, in which they are not decent, not innocent.

    Here is something else. It is not at all my view, nor perhaps anyone else's, that a judgement on any such matter as Palestine, or on any of our own wars, say World War 2, is settled by a consideration only of the deaths of innocents. There are lives that are worse for going on longer. Indeed there are worse things than death.

    But, if you will, fix your attention on the subject of the deaths of innocents. Neo-Zionist terrorism, as against Palestinian terrorism, has killed two or three times the number of innocents. Do you hurry to say two wrongs to not make a right. Who could disagree? But there are other things to be said. One is that a greater past wrong, the neo-Zionist wrong with respect to killing innocents, is evidence of the need now for effective Palestinian terrorism, evidence of an enemy not changing, an enemy resolute in pursuing what can hardly be other than a terrible greed, at the very least an awful disdain for the needs of others.

    I pass by various other propositions that can be offered in defence of Palestinian terrorism and in particular their terrorism against innocents. These include what is to me certainly the fact that they have had and now have no alternative whatever to terrorism, and the probability that they will indeed come to have something of a homeland by means of their terrorism. As for the probability of their achieving their end, their achieving their end partly by terrorism against innocents, the intifadas have and will have the strength of liberation-terrorism generally. Those fighting for a remainder of their homeland are fighting for a people who have no other homeland, nowhere to go.

    There is the proposition, too, for which there is surely strong argument, that actually to grant a person or a people a moral right to an end, say a national state in a homeland, is to grant them the only means to that end. Unless you can say to yourself the Palestinians have no right to a state, you must not say that have no right to the necessary means to it, in particular no right to terrorism against innocents. (Honderich 2008)

7. The Case of Palestine and the Principle of Humanity

    Let me revert to something remarked on above at the start above (p. 00), and in a way made clear by John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice. There has seemed to me little to be said for the main parts of his liberalism in the book (Honderich 2003b). The contract argument for his two principle of justice is otiose, the principles are vague and self-interested. As against this, to my mind, Rawls was right about something that can certainly be detached from his contract argument. It is that the relation between a principle of right and wrong and some particular propositions related to it is not simple.

    Certainly there are certain propositions such that it is mistaken to say that they owe their strength only to their being entailments of the principle. In fact it seems true that in these cases the direction of argument is more from the particular propositions to the principle. Part of their relation to the principle is that they are corroborations of it. That is part of their role in actual reflection on right and wrong.

    If what else to say is unclear to me, this seems to me so with the condemnation of neo-Zionism and perhaps the justification of Palestinian violence, and, on the other hand, the Principle of Humanity. There is a relation between the history and the present of Palestine, that case, including judgements on it about neo-Zionism and perhaps the Palestinian right to terrorism, and the Principle of Humanity. The judgements, at least the first of them, have a strength that is independent of the principle.

    Can you get a hold on the case as it can be set out, get it into view, and say otherwise? Can you say this is not a paradigm of inhumanity?

»Jews lived in the society of another people, the Germans, and by their enterprise and other strengths succeeded in it, and were resented. Use was made of this. Millions of them were horribly killed. That they should have a place of their own in compensation was a kind of necessity placed on us all. It was not then seen as a possibility that they have such a place formed out of a part of Germany. In 1948 a new homeland for them was taken by them with the agreement of the victors in the war against the Germans. The new homeland was 4/5ths of the was the homeland of the Palestinians, who had had nothing whatever to do with the Holocaust. Having no state of their own, they could seem to be less than a people. They were driven from their homes or subjugated in them. In 1967, they resisted the taking of the last 1/5th of their homeland by neo-Zionism. Their struggle gave evidence that in fact they had been a people in 1948. They have been the weak against the strong, suffering a kind of second Holocaust at the hands of descendants of people who suffered the first one. Those descendants, however, the Jewish people, now have lives deep in a place. There is now more to Zionism than compensation for the first Holocaust. The Palestinians now fight in the only way they can against the vileness that is the ongoing ethnic cleansing by neo-Zionism. They fight to save the remainder of their homeland, and for their very existence as a people. Their struggle is as much to be reverenced as is the existence of Israel in its 1948 borders. Against the Palestinians is not only neo-Zionism in Palestine but the ignorant superpower that is the United States. Despite this, they have the possibility of achieving some goal of their terrorism. Their killing is not pointless killing. It is worth remembering, too, the Jews who fought hopelessly to the death in the Warsaw ghetto. They fought for those who came after them.« (Chomsky 1999, 2008, Kapitan, Karmi, Meisels, Nabulsi, Neumann, Pappe, Primoratz .)

