by Ted Honderich

This is an article -- there is also a German translation -- written mainly to deny the idea that I have recanted or altered my view about Palestinian terrorism. I have not, in any way whatever. The article appeared in Junge Welt, to which I am grateful, on 14 November 2003. It was prompted by a confused report elsewhere of lecture of mine in the University of Leipzig. This report, including lines about recantation or whatever, appeared in The Frankfurter Rundschau, the newspaper that began the German controversy about my book. That newspaper, whether or not true to its liberal tradition, refused to publish the present article of correction. Instead, it published one by Brumlik, he who accused my book of anti-Semitism. As I understand it, his article repeats the falsehood that I have somehow changed my mind


My book Nach dem Terror, as you may have heard, contains a certain judgement. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism against neo-Zionism. They have such a right as Neo-Zionism explicitly or implicitly claims, wrongly, for its violence against the Palestinians. Neo-Zionism is the enlarging of Israel beyond its 1967 borders, the violation of the Palestinian homeland.

In claiming the moral right, unsurprisingly, I had in mind Palestinian terrorism as it was. No one asked me if the terrorists had a moral right actually to torture Israelis to death. Or kill 100,000 Israelis by biological warfare. If someone had, my answer would have been quick. It would have been No. So too would the answer have been No other conceivable questions.

Prof. Dr. Georg Meggle is one of the strongest of Germany's new philosophers, much needed. In Leipzig the other week, he rightly distinguished between what he called weak terrorism and strong terrorism. Strong terrorism, I understand, targets innocents, including children. This is distinct from harming or killing them in the course of attacking non-innocents.

It was not difficult for me to agree that the moral right of the Palestinians does not extend to strong terrorism.

Their right extends, roughly speaking, to the terrorism in which they are still engaged. That, of course, is as rightly named their self-defence, liberation-struggle, and resistance to ethnic cleansing. Also their defence against state-terrorism, their preservation of themselves as a people together, and terrorism for humanity. Does their right need more specification?

Well, you can look into some distinctions, maybe my own. There are clear innocents in many conflicts. They are persons not by choice or consent benefiting or profiting from their state's wrongful action. There are also half-innocents, and unengaged combatants, and non-combatants. There is also the category of civilians, of little use since it contains all of the categories just mentioned. But this is not the place for talking about all of that.

You will gather that it has not been possible for me to retract my view about the Palestinian moral right. I do not. My book contains one sentence that is confused, about where it was that immigrant Jews from Russia came to rest. This affects my argument not at all. Neither that sentence, contentedly removed from the new German edition that is coming out from Melzer Verlag, nor the sentences of my critics, lead me even to qualify my conviction as to a moral right or the general theory of which it is part.

When I learn some German, and so can read the thoughts of my many critics and defenders, will I change my tune? I doubt it. Moral facts can get a hold on you. What is being done to the Palestinians is monstrous -- this is not an opinion out of which somebody might persuade you, but a near enough a datum or axiom. It is something that rests on our very humanity, our knowledge of the great goods, and also our rationality.

Certainly, as I read on through what has been written about my book, there will be no change of mind either about something else. I will not arrive at a private realization that I am an anti-Semite after all. I will think of my real life. You can think of it by reading my industriously revealing autobiography.

I remember that I was, so to speak, the philosopher who saw into his grave our renowned Logical Positivist, Freddie Ayer, Prof. Sir Alfred Ayer. He was Jewish. Am I now to think that I had an idea of him as 'a bit of a merchant', as our own anti-Semites say, let alone an idea standing in some distant connection to gas chambers?

Does some deep thinker say that such things are no 'philosophical' refutation of the charge of anti-Semitism? Some deep thinker has. He needs to join real life.

It is a scandal in Germany that there is a need for some other distinctions in addition to those about clear innocents, half-innocents, and so on.

To run together resistance to neo-Zionism with anti-Semitism is of course to run together two things. One is a resistance to some Jews and also others -- in no case because they are Jews. Another is an attitude to all Jews or Jews in general. Someone who makes the charge of anti-Semitism may speak in a loose way, as indeed he does if he speaks of 'anti-Semitic anti-Zionism'. This is to run together resistance to Sharon with something like excuses for the gas chambers and allegiance to the vomit of neo-Nazism.

To engage in the charge of anti-Semitism against the likes of me or my book, to add or imply that the book blames the Jews for starvation in Africa, or to write that I said on television that Germany is now managed by Jews -- let me make several remarks about this.

To to do these things is to have no membership in the strong and continuing tradition of Jewish humanity in morality and politics, with so many noble men and women in it. It is not to be of that fine company, praised by me before I ever heard of my accuser Brumlik. To do these things may be within the role of the director of a Holocaust centre. To do such things is to fail in the obligations of a university professor.

There is a larger question. Germany, remembering its past, is quiet about Palestine. There is an awful question that arises here. Is this like your father having murdered some woman, and you, as a result, being quiet about a rape by her son?

There is something that used to be well known as the retribution theory of punishment. It turns out we can also have a retribution theory of guilt. It is to the effect that guilt is rightly engaged in or exacted from someone, or a nation, because of the past, because of what was done in the past.

If you think about it, the retribution theory of punishment reduces to somethinhg else. It reduces to the argument that punishment is justified by giving satisfaction now to those who have grievance-desires arising out the past. That will also be the true nature of the retribution theory of guilt.

There is something more important than the satisfaction of grievance-desires in connection with guilt -- let alone the use or pretended use of those desires for other ends. This other thing is the circumstance of whatever individuals and peoples now living lives of wretchedness. No doubt Germany must somehow continue to compensate the children and grand-children of its past victims. But it must also see that some kinds of appeal to it are heinous, and that it now has a first obligation to the Palestinians.

Learning some German and reading all those stories is not likely to change my mind about that either.

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