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The War on Terrorism: its Moral Justification and Limits

Peter Simpson

The Evil of Terrorism

The first thing to say about terrorism, and to say with all the firmness that one can command, is that it is an evil, a heinous crime, an attack on civilized life and on peace. I say this because there has been a tendency in some parts of the media and among some commentators, including not a few philosophers, to excuse the terrorists who attacked the US on September 11th on the grounds that the US brought these attacks on itself by its own foreign policy, and in particular by its policy in the Middle East. But however plausible these claims may be (a point I shall return to), we should not let them blind us to clear and manifest truths. We must state the truth and state it clearly and without hesitation. The attacks on the US were evil deeds and those who planned and carried them out were evil men. So much is elementary. To doubt this, as some who ought to know better have done, is to betray a certain confusion if not corruption of mind. Surely we all know, surely we have all known from our earliest youth, that two wrongs do not make a right. Let it be, if you will, that the terrorists had grievances, even legitimate grievances, against the US. These grievances could never justify their deeds. An evil deed can never be justified. An evil deed is precisely that, an evil deed. No grievance or pretext, however strong, can ever make it not to be an evil deed. Mr. Bin Laden, however, who if not behind the attacks on September 11th certainly applauds them, is able to give no other excuse for them than random accusations against US policy. But Mr. Bin Laden clearly has a corrupt mind. We should not expect better from him.

            I do not mean by these remarks that we should pay no attention to the grievances alleged by Mr. Bin Laden and others. Nor do I mean that, because the evil of their deeds is so obvious, we should not discuss or explain the evil or say in what it consists. On the contrary we should do both, and I will endeavor to do both in what follows. What I mean is that, whatever else we say or discuss, at no point should we say, or allow others to say without challenge, that terrorists attacks are not evil. Their evil is the first and most undeniable fact about them. If we are to have any hope of understanding the phenomenon of terrorism or of how to deal with it, we must all start there. It is the beginning of wisdom. Thankfully, this is not a point on which our political leaders have any doubt. For them it is as clear as day that terrorism is an evil and an evil of great wickedness. Commentators in the media and some philosophers may hesitate and even doubt. But our leaders at least have not lost their grip on such basic common sense. As evidence I can do no better in the present context than quote the words of the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations: “Terrorism, which endangers innocent lives, causes losses of social wealth and jeopardizes state security, constitutes a serious challenge to human civilization and dignity as well as a serious threat to international peace and security” (China Daily, Friday, October 5, 2001).

But grasping this truth, vital though it be, is only the beginning. We must, for the sake of clarity of understanding, carry our reflections further. The first step to take in this regard would seem to be to lay down some basic definition of terrorism so that we know in universal terms, and not just with reference to particular and manifest cases, what it is we are talking about. One problem, however, that arises here and that has, I think, caused no little confusion, is what has been called state terrorism. Those who use this term typically have in mind acts of violence used by governments and government forces against parts of their own people or against other peoples. The attacks by Israeli forces, for instance, against segments of the Palestinian population have sometimes been described as state terrorism, and so have some of the actions of the US in Central and South America. Indeed the Taliban have themselves described the recent US and British attacks on terrorist camps and government buildings in Afghanistan as acts of terrorism.

            I will not comment at present on the justice or injustice of any of these attacks. I will only say that, if one wishes to condemn them as wrong, understanding is ill served by using the word terrorism to do so. We have other words to describe the unjust assaults of governments, among which are tyranny, despotism, imperialist aggression, police brutality, and the like. Terrorism, however, at least in its primary and typical use (and certainly in its use in the phrase “the war on terrorism”), refers to acts of private individuals or groups of private individuals and not to governments, even if these individuals receive support and succor from governments. I think we should also distinguish terrorism in this its primary sense from the acts, often destructive and sometimes wicked too, of rebels and revolutionaries against existing governments and peoples. By rebels and revolutionaries we mean typically people who belong to the country whose government they are attacking and whose aim is to overthrow that government and to replace it with another. As such rebels and revolutionaries are not so much a grouping of private individuals as a rival government in waiting. But terrorists as typically understood are not a rival government nor are they seeking to overthrow the existing government, even if they would not be sorry if that happened. The terrorists who attacked the US on September 11th, for instance, were not Americans seeking to overthrow the US government and replace it with another one.