    I take it that the relation between the condemnation of neo-Zionism and the Principle of Humanity is one of mutual support. That fact, a fact of a kind in need of more inquiry and reflection, is one thing that allows me to persist, without qualification, in the conviction that the Palestinians do have a moral right to the terrorism. As you will gather, it is to me a possibility that that moral right also has a strength independent of the principle that entails it.

8. Anti-semitism, Meggle, Habermas, Melzer

    Georg Meggle does not obscure or sugar-coat what he believes, including what he has to believe. To his philosophical acuteness, he adds courage, both in his philosophy and the rest of his public life. He did not and does not join those of his countrymen who confuse or choose to confuse condemnation of neo-Zionism with anti-semitism. He does not give in to semitism, that prejudice in favour of Jews in all things, or too much defer to it. This just compliment can be given more force by a comparison which perhaps understandably sticks in my mind.

    When my book After the Terror was translated into German by Suhrkamp, having been recommended for translation by Jurgen Habermas, and known to have been recommended by him, he wrote a newspaper article (Habermas) 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 to qualify his judgement and to be little defence of the book. The publisher Suhrkamp's decision the next day to »ban« the book as anti-semitic was no surprise. The second German publisher, Abraham Melzer, Jewish himself, was closer to truth and humanity. So too was Georg Meggle.


1. I thank Ingrid Coggin Honderich for her strong comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Perfect agreement on the subject has not yet been reached.

2. There is another short introduction to the Principle of Humanity in a reply to another philosopher on the same issues: 'Humanity, Terrorisms in Palestine, Innocents: Reply to Tamar Meisels', in Stuart Gottlieb, ed., 2009, Debating Terrorism and Counterterroism, Washington, CQ Press. [I have no page numbers as yet.]

