Are terrorists justified in their own eyes

Ted Honderich
Is there a right to terrorism?
THE SUNDAY TALK with the University of Leipzig. THE FIRST
Sunday, October 19, 2003, 11 a.m.-12.45 p.m.
University of Leipzig, lecture hall building, HS 19

(There is also a slightly revised English version.)
1. The principle of humanity
2. The question of a moral right for the Palestinians
3. The fluency of the awfully awful answer
4. The truth of the answer
5. The confirmation (actually: assertion) of the answer
6. Negotiation and futility
7. Anti-Semitism, guilt, silence

1. The principle of humanity

The question Is there a right to terrorism? ’Obviously does not ask whether there is a legally valid right, a right of national or international legislation to terrorism. The question must be whether there is a moral right. That's how I understand them too.

My answer is ultimately based on what I consider to be a fundamental moral principle to which we are all committed. It is the principle of humanity. This says that we have to take rational steps, which means really efficient and humanly not wasteful ones, in order to free people permanently from their miserable or otherwise bad lives (living conditions).

Bad lives are defined by the deprivation of great goods, the satisfaction of great human desires. These have to do with

(1) the reasonable length of life, say 70 years instead of just 35 years
(2) material and physical well-being
(3) Freedom and possibility of influence (power) - powers of attorney
(4) respect and self-respect
(5) interpersonal relationships
(6) the goods possessions / possessions of a culture

The principle of humanity is a consequentialist principle. That is why it applies, in my eyes, like all principles and judgments of morality without exception - at least if they really give reasons for action, which is what is expected of them. The principle is obviously not the utilitarian principle. Its goal is just not to maximize the sum of happiness or satisfaction, regardless of how that sum is distributed.

We are all committed to this principle because we can all have reasons to find it fair, e.g. that we shouldn't be tormented for months if the resulting gain is just that someone else can own a car instead of having one for a month use public transport to get to work.
It is also a fact of our human nature that we must and must assume that such reasons also apply in other and distinct cases.

2. The question of a moral right for Palestinians

You can make terrorism reprehensible by definition, just as profit and anything else can by definition be reprehensible. You won't get anywhere with that. Then, to advance an argument, you have to show, for example, that what the Palestinians are doing is really terrorism by your definition. You are in the same argumentative position if you define terrorism from the outset in such a way that the question does not arise and then consider what is wrong with it.

Terrorism as it is usually defined can of course also mean other things. So it could be self-defense, resistance, resistance to ethnic cleansing, a people's struggle for liberation, a people's struggle for their very existence as a people.

Now think of the killing of an Israeli child by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Also think of the killing of a Palestinian child by an Israeli air force officer from an attack helicopter. Of course, he says that if he had had the choice, he would have rather just killed the HAMAS terrorist near the child. The Palestinian suicide bomber says, of course, effectively the same thing, probably as truthfully. She would have tried, too, had she had the opportunity to save her people without killing the Israeli child.

My book “After Terror”, which deals with a completely different topic, only questions these things in passing. The answer in it was that the Palestinian suicide bomber has a moral right to her act of terrorism / terror, and that the Israeli in the helicopter has no moral right to his act of state terrorism / terror.

The clarification of such an assertion of a moral right boils down to this: the Palestinian suicide bomber was morally permitted, if not required, to do what she did - this very judgment is supported by a fundamental and accepted moral principle.

The answer to the question of terrorism, the killing of the Israeli child, is a terribly terrible answer. But it is the answer that I continue to defend. I can only say a few words here.

3. The fluency of the awfully awful answer

The awfully horrific answer to the Palestinians' moral rights is, in significant ways, not at all unusual. The complementary answer of the Neo-Zionist killing is given overtly or covertly daily by the Neo-Zionists.

Consider, for a moment, the points / facts from our exuberant story. The terror bombing of Germany in World War II, which was aimed at killing civilians as well as defeating Hitler, was justified by us British and our politicians. Likewise the genocide that came with the creation of the United States of America. Likewise the murder of British prisoners by Jewish terrorists who served the justified cause of the establishment of a state of Israel after the Holocaust.

4. The truth of the answer

There is a fact in this matter which of two possible courses of action, one of which the suicide bomber chose, better serves the principle of humanity. It is possible, I hope and trust, to see or discover this fact. Then there is the truth of the principle of humanity itself. This, as you have heard, is based on truth about our nature, our existence.

There is one more fact, a simpler truth, that adds to the first two. It is a historical fact that affects a people and the usurpation (wrongful appropriation) of their freedom and agency and thus of other great goods.

In the last quarter of the 19th century there were about 50 times more Palestinians than Jews in Palestine. After World War II, when the United Nations rightly and unjustly decided to make the homeland of the Jews out of a part of Palestine, there were equal numbers of Jews and Palestinians in this part of Palestine. There were 80 times more Palestinians than Jews in the other part. Today there is a Jewish state that threatens (disturbs, injures) the remaining homeland of the remaining Palestinians.

5. Confirmation of the answer

Do you reply that even if the Palestinians' moral right to terrorism is or would be justified, there are or are reasons not to assert (enforce) this right?

