by Tamar Meisels

This essay by Dr. Tamar Meisels of the Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy at Tel-Aviv University concerns what is said to be a recent philosophical confusion concerning the definition of terrorism predominant in the post- 9-11 literature.  The essay calls for a strict and consistent definition of  terrorism as a particular form of political violence, and for its unequivocal condemnation by liberals -- left and right. Terrorism, it is suggested, is nothing but 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. Further, the essay argues that regardless of its 'root cause', terrorism is diametrically opposed to the requirements of liberal morality and can only be defended at the expense of relinquishing the most basic of liberal commitments.

Terrorism is far from a new phenomenon – neither in the US nor elsewhere. Nonetheless, the events of September 11th (due perhaps to their catastrophic dimensions, high profile locale and large media coverage) have now pushed old questions concerning legitimate violence to the head of our agenda on good and evil. Resorting to analytical tools is perhaps no more than a philosopher’s means of despair, yet it is vital to understanding current events and appropriately influencing future ones. Admittedly, philosophy cannot always supply one morally correct answer to the exclusion of all others. At times, even strict ethical objectivism leaves room for some degree of value pluralism that enables balancing different morally acceptable principles against each other in a variety of legitimate ways, resulting in many cases in a plurality of morally valid political opinions. [1] Terrorism, however, is no such case. Instead, I suggest, it is one of those instances in which only one response is morally valid. What is the appropriate liberal attitude towards current events?

Western intellectuals, particularly left leaning ones, seem increasingly confused, as traditional loyalties appear to pull in opposing directions. Liberals and leftists are accustomed to siding with the underdog; to supporting the self-determination of nations (most recently fervently committed to Palestinian independence); they customarily oppose violence and war and associate with peace movements. Egalitarians often support a global application of equality standards, and are therefore particularly sensitive to the plight of impoverished populations of third world nations. This commits them to oppose certain Western economic policies which are associated with globalization. In the extreme it has lead some to an overall anti-globalization stance or even to the outright support of some forms of terrorism. [2] Many argue in effect that one man’s terrorism is another’s freedom fight; one man’s crime against humanity is another’s resistance against oppression. Why, we might ask, are the desperate actions of militant groups dubbed illegitimate terrorism while the military operations of established nations are considered legitimate warfare?

Do Western states and their leaders use terms such as ‘terrorism’ accurately and consistently when confronting violence against their citizenry, and are they sufficiently sincere in evaluating their own actions? Surely not! Public political speech tends to conflate the evaluation of conflicting causes – their justness or injustice - with the legitimacy of the means adopted by either side for attaining their respective ends. The rhetoric employed by state leaders is often deliberately imprecise and inaccurate, blurring morally relevant distinctions at least inadvertently, and often scenically. None of these truisms however, yield the conclusion that the condemnation of terrorism and talk of waging war thereon are forms of Western hypochracy. If liberals have a quarrel with their governments, it ought to be over upholding the relevant distinctions, rather than dismissing them in the name of consistency.  If philosophers have a task in this battle, it is to analyze and clarify definitions and evaluate their normative force rather than further obscuring them. [3] This essay argues that a canonical and consistent definition of “terrorism” can and should be pursued by theorists, and particularly by philosophers. Such definitions and their corresponding normative codes, which are desirable for legal systems and the states they represent, are absolutely essential for moral philosophers if they are to contribute anything at all to modern affairs. If lawyers require definitions, moral and legal philosophers cannot do without them. As Aristotle believed, our uniqueness as humans lies in our power to speak and reason, understood primarily in terms of our ability to define things and, relatedly, to make ethical judgments. [4] Philosophers, naturally, ought to exhibit these abilities to their highest degree. This essay looks at some questions of definitions and related moral judgment, which have been thrust upon political philosophy by current events.

Terrorism Undefined

Several recent studies point at the inconsistencies and inadequacies of existing definitions of terrorism, as well as to the contradictions between them. [5] C.A.J. Coady suggests that there are over 100 modern definitions of so-called “terrorism”. [6] George Fletcher mentions only dozens, concluding that no one categorization of this phenomenon is definitive. [7] Igor Primoratz complains that “Current ordinary usage of the word displays wide variety and considerable confusion; as a result, discussing terrorism and the array of moral, political and legal questions it raises is difficult and often frustrating.” [8] Wilkins does not altogether exaggerate writing that the number of definitions of terrorism equals the number of works dedicated to the subject.[9]

In his Romantics at War, George Fletcher invites us to examine the language we use when contemplating modern warfare. One word, he points out, is on everybody’s lips – “Terrorism” but what, he asks, does it mean? “Were the American revolutionaries not terrorists? Did they not fight without wearing uniforms? Did they not conduct unorthodox raids against English regulars marching in uniform? Were we engaged in an act of terror when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?” There are, he concludes, “too many questions and too few easy answers.” [10] He supplies non of his own.

One philosopher who has taken up this linguistic challenge is Ted Honderich. In his controversial After the Terror, Honderich inquires at length into the definition of terrorism, setting out with more basic terms such as “violence” in general, and “political violence” in particular. [11] ‘Violence’, is understood plainly as the use of force for the worse. Honderich’s definition of “political violence” can be summed up as the internally or internationally illegal, as well as morally questionable, infliction of harmful physical force with political or social intentions, on a smaller scale than full-fledged war. [12] This includes state, as well as group, violence, either directly engaged in or supported by financial or other means. It excludes legal, but possibly immoral, violence (i.e. Hitler’s police, erroneous internationally endorsed wars, etc.). It also excludes “structural” injustices – such as racism, discrimination and immoral global arrangements. So while the definition attaches a prima facie assumption of wrongfulness to violence, it does not necessarily equate political violence with moral wrong. [13]

Ultimately, Honderich deliberately refrains from defining “terrorism” independently of political violence in general. While acknowledging the distinction between violence which is intended to create fear or outright “terror” amongst a civilian population as opposed to forms of “violence directed specifically at a head of state, or politicians, soldiers or policemen”, Honderich disregards this in defining terrorism. [14] The idea that certain forms of political violence are directed specifically at innocent people and that this ought to be viewed as part of their particular condemnation as “terrorism”, is also raised in passing and similarly dismissed out of hand. [15] This common intuition that there is a particular wrong involved in the intentional killing of none combatants and that such strikes in particular ought to be singled out as ‘acts of terror’, is no more than momentarily considered and subsequently denied in the name of consistency. [16] After all, Western states kill innocents too, and do not condemn the death of some innocents as loudly as we denounce the death of other (our) innocents.

