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Chapter Four: The Strength of the Weak

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

The Declaration of Independence, 1776


Terrorism is a violent form of politics, and it is because terrorism is political that it is dangerous. Terrorists represent causes and grievances and claim to speak in the name of millions.1 If terrorism is a form of politics, it needs to be fought with the force of argument and not just with the force of arms. A war on terror that is not guided by a clear political strategy, to win support for democratic government and drain support from terror, is bound to fail. Indeed, it is a mistake to evaluate the effectiveness of military or police actions apart from their political impact. An operation that crushes a cell but alienates an entire population of innocent bystanders is not a success. It is a failure.

It's obvious that the tactics of a war on terror need to be focused by a long-term political strategy. But what strategy exactly? The answer depends on the kind of terrorism a state is facing and the types of demands that terrorists make. In this chapter, I want to distinguish among forms of terrorism, identify the political claims terrorists use to justify violence against civilians, and propose political strategies to defeat them.

Six types of terrorism—each requiring its own political response—need to be identified:

  • insurrectionary terrorism aimed at revolutionary overthrow of a state
  • loner or issue terrorism, aimed at promotion of a single cause
  • liberation terrorism, aimed at the overthrow of a colonial regime
  • separatist terrorism, aiming at independence for a subordinate ethnic or religious group within a state
  • occupation terrorism, aimed at driving an occupying force from territory acquired through war or conquest
  • global terrorism, aimed not at the liberation of a particular group, but at inflicting damage and humiliation on a global power
The previous chapter examined the first type—revolutionary terrorism seeking the overthrow of the state. Liberal democracies have seen off this challenge with a combination of political concessions to excluded groups and relentless counter-terror measures. The second type of terrorism—loner terrorism, pursued by a single individual or a small group as a protest over a particular issue—requires a different response. Timothy McVeigh's attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City would fit into this pattern, as would the bombing of abortion clinics by antiabortion campaigners. A subvariety of loner terrorism would be the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway system, initiated by a small group enthralled by a cult leader.2

Anyone wishing to challenge a liberal democracy, but lacking the political support to do so peacefully, is bound to at least consider breaking democracy's taboo against political violence. Thus a person who believes that abortion is murder may feel, in the face of the steady refusal of the American electorate to criminalize abortion, that the firebombing of clinics or the killing of abortion providers is a justified last resort. Since a majority of their fellow citizens cannot be persuaded to follow them, the only remaining choice is to acquiesce in majority rule or engage in terror. Once the taboo is broken, weakness can be turned into strength.

Given the number of minority positions that have no chance of political success in modern states, the risk of political violence, therefore, is never absent from democratic politics, especially if the fringes of its political culture encourage the belief, in the words of Barry Goldwater, that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”3 Verbal absolutism of this sort is dangerous in any political order, especially one that takes freedom seriously, for some marginal figures are bound to take their freedom of belief and opinion and turn it into an obligation to kill. In his extremism, McVeigh may have been a lone madman, but he also spoke in a deeply American vein—“the paranoid style in American politics”—and actually believed in American liberty, or at least his version of it, with chilling seriousness.4 Terrorism, therefore, is not merely an external threat to democratic politics but is intrinsic to it.

There are no easy solutions for loner or issue terrorism. Using the law to restrict incendiary, extreme, or hate-filled opinion may encroach on guarantees of free speech. At the same time, hate-filled speech is often a prelude to hate-filled acts. Waiting for the acts may expose innocent parties to serious risk. European and Canadian states prohibit and punish these forms of speech more readily than does the United States.5 A political strategy on terrorism needs to distinguish between defense of order and defense of values. Those who challenge majority values are not necessarily or even usually a threat to public order. On balance, unless political argument actively incites a group to commit acts of violence, it seems wise, especially in societies with a plurality of competing religious and secular opinions, not to allow public order considerations to override freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Public order grounds, moreover, are often a masquerade for censorship, as when a French general was convicted of incitement to hatred for publishing a book on his experiences in French Algeria that amounted to a justification of torture.6 Justifying torture in a specific historical context seems altogether different from active incitement. Only when agitators pass from hateful speech to active endorsement of terrorist acts or crimes of hate should they be subjected to the penalties of the law.

Even more important, however, is how public opinion reacts to loner or issue terrorism. The Oklahoma bombing did not win adherents to McVeigh's cause. It had the effect of disgracing the militia movements who fomented it. Where terrorist outrages evoke support or passive complicity, they become dangerous. As Dostoevsky observed in Russia in the 1870s, what was more disturbing than the occasional bomb outrages of isolated nihilist revolutionaries was the almost universal failure of the elites to rally around the czarist regime.7 The only defense against loner terror is for a society to rally around and convince other potential recruits that it is a cause fit only for loners. This can be done so long as a democratic society succeeds in persuading a majority of its people that peaceful constitutional mechanisms exist for the resolution of grievances and that those who use violence in a democracy are doing so illegitimately.


But what are we to say when peaceful constitutional remedies do not exist? Many liberal democratic states have denied such remedies to colonial populations; other democracies have held ethnic groups within their territories against their will; and some have subjected populations to permanent occupation. What I have called liberation, occupation, and separatist types of terrorism have all been directed at the attempt to rule others without their consent: colonial regimes, ethnic majority tyranny, or military occupation. The beginning of wisdom in any political strategy against terror is that democracies should not attempt to rule others against their consent. Doing so puts a democracy on the wrong side of its own core premise: the right of self-determination. This right was first elaborated on the international scene by Woodrow Wilson as the principle to guide the liquidation of the ruined empires of Europe at the Versailles Conference in 1919.8 It has guided the liberation of colonial peoples ever since.

The entire anticolonial resistance to imperial rule after 1945—in India, Indonesia, Algeria, and Vietnam—was justified in terms of democracy. The anticolonial resistance prevailed in part because the colonial democracies did not have the stomach to resist democracy itself or the nerve to protect their settler minorities at any cost. In all these struggles, terror directed chiefly at the settler minority was the tactic of choice because the groups committed to armed struggle never had sufficient capability to directly challenge the military forces of the colonial powers. In the Algerian war of independence, the FLN (Front for National Liberation) used terror bombings to radicalize the Algerian population and drive it into the arms of the liberation struggle, to demoralize the French civilian inhabitants, the pieds noirs, and to force the French government to recognize that their military superiority could not prevail. The FLN terrorists portrayed themselves as the authentic representatives of the Algerian people, but their resort to terror proved the reverse: that they did not command, at least at the beginning, sufficient popular support to overcome the colonial authorities by nonviolent means. Equally, the French colonial authorities portrayed themselves as the legitimate government of all the Algerian people, French and Arab alike, but their early resort to state terror proved the reverse: that they could maintain colonial rule only through force and violence. Terror, by both the insurgents and the state, was a confession of strategic weakness.9

The French were driven to engage in terror “pour encourager les autres,” to control those whom they were no longer able to persuade. Any political strategy against terror has to draw the lesson that force is bound to fail as a mechanism of control when consent has been lost. Worse, force in the absence of consent tends to get out of hand. When populations resent and hate you, the temptation to dehumanize them becomes irresistible, and what begins as coercion can end as terror.

In the end, the French conceded independence, not because they were militarily defeated, but because the French republic could no longer sustain the political costs of an indefinite war for control. De Gaulle saved the French republic from disaster, but at the price of sacrificing the settler minority and their Algerian allies. Ending terrorist threats there required an especially painful choice, between trying to rule a colonial population against their consent and sacrificing the interests of settler minorities, even though they were members of his own political community. By choosing clearly, de Gaulle saved France from the horror of terrorist war.

This same logic of lesser evils applies only too obviously in Israel, where granting the self-determination claims of Palestinians—obviously the right political strategy to reduce terror attacks on Israel—simultaneously requires the Israeli state to forcibly withdraw settlers who believe they have an equal right to the land. Sacrificing the interests of a minority of your own people is justifiable only on the condition that it guarantees an increase in security to the majority. Thus far, an effective political strategy against terror has foundered because Israelis do not believe that the sacrifice of the settler minority will actually gain them enough security for the majority.