            There is something else also that needs to be noted about terrorism if we are to be clear about what it is. For the violence of terrorists is typically directed at civilians and civilian institutions, albeit civilians of the country against which the terrorists have a grievance, and is and is meant to be indiscriminate. It is from this feature, indeed, that terrorism gets its name. For such indiscriminate and violent acts are designed to cause terror among the people at large, and it is by means of such terror that terrorists seek to attain their goals and force the hand of governments. Such indiscriminate violence can also be a feature of the acts of certain government officials and of certain rebel groups. Members of the police force in some parts of the world engage in random acts of violence against the civilian population as part of a policy of terrorizing the people into subservience. I think in particular of Guatemala. Again, some rebel groups, devoted to overthrowing the existing government, may also engage in similar acts of random violence against the civilian population. I think here of the Basque group ETA and the IRA. Such groups have also, of course, engaged in attacks on military installations and personnel, including assassination. I would nevertheless want to call these acts of police force and rebels acts of terrorism. The members of police forces who engage in random acts of violence are doing so clandestinely and when off duty, as it were, even if with the connivance and encouragement of their superiors. Were they to do so openly and in their capacity as police officers I would say their acts were acts of tyranny and government oppression. Again, in the case of ETA and the IRA, I would say that their attacks on military installations and government agencies could be acts of rebellion (though they need not be) while their attacks on civilians would have to be acts of terrorism. This is because attacks on civilians cannot be construed as attacks on the existing government so as to overthrow it, and hence cannot be construed as attacks by a would-be rival government in its capacity as a would-be rival government. They can only be construed as attacks by certain persons, who may indeed belong to a group that wishes to overthrow the government, but who in this case are operating as individuals to sow terror among the population at large. And I would say the same was true of attacks on military personnel if the aim here too was to sow terror and was not part of an act of defense against or an attack on an armed force that was hostile and threatening (so the attack on the USS Cole, for instance, would be terrorism and not rebellion).

            But perhaps I need not insist on all these distinctions for my present purposes. Let it be sufficient then if we characterize terrorism as acts of violence committed by private individuals or groups of individuals, having no political authority or pretense of political authority, and directed indiscriminately against civilian or at least non-hostile populations and institutions so as to spread fear and terror there in order to achieve some limited goal short of the immediate overthrow of the existing government. This definition may need some further clarification and correction, but I think we are more likely, with its help, to get a clearer grasp of the phenomenon of terrorism as we ordinarily speak of terrorism, and certainly as we are speaking of terrorism in the present context of the war on terrorism. [Other phenomena, which may be close to it but are not really part of it, such as what is called state terrorism, can thus be set aside—not indeed so as to be ignored, but so as to be dealt with more clearly in their own place and in their own terms.]

            At all events, with this definition of terrorism, we can see at once why terrorism is and must be evil and unjust. Note first that the evil and injustice of terrorism is not part of the definition of terrorism. I have not defined terrorism as unjust or evil acts of violence. I have defined it by reference to certain acts of violence, to be sure, but without mention of good or bad. The injustice of terrorism does, nevertheless, immediately follow from this definition when we add to it the further proposition that deliberate and intentional attacks on the innocent are unjust. That it is unjust to attack the innocent is something of a self-evident proposition. Justice is fundamentally a matter of giving each their due, but the deliberate infliction of harm or injury is not due to the innocent who, precisely as innocent, are owed peace and protection, not violence. That civilian populations and also non-hostile military personnel, who are the objects of terrorist attacks, are innocent in this sense is also obvious. This is not to say that all those who suffer in terrorist attacks are innocent of every crime whatever. Some might indeed happen to be criminals. But it is to say that they are innocent in the precise respect in which they are attacked. For they are attacked simply in their capacity as civilians or non-hostile military going about their ordinary tasks (a warship in a friendly port, for instance, is not a hostile presence about to inflict death or injury). Such tasks are not attacks or threats against anyone, least of all against the terrorists. They cannot, taken precisely as such, be construed as in any way deserving of attack or injury or death. They are innocent tasks. But it is against people engaged in such innocent tasks that terrorists launch their attacks. Terrorist attacks are therefore attacks on innocents and so cannot be anything but evil and unjust.

            It matters not here what grievances the terrorists may have or what accusations they level against those countries whose people they attack. An evil deed is an evil deed and nothing can make it to be a good deed. Not even religion, not even the Muslim religion, can make it to be a good deed. Those who say it can, or who claim the support of Islam for their terrorist attacks (as we know from private letters that the hijackers did on September 11th), are simply abusing religion and Islam. Do not take my argument alone for this. Take rather the words of one of the Taliban themselves, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who said of the attack on the US: “This action is terrorist action. We know this was not Islamic and was a very dangerous action, and we condemn that” (China Daily, Thursday, October 4, 2001). Mr. Bin Laden has, of course, said the exact opposite. He has praised the attacks on the US and on civilians, and said that Islam expressly requires Muslims to engage in such attacks. But if even the Taliban deny that this is what Islam teaches, one wonders what sort of Islam Mr. Bin Laden is following or whether he is really following Islam at all rather than his own corrupt inventions. At all events decent Muslims have good reason to repudiate, and to repudiate openly and loudly, the Islam preached by Mr. Bin Laden. We can be grateful, therefore, to those Islamic countries that have done so, among whom Saudi Arabia should be mentioned. Saudi Arabia severed relations with the Taliban on the grounds that the Taliban had brought Islam into disrepute which, with their support for Mr. Bin Laden, must, even by the Taliban’s own admission, be true.