Undeniably, deliberate oversights are made by leaders whose hands are not entirely clean of the blood of innocent civilians. Revolutionary movements do not hold a monopoly on instilling fear or killing civilians. As Michael Walzer points out, “The word ‘Terrorism’ is used most often to describe revolutionary violence. This is a small victory for the champions of order, among whom the uses of terror are by no means unknown. The systematic terrorizing of whole populations is a strategy of both conventional and guerrilla war, and of established governments as well as radical movements”. [17]  But unfortunately, Honderich reluctance to strictly define terrorism, appears equally to deliberately blur definitions as a political tool, no less than the politicians he accuses do. [18]

Honderich continues to argue that the common Western excuse as regards civilian casualties incurred in war applies equally to terrorists such as the killers of September 11. In both cases, he suggests, “their deaths were not the first intention of their killers, but necessary in the carrying out of another intention, a justified one.” [19] This point of similarity, however, even if conceded, has limited implications. Perhaps Bin Laden’s first intention was not to kill Americans, and perhaps the first intention of Palestinian suicide bombers and their organizations is not to kill Israelis (though this is by no means a forgone conclusion). [20] Their very first intention may indeed be, as Honderich suggests, achieving their political ends. If this is true, it is admittedly a feature of their action which they share with the unintentional killers of innocent non-combatants in war. It is not, however, the only, or primarily relevant, feature of their action. It remains the case that some forms of political violence are characterized by the intentional and deliberate slaying of non-combatants, rather than the accidental, or even negligent, killing of innocents which occurs in all wars. While all fatalities remain equally dead, there are significant differences between these modes of killing which warrants more than a few lines of attention followed by an elegant evasion. [21]  (I return to this distinction between the intentional and accidental killing of civilians later on).

Choosing then to make no definitional distinction between various forms of political violence, Honderich speaks of either terrorism or political violence as:

“Violence with a political and social intention, whether or not intended to put people in general in fear, and raising a question of its moral justification – either illegal violence within a society or smaller-scale violence than war between states or societies and not according to international war”. [22]

In defense of this inclusive definition, Honderich argues that making people in general fearful isn’t a significantly distinctive factor between forms of violence. “The main thing is getting political and social change” and this characterizes all forms of political violence as defined. [23] So Honderich’s self professed “excuse” for not singling out and condemning the specific sort of violence which we would usually call “terrorism”, is that it is actually more alike all other forms of political violence than it is distinct from them. All aspire to bring about (or preserve) a social and political end by means of inflicting harmful force. There is then, on his view, nothing unique or particularly condemnable about any one specific type of political violence, aside from the prime facie assumption of possible wrongfulness, which attaches to the infliction of all injury and harm. [24]

Apparently according to Honderich anyone who makes the traditional,  principled, distinctions that we ordinarily do -- say between killing a political tyrant and planting a bomb on a school bus or flying an aircraft into an office building -- must be some sort of Western hypocrite (probably an American capitalist, or a Jew, or a Zionist, or all three). After all, having defined terrorism with a deliberate disregard for the element of fear, -- the literal terrorization of a civilian population -- along with the element of targeting innocent non-combatants, the convenient outcome is inevitably going to be a striking formal similarity between killing soldiers, policemen or officials, assassinating Hitler or targeting Bin Laden, and blowing up a cafe or a commuter bus. It would seem that according to Honderich, these are ‘all in a good cause’.

This inclusive definition of terrorism bears clear normative implications.  It “does not by itself morally condemn in a final way anything that falls under it. It leaves open the possibility that there was justification of, say, the particular terrorism that led to the existence of the state of Israel. So with the attempt on Hitler’s life and attempts to kill Osama Bin Laden in the years before September 11.” [25] Since Honderich’s definition of “terrorism” makes no distinction between various forms of political violence, it enables discussing all these examples in the same breath, culminating in a supposedly even-handed analogy between them. In fact, this seemingly neutral definition of “terrorism or political violence” taken as one, is morally blurred and misleading. It justifies the subsequent comparison between all these examples and the case which appears to form the hidden (though not well enough) agenda of Honderich’s entire volume. It paves the way towards arguing that Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians is in fact justified. As Honderich puts this: “I myself have no doubt, to take the outstanding case, that the Palestinians have exercised a moral right in their terrorism against the Israelis….and those who have killed themselves in the cause of their people have indeed sanctified themselves”. [26]

The events of September 11th, on the other hand, are dubbed “wrong”, though not automatically so by definition. As Honderich puts it: “Our definition of terrorism does not rule out the possibility that some terrorism could be justified as response to what others called structural violence.” [27] (I.e. the wrongs done to individuals in the third world and some Arab countries, by the immoral omissions or direct commissions of the US associated with globalization, oil, and other capitalist interests and support of Israel).  “The conclusion is that there is no simple objection of a certain kind to terrorism against us, even the terrorism of September 11. We do not have a certain imagined moral high ground to stand on in condemning terrorism against us, in explaining our revulsion for the killers at the twin towers”. [28] Certainly, if terrorism is defined so widely as to include all forms of political violence with no moral distinction between them, why then ‘we are all terrorists’ with the US, Great Britain and Israel, leading at the head of a rotten bunch. Thus, Noam Chomsky, who shares many of Honderich’s assumptions, states clearly and repeatedly that the US is a leading terrorist state. [29] Add to this the forms of “structural violence”, that is the US’s alleged responsibility for the bad lives of third world and Arab populations, how then can we, non-hypocritically, oppose attacks against America by those harmed by its policies? On these questionable, and question begging, assumptions, we cannot.

And yet, Honderich accepts that the events of September 11th were wrong (as opposed to Palestinian terrorism aimed at Israelis), but only because they involved the use of violence without any reasonable hope of achieving its justifiable goals, understood as fighting off the effects of the US’s bad policies. “What was done was wrong because there could be no certainty or significant probability, no reasonable hope, that it would work to secure a justifying end, but only a certainty that it would destroy lives.” [30] It is instructive to note the obvious here, as Jerry Cohen has recently, “that anyone who rejects terrorism on the ground that it is counter productive…has conceded a large point of principle to the terrorists. The criticism that terror is counter productive doesn’t criticize it as terror”. [31] Indeed, Honderich more than implies that if the attacks of 9-11 could reasonably have been conceived as effective means towards saving more bad lives (say, in Africa) than the number of lives they destroyed in New-York, then such attacks would in fact have been justified. [32] Furthermore, future attacks on American civilians that would explicitly place anti-globalization and US exploitation as their goals, with reasonable hope of achieving this end, would be justified, perhaps even commanded by Honderich’s “humanitarian” principles, which recommend the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers. [33] 

In an engaging dialogue with Giovanna Borradori, Jacque Derrida presents a far more subtle, yet not entirely dissimilar, evaluation of the events of September 11. He too discredits the commonly attempted distinctions between terrorism and other types of violence, such as war, pointing to the indisputable fact that states have also employed terror tactics against civilians in wartime as well as against their own civilians internally. [34] Partly in view of this “state terror”, Derrida’s discussion implies that the civilian-military distinction between wartime killing and terrorism is misplaced, though’ like Honderich, he pays this distinction little attention remarking only in passing, and in a somewhat offhand tone, that: “the victims of terrorism are assumed to be civilians.” [35]