Where the self-determination in question is an ethnic claim to secession from the territory of a state, the dominant state must find a way to appease the claim without sacrificing its own sovereignty or territorial integrity. Where a state regards its territory as indivisible, and where the ethnic group claims that the territory they seek is essential to their own survival, violence is inevitable.10 In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers have resorted to terror, believing that civilian casualties will compel the government to grant secession. In a situation like this, the terrorists cannot prevail against the military, and neither can the military prevail against the terrorists. In this stalemate, only civilians suffer and die. The only way out is a political dialogue, sponsored by outside governments, that results in a compromise: meeting the legitimate claims of Tamils to federal self-rule without sacrificing the unity of the Sri Lankan state, and without exposing the Tamils in the south or the Sinhalese in the north to ethnic cleansing. It is not enough, in other words, to stop terrorist violence. It is also essential to find a political solution to the security dilemmas of the minorities that are bound to be left behind when each side gets what it wants politically.

In these three cases—Algeria, Israel, Sri Lanka—where terrorism arises as a tactic to end colonial rule, occupation, or a denial of ethnic rights, it is possible to lay out what a political strategy against terror might look like, and to see why such strategies are so difficult. They require politically painful sacrifices of the rights and claims of your own people in order to secure peace with the enemy. But once the political sacrifices are made, terrorism can be ended. The French withdrawal from Algeria ended terrorism. A meaningful form of democratic self-government in Tamil areas might end terrorism in Sri Lanka. Statehood for the Palestinians might end terrorism against Israel, at least for a time.

A democracy's political concessions, however, cannot succeed unless terrorists and the communities who support them are willing to accept the basic legitimacy of the democratic state's right to survival. In the case of Israel, their enemies do not concede this. Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups are fighting not for a two-state solution but for a single state in Palestine to be built on the ruins of the Israeli nation.11 This presents Israel with a dilemma: concessions granted to groups that refuse to accept a state's right to exist will only produce further terror. Ending the occupation of Palestinian lands is the obvious prerequisite for Israeli peace and security, but only if Palestinian groups accept half a loaf as better than none, and as all they will ever have.

Political strategies have a chance of working only when both sides recognize each other politically. The democratic state has to acknowledge that the terrorist group represents a valid claim even though its means are unacceptable, and the terrorists have to accept that half a loaf is an honorable compromise.

The difficulty, however, is that the language of justice and human rights is commonly used as a moral trump, as a game-winning claim to entitlement that denies the rights of those who oppose it. Oppressed groups frequently argue as if the facts of their situation obviated any further negotiation. In fact there is nothing intrinsically just about any self-determination claim. Indeed, one usually competes with another, as the Palestinian claim competes with the Israeli, as nationalist claims compete with unionist ones in Northern Ireland. Instead of providing the grounds for mutual recognition, human rights have often reinforced belief that one's own moral claims are trumps and hence deserve to prevail over the other. Rights talk actually hinders the search for compromise and consensus,12 when compromise may be the only way to obtain any political objective at all.

Despite the fact that self-determination occupies pride of place as the first right in both major international rights covenants, not all claims to self-determination are valid.13 In 1965, white Rhodesians declared independence in order to prevent the British from granting independence under majority rule to the black population of Rhodesia. The white claim was unjust because it sought to prevent the majority of the country from running their own affairs. While whites could claim a right to stay in the land of their origins, and to retain their property and full democratic rights, they could not deny the right of the majority to rule themselves. A claim to self-determination is voided, therefore, if it denies another people a claim to freedom too.

By the same reasoning, Israel has a claim—grounded in a history of continuous settlement, in its religious traditions, and in the history of the Holocaust—to a right to statehood on enough land in Palestine to guarantee its people freedom and security from attack. But its claim to that land is conditional on its allowing the Palestinians, who have an equal history of continuous occupation and an equal claim in religious tradition, the same right over enough of the land to guarantee them freedom and security. Lands seized by the Israeli forces in the 1967 war cannot be held in perpetuity, as a part of an Israeli self-determination claim, since they were acquired through conquest and have been held through coercive military occupation. In other words, there is nothing about the Palestinian or the Israeli claim that gives one a moral privilege over the other. Both are equal claims to the same piece of territory, and if any justice is to be done to either, neither can have it all.

Human rights as a language of equality mandates respect and mutual recognition of competing moral claims. If this is so, human rights specify two ethical rules about the way a struggle for self-determination must be waged. The right to life condemns violence, and the equality commitments of human rights enjoin respect for the reasonable self-determination claims of others. The pursuit of self-determination, therefore, is substantially constrained by human rights principles themselves.

Fine counsels, I hear you say, but unlikely to have any purchase in the real world. Telling Palestinians to return to nonviolence and to recognize Israeli rights assumes that the other side is willing to negotiate in good faith. The history of the last fifty years does not encourage such a gamble. The historical record gives both sides reason to believe that violence pays, indeed that violence is the only tactic that pays. Calling on Palestinians to return to the path of deliberative nonviolence might be to condemn them to a Palestine reduced to the size of a Bantustan. Calling on Israelis to grant a self-determination claim backed by terrorism is to ask them to make concessions with no guarantee that their right to exist will finally be conceded.

Moral perfectionism—in this case well-meant condemnations of violence and injunctions to resume negotiation—will often be received as a strategy to keep the weak in submission and confirm the privileges of the strong. Certainly that is how my arguments would be heard were I to go to a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied territories or Gaza.

I might argue that had these two principles—of nonviolence and deliberation—been observed by the Palestinians in their struggle, they might now be in possession of a viable state of their own, rather than locked in the nightmare of a war without end under permanent military occupation. Even if this is true, it is a hypothetical truth. We do not know what would have happened if the Palestinians had been led by nonviolent leaders or if Zionism had understood the folly and injustice of denying Palestinian rights. The fact that one's ancestors in a struggle did not behave with justice or prudence does not invalidate the legitimacy of one's current political claim. History is no excuse. It merely forecloses possibilities, and if it has foreclosed nonviolent means of prosecuting a struggle, then it may be necessary for a people to embark on the path of violence. We must consider seriously the claim that to require the weak to observe human rights is to deliver them up, defenseless, to the ruthlessness of the strong.

This argument from weakness is the fundamental ethical justification of acts of terror. Where a state or occupying power possesses overwhelming military force, people fighting for freedom claim they will go down to defeat if they confine their struggle to nonviolent protest. Alternatively, if they take the path of armed resistance and challenge the military might of the other side, they will also be crushed. The only tactic that converts weakness into strength is terrorism, hitting the enemy at its most vulnerable point, its civilian population.

This is more than a tactical argument in favor of asymmetrical warfare. It also has a moral justification. The weak must have the right to fight dirty; otherwise the strong will always win. If you oblige the weak to fight clean, injustice will always triumph. Here the ethical justification is in the form of a lesser evil argument. In order to overcome the greater evil of injustice and oppression, the weak must be entitled to resort to the lesser evil of terrorist violence. If they don't have this ultimate right as a last resort, they will be condemned to an eternity of subjugation.

We can't counsel the oppressed with the piety that the weak are best served by not surrendering the moral high ground. This is sometimes true historically, but it is a counsel of perfection that the weak have reason to reject when it is argued by the strong.

Moreover, human rights principles themselves are not an ethics of resignation but a call to struggle. The European liberal political tradition which nurtured the idea of natural—that is, human—rights explicitly reserved a right for the weak to rise up in revolt against intolerable oppression by the strong. What is the chapter on the dissolution of government in John Locke's Second Treatise but a justification of revolution when essential freedoms are usurped?14 What is the U.S. Declaration of Independence but a reasoned defense of the necessity of political violence to overthrow imperial oppression?15 To be sure, the Declaration of Independence was not a justification for terroristic targeting of civilians, but it did justify acts of political violence directed at British military forces and government installations.

