can terrorism ever be justified?

notes by nicola harrington. thanks nicola!

Host: Stuart Gottlieb, Director of Policy Studies

Presenter: Tamar Meisels, Tel Aviv University

Hague Convention 1907 sets out the framework for legal warfare

Terrorism:- “A continuation of politics through other means”

A liberal cannot accept that terrorism is acceptable, ever, to achieve political goals. Against humanist view that cannot utilise other people for objective that they do not share and have no say in.

Terrorism – civilian targets to instill fear
Political assassination – political targets
Guerrilla warfare – combatant targets

Is democracy bad in relation to terrorism?  Terrorists are free riders on the moral restraints, rule of law etc of a democracy: they can rely on the fact that the state/military will not respond in equal kind/force, if it did, it would anihilate the terrorists quickly because of unequal capacity.   Don’t pay your taxes but enjoy the benefits that everyone else does. Don’t respect the ROL but benefit from its existence and the moral restraint of that society and state.  Abusing the freedoms of that society.

They all have options: political assassination, guerrilla warfare, negotiating table.

Erica Chenoweth, Wesleyan University, Discussant

Two by two matrix:
– Intended/unintended deaths of civilians
– Anticipated/unanticipated deaths of civilians

*Terrorism – intended and anticipated
*Collateral – unintended but anticipated
*Accident – unanticipated and unintended


Can terrorism be justified against totalitarian regimes deploying violence against their own civilians? Flip side of the Free rider argument [if terrorism is wrong because the state cannot and does not use those means, what happens and what is legitimate against a state that does?]

Policy challenges:
Principal agent problem – who takes responsibility, can we only manage to define action categories but not group categories, is it the terrorist actors or the terrorist groups who are responsible?

Huge question in the US – who are the terrorists, should it be treated as criminality or warfare?  (Patriot Act).  Who can you target with criminal justice: individuals, not groups.  [Gavin – In the UK can only try the individual, so if the leaders have not themselves carried out a violent act or cannot be very closely linked to you, you don’t have the means to try them.]

“Western” standards of – “Moral” justifications – Targeting civilians – link to “moral justification” – religious association

Est. 7% of terrorist groups have achieved their aims – happens as a substitution for mass support. Can legitimize through the violence cycle with the “enemy” e.g. FLN.

Difference between limited vs maximalist violence – some have aims for territorial claims, others to wipe another group out

Hamas – where is it on the spectrum?

“Accountability” of the terrorists – ? According to international law are not meant to be fighting so irrelevant.  How can you hold them to account and to whom?

Hiroshima – In the above terms, it was terrorism.

Al-Quaeda declared war – US let them even though not a state [in my view, one of the singlest most fundamental mistakes in the fight against terror – legitimized something as  a war (“legal” – holy war) vs criminal acts.


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