Aside from the terrorist excesses of states during wartime and otherwise, Derrida suggests that causing fear, anxiety, panic, and even outright terror among the citizenries of a state, far from being unique to any specific type of political violence, actually characterize the very authority of law and exercising of state sovereignty. [36] He also reminds us of the undeniable fact that the predominant powers often use, and abuse, terminology and definitions opportunistically in order to suit their own partisan political advantage, and he attempts to move from this to the disputable claim that terrorism therefor cannot be strictly defined. [37] Derrida also reiterates the platitude “that terrorists might be praised as freedom fighters in one context…and denounced as terrorists in another…” without seriously scrutinizing this common aphorism. [38]

In a vein similar to Honderich’s, Derrida points out that both terrorists and states invoke self-defense as their excuse for exercising the type of violence which their adversaries regard as terrorism. Militant groups as well as states commonly argue that their tactics are a last resort in the face of prior and more severe “terrorism” aimed against them. [39] Derrida, however, refrains from equating U.S economic policies ( or Israel’s military strategies) with terrorism, nor does he explicitly place them on a par with the group terrorism by which they claim to be victimized. He does however, elude to the possibility, a-la- Honderich, that certain forms of Western instigated “structural violence” associated with capitalism and globalization, could in themselves be regarded by some as prior incidents of state terrorism. [40] With this, Derrida joins Honderich in placing the distinctions between deliberate and unintentional actions as well as between acts and omissions in the philosophical waste paper basket alongside the earlier dismissal of the civilian-combatant distinction. [41] Thus, he also questions whether terrorism need necessarily involve deliberately putting to death: 

“Isn’t it also “letting die”? Can’t “letting die”, “not wanting to know that one is letting others die” – hundreds of millions of human beings, from hunger, AIDS, lack of medical treatment, and so on – also be part of a “more or less” conscious and deliberate terrorist strategy? We are perhaps wrong to assume so quickly that all terrorism is voluntary, conscious, organized, deliberate, intentionally calculated… All situations of social or national structural oppression produce a terror…” [42]

Having, “deconstructed” the notion of terrorism,  Derrida’s terminology is also deliberately inclusive. As he puts it, he refers only to “violence” in a deliberately general fashion, “so as to avoid the equivocal and confused words “war” and “terrorism”. [43] While Derrida’s political conclusions are less pronounced than Honderich’s are, the two are more than reminiscent of each other. Ultimately, the normative evaluation of terrorism hinges on its prospects of success. Derrida firmly believes that 9-11 was wrong, but part of his reason for this condemnation is alarmingly similar to Honderich’s.

“What appears to me unacceptable in the “strategy”…of the “Bin Laden effect” is not only the cruelty, the disregard for human life, the disrespect for law, for women, the use of what is worst in technocapitalist modernity for the purposes of religious fanaticism. No, it is above all, the fact that such actions and such discourse open onto no future and, in my view, have no future." [44]

While according to Derrida, its predictable lack of success in achieving its goals was not the only thing wrong with the terrorism of 9-11, he does suggest that its inefficiency is its central negative aspect. On the other hand, Derrida observes that where terrorism has successful prospects, today’s terrorists may well be tomorrow’s freedom fighters and heroes of national independence, or even state leaders. [45] At the very least, it is implied that where terrorists have a realistic chance of achieving their goal, say of national liberation, they may be retrospectively justified in employing terrorist tactics.

Interestingly enough, in the midst of his deconstruction project, Derrida insists on the interjection of one analytical distinction. He suggests that:

"A Philosopher would be one who seeks a new criteriology to distinguish between “comprehending” and “justifying”. For one can describe, comprehend and explain a certain chain of events or series of associations that lead to “war” or to “terrorism” without justifying them in the least, while in fact condemning them and attempting to invent other associations. One can condemn unconditionally certain acts of terrorism (whether of the state or not) without having to ignore the situation that might have brought them about or even legitimated them. ..One can thus condemn unconditionally, as I do here, the attack of September 11 without having to ignore the real or alleged conditions that made it possible." [46]

Derrida’s unconditional condemnation of the attacks of 9-11 is a welcome  point of departure from the views voiced by Ted Honderich’s and discussed earlier. Still, it remains puzzling what it means to “condemn unconditionally certain acts of terrorism…without having to ignore the situation that might have brought them about or even legitimated them”. [47] The use of the word “legitimated” is particularly perplexing. I am not the first to note with reference to terrorism that ‘the distance from “understandable” to “legitimate” is a very short one’. [48]

Despite Honderich’s refreshingly candid “moral inquiry” alongside Derrida’s elegant philosophical deconstruction, some may not yet be ready to discard the condemnation of terrorism as such. For those who, even on reflection, still cling to the common intuition that there is a particular sub-category of political violence, rightfully dubbed “terrorism”, which singles out a specific set of distinctly condemnable actions, I recommend a return to basics.

Back to Basics: Defining a Deadly Trilogy - Guerilla Warfare, Political Assassination, and Terrorism

What is terrorism, properly defined?  No doubt, as Honderich suggests, it is a sub-set of politically motivated violence which falls short of conventional war and is internationally illegal and (to say the least) morally questionable. [49] We cannot, however, leave things at that and “give up on the strict and careful idea of terrorism, and go on …in our inquiry, with a more general idea of it”. [50]  Here, more than anywhere, the devil is literally in the details.

Michael Walzer’s classic Just and Unjust Wars offers a uniquely instructive (and contemporarily relevant) distinction between three categories of irregular warfare, each warranting a different appropriate moral attitude. Clearly, not all revolutionary, non-conventional, or unlawful, political violence is terrorism. First there is Guerrilla warfare which is distinguishable from conventional war in that it involves not only the natural camaflouge used so often in traditional battle, but also a form of moral disguise in which combatants customarily conceal themselves in the midst (and rely on the support) of a civilian population, traditionally protected by the laws of war. [51] Their civilian camouflage, “the use of civilian clothing as a ruse and a disguise”, serves, albeit indirectly, to blur the differentiation  between soldiers and non – combatants. [52] So long as they remain unidentified by uniforms or other revealing dress (e.g. identifying badges or caps), concealing their weapons and militant identity, guerrilla fighters, or partisans, are unprotected by international laws of war. [53] Guerillas are irregulars who fight an unconventional battle, more often embedded in a civilian population, and by so doing they threaten the combatant-civilian distinction and the traditional conventions of war of which it is part.