Part of the difficulty democracies encounter in crafting a political response to terrorism, in other words, lies in the fact that their own political traditions do not condemn political violence in all circumstances. If the American revolutionaries had not taken up arms and drawn blood, they would not have won their freedom. The idea of rights as a codified set of ultimate commitments can justify the resort to violence to preserve, restore, or establish them in the face of tyranny or usurpation.16 Rights would not be ultimate claims were they not worth defending, if necessary, at the price of one's life.

But the right of revolution is not a human right. It is contained within the liberal tradition, but revolution itself is not justified within the human rights lexicon. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 confines revolution to its preamble: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resource, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” This statement does not endorse a right to rebellion but asserts that rebellion becomes inevitable when essential rights are denied. General Assembly resolutions of the 1960s and 1970s justify the right of people suffering racist or colonial rule or alien occupation to take all necessary means to win their freedom.17 But these same resolutions also take care to endorse the sovereignty of those states that have already achieved their national independence, thus seeking to close the door on the right of revolution for peoples suffering inside the newly minted states of the postcolonial era.18 While international law clearly privileges state sovereignty, it does not deny the legitimacy of violence against occupation or colonial rule.

If alien occupation or colonial rule is a greater evil, what lesser evils can the right to self-determination justify? When considering this question, we need to move out from under the rubric of human rights altogether and guide ourselves according to the laws of war. The two systems of ethics are linked.19 When a state has declared war on its own citizens and they take up arms to resist, the laws of war seek to save what can be saved of the humanitarian impulse of human rights once violence has begun. They do not, generally, seek to define when the resort to violence is justified. But in one instance, the Optional Protocol of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions implicitly accepts that armed struggle may be justified against “colonial domination and alien occupation” as well as “racist regimes.” Not surprisingly, Israel and the United States have refused to ratify this protocol, maintaining that the Conventions are supposed to provide not justifications ad bellum but rather rules for conduct in bello. Even though the protocol does legitimize these armed struggles as a just cause, it insists that even a just cause must observe the same rules of proportionality and civilian immunity that govern the conduct of regular soldiers and regular armed conflict.20 In other words, even when armed struggle against oppression is justified, attacks against civilians remain violations.

The very idea of civilian immunity illustrates the difference between the universalistic framework of human rights and the particularistic framework of the laws of war. Laws of war distinguish minutely among the moral statuses of various combatants, noncombatants, civilians, military, prisoners, and medical staff—while human rights principles explicitly reject moral discriminations based on status. From a human rights perspective, civilian immunity is an incoherent moral principle, inconsistent with the equal respect due all human beings. From a laws of war perspective, civilian immunity is the principle that preserves some measure of ethical discrimination in the midst of the savagery of combat.21

The rationale for civilian immunity is to restrict combat to the fewest possible combatants, to confine it to those with the capacity to defend themselves with arms. As Michael Walzer has argued, the rationale for affording protection to civilians but not to armed combatants lies in their very different capacities for self-defense.22 An additional rationale is that in societies where enlistment is voluntary, those who wear a uniform do so of their own free will and thus can be expected to pay the price of this choice. Civilians will not have made this choice and should therefore be spared deliberate targeting.

Terrorists commonly justify the targeting of civilians by denying their moral innocence, by insisting that civilian settlers who profit from an unjust colonial occupation are not entitled to immunity from attack, since they are either beneficiaries or accomplices of injustice. If a settler goes armed, if he assists in military operations against the other side, there may be some justification for the claim that he becomes a legitimate target. But since terrorists rarely if ever limit their operations to these types of settlers, their justifications will not cover the majority of their actions, which target those without arms, as well as those—infants and the aged—without the capacity to assist a military power. Moreover, most terrorist attacks start from a racially, ethnically, or religiously motivated conviction that certain categories of human beings are not worthy of moral standing or consideration. To violate civilian immunity, therefore, is to assume that noble political ends, like the struggle against injustice, can justify treating any human being as a means. This way nihilism lies. If the civilians on the other side are legitimate targets, there is nothing to prevent your targeting your own side if they begin to inform on your struggle or resist your exactions. Once the principle of discriminating carefully in the use of violence is abandoned, it can be corrosive of the principles that supposedly guided the struggle for freedom in the first place.

If we view national liberation struggles through the lens of human rights, they must discipline themselves according to the two rules of nonviolence and deliberation. This may condemn them to political failure. If we believe that their oppression is such that it justifies turning to violence as a last resort, then the ethics of their struggle passes from the domain of human rights into that of the laws of war. Either way, the basic moral rules of international politics expressly forbid the targeting of civilians.

Thus there are relatively clear ethical rules for the use of violence in support of a struggle against oppression, injustice, or occupation: as a last resort, when nonviolent, deliberative means have been exhausted, and when armed force obeys the rules of war. To be sure, this limits the struggle for freedom. You can't fight dirty, you must take on military targets, not civilian ones, but at least you are not required to turn the other cheek when you are faced with assault and oppression. Those who observe such rules deserve the name of freedom fighters. Those who do not are terrorists.

It is a relativist canard to suppose that there is no real distinction between the two, or that the distinction is simply dependent on one's political point of view. The problem with the distinction is not whether it is clear in theory, but whether it is meaningful in practice. Has any freedom fighter actually succeeded in avoiding becoming a terrorist? Has any armed struggle successfully resisted the temptation of deliberately targeting civilians?

Many liberation movements themselves—from the Cuban revolutionaries to the Vietnamese insurgents—have taken care to distinguish themselves from terrorists. Such movements were battling to secure international support and domestic allegiance, and the avoidance of indiscriminate violence is critical to securing both. Achieving recognition under the Geneva Conventions as a regular belligerent is a first step toward securing international recognition for the cause itself.

Moreover, ethical regulation of violence is critical to the maintenance of the legitimacy of a people's war among the people for whom the war is fought. Thus Che Guevara: “We are sincerely convinced that terrorism is a negative weapon which never produces the desired effects and which can alienate the people from revolutionary movements while causing among those who use it human losses out of all proportion to the results achieved.”23

Winning power, as was clear to Guevara and leaders of liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique, Vietnam, and elsewhere, requires taking the people with you. Terrorizing informers and fifth columnists, destroying villages that reject your cause or lend support to the government may arouse moral disgust among your own supporters and weaken political allegiance to the cause.24

Yet only some armed insurgents reason as Che Guevara urged. Other insurgent groups—the FARC in Colombia and the RUF in Sierra Leone—regularly use terrorist means to control territory and ensure compliance among the civilian population. Killing informers, taking hostages among the locals, or engaging in summary executions may serve just as well as restraint in securing the obedience of the population one fights among, and presumably fights for. While Che Guevara's words are what supporters of liberation movements would like to believe—namely, that they swim among the people, like fish in water—liberation movements have often found, just as have the counterterror forces opposing them, that when they are faced with civilian resistance in their zones of operation, it is more efficient to drain the water and kill the fish.

This is especially the case when an insurgent group is numerically small and does not enjoy mass-support. Atrocity creates awe and dread and compensates for small numbers. In Sierra Leone, the RUF were a nondescript band of predatory marauders, but they clearly grasped that amputating hands and legs and disfiguring faces leveraged their military and political impact.25 Terroristic methods are best understood as an attempt to use atrocity as a tactic to offset military and political weakness.