3. There is more on the change of mind in the reply to Tamar Meisels mentioned above in note 1.

4. There is a little more on intentional killing in the reply to Meisels mentioned above in note 1.


BABIC 2006. Jovan Babic (ed.), Terrorism: Moral, Legal, and Political Issues, Filozofski Godisnjak 19 (2006).
CHOMSKY 1999. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, London, Pluto Press 1999.
------------------- 2005. Noam Chomsky, »Simple Truths, Hard Problems:Some Thoughts on Terror, Justice and Self-Defence«, Philosophy !!! (2005), pp. ??/ T.H. has only typescript; is trying to get page references.
------------------- 2008. Noam Chomsky, »Terrorism and Justice: Some Useful Truisms«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 73-91.
COADY 2004. C. A. J. Coady, »Defining Terrorism« in PRIMORATZ 2004, pp. 3-14.
HABERMAS 2003. Jürgen Habermas, »A Shirtsleeves Tract: Why I Recommended This Book«. Frankfurter Rundschau ???.  5 August 2003 http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/HabermasHonderichTerrorismAntiSemitism.html; http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/BrumlikHabermastrans.html
HELD 2004. Virginia Held, »Terrorism and War«, The Journal of Ethics 8 (2004), pp. ???. pp. 59-75
HONDERICH 2003a. Ted Honderich, After the Terror, 2nd edition. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press; in German Nach dem Terror: Ein Traktat, translated by Eva Gilmer, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp 2003; Nach dem Terror: Ein Traktat, translated by Thomas Fehige and Beatrice Kobow, Neu-Isenburg, Abraham Melzer Verlag 2004.
------------------- 2003b. Ted Honderich, On Political Means and Social Ends. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press 2003.
------------------- 2004. Ted Honderich, »Palestinian Terrorism, Morality, and Germany«, Rechtsphilosophische Hefte 10 (2004), pp. 121-135.
------------------- 2005a. Ted Honderich, Punishment: The Supposed Justifications Revisited, London, Pluto Press 2005.
------------------- 2005b. Ted Honderich, Conservatism: Burke, Nozick, Bush, Blair? London, Pluto Press 2005.
------------------- 2006a. Ted Honderich, Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy, London, Pluto Press 2006.
------------------- 2006b. Ted Honderich, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7..., London, Continuum 2006; published in the United States as Right and Wrong, and Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7..., New York, Seven Stories Press 2006.
------------------- 2008. Ted Honderich, »Terrorisms in Palestine«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 3-16.
KAPITAN 2008. Tomis Kapitan, »Terror«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 17-33.
KARMI 2002. Ghada Karmi, In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story, London, Verso 2002.
KRONFELD-GOHARANI 2005. Ulrike Kronfeld-Goharani (ed.), Friedensbedrohung Terrorismus: Ursachen, Folgen und Gegenstrategien, Berlin, LIT 2005.
LAW 2008a. Stephen Law (ed.), Israel, Palestine and Terror, London, Continuum 2008.
---------------- 2008b. Stephen Law, »Terror in Palestine: A Non-Violent Alternative«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 92-101.
LYON 2008. Ardon Lyon, »Murder and Morality: Professor Honderich on Israel and the Palestinians«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 127-135.
LYONS 1965. David Lyons, Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism, Oxford, Oxford P. P. 1965.
MCBRIDE 2008. William McBride, »In a World of Uneasy Virtue«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 153-162.
MEGGLE 2005a. Georg Meggle, »Was ist Terrorismus?«, in Kronfeld-Goharani 2005, pp. 15–36; in English »What Is Terrorism?«, in BABIC 2006, pp. 11–24.
---------------- 2005b. Georg Meggle, »Terror and Counter-Terror: Initial Ethical Reflections «, ???; (TH has only a typescript.) in German »Terror & Gegenterror: erste ethische Reflexionen«, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 50 (2002), pp 149–62.
---------------- 2005c. Georg Meggle, »Critical Comment on Ted Honderich's Lecture ›Is There a Right to Terrorism?‹«, http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/MeggleOnTH.pdf.
MEISELS 2008. Tamar Meisels, »Territory and Terrorism in Israel«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 175-186.
NABULSI 2005. Karma Nabulsi, »Being Palestinian«, http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/Being_Palestinian.html.
NEUMANN 2005. Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel, Petrolia, CounterPunch & AK Press 2005.
---------------- 2008. Michael Neumann, »Terror and Expected Collateral Damage: The Case for Moral Equivalence«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 136-52.
NORMAN 2008. Richard Norman, »Killing the Innocent«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 47-58.
PAPPE 2004. Ilan Pappe, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Oxford, Oxford U. P. 2004.
---------------- 2006. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford, Oxford U. P. 2006.
PRIMORATZ 2004. Igor Primoratz (ed.), Terrorism: The Philosophical Issues, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan 2004.
PRIMORATZ 2008. Igor Primoratz , 'Terrorism in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict', in LAW, 2008a, pp. 59-72.
RAWLS 1972. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Oxford, Oxford U. P. 1972.
ROSEN 2003. Fred Rosen, Classical Utilitarianism From Hume to Mill, London, Routledge 2003.
SHANAHAN 2008. Timothy Shanahan, »The Morality of Palestinian Terrorism«, in LAW 2008a, pp. 34-46.
SINGER 1993. Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge, Cambridge U. P. 1993.

For Honderich's reply to objections by the Israeli philosopher Tamar Meisels, go to Humanity, Terrorisms in Palestine, Innocent Victims.
You can also turn to an interview with him in the Danish newspaper Information by Mads Qvortrup.

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