Guerrillas, however, don’t subvert the war convention by themselves attacking civilians; at least it is not a necessary feature of their struggle that they do that. [54] At most, “they invite their enemies to do it. By refusing to accept a single identity, they seek to make it impossible for their enemies to accord to combatants and noncombatants their distinct ‘privileges … and disabilities’.” [55] None the less, at least for the most part, Guerillas themselves uphold the distinction between combatants and civilians, primarily targeting the former either by direct ambush or by means of espionage and sabotage. As a rule, Walzer tells us, guerillas do not target innocent civilians. [56]  This is a distinguishing feature of guerrilla warfare which indicates, at least intuitively, that though non conventional, it warrants some legitimacy though it does not render its participants eligible for the protection of international conventions and the war rights of soldiers specified in them. [57]  Guerrillas make distinctions and though they do at times kill civilians (as do anti-Guerrilla forces) these are not their primary targets. While guerillas have been known to launch terrorist campaigns (for that matter, so have states) as a rule they fight against soldiers who wear uniforms. “For these reasons, guerilla leaders and their publicists are able to stress the moral quality not only of the goals they seek but also of the means they employ”. [58]  Guerrillas may warrant our moral respect, at least when we identify with their cause. The French  resistance to German occupation in W.W.II, is a classic case in point.

Many Guerrillas attacks are far less noble than those of the Anti Fascist Partisans. At times, they are carried out by groups and individuals who may also be implicated in strikes against civilians. Some Guerrilla assaults are particularly bloody and their mode of operation may push the notion of military “fair play” to its very outer limits. This was certainly true of the Hizballa truck-bombing of Marines in Lebanon in 1983, and of the many attacks carried out by the same Hizballa organization against Israeli military targets. But whatever the tragedy, so long as non-conventional assaults are restricted to combatants, we must resist the temptation of referring to them as anything but guerrilla attacks. [59]  

This vital distinction between modern terrorism and guerrilla warfare along with its normative implications, have recently been restated by Jurgan Habermas in slightly different terms. Habermas clearly distinguishes between “indiscriminant guerrilla warfare” and “paramilitary guerrilla warfare”. “The first is epitomized by Palestinian terrorism, in which murder is usually carried out by a suicide militant”. [60]

In contrast, only “The model of paramilitary guerrilla warfare is proper to the national liberation movements and is retrospectively legitimized by the formation of the state.” [61] Contra Derrida then, indiscriminant guerrilla warfare, cannot be retrospectively legitimized by political success. In Habermas’s own words: “Palestinian terrorism…revolves around murder, around the indiscriminate annihilation of enemies, women and children – life against life. This is what distinguishes it from the terrorism that appears in the paramilitary form of guerrilla warfare”. [62]

Beyond guerrilla warfare, Walzer identifies political assassination as a second distinct variant of revolutionary resistance. Despite what Honderich would have us believe, assassination is clearly distinguishable from terrorist strikes of the 9-11 type, as it necessarily involves “the drawing of a line that we will have little difficulty recognizing as the political parallel of the line that marks off combatants from non-combatants.” [63] When acting in the capacity of assassins, revolutionaries draw a moral distinction “between people who can and people who cannot be killed.” [64] The former consists exclusively “of officials, the political agents of regimes, thought to be oppressive”. [65]

Both modern history and contemporary politics supply ample examples of this type of revolutionary violence. In 1879 someone tried to kill the Russian Tzar, and in 1881 a small group of revolutionaries did kill him. Towards the turn of the Twentieth century attempts were made on the lives of the emperor of Germany and the king of Spain. The Empress of Austria was assassinated in 1898. The King of Italy was killed by an anarchist from New Jersey. In 1901, President McKinley was murdered in Buffalo New-York Tsarist officials were frequently targeted by Russian revolutionaries in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth century. Then of course, there was the famous assassination of the grand duke of Serbia in Sarajevo in 1914 sparking the First World War. [66] Towards the end of the Second World War, several attempts were made on Hitler’s life by a group of German Generals. In November 1944, British minister of state in the middle East - Lord Moyne,  was assassinated in Cairo by the Jewish Stern Gang which carried out other such attacks as well. [67]  In 1951 Jordanian king Abdullah was murdered in Jerusalem by a Palestinian extremist. Egyptian President Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by an Islamist cell within the Egyptian army. Most recently, Israeli minister of Tourism Rechavam Zeevi was shot to death by a  Palestinian gunman in a Jerusalem hotel. All these, among many others, are cases in point.

The crucial common denominator in all the illustrating examples, sadly down played by Honderich, is that assassins do not kill indiscriminately. [68] Ordinary private citizens remain immune from attack. This distinguishing feature is often sorely missed on the other side of the political spectrum as well, by those whose extreme zealous for fighting terrorism appears to blind them from this plain observation. [69] Like conventional soldiers and principled guerrillas, assassins “aim at particular people because of things they have done or are doing” rather than “at whole groups of people, indiscriminately, because of who they are”. [70] Paradoxically, Walzer points out that: “One might even feel easier about killing officials than about killing soldiers, since the state rarely conscripts its political, as it does its military agents` they have chosen officialdom as a carrier.” [71] Ultimately, Walzer tells us, “we judge the assassin by his victim, and when the victim is Hitler like in character, we are likely to praise the assassins work, though we still do not call him a soldier ”. [72]  On the other hand, where the judgments of particular political assassins differ from our own, the “political assassins are simply murderers, exactly like the killers of ordinary citizens. The case is not the same with soldiers, who are not judges politically at all and who are called murderers only when they kill noncombatants. [73] Unlike soldiers then, (but perhaps not altogether unlike guerrillas), our moral assessment of assassins necessarily hinges on a political evaluation of the justness of their cause. Perhaps this is why they remain unprotected by international convention. [74] So while assassins cannot claim any of the soldiers rights specified by international war conventions and treaties, they may gain some degree of respect simply because they do set limits to their actions.

In his recent Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman makes a similar observation regarding the ethics of assassination. Following Albert Camus, he retells (as Walzer does) the plot to assassinate Tzarist official Grand duke Sergei by the Russian revolutionary Kaliayev in the early twentieth century.  “The first time that Kaliayev set out to kill Grand Duke Sergei, he held back, because when the Grand Duke’s carriage came into view, children were at the Grand Duke’s side, and the children were innocent of any crime”. [75]  Borrowing again from Camus, Berman cites the leader of Kaliayev’s revolutionary organization, Boris Savinkov, who argued against targeting a Tzarist admiral on the railroad on the grounds that: “With the slightest carelessness, the explosion could take place in the car and kill strangers." [76]  Like Camus and Walzer before him, Berman observes that these “terrorists” “were morally fastidious”, even “delicate”. [77]

Terrorism more strictly defined however, is distinct. It allows for no fusion of terms, or confusion of various forms of political violence of the kind attempted by Honderich and Derrida. [78] In sharp contrast with guerillas who (as a rule) confronts armies, and assassins, who target particular officials, modern terrorism upholds no distinctions. “Terrorism”, properly so called, by definition targets defenseless non-combatants, many of whom must be regarded as innocent even by the terrorist own standards (e.g. infants, children, the elderly and infirm, foreign nationals, etc.). 