On the other hand, once liberation movements become sizable and are fighting on terms of relative equality with an opponent, a different set of calculations may set in. They may decide that compliance with the laws of war may gain them more than would continuing terrorism, especially if their goal is international recognition and the acquisition of state power. A case in point would be the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military arm of the African National Congress. In November 1980, the ANC declared its adherence to the Geneva Conventions, some eighteen years after beginning armed struggle against the South African apartheid regime. It did so to consolidate support among UN member states and to outflank its South African opponent. As ANC leader Oliver Tambo said, in explaining why he was willing to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, “we do so in the consciousness that we do not take our standards from those of the enemy.”26

While there is little doubt that the ANC's declarations of high ethical intent contributed to the apartheid regime's increasing isolation, the ANC's military wing did not always adhere to the distinction between lawful combat and terrorism. Bombings of civilian bars and churches were carried out, while summary execution of suspected collaborators and spies tarnished the ANC's reputation. Once it took power, it was forced into an extensive exercise in self-justification.27 In its submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission accounting for these abuses, the ANC, now in government, made prominent use of lesser evil arguments. Apartheid was a crime against humanity, the ANC maintained, and the military campaign against the ANC was ferocious. Mistakes and misjudgments occurred, but these needed to be understood in the context of a struggle against a greater evil. Moreover, the ANC pointed out, a guerrilla movement cannot exert the same degree of control over its operatives as can a regular military force.28 This argument, while probably true in fact, runs close to the claim that the standards applied to the weak should differ from those applied to the strong. Such an argument is inconsistent with a signature to the Geneva Conventions, whose language does not admit of one standard for states and one for guerrillas.

As the ANC example shows, armed struggles for freedom avoid terrorism when they have incentives to differentiate their moral identity from that of their oppressors and when they calculate that targeting civilians would alienate valuable foreign support, as well as the local population.29 In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers, by contrast, placed little emphasis on winning international support, at least outside their own ethnic diaspora, believing that international opinion was indifferent to the outcome in their faraway country. As a result, Tamil terrorism was certainly more unconstrained and vicious than the ANC.30

Where insurgents know that the opposing state is protected from international opprobrium by another strong state, they will have little incentive to restrain their conduct. For example, the international community has allowed the Russians a free hand in Chechnya. As a result the Chechens have lost all incentive to restrain their own conduct, and the struggle goes on in a twilight limbo, safe from international condemnation.31 Where no one cares either way, barbarism rules. The rebels in eastern Congo have no incentive to behave better, because no one is watching.32 This suggests that the world's attention matters. Condemnation of terror, wherever it happens, concerted international action to penalize the funding of terror, action to deny territory to those who commit terrorist acts in a neighboring state, extradition of terrorists who seek refuge next door, and military intervention to protect civilians terrorized by rebel groups would all do something to keep self-determination struggles from descending into carnage. Most of all, states need to become more consistent in their condemnation of terrorist methods, whether committed by their friends or by their enemies. Judging friends by one standard and enemies by another is a dangerous game, since a friend today may well turn out to be an enemy tomorrow. State complicity or collusion in terrorist methods is the single most important reason why terrorism continues, and therefore the single most important policy that states can adopt is to refuse to lend tacit or overt support to any group that uses terrorism even in pursuit of goals that the state supports.


In the examples considered so far, it has become clear that where armed groups have a real prospect of obtaining recognition and statehood, they may be persuaded to abstain from terrorism. Where their success in this struggle depends on retaining the support of local populations, they may also conclude that restraint pays better than atrocity. But these incentives and restraining factors do not apply to all terrorist groups. No such factors discipline the conduct of Al Qaeda. They have no aspirations to statehood and therefore no incentive to play by any known rules. They do not serve a determinate population and are therefore unconstrained either by their supporters' moral code or by their vulnerability to reprisal. They even appear indifferent to casualties inflicted on Muslim populations who live or work in proximity to their targets. This is what makes them so dangerous. This is also why they cannot be engaged politically and must instead be defeated militarily.

Al Qaeda is therefore a distinctive kind of terrorism, no longer in the service of a people's freedom or in the name of the overthrow of a given state. The apocalyptic nihilists who attacked the United States on September 11 did not leave behind justifications, noble or otherwise, for their actions. They directed their propaganda and their justifications not at a specific state denying a claim to self-determination, but at the United States as the hated imperial capital of a materialistic, secular, and alien civilization. The so-called martyrs defended their actions in the language of Islamic eschatology, not in the language of rights.33 Moreover, their intentions were apocalyptic, not political: to humiliate the archenemy of Islam and secure martyrdom in the process. It is difficult to see, in principle, how acts unaccompanied by demands can be accommodated politically. If the goal of terrorism is neither territory nor freedom, if its purpose is to strike a blow that asserts the dignity of Muslim believers while inflicting horror and death upon their enemies, then it is difficult to envisage a political response of any kind. Such an attack cannot be met by politics but only by war.

But this is not all there is to say. The 9/11 attackers may not have left demands, but this has not prevented their supporters throughout the Muslim world from claiming that they acted in the name of the Palestinians and in support of the just demands of believers to worship in the Holy Places free of foreign—that is, American—occupation. It is this echo of justification that lends the attack its enduring impact. These are not rights claims, exactly, since Muslim extremists disdain the language of rights. But they are a demand for justice, and it is when terrorism appropriates justice that it is at its most dangerous. As a recent study by Robert Pape shows, most suicide attackers have chosen suicide as a tactic in service of a political and ethical purpose.34 A claim of justice and a chance of success are critical for finding suicide recruits. Improving homeland security building walls to keep terrorists out, may reduce their chances of success, but unless the basic motivation for terrorism—the perception of injustice—is addressed, no strategy against terror can succeed by purely military means.

In responding to this perception of injustice, the United States faces the dilemma that it has been allied since 1945 with Arab regimes, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have failed their people and now confront radical Islamist movements that are capitalizing on disillusion with secular and nationalist modernization. A political response to Al Qaeda has to encourage these embattled elites to allow political competition and give way to new social forces that are capable of addressing the failures of these societies across the Arab world. There is no shortage of Arab thinkers and social scientists who see the failures of their societies and want to confront them, without outside help or interference.35 But real reform—to improve literacy and female education, to open up the economy to competition, and to widen political participation—requires consistent international support and, at times, U.S. pressure on reluctant elites. Recent speeches by the U.S. president appear to commit the United States to just such a strategy.36 Yet painful experience with Iran under the shah suggests that pressuring authoritarian regimes to reform may help trigger Islamic revolution. Fear of such a prospect, however, should not guide policy in the direction of shoring up the Arab ancien régime. There are versions of Islamic revolution that would only result in tyranny, and there are versions that would serve the people's pent-up longing for social and economic justice and political participation. Which version prevails depends on the type of Islamic leadership available in each society and not primarily on American influence. A political strategy to compete with Al Qaeda in the Arab world cannot work if Islam and democracy are assumed to be incompatible.37

Yet while Al Qaeda claims that it is entitled to represent the demand of the Muslim masses for justice, it is a mistake to suppose that it seeks the reforms that would relieve this injustice. Al Qaeda terrorism is intended not to hasten reform in the Arab world but to prevent it, to drive these embattled regimes into ever more authoritarian forms of reaction, unleashing a popular Islamic revolution that would take the whole region back to 700 C.E. and the time of the caliphate.

It would be an elementary mistake to consider the September 11 hijackers as authentic representatives of the Muslim masses. It remains essential, however, to distinguish between conceding the legitimacy of terrorism and conceding the legitimacy of grievances. One can refuse the first premise while accepting the second. It is inevitable that, in response to the attacks of September 11, leaders in liberal democracies should pronounce a moral anathema on those who resorted to them. Yet the consequence of an anathema is to declare an end to the political processes of engagement that a liberal democracy stands for. To declare a war on terrorism risks, in itself, compromising the political values that should guide relations even with a liberal state's enemies. If terrorism is actually a politics of grievance and if liberal democracy is committed to political solutions to these problems, it must remain engaged in practical efforts to assist Muslim societies to reform and develop.


A political response to terror requires a painful admission that injustice prevails in the Arab states where terrorists find their recruits. But this is not to say that violent struggle against such injustice is justified. A critical question in assessing the morality of political violence is whether it genuinely meets the test of last resort. Time and again, terrorists resort to violence not as a last resort, turned to reluctantly after peaceful means of political action have been exhausted, but as a first resort. The weak conclude it best to go the fast way. The fast way is to kill as many civilians as possible to get the world to take notice, or to provoke the other side into a downward spiral of repression that will brand them as unjust oppressors in the eyes of the world at large.