It seems to me that this truth, unlike some other truths, is crying out to be uttered. It cries out to be performed in appropriate language and with appropriate passion. One reason has to do with another fact of human nature and history that counts less than those already mentioned but is of great importance.

In a conflict like the one in Palestine, the essential question is who and what is right, which of course is inevitable, and which one we have dealt with. There are also conventional ideas (inclinations, assumptions) about the conflict. In a word, these are inclinations associated with what is official, legitimized, or recognized. Among them is the tendency to agree to a democracy, a state, a power. Or a superpower.

If you do not openly stand up for the justice of the Palestinian cause, you are promoting such secondary tendencies. Indeed, it is dishonorable to allow yourself or encourage others to be in the grip of categories of the official or something like that. (To be taken by such official categories or similar.)
The gas chambers were official. Hitler was elected.

6. Negotiation and futility

A people has two possibilities of achieving and securing (keeping) things, than if there were (that is, just) violence and negotiation. At every stage of the conflict in Palestine it has been said that the Palestinians must give up violence and negotiate.

Usually one thing is forgotten. Negotiation is the means of the conflicting party to achieve and secure things whose position and ultimately power is stronger. Violence is the means of the other party to the conflict, the party without other means. It is in the interest of each party and its supporters (supporters) to condemn and resist the means of others. The responsibility of moral reflection is to try to find out what is right.

There are men and women who share my views, essentially proponents of the principle of humanity, who say that Palestinian terror is pointless. It must also be admitted that the factual question of the final outcome of the Palestinian Here a word seems to be missing in English: Terrorism? which is the hardest question to answer. But it is also possible to assume, as I do, that this path of action, and only this path, can secure the freedom and agency of a people in their home country. What the advocates of the negotiation can now offer are only miserable “bantustans”, or rather only the promise to guarantee them.

Something else can be added to this. The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto fought to the end - hopelessly, as they say. They remind us that there can be realism in the hopeless. You can fight, not for yourself and your own time, but for those who come after us. So can the Palestinians.

7. Anti-Semitism, guilt, silence

To equate resistance against neozionism with anti-Semitism means equating 1) resistance against some Jews and others - in no case because they are Jews - with 2) an attitude towards all Jews or against Jews in general. Whoever makes the accusation of anti-Semitism may express himself in a lax way, what he is really doing when he speaks of "anti-Semitic anti-Zionism". This means equating a resistance against Sharon with a sympathy for the gas chambers, with the scum of neo-Nazism in Germany today, and so on.
To lead, to add or to imply the accusation of anti-Semitism against someone like me, that my book is to blame for the hunger in Africa among the Jews, or that I said on television that Germany is organized by Jews today - let me do that To say only one thing: This (this attitude) means not partaking in the great and enduring tradition of Jewish humanity in morality and in politics, in which so many noble men and women stand. It does not mean to be in the excellent company that I praised before I heard from my accuser Brumlik.

Finally there is a terrible question concerning the Germans and their past and their present silence on the neozionists' violation of Palestine.

Is it as if your father murdered a woman - and as a result you are now silent about a rape committed by this woman's son?

No important question has ever been resolved by maintaining an analogy. But we certainly make frequent use of analogies in moral reasoning as we use models in other justifications and inquiries, especially in science. The question can be justified by an argument using the principle of humanity. Let me just comment on the answer to the question.

Today there are relatively few Germans who took part in the Holocaust. I speak to the others. What relationship should govern your actions, including your silence and speaking? A relationship with those your father killed? A relationship with your father? To the sons and daughters of his victims? Or a relationship with those who live in misery, whoever they may be. The answer that the principle of hope gives is ultimately the latter (the last).

This does not mean that all other considerations about relationships are disregarded. There are other relationships. We are in relationship not only with the victims, but also with others who can be called upon to support these victims to end their mean abuse. The Germans have a relationship with the Americans who determine what will happen to Palestine.

Germans today are rightly known for taking the guilt of their fathers on themselves. They have a kind of moral superiority that isn't shared by all of the rest of us. The Holocaust was not the first or last genocide in history. Other perpetrators have not so willingly accepted their guilt and dealt with it.

For this reason of moral superiority, Germans today have a special obligation to speak out against rape. You are heard a little more than other nations. There is a reason they are heard, and that is their position. This moral position is also the reason for their silence so far. You can do more than the rest of us to awaken America from its ignorant trance.

That's not all. You can say, as I do, and in accordance with humanity, that Germans today have a certain obligation towards those who killed their fathers, those who are no longer. You have an obligation, for the future, to make the less likely that these sacrifices of their fathers did not die entirely in vain.


The whole essay, of which this is only a kind of summary today, can be found on my web page: http.//
More about this can be found in various books. “After the Terror” was published by Edinburgh University Press and Columbia University Press, translated into German by Suhrkamp Verlag and withdrawn from the market. It will be published again shortly by Melzer Verlag. Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy, the revision of an earlier book, is published by Pluto Press. “On Political Means and Social Ends”, and also in German by Kai Homilius Verlag. a collection of philosophical essays, published by Edinburgh University Press and in German by Kai Homilius.

Translated by Beatrice Kobow

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