“Its purpose is to destroy the moral of a nation  or a class, to undercut its solidarity; its method is the random murder of innocent people. Randomness is the crucial feature of terrorist activity. If one wishes fear to spread and intensify over time, it is not desirable to kill specific people identified in some particular way with a regime, a party, or a policy. Death must come by chance to individual Frenchman, Germans, to Irish Protestants or Jews, Simply because they are Frenchmen or Germans, Protestants of Jews, until they feel themselves fatally exposed and demand that their governments negotiate for their safety." [79]

Terrorists do not kill civilians by accident, as an unfortunate consequence of their military activity. [80] All armed forces admit and profusely regret (whether cynically or sincerely) the killing of (at times many) innocent civilians in the course of military strikes or operations. Sometimes a civilian target is mistaken for a military one, as when American air forces accidentally bombed a wedding party in Afghanistan. Not dissimilarly, in 1944 the RAF set out to bomb the Copenhagen Gestapo headquarters unintentionally struck a children’s hospital killing scores of children. [81] In other instances, targets are at times overstepped, as was the case in September 2001 when Israel fired a missile that killed two Hamas arch-terrorists and two Palestinian children who were playing nearby were tragically struck down. [82] In July of 2002, another Israeli attack achieved its goal of targeting Hamas leader Salah Shhada, but once again exceeded it, killing not only the arch-terrorist but also over a dozen civilians, including the man’s wife and teenaged daughter. These are admittedly not  isolated incident within Israel’s policy of targeting arch terrorists, nor is harm to civilians a rare occurrence in old fashioned wars or in the US’s counter attacks in response to September 11. While there may be ample room for questioning certain military  practices that result in such tragedies, they do not amount to terrorism. For terrorists, the killing of non-combatants is not a regrettable by product or side effect, innocent victims are not an “occupational hazard”. Instead they are the be all and end all of this form of belligerency.

Terrorism “breaks across moral limits beyond which no further limitation seems possible, for within the category of civilian and citizen, there isn’t any smaller group for which immunity might be claimed…Terrorists anyway make no such claim; they kill anybody.” [83] It has even been suggested that, “the more removed the target of the attack from any connection to the grievance enunciated by the terrorists, the greater the terror.” [84] For Walzer, this is a crucial point about terrorism: it is not aimed at particular people.

“For ordinary citizens are killed and no defence is offered – none could be offered – in terms of their individual actions. The names and occupations of the dead are not known in advance; they are killed simply to deliver a message of fear to others like themselves… [T]errorism, because it is directed against entire peoples or classes, tends to communicate the most extreme and brutal intentions – above all, the tyrannical repression, removal, or mass murder of the population under attack Hence contemporary terrorist campaigns are most often focused on people whose national existence has been radically devalued: the Protestants of Northern Ireland, The Jews of Israel, and so on. The campaign announces the devaluation. That is why the people under attack are so unlikely to believe that compromise is possible with their enemy. In war, terrorism is assosiated with the demand for unconditional surrender and, in similar fashion seems to rule out any sort of compromise settlement.” [85]

Paul Berman’s evaluation of modern terrorism is similar, though he is less semantically pedantic than Walzer is – referring to a variety of radicals as “terrorists.” Nonetheless he marks an important transition within revolutionary movements in the 20th century, which he eloquently describes as the point at which “the fastidious yielded to the not fastidious”. [86] That is, as Berman puts this, the loss of what the Russian Revolutionary Savinkov called a “terrorist conscience”. [87]  In 1920, Berman retells, a member of the Luigi Galleani anarchist group planted a bomb on New-York’s Wall street. In general, the group opposed the injustice of capitalism and exploitation. More particularly, the bomb was intended to avenge the arrest of two of their members – the notorious Sacco and Vanzetti. [88]

 “The bomb killed a random crowed of thirty three people. …Why detonate an explosive on Wall street? For symbolic reasons, of course. And why kill those thirty-three people in particular? For no reason. Because they happened to be walking by. Galleani and his followers had arrived at the very reasoning that would govern the attacks on Manhattan’s center of finance more than seventy years later.…Galleani’s idea was to commit an aesthetic act of terror – “aesthetic” was his own word – in which the beauty or artistic quality consisted in murdering anonymously. Here the nihilism was unlimited, and the transgression, total." [89]

Are you, like Honderich, still uncertain of terrorism’s’ distinctiveness as a particular moral wrong?

The Trouble with Terror

What then is so wrong about terrorism in particular? For starters, terrorism is a form of immoral free riding. All groups have at least some interest in upholding the distinction between civilian and military targets. It was precisely the growing realization of the dangers of war to civilian populations, probably more than any abstract moral principle, that pushed European statesman in the 19th and 20th Centuries to negotiate and regulate the manners in which wars ought, and ought not to be, fought. As war became a more popular business, states were led, largely by the concern for the well-being of their own citizenry, to initiate international conventions and side with treaties that commit them to upholding distinctions between military and non-military personnel, as well as between lawful and unlawful combatants, with the proviso that others do the same. [90] Such distinctions and codes of war, which are desirable for conventional armies and the states they represent are in fact absolutely essential for terrorists and the success of their strategy.  Terrorist tactics rely entirely on conventional armies maintaining these distinctions, while they themselves openly thwart them. Terrorism wholly depends on its opponents upholding of a moral code which the terrorists themselves reject. If their adversaries were to match their nihilism by denying the status of non-combatants and the distinction between belligerents and civilians, choosing to terrorize the latter with their superior force, they would once again have the upper hand, rendering the smaller scale terrorism of the “underdog” totally ineffective.

In explaining why suicide terrorists almost exclusively target democracies, Robert Pape argues that: “suicide terrorists …must also be confident that their opponent will be at least somewhat restrained…democracies have generally been more restrained in their use of force against civilians, at least since world war II.” [91] The Kurds, Pape points out, are a case in point. “Although Iraq has been far more brutal towards its Kurdish population than has Turkey, violent Kurdish groups have used suicide attacks exclusively against democratic Turkey and not against the authoritarian regime in Iraq. There are plenty of national groups living under authoritarian regimes with grievances that could possibly inspire suicide terrorism, but none have.” [92]

To put all this another way, the instigators and perpetrators of 9-11 relied on the fact that the US -  for whatever its moral transgressions – would not, for instance, retaliate with atomic weapons against civilian Arab populations in the Middle East. Palestinian terrorists rely on the fact that Israel, while at times killing civilians, is nonetheless bound in a web of international and internal pressures alongside moral restraints, that prevent it from striking back at Palestinians with all its might with no regard for civilian life. Terrorists also rely on a set of civil liberties, which they often hold in contempt, but which enables them to operate more freely than they could in their absence. Terrorism’s very livelihood depends on a reversal of the Kantian imperative to “act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. [93] Terrorists must will, and be assured of, the precise reverse. They rely wholeheartedly on their maxim’s not being universalized. Where terrorists are pursued in kind, i.e., by a military force which shares their disregard for human rights and moral codes, they have no hope of success.