This is what, as I have already said, the French call la politique du pire. The purpose of terror is to make properly political solutions impossible. Modern Basque terrorism reached its peak, not during the years of Franco's repression, but in the early years of Spanish democracy, when Madrid granted the Basque country substantial autonomy, entrenched Basque language rights, and poured money into Basque economic development.38 Terrorism was an attempt to defeat a reasonable constitutional settlement of Basque claims. The further purpose was to intimidate the constitutional parties in the Basque region, to silence support for devolutionist, federal, and nonviolent political demands. Violent groups, in other words, with no reasonable prospect of electoral success within a constitutional order used violence to leverage their influence and intimidate their rivals, and thus to expropriate political representation by use of force.

The same pattern is apparent in Irish terrorism. The worst of the Troubles date, not to the period of Protestant ascendancy in Northern Ireland, but to the 1970s when the British government finally made a concerted attempt to redress the civil, political, and social disabilities of the Catholic population and to engage both Protestants and Catholics in power sharing.39 Terrorist violence, by both sides, has been an attempt to silence reasonable voices in the two communities, to prevent them from giving their support to peaceful constitutional solutions.

In Sri Lanka, terrorism was also timed to wreck the chances of peaceful reform. Tamil Elam's attacks on the government in Colombo were designed to make any devolutionist, federal compromise impossible and thus to force their solution of choice—statehood for Tamils—upon Tamils and Sinhalese alike. Female suicide bombers were dispatched to strike down such moderate Tamil politicians as Neelan Tiruchelvam, whose only offense was a willingness to engage in dialogue and to propose federal alternatives to secession.40

In Palestine, the liberation movement was committed to violence from the very beginning of its struggle against “the Zionist entity” in the early 1950s. It scored its first spectacular success at the Munich Olympics of 1972, during the early period of Israeli occupation when many voices inside Israel, including the state's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, were questioning whether occupation was compatible with a Jewish state and when Israel might have responded to a Palestinian campaign of peaceful civil disobedience. Because these roads were not even tried, the legitimacy of Palestinian violence, even against strictly military targets, is doubtful. In a similar vein, the upsurge of Palestinian terrorism in the 1990s coincided with the Oslo peace process, which sought to create a Palestinian state.41 The terror campaign of Hamas and other insurrectionary groups was designed to destroy the Oslo process, discredit the Israeli and Palestinian leadership who had committed themselves to it, and radicalize the Palestinian population in favor of a rejectionist platform, based on denial of Israel's right to exist. No campaign of violence can be justified in the name of self-determination if its essential premise is to foreclose peaceful negotiation and to deny the right of another people to exist.

Thus while it is possible to justify armed struggle in defense of self-determination, it is possible to do so only under four conditions: the group's just claims must have been met by violence; the failure to accommodate these claims must be systematic, enduring, and unlikely to change; the claims must be fundamental to the survival of the group; the struggle must observe the laws of war and the rule of civilian immunity. In none of the above cases—Palestine, Northern Ireland, the Basque country, or the Tamils—have these conditions been met.

Besides last resort, a further ethical test of political violence is whether it actually serves the interests of those in whose name it is conducted. Terrorists may purport to speak for the weak and defenseless, but once terrorist acts begin in the name of liberation, they are quickly directed not just at the oppressor but at all those within the oppressed group who oppose terrorist means, or who have collaborated or worked with forces on the opposing side. A war against traitors, informers, fellow travelers, fifth columnists, and spies—a war against your own people, in other words—is a necessary feature of any terrorist campaign. Terrorists argue that their acts express the will of the people: in reality, violence silences them. In the Basque country, in Catholic areas of Northern Ireland, in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, and finally in Palestine, terrorist groups rule their populations with the same violence they deploy against the oppressor. In a properly political world, those who are represented freely grant the right of representation to those they elect. In the antipolitical world of terror, such representation as exists is a facade maintained by intimidation and violence. In all of these communities, it can be a death sentence to defy the rule of the armed minority who purport to speak in their name.

Seen in this way, terrorist violence is usually a preemptive strike by the terrorist group against free political expression within their own population. Terrorist campaigns seek to take hostage the population in whose name they purport to act. Instead of using properly political means to achieve hegemony within their own population, terrorists use violence to do so. This ruthless suppression becomes all the more essential since this population, and not just the terrorists alone, have to pay the price of the reprisals and counterrepression. Thus the civilian population of Palestine, of the Sri Lankan Tamil area, of the Basque country find themselves taken hostage twice, first by the terrorists and then by the state seeking to repress them. In the process, terrorism does not merely expose them to the horror of violent reprisal, but worse, it confiscates and silences their political capacity to articulate their own demands.

Terrorist struggles also damage the political system a liberation campaign hopes to create when freedom is finally won. The use of terrorist violence by the Algerian freedom fighters in the 1950s burned political killing into the culture of postliberation Algeria, so that in 1992 when the ruling elite disallowed an election which would have brought the Islamists to power, both the state and the insurgents had no threshold of repugnance to overcome in resorting to terrorism. In the ensuing struggle, sixty thousand lives were lost.42 In Palestine, terrorism—and the counterterrorist campaigns by Israel—have all but destroyed the governing institutions of the Palestinian Authority and have set back the Palestinian claim to statehood. Even when they finally secure statehood, it will remain a central task of liberation for Palestinians to drive violence out of the practice of politics in a free Palestine.

It is also the case that when a people use terror to win freedom, and then seek to keep people under occupation, the oppressed group is bound to copy the political example of their oppressors. The Zionist struggle for statehood in 1947 and 1948 engaged in acts of terrorism directed at targets like the King David Hotel, which housed British military personnel and civilians alike.43 Terror attacks were also directed at Arab villages, like Dir Yassein, in order to force Palestinians to flee.44 Jewish terrorism does not justify Palestinian terrorism, and Jewish terrorism did not teach Palestinians terrorism: they had models and inspirations all their own. But there is little doubt that it makes it easier for Palestinians to claim legitimacy for their own acts of atrocity. Political struggles that use terror to achieve freedom—Zionism is no exception—leave themselves open to terrorist campaigns that seek revenge for the terror used against them.45 The conclusion is inescapable: the use of terror to secure freedom can poison freedom itself.


A political response to a war on terror means facing up to the dilemma of negotiating with armed groups and deciding whether groups associated with violence can play any part in legitimate politics. To negotiate is an act of recognition. It is impossible to negotiate with violent groups without according them this recognition, and without running the risk that they will use this recognition to lure a democratic state into damaging concessions. Hence there are good reasons never to negotiate with terrorist groups. But most liberal democratic states, while refusing direct negotiation with men of violence, open channels of political dialogue with any group committed to nonviolence who can drain away the terrorists' constituency of support.

The weak and oppressed must be given a peaceful political alternative that enables them to rise up against the violence exercised in their name. They must be given the chance to refuse to allow their sons and daughters to be recruited. They must have the option of refusing to vote for parties with any connection to violence. They must be given the opportunity to refuse to shelter or keep silent about the gunmen in their midst. This revolt can occur only when democratic states encourage political competitors to the men of violence. The peace process in Northern Ireland was pursued not just in Dublin and in London but in the streets of Belfast, Omagh, and Derry, where ordinary members of both the Protestant and Catholic communities decided, not that they necessarily wanted to be reconciled, but that they wanted to regain control of their own politics, that is, to free their communities of the intimidation and violence inflicted by groups purporting to speak in their name.

Communities cannot do this while they simultaneously face the violence of the state and terrorist groups. The state and the terrorist often conspire, unwittingly, to keep the hostages captive. In this malign alliance terror and counterterror become mutually dependent, and the only possible exit—the politics of reconciliation and compromise—is sealed off.