None of this is true of guerrillas and assassins who need not be free riders. As noted earlier, guerrillas customarily take advantage of the local terrain, or civilian surroundings. Admittedly, they depend on their enemies respecting the lives of civilians and consequently refraining from pursuing them in their midst. However, at least for the most part, guerrillas themselves uphold the very same distinctions and standards they expect their enemies to maintain. Unlike terrorists, guerrillas draw the same fine line that their opponents do between combatants and civilians. Their strategic advantage derives from a difference in circumstances (e.g. familiarity with local topography; the sympathies of the local population, etc.), not from the evasion of any moral code.  As for assassins, the success of their operations does not, as with terrorism, depend on their opponents refraining from similar tactics -- two can play at this game. To take a familiar case, Israel’s policy of targeting wanted arch terrorists does not invalidate the effectiveness of Palestinian attacks on Israeli officials, such as the aforementioned assassination of Israel’s minister Rechavaam Zeevi. In this case, when viewed from conflicting point of views, or from a neutral standpoint, the Palestinian gunman displayed the same moral code as the one upheld by Israel’s assassination policy – kill an (allegedly) guilty oppressor while refraining (as far as possible) from harming the innocent. Israel’s frequent reference to this assassination of minister Zeevi as “terrorism” is an unfortunate example of inaccurate political speech (though the culpable organizations are legitimately dubbed terrorists by virtue of some of their other actions).

A terrorist, as opposed to an assassin, or guerrilla, is essentially a free rider on the moral codes and political liberties of others. Someone may respond however by observing that there are worse things in the world than free riding – oppression, persecution, occupation, economic exploitation - to name just a few. Perhaps something further can be said along these lines in defense of terrorism, at least when it is employed in the pursuit of a just cause. Honderich, who at least superficially renounces 9-11 (primarily for its predictable inefficiency), nonetheless defends “liberation-terrorism”, understood as “terrorism to get freedom and power for a people when it is clear that nothing else will get it for them.” [94]

This argument whereby terrorism is justified as the only means to attaining particular political ends such as overthrowing repressive regimes, liberating oppressed peoples and founding new nations, is not a new one. Terror apologists often point out that terrorism is a weapon of the weak. Terrorists are often portrayed by their sympathizers as the underdog, at times conjuring up images of the young biblical David. This comparative weakness, it is implied, can only be overcome by the use of unconventional tactics. Such arguments sometimes imply counterfactually that the only choice faced by disadvantaged groups engaged in conflict with a stronger power is between conventional warfare, at which they are inferior to their enemies, and terrorism. We saw in the above that this is far from accurate. Back in Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer argued that the availability of alternative forms of irregular warfare – i.e. guerrilla tactics and assassinations – attest to the falsity of this assertion. [95] Similarly, Habermas’s distinction suggests that revolutionaries may resort to “paramilitary guerrilla warfare” which, unlike indiscriminant terrorism is a proper course of action for national liberation movements and is retrospectively legitimized with the formation of their state. [96] Paul Gilbert points out that while “the militarily weaker side has little chance of obtaining victory by conventional military conflict, however justified its cause may be” still: “There are several possible avenues open to it”. [97] One such alternative is the use of guerrilla tactics, understood by Gilbert as well as distinct from terrorism by virtue of its respect for the immunity of non-combatants. [98] Freedom fighters have fastidious alternatives and are therefor unjustified in turning to terrorism under the pretences of last resort arguments.

Honderich’s paradigmatic case, that of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, is particularly curious in this respect. Palestinians clearly have a variety of effective options. Aside from the occasional assassination, Palestinians regularly attack Israeli soldiers in operations which, despite Israeli rhetoric, are not, strictly speaking, terrorism, but rather guerrilla warfare to be judged on the merits of its political goals. There is no cause to believe that guerrilla tactics are less effective than are terrorist strike against civilians. In fact guerrilla action bears the distinct advantage that it rarely warrants large scale international condemnation which often makes Palestinian terrorism appear counter productive. Additionally, quite apart from Walzer, Gilbert and Habermas’s alternative modes of none conventional warfare, there is also the option of internationally supervised peaceful negotiations for Palestinians to fall back on. In fact, in wake of Camp David, construing Palestinian terrorism against Israel as “liberation terrorism” is rather peculiar, to say the least. Paul Berman makes this point better than I can when he questions the logic of rejecting the Clinton plan in favor of Suicide attacks.

“Clinton and Barak had already offered a Palestinian state. Perhaps the purpose of the suicide attacks was to widen the boarders of the proposed new state – though, in that case, Arafat might have haggled at Camp David for an extra slice or two, and the question of slightly wider boarders would at least have been broached. Or maybe the purpose was to widen the proposed new boarders by  more than a slice, to obtain a Palestinian state on a different scale altogether. But the whole point of negotiating during the eight years of Israeli-Palestinian talks, beginning at Oslo, was to work out a compromise. Or maybe the purpose of the attacks was, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad forthrightly proclaimed, to abolish  Israel altogether and establish the reign of Shariah in every corner of the land. But this was not within the realm of reality. Actually, none of the imaginable purposes had any chance of being realized, and especially not after 9/11…Suicide terrors against the Israelis was bound to succeed in one realm only, and this was the realm of death…." [99]

Honderich’s example is telling. The shier absurdity of celebrating Palestinian terror in the post Clinton era as  “terrorism to get freedom and power for a people when it is clear that nothing else will get it for them” [100], casts a dark shadow on his very notion of ‘liberation-terrorism’ which the Palestinian illustration is intended to personify. Even if there were such a thing as ‘liberating terrorism’, which (unlike 9-11), could be justified as the only available realistic means towards achieving an essential noble end, Palestinian terrorism is clearly not a case in point. [101

When contemplating so called “liberation-terrorism” it is also interesting to consider the paradigmatic case of desperate liberation movements -- the internal struggle against Nazism – in which nothing resembling Palestinian terror tactics were ever employed. “It is instructive to note, for example, that the French Resistance during World War II did not resort to systematic killing of German women and children, although these were well within reach in occupied France”. [102] “No resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe conducted or condoned terrorist attacks against German civilians, attacking military and government targets instead.” [103]

Can terrorism ever be justified as essential to liberation? It has sometimes been argued that the type of state terror bombing carried out by allied forces during W.W.II on cities such as Dresden and Hamburg, and later the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were justifiable last resort terrorism of the essential liberating type. Certainly, many of the bombings meet our strict definition of terrorism and as such many liberals remain unconvinced that they can be altogether justified. It is possible that in some rare incidents in which no other form of military strategy would have been effective, arguments of over-riding necessity could conceivably be invoked in their defense. Clearly this was not usually the case, and in most instances the resort to terrorism was based on calculations of utility or on indifference to civilian life on the enemy side. Possibly, some of the terror bombings, while unjustifiable, may be retrospectively excusable, considering the uniquely diabolical nature of the enemy on the European front. This would still not amount to a justification of terrorism of any kind and I doubt any useful analogies can be drawn from it. [104]

Terrorism, as defined in the previous section, defies a most basic standard of liberal-humanistic morality, at least since Kant and up to Rawls, which fundamentally forbids the use of human beings as means only, and commands their treatment as ends in themselves. [105] Certainly, this imperative would categorically prohibit the arbitrarily use, and intentional killing, of innocents as mere means towards attaining practical ends. Perhaps this logic is not purely Western. Paul Berman cites Sayyid Qutb’s understanding of the concept of Jihad as containing a similar ethical dimension.

"He [Qutb] quoted Mohammed’s successor, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, who told his army “Do not kill any women, children or elderly people”. Qutb quoted the Koran, which says: “Fight for the cause of God those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression. God does not love aggressors”. Qutb thought that ethical commandments were crucial to military victory. Writing about Muhammad and his companions, he said, ‘These principles had to be strictly observed, even with those enemies who had persecuted them.’ Jihad did have its rules. It was fastidious." [106]

Be that as it may, among liberals, there can be little dispute concerning the moral status of terrorism and terrorists. It is precisely the unequivocal Kantean “though shall not” invoked above, 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. It is not an incidental feature of his argument that it involves discrediting many of the distinctions that are basic to liberal philosophies, particularly Kantian based ones. Aside from down playing the conventional distinction between killing belligerents versus innocent non-combatants, Honderich’s disregard for the distinction between  civilian casualties incurred in war and terrorist victims, entails obscuring  the relationship between intentions and consequences and  the difference between deliberate action and unintentional effects. [107] The extent of blame he attributes to the citizens of prosperous nations for the bad lives of inhabitants of the third world, (perhaps with the implication that we had 9-11 coming to us), is largely pitted against the traditional moral distinctions between acts and omissions and between perfect and imperfect duties. [108] In the end, Honderich’s views on terrorism and its causes require him to do away with liberalism, from Kant to Rawls, almost entirely. [109] Quite a high price to pay for the defense of suicide bombers. Nevertheless, in this one respect Honderich’s intuitions are quite correct: in the end, it must either be terrorism or liberalism. Honderich makes his choice, and ultimately we must make ours. 

Concluding Remarks

Terrorism, unfortunately, is alive and well, but so is its distinctness as a particular form of political violence, which can and should be strictly understood and morally condemned. Terrorism 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 cannot be ‘deconstructed’, nor can it be inclusively obscured. Regardless of its professed cause, terrorism is diametrically opposed to the requirements of liberal morality and can only be defended at the expense of relinquishing the most basic of liberal commitments.

1 For the idea that morally valid views are plural, and that one of the reasons for this may  attributing different weight to various conflicting moral values, see: Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity – Chapters in the History of Ideas (London: Henry Hardy Ed., Fontana Press, 1990), Chap. 1, ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’, 1-19, 12, 14, 17.

2 Most Notably: Ted Honderich, After the Terror, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2002.

3 E.g. Ted Honderich, ibid, who, in general, sneers at strict definitions and precise philosophical analysis, e.g. p. 94, as does Jacques Derrida who attempts to “deconstruct” the concept of terrorism in Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror - Dialogues with Jurgan Habermas and Jacques Derrida, Chicago & London, The University of Chicago, 2003. 85-172, esp. pp. 109, 152-3, 161

4 Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Penguin Classics, London, 1976, 75-6, Book 1 - VII.

5 Jeremy Waldron, “Terrorism and the uses of Terror”, The Journal of Ethics, 2004, Vol. 8, 5-35. George Fletcher, “the Problem of Defining Terrorism”, delivered at a conference on “Terrorism – Philosophical Perspectives”, at Tel-Aviv University (organized by the department of Political Science,  & the Minerva Center for Human Rights, Tel-Aviv University’s Law Faculty), March 2004.

6 C.A.J. (Tony) Coady, “Defining Terrorism”, in Terrorism – The Philosophical Issues (Igor Primoratz, ed.) (Palgrave, Macmillan, London & New York, 2004), Chap.1, 3-14, 4.

7 Fletcher, 2.

8 Igor Primoratz (Ed.), Terrorism – The Philosophical Issues,  Palgrave, Macmillan, London & New York, 2004, introduction, p. xi.

9 B.T. Wilkins, Terrorism and Collective Responsibility (London: Routledge, 1992), 2.

10 George Fletcher, Romantics at War – Glory and Guilt in the Age of Terrorism (Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2002), 2.

11Honderich, 91-97.

12 Honderich, 97.

13 Ibid.

14 Honderich, 97.

15 Honderich, 95.

16 Honderich, 103. Noam Chomsky repeatedly makes similar points concerning the inconsistent and self-serving use of the term “terrorism” on the part of the US which he regards as a terrorist state. See, e.g. Noam Chomsky, 9-11, Seven Stories Press, New-York, 2001, esp.: 23, 40-54, 57, 73-4, 90-1. 

17 Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 197.

18 Honderich, After the Terror, 97-99, “Terrorism Defined”.

19 Honderich, 103.

20 Paul Berman argues persuasively that in both these cases death is in fact the primary goal. Berman, Terror and liberalism,  New York & London: Norton, 2003, see esp.  132-133.

21 Honderich, 103.

22 Honderich, 98-9.

23 Honderich, 99.

24 Honderich, 97-99. Note, in contrast, the overall thesis of Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism, which involves the suggestion that real world political or social change are not always the object of political violence.  

25 Honderich, 99.

26 Honderich, 151.

27 Honderich, 100.

28 Honderich, 115.

29 Noam Chomsky, 9-11, pp. 23, 40, 76, 84.

30 Honderich, 118.

31 Gerald Cohen, “ Casting the First Stone: Who Can Blame the Terrorists?”, 2003, p. 4.

32 Honderich, 115-120, esp. 115, 118. 

33 Honderich, 150-151.

34 Derrida in Borradori, Philosophy in a time of Terror, 102-107, 152.

35 Ibid, 103, emphasis added.

36 Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 102-3.

37 Derrida in Philosophy in a time of Terror, 105, 110, 153.

38 Derrida in Philosophy in a time of Terror, 102.

39 Ibid, 107, 152.

40 Ibid, 107-108.

41 Cf: Honderich, 73-88, 97-99, 103.

42 Derrida in Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 108.

43 Derrida, ibid, 127, 161.

44 Derrida, ibid, 113.

45 Derrida, 104, 152.

46 Ibid, 106-107.

47 Ibid, 107, emphasis added.

48 See: Benjamin Netanyahu (ed.), Terrorism - How the West Can Win, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 1986, 203.