Once terrorists have been beaten back, even if not destroyed, it becomes possible for peaceful political groups to begin competing for votes. Inevitably, however, terrorist groups form political fronts of their own in order to fight off the competition. In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein seeks to present itself as a legitimate representative of the nationalist cause, even though its leadership maintains links with men of violence. In the Basque country, political parties with terrorist affiliations competed for power throughout the terrorist campaign, profiting from the violence of their secret allies to intimidate voters. Similar shadowy linkages exist between terrorist groups and ostensibly nonviolent political parties elsewhere. A political strategy to keep electoral preferences safe from intimidation is difficult to fulfill when terrorist groups exploit a free political sphere to masquerade as properly political organizations.46

All liberal democracies proscribe parties that promote violence, but it can be difficult to define what connections count as complicity with terrorism. Even when such complicity can be established, banning such organizations is always a lesser evil. It exposes liberal democracies to the charge that they are rigging the political process and driving people into the arms of the terrorists. Spain has recently banned a Basque political party associated with terrorism, while in Britain the government has resisted repeated calls by Ulster Unionists to ban Sinn Fein.47 While each case needs to be assessed on its own merits, the general bias of a liberal democratic state should always be against the banning of political parties, either on the basis of their platforms, or on the basis of their association with other groups. Restrictions on the basis of content violate freedom of expression, and restrictions on the basis of association can be tendentious and impossible to prove. The test of a party's legitimacy as a political actor should be its actual conduct in democratic politics. If it seeks allegiance by holding peaceful rallies and meetings, if its members and leaders forswear any conduct or speech that amounts to intimidation, if it abides by electoral results, then it should be allowed to compete for votes. If it beats up opponents or calls on supporters to commit acts of violence, it should be dissolved, if necessary by force.

It is more questionable whether groups that remain nonviolent can be banned merely because they do not support the constitutional terms of democratic debate—for example, the legitimacy of Spanish claims over the Basque country or British claims over Northern Ireland.48 U.S. constitutional doctrine supports proscription of political parties where they pose a clear and present danger to the Constitution, as when they advocate overthrow of government by force, but banning parties simply because they advocate revolutionary goals, while conforrning to constitutional norms of behavior, risks endangering basic democratic freedoms.

The Canadian example—where a party committed to independence for Quebec has peacefully competed for votes in both federal and provincial elections—provides a competing model. In Canada, Quebecois separatist parties compete for power, even though their election might actually mean the dissolution of the constitutional system in which they seek office. No one has ever challenged their right to do so, because their political conduct has been entirely peaceful. On the one occasion in which Quebec separatism turned to violence, Canadian liberal democracy reacted swiftly. In October 1970, when a small separatist group kidnapped and murdered a provincial politician, the federal government invoked the War Measures Act and arrested and detained without trial more than five hundred individuals suspected of association with the group. All were released without charge. The justification for the use of the War Measures Act in 1970 was that it was necessary to protect the Quebec political system from intimidation and, more generally, to send a message that the federal government would defend itself robustly. The War Measures Act did put an end to political violence, but it did not stop separatism. Within six years, the first government committed to an independent and sovereign Quebec was elected, and one reason for this may have been widespread revulsion at excessive use of federal power in the October crisis six years earlier.49 In the end, what turned the tide against separatism in Quebec was the successful functioning of the federal system itself, which has allowed Quebec sufficient political autonomy to protect its language, culture, and economy. Effective self-government in these domains, together with the robust performance of the Quebec economy within a federal union, has weakened the appeal of separatist politics, at least for the present. The implication of the Quebec case for states facing separatist challenges to their authority would be that while a state must take robust measures to prevent separatist violence from going unchallenged, it must also take care to allow peaceful and constitutional opposition to its political system, and it must ensure that this system responds substantively to legitimate claims for self-government in realms like culture, language, and education, vital to the survival of a minority group identity. On balance, allowing peaceful advocacy of constitutional change, up to and including the dissolution of the constitutional order itself, is essential to preserving the legitimacy of constitutional politics, since without peaceful avenues for political expression, demands for separation, autonomy, or independence are bound to turn violent.


If force must be the ultimate response to violence against a constitutional state, what is to keep state violence from becoming as unconstrained as the enemy it is seeking to destroy? The only answer is democracy and the obligation of justification that it imposes on those who use force in its name. The liberal state and its terrorist enemy stand under very different obligations to justify their actions. The agents of a constitutional state are aware that they may be called to defend and explain their actions in adversarial proceedings, possibly even in court. Terrorists do not stand in any institutional setting that holds them accountable. They may have an informal moral contract with their base of support, a tacit set of understandings of what types of violence are acceptable, and, in particular, which kinds will expose their base of support to reprisal. But this is not the same as an institutional obligation to render an account of your actions. This absence of any institutional obligation to justify helps explain why terrorism so often escalates into extremism for its own sake. Yes, states can be guilty of acts of terror, but it is false to equate these with the acts of terrorists. Punishment shootings by the IRA in Northern Ireland occur without censure. The republican community whom the IRA purports to protect by kneecapping informants, shooting drug dealers, and so on has no institutional capacity to regulate the popular justice meted out in its name. Any punishment shooting by a British soldier is subject to disciplinary hearings. The IRA commonly tortures and executes informers. If allegations of torture are made against British forces, they end up under investigation in the European Court of Human Rights.50 Recent assertions that UK security forces colluded in political assassinations by Protestant terror groups have been made the subject of judicial inquiry.51

Those who equate the violence inflicted by Israel with that inflicted by Palestinian suicide bombers ignore real differences in institutional accountability in the two cases. In Israel allegations of torture, house demolition, illegal detention, and unjustified force have all ended up before the Israeli Supreme Court, and in a significant number of instances the conduct has been censured and stopped.52 This is not to claim that legal oversight is always effective, or to acquit Israeli forces of blame when crimes are committed. But it is to argue that all agents of force in a democratic state, like Israel, lie under a burden of justification, and the possibility of review and censure, that are entirely absent on the other side. Indeed, one of the strongest justifications for a Palestinian state is that it will provide a structure of law and accountability to constrain future encounters between its security forces and the Israelis.

The preceding discussion makes it possible, at last, to define precisely why terrorism constitutes a greater evil, justifying the lesser evils of a liberal democracy's response. The evil does not consist in the resort to violence itself, since violence can be justified, as a last resort, in the face of oppression, occupation, or injustice. The evil consists in resorting to violence as a first resort, in order to make peaceful politics impossible, and, second, in targeting unarmed civilians and punishing them for their allegiance or their ethnicity. This is to condemn them to death not for what they do, but for who they are and what they believe. Finally, terrorism is an offense not only against the lives and liberties of its specific victims, but against politics itself, against the practice of deliberation, compromise, and the search for nonviolent and reasonable solutions. Terrorism is a form of politics that aims at the death of politics itself. For this reason, it must be combated by all societies that wish to remain political: otherwise both we and the people terrorists purport to represent are condemned to live, not in a political world of deliberation, but in a prepolitical state of combat, a state of war.

  • 1.

    Omar Malik, Enough of the Definition of Terrorism (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2000).

  • 2.

    Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence and the New Global Terrorism (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1999).

  • 3.

    Barry Goldwater's Acceptance Speech, Republican Presidential Nomination (Republican National Convention, Cow Palace, San Francisco, 1964): “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” in William Rentschler, “Barry Goldwater: Icon of Political Integrity,” USA Today, March 2000, (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 4.

    Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Daniel Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), 2–4, 315–24; Garry Wills, A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 263–66.

  • 5.

    Fred Schauer, “The Exceptional First Amendment,” in American Exceptionalism and Human Rights, ed. Michael Ignatieff (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

  • 6.

    Michael Ignatieff, “The Torture Wars,” New Republic, April 22, 2002, 40–43; Paul Aussaresses, Services speciaux: Algerie 1955–1957 (Paris: Perrin, 2001).

  • 7.

    Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

  • 8.

    Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (New York: Random House, 2001), 11–14; “Of all the ideas Wilson brought to Europe, this concept of self-determination was, and has remained, one of the most controversial and opaque. During the Peace Conference, the head of the American mission in Vienna sent repeated requests to Paris and Washington for an explanation of the term. No answer ever came. It has never been easy to determine what Wilson meant. ‘Autonomous development,’ ‘the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments,’ ‘the rights and liberties of small nations,’ a world made safe ‘for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions’: the phrases had poured out from the White House, an inspiration to peoples around the world. But what did they add up to? Did Wilson merely mean, as sometimes appeared, an extension of democratic self-government? Did he really intend that any people who called themselves a nation should have their own state? In a statement he drafted, but never used, to persuade the American people to support the peace settlements, he stated, ‘We say now that all these people have the right to live their own lives under governments which they themselves choose to set up. That is the American principle.’… The more Wilson's concept of self-determination is examined, the more difficulties appear. Lansing asked himself: When the President talks of ‘self-determination’ what unit has he in mind? Does he mean a race, a territorial area, or a community?’ ‘It will raise hopes which can never be realized. It will, I fear, cost thousands of lives. In the end it is bound to be discredited, to be called the dream of an idealist who failed to realize the danger until it was too late to check those who attempt to put the principle into force’” (pp. 71, 75).

  • 9.

    Paul Aussaresses and Robert L. Miller, Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Algeria, 1955–57 (New York: Gazelle, 2000); Alastair Home, A Savage War of Peace (London: Papermac, 1996), 99–104, 128–46.

  • 10.

    Monica Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Conflict: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003).

  • 11.

    A typical Hamas statement is the following: “We will never recognize Israel, but it is possible that a truce could prevail between us for days, months or years.” Mahmud al Zahar, Hamas leader in Gaza, quoted in Robert A. Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review 97, no. 3 (August 2003): 348.

  • 12.

    Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York: Free Press, 1991), 9.

  • 13.

    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 1 of each: “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

  • 14.

    John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), “On the Dissolution of Government,” 406–28.

  • 15.

    Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

  • 16.

    Tony Honore, “The Right to Rebel,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 8, no. 1 (1988): 34–54; see also David Miller, “The Use and Abuse of Political Violence,” Political Studies 32 (1984): 401–19.

  • 17.

    United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (December 14, 1960): “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples,” (accessed December 4, 2003):

    The General Assembly, Mindful of the determination proclaimed by the peoples of the world in the Charter of the United Nations to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, Conscious of the need for the creation of conditions of stability and well-being and peaceful and friendly relations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of all peoples, and of universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, Recognizing the passionate yearning for freedom in all dependent peoples and the decisive role of such peoples in the attainment of their independence, Aware of the increasing conflicts resulting from the denial of or impediments in the way of the freedom of such peoples, which constitute a serious threat to world peace, Considering the important role of the United Nations in assisting the movement for independence in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories, Recognising that the peoples of the world ardently desire the end of colonialism in all its manifestations, Convinced that the continued existence of colonialism prevents the development of international economic co-operation, impedes the social, cultural and economic development of dependent peoples and militates against the United Nations ideal of universal peace, Affirming that peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law, Believing that the process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible and that, in order to avoid serious crises, an end must be put to colonialism and all practices of Segregation and discrimination associated therewith, Welcoming the emergence in recent years of a large number of dependent territories into freedom and independence, and recognizing the increasingly powerful trends towards freedom in such territories which have not yet attained independence, Convinced that all peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory, Solemnly proclaims the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations; And to this end Declares that:
    1. The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.
    2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
    3. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.
    4. All armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence, and the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.
    5. Immediate steps shall be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, without any distinction as to race, creed or colour, in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom.
    6. Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
    7. All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity.
    UN General Assembly Resolution 2908, “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” (November 2, 1972), (accessed December 4, 2003):
    Deeply concerned that twelve years after the adoption of the Declaration many Terrorities are still under colonial and alien domination and that millions of oppressed persons live under conditions of ruthless and blatant colonialist and racialist repression, Deeply deploring the continued refusal of the colonial Powers, especially Portugal and South Africa, to implement the Declaration and other relevant resolutions on decolonization, particularly those relating to the territories under Portuguese domination, Namibia and Southern Rhodesia, Strongly deploring the policies of those States which, in defiance of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, continue to co-operate with the governments of Portugal and South Africa and with the illegal racist minority regime in Southern Rhodesia,… 5. Reaffirms that the continuation of colonialism in all its forms and manifestations—including racism, apartheid and activities of foreign economic and other interests which exploit colonial peoples, as well as the waging of colonial wars to suppress the national liberation movements of the colonial Territories in Africa—is incompatible with the Charter of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and poses a threat to international peace and security; 6. Reaffirms its recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the colonial peoples and peoples under alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal, and notes with satisfaction the progress made by the national liberation movements of the colonial Territories, particularly in Africa, both through their struggle and through reconstruction programmes, towards the national independence of their countries;… 8. Urges all states and the specialized agencies and other organizations within the United Nations system to provide moral and material assistance to all peoples struggling for their freedom and independence in the colonial Territories and to those living under alien domination—in particular to the national liberation movements of the Territories in Africa—in consultation, as appropriate, with the OAU; 9. Requests all States, directly and through their action in the specialized agencies and other organization within the United Nations system, to withhold or continue to withhold assistance of any kind from the Governments of Portugal and South Africa and from the illegal racist minority regime in Southern Rhodesia until they renounce their policy of colonial domination and racial discrimination.

  • 18.

    Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty and Self-Determination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), 14–26.

  • 19.

    Adam Roberts and Richard Guelff, Documents on the Laws of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

  • 20.

    Christopher Greenwood, “Terrorism and Humanitarian Law—the Debate over Additional Protocol 1,” in Terrorism, ed. Conor Gearty (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1996), 187–207.

  • 21.

    Eitan Felner and Michael Ignatieff, “Human Rights Leaders in Conflict Zones: A Case Study of the Politics of ‘Moral Entrepreneurs’” (Carr Center Case Study and forthcoming Center for Public Leadership Working Paper, August 2003).

  • 22.

    Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 3d ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000), chaps. 9–10.

  • 23.

    Che Guevara, Oeuvres I: Textes militates (Paris: Maspero, 1968), 98, cited in Jacques Freymond and Thierry Hentsch, On Mediating Violence: Armed Political Movements and Humanitarian Principals (Geneva: ICRC, 1973).

  • 24.

    Mao Tse-Tung, “On Protracted War,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1967):

    This is the so-called theory that “weapons decide everything,” which constitutes a mechanical approach to the question of war and a subjective and one-sided view. Our view is opposed to this; we see not only weapons but also people. Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive. The contest of strength is not only a contest of military and economic power, but also a contest of human power and morale. Military and economic power is necessarily wielded by people. If the great majority of the Chinese, of the Japanese and of the people of other countries are on the side of our War of Resistance Against Japan, how can Japan's military and economic power, wielded as it is by a small minority through coercion, count as superiority? And if not, then does not China, though wielding relatively inferior military and economic power, become the superior? There is no doubt that China will gradually grow in military and economic power, provided she perseveres in the War of Resistance and in the united front. As for our enemy, weakened as he will be by the long war and by internal and external contradictions, his military and economic power is bound to change in the reverse direction. In these circumstances, is there any reason why China cannot become the superior? And that is not all. Although we cannot as yet count the military and economic power of other countries as being openly and to any great extent on our side, is there any reason why we will not be able to do so in the future? If Japan's enemy is not just China, if in future one or more other countries make open use of their considerable military and economic power defensively or offensively against Japan and openly help us, then will not our superiority be still greater? Japan is a small country, her war is reactionary and barbarous, and she will become more and more isolated internationally; China is a large country, her war is progressive and just, and she will enjoy more and more support internationally. Is there any reason why the long-term development of these factors should not definitely change the relative position between the enemy and ourselves? (143–44)
    A national revolutionary war as great as ours cannot be won without extensive and thoroughgoing political mobilization. Before the anti-Japanese war there was no political mobilization for resistance to Japan, and this was a great drawback, as a result of which China has already lost a move to the enemy. After the war began, political mobilization was very far from extensive, let alone thoroughgoing. It was the enemy's gunfire and the bombs dropped by enemy aeroplanes that brought news of the war to the great majority of the people. That was also a kind of mobilization, but it was done for us by the enemy, we did not do it ourselves. Even now the people in the remoter regions beyond the noise of the guns are carrying on quietly as usual. This situation must change, or otherwise we cannot win in our life-and-death struggle. We must never lose another move to the enemy; on the contrary, we must make full use of this move, political mobilization, to get the better of him. This move is crucial; it is indeed of primary importance, while our inferiority in weapons and other things is only secondary. The mobilization of the common people throughout the country will create a vast sea in which to drown the enemy, create the conditions that will make up for our inferiority in arms and other things, and create the prerequisites for overcoming every difficulty in the war. To win victory, we must persevere in the War of Resistance, in the united front and in the protracted war. But all these are inseparable from the mobilization of the common people. (155)
    We, on the contrary, maintain that these strong points of the Japanese army can be destroyed and that their destruction has already begun. The chief method of destroying them is to win over the Japanese soldiers politically. We should understand, rather than hurt, their pride and channel it in the proper direction and, by treating prisoners of war leniently, lead the Japanese soldiers to see the anti-popular character of the aggression committed by the Japanese rulers. (177)

  • 25.