49 Cf: Honderich, 98-99.

50 Honderich, 98.

51 Walzer, 176.

52 Walzer, 183.

53 Walzer, 182.

54 Walzer, 179.

55 Ibid, 179-180,

56 Walzer, 180. For a similar characterization of guerrilla warfare as opposed to terrorism, see Gilbert, New Terror, New Wars, 96-7.

57 Walzer, 182-3.

58 Walzer, 181.

59 Berman, 109, 201 does not distinguish clearly between Hizballa attacks and terrorism against civilians, nor does Benjamin Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2001, 67-68.

60 Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 56

61 Ibid.

62 Habermas in: Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 33.

63 Walzer, 198.

64 Walzer, 199.

65 Ibid..

66 For these examples in particular see Berman, Terror and Liberalism, 32. 

67 For these two examples, as well as others, see: Walzer, 198-203. In contrast, see Honderich, 99. Note the different manner in which they are invoked by the two authors.

68 As Paul Gilbert puts it: “Assassination is, however, far from the worst offence against the prohibition on attacking civilians that we witness in new wars”. Paul Gilbert. New Terror, New Wars, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003, 94.

69 The distinction between political assassination and indiscriminate terrorism is overlooked by many of the contributors to Benjamin Netanyahu (ed.), Terrorism - How the West Can Win, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 1986, e.g. pp. 10, 17, 44, 48, 56, 103, 199. 

70Walzer, 200. pp. 198, 199 describe how at least some assassins took special measures in order to avoid civilian casualties. See also Paul Berman, p. 32, who makes the same moral point about the Russian anarchists. 

71 Walzer, 200.

72 Walzer, 199-200.

73 Walzer, 200-201.

74 This is Walzer’s guess pp. 200-201.

75 Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism, 32. Walzer, 198-9. 

76 Berman, 32.

77 Berman, 33-34.

78 Honderich, 99 – his final definition of “terrorism or political violence”. Derrida in Philosophy in a time of Terror, 127, 161.

79 Walzer, 197.

80 Can one terrorize without killing? This may be logically possible, but it remains highly theoretical and largely irrelevant. Killing itself appears to be an essential inherent component of modern “terrorism” as we know it.  Arguing against the Doctrine of Double Effect (which is not the issue here) Francis Kamm suggests that “the big moral obstacle to terror-killing is justifying the killing rather than justifying the production of terror per se. To support this claim, imagine that we find out that noncombatants on the unjust side, whom we could not permissibly harm in any other way, will experience terror leading to the country's surrender, if we bomb some trees. (They are irrational.) If we bomb the trees, moral objections to terror bombing should not then exist, I believe, even though we intend to terrorize these people as a means to end the war. Alternatively, suppose the people are rational. We manage to convey that we are using a new terrifying weapon to destroy the trees. We do this because we know the people will see this as a threat to use the weapon on them and, hence, be terrorized. We either actually have no such weapon or no intention of using it on people. Could such a threat for purposes of terrorizing be permissible in order to stop a war? I believe it could be”. F.M. Kamm, “Failure of Just War Theory: Terror, harm and Justice”, Ethics, Vol. 114 (4) July 2004, pp. 650, on p. 663.

81 Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism, xxi. Netanyahu, Terrorism – How The West Can Win, 9.

82 Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism, xxi. 

83 Walzer, 203.

84 Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism, 8.

85 Walzer, 203.

86 Berman, 34. Later Berman describes a similar transition stage for Palestinian Terrorism against Israel in which fastidiousness receded into the past and was replaced by blind killing. Berman attributes this transition to the rise of Islamist Hamas organization which fits conveniently with his admittedly brilliant analysis of Islamic terrorism. None-the-less,  on this point there is  room for doubting  whether Palestinian terrorism ever exhibited any noteworthy degree of fastidiousness,  e.g. of the type that characterized early Russian revolutionaries. Even Berman’s own account of this terrorism places a serious shadow on the characterization of its early exhibits as fastidious in any way shape or form. See Berman, Terror and Liberalism, 111.  

87 Berman 32.

88 Berman, 35.

89 Berman, 35-6.

90 Cf: Karma Nabulsi, Traditions of War: Occupation,  Resistance, and the Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), Chap. 1: The Laws of War 1874-1949, pp. 4-18. 

91 Robert A. Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, APSR, Vol. 97 (3), (August 2003), 350. See also 347-349.

92 Ibid, 350.

93 Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (Translated and Analyzed by H.J. Paton, New York, N.Y.: Harper Torchbooks/The Academy Library, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1964), 88.

94 Honderich, 151.

95 Walzer, 204.

96 Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 56.

97 Gilbert, 97.

98 Gilbert, ibid.

99 Berman, 132-3.

100 Honderich, 151.

101 An additional oddity in attempting to justify Palestinian terrorism on the grounds that it rightfully aims to “liberate” Palestinians from Israeli domination, concerns the fact that Arab terrorism against Jews in Palestine began in the 1920’s, and was notoriously supported by the Nazi’s in the 1930’s, long before Jewish sovereignty was established over any of the land. The PLO and Fatah organizations, dedicated to the “liberation of Palestine” by terrorist means, were established in 1964 and 1965 respectively, several years before Israel conquered the so called “occupied territories” from Jordan in 1967.

102 Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism, 9.

103 Netanyahu, Terrorism – How the West Can Win, 204.

104 For an illuminating discussion of the WW II terror bombings, see Walzer, ibid, Chap. 7 on pp. 109-106, Chap 16 on pp. 255-268.

105 See: Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (Translated and Analyzed by H.J. Paton, New York, N.Y.: Harper Torchbooks/The Academy Library, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1964), 96. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, OUP 1989 (ninth edition), Chap III, section 29, p. 179.

106 Berman, 98.

107 See Honderich, e.g. p. 103.

108 Honderich, throughout, specifically on pp. 73-88, 97-99, 103. Many of these classic distinctions are also called into question in connection with terrorism by Jacque Derrida in Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacque Derrida, The University of Chicago Press (Chicago & London 2003), e.g. 108.

109 Honderich, 46-51, 62, 69-73, 81, 90. See, esp. p. 70, where Honderich appears to reduce Rawls’s liberalism as it appears in A Theory of Justice to no more than “a philosophical celebration of America”.

Dr. Meisels' article first appeared in The Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 18, 465-483. For related articles, go to Chaim Gans, The Palestinian Right of Return and the Justice of Zionism; Alon Harel, Whose Home Is It: Reflections on the Palestinians' Interests in Return; Ben Saul, Two Justifications for Terrorism: A Moral Legal Response; Saul Smilansky, Terrorism, Justification and Illusion; Daniel Statman, Targeted Killing

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