    Human Rights Watch, Sowing Terror: Atrocities against Civilians in Sierra Leone 10, no. 3 (July 1998); Mark Doyle, “Sierra Leone: Rebels Profit from Terror Tactics,” Guardian, July 9, 1999.

  • 26.

    Cited at (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 27.

    I documented some of these abuses in a BBC documentary, Getting Away with Murder (BBC 2 Television Correspondent Series, 1999).

  • 28.

    “Further Submissions and Responses by the ANC to Questions Raised by the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation” (May 12, 1997), at (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 29.

    Freymond and Hentsch, On Mediating Violence.

  • 30.

    Human Rights Watch, The Sri Lankan Conflict and Standards of Humanitarian Law (April 1992), http://www.hrw.Org/reports/pdfs/S/SRTLANKA/SRILANKA924.PDF (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 31.

    Physicians for Human Rights, Endless Brutality: Ongoing Human Rights Violations in Chechnya (January 23, 2001), (accessed December 4, 2003). Amnesty International, Russian Federation: Human Rights Report (January 2002),!Open (accessed December 4, 2003). Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper to the Fifty-ninth Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Chechnya (April 7, 2003), (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 32.

    Somini Sengupta, “Terror Persists as Congolese Await UN Force,” New York Times, June 4, 2003. Lynne Duke, “Whispers of Genocide, and Again, Africa Suffers Alone,” Washington Post, June 29, 2003.

  • 33.

    ABC/PBS Interview with Osama bin Laden, May 1998; Osama bin Laden's October 7, 2001, statement; Mohamed Atta's “Suicide Note,” published September 29, 2001, (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 34.

    Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” 343–61.

  • 35.

    UNDP, Arab Human Development Report, 2003: “Building a Knowledge Society” (New York: UNDP, Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2003); UNDP, Arab Human Development Report, 2002: “Creating Opportunities for Future Generations” (New York: UNDP, Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2003).

  • 36.

    George Bush, “President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and the Middle East” (Speech at the Twentieth Anniversary of the National Endowment of Democracy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., November 6, 2003).

  • 37.

    Noah Feldman, After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003); Noah Feldman, “A New Democracy: Enshrined in Faith,” New York Times, November 13, 2003.

  • 38.

    Paddy Woodworm, Dirty War, Clean Hands: ETA, the GAL and Spanish Democracy (Cork: Cork University Press, 2001).

  • 39.

    Laura K. Donohue, Counter-Terrorist Law and Emergency Powers in the United Kingdom, 1922–2000 (Dublin: Irish Academy Press, 2001); R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600–1972 (New York: Viking Penguin, 1988).

  • 40.

    Neelan Tiruchelvam, 1944–1999: Sri Lankan Visionary and World Citizen: Selected Tributes (Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2000).

  • 41.

    Michael Rubner, “The Oslo Peace Process through Three Lenses,” Middle East Policy 6, no. 2 (October 1998).

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    Human Rights Watch, Human Rights and Algeria's Presidential Elections (April 1999),—0499.htm (accessed December 4, 2003). James Ciment, Algeria: The Fundamentalist Challenge (New York: Facts on File, 1997), 169–97.

  • 43.

    J. Bowyer Bell, Terror Out of Zion: Irgun Zvai Leumi, LEHI, and the Palestinian Underground, 1929–1949 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977), 169–73.

  • 44.

    Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 272–81, 337: “As the French and Belgians had repeated to each other on the highways of their exodus, stories of German soldiers raping nuns and slaughtering children, so the Arabs nourished theirs with the images of the atrocities of Deir Yassin.”

  • 45.

    Caleb Carr, The Lessons of Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), 213–15; Michael Ignatieff, “Barbarians at the Gate,” New York Times Book Review, February 17, 2002.

  • 46.

    International Crisis Group, Islamic Social Welfare Activism in the Palestinian Territories: A Legitimate Target?(April 2, 2003),—02apr.pdf (accessed December 4, 2003). Neil MacFarquhar, “To U.S., a Terrorist Group, to Lebanese, a Social Agency,” New York Times, December 28, 2001.

  • 47.

    “Court Move for Total Batasuna Ban,” CNN, September 4, 2002; “Basque Party to Fight Ban,” BBC News, August 29, 2002; “Police Storm Basque Separatists' Headquarters,” Guardian, August 28, 2002;“Bill Bans ETA Political Wing,” Agence France Press, June 26, 2002. See also Council of Europe, Political Affairs Committee, Doc. 9526, “Restrictions on Political Parties in the Council of Europe Member States” (July 17, 2002), (accessed December 4, 2003). See also Anthony Richards, “Terrorist Groups and Political Fronts: The IRA, Sinn Fein, the Peace Process and Democracy,” Terrorism and Political Violence 13, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 72–89; John Finn, “Electoral Regimes and the Proscription of Anti-Democratic Parries,” Terrorism and Political Violence 12, nos. 3–4 (Autumn/Winter 2000): 51–77.

  • 48.

    Finn, “Electoral Regimes and the Proscription of Anti-Democratic Parties”; Council of Europe, “Restrictions on Political Parties”; European Court of Human Rights Judgments on Case of Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) and Others v. Turkey (July 31, 2001, and February 13, 2003), HUDOC reference number REF00002693,, and HUDOC reference number REF00004090, (both accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 49.

    Letters from the Quebec Authorities requesting the Implementation of the War Measures Act (October 15–16, 1971): Letter from Robert Bourassa, premier of Quebec, Letter from Jean Drapeau, mayor of Montreal, and Lucien Saulnier, chairman of the Executive Committee of the City of Montreal, Letter from M. St. Pierre, director of the police of Montreal, all found at (accessed December 4, 2003); Robert Bourassa, Les Années Bourassa (Montreal: Éditions Héritage, 1977), chap. 1.

  • 50.

    European Court of Human Rights Ireland v. United Kingdom (1978), 2 EHRR 25.

  • 51.

    Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, “Stevens Enquiry” (April 17, 2003), (accessed December 4, 2003).

  • 52.

    Israeli Supreme Court Judgment on the Interrogation Methods applied by the GSS, September 6, 1999; Israeli Supreme Court Judgment Regarding “Assigned Residence” (HCJ 7015/02; 7019/02); Israeli Supreme Court Judgment Regarding Use of Civilians as Human Shields (HCJ 2941/02); Israeli Supreme Court Judgment Regarding Civilian Targets in West Bank Region (HCJ 3022/02); Israeli Supreme Court Judgment Regarding the Detention Condition in “Kzoit’ Camp (HCJ 5591/02); Israeli Supreme Court Judgment Regarding Operation Defensive Shield (HCJ 3116/02); Israeli Supreme Court Judgment Regarding Destruction of Houses (HCJ 2977/02). Specific weblinks to the judgments are: HCJ 7019/02–; HCJ 3022/02–; HCJ 5591/02––02_eng.pdf; HCJ 3116/02–; HCJ 2977/02– (all accessed December 4, 2003).