Responding to the Evil of Terrorism

Terrorism then is an evil, and an evil of a particularly vicious kind which constitutes, as the Chinese permanent representative to the UN said, “a serious challenge to human civilization and dignity as well as a serious threat to international peace and security.” Those countries, therefore, which love peace and care for the good of mankind must do something to rid the world of this evil. Not to do so would be a dereliction of duty. It is everyone’s duty to do good (pursuing good and avoiding evil is an elementary injunction of reason), and among the good things to be done is the removal of evils, especially grave evils—to the extent, at any rate, that this is possible. Here, however, we must be careful, for in opposing evil it is all too easy to fall into evil oneself. We are all doubtless aware, even from our youth, of how easy it is, when someone has injured or insulted us, to respond with hatred and fury and to inflict, or try to inflict, worse injury than we first suffered. We may in this way satisfy our lust for revenge but we do not in this way remove evil or make the world a better place. On the contrary we simply add to the evil in the world, for we add our own evil to the evil of the other. One cannot defeat evil with evil. That is simply contradictory. To use evil against evil is not to defeat evil but to be defeated by it and to become evil, or even more evil, in one’s own turn. This is a truth that Mr. Bin Laden has altogether failed to grasp. But we, who profess to be opposing Mr. Bin Laden and his ilk, must not sink to his level. We must not become terrorists and mass murderers ourselves. For we cannot on the one hand condemn terrorism and set out to destroy it, while on the other hand commit acts of terrorism of our own. As I have already said, two wrongs do not make a right and evil cannot be defeated by evil. Only right can make a right, and only good can defeat evil.

            Now it is a striking fact that in all the build-up to the war on terrorism, beginning from President Bush’s first declaration immediately after September 11th, there have been repeated and persistent declarations from all sides that the war should be conducted with great prudence and caution, that it should only target the guilty, that it should not result in collateral damage or as little such damage as possible, and so forth. These declarations came first from the American Government itself. They were then repeated by almost all countries round the world, whether friendly or hostile to the US. The hostile countries, among which we should particularly mention Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, made these declarations with a certain indignation and even with fear (springing, perhaps, from secret guilt). But it is a tribute to the US that they made these declarations at all. The declarations were an admission that it made sense to appeal to justice when talking to the US; that one could reasonably expect the US to be sensitive to the claims of justice when deciding what to do; that one had some hope, indeed, of getting the US to change its mind if its policies could be shown not to accord with justice. I do not mean to imply by this that the US always acts with justice, that none of its policies has been unjust, or that none of its officers has behaved unjustly. That would be too much to expect of any country or government. We are human, all too human. We make mistakes, sometimes deliberately. We regret only after the event and not before. But at least we can regret; at least we can acknowledge the claims of justice against us; at least we can be restrained by appeals to what is good. Certainly the world, including the Taliban, think that is true of the US, for otherwise why make appeals to justice?

But consider the contrast here. Has the world thought it worth appealing to justice with the Taliban or with Mr. Bin Laden? Has the world beaten a path to Mr. Bin Laden’s door appealing to him to follow justice and prudence in his decisions of who and what to attack? Has the world appealed to him, in the name of justice, to give himself up to a court of law to prove his innocence or to admit his guilt? Some appeal was indeed made to the Taliban in the name of justice to hand Mr. Bin Laden over, but we know how little regard they paid to that appeal. Again, to change focus slightly, has anyone appealed to Mr. Saddam Hussein in the name of justice to stop the tyranny and oppression of his people, to abide by UN resolutions, to apologize and make reparation for his aggression against Iran and Kuwait? To my knowledge this has not happened, at least not on the same scale as appeals to justice have been made in the case of the US and the war on terrorism. But why the difference? Surely because no one believes that Mr. Bin Laden, the Taliban, Mr. Saddam Hussein have a sufficient sense of justice to make such appeals worthwhile. We have all learned that these people are too far gone in evil to be sensitive to the principles of good. Only force could bring home to them the error of their ways and there is no guarantee of success even then. Let us, therefore, give tribute and blame where tribute and blame are due: tribute to the US because we all see that the US has not lost its sensitivity to justice, blame to Mr. Bin Laden and the Taliban and Mr. Saddam Hussein because we all see that they have.

Let it be agreed then that we must resist evil and resist it with good. Our particular question, however, concerns the evil of terrorism and how to resist it with good. The short answer is that we should resist it with all the good at our command. In all our actions, in all our lives, we should be doing the most good we can and encouraging our neighbors to do the same. For the evil of terrorism springs from many sources, and in particular it springs from the injustices, real or apparent, committed by others against what the terrorists hold dear. Such injustices give no excuse, of course, to the evil deeds of terrorists as I have already several times remarked, but if we can, each in our own way and in our own place, reduce the injustice around us, we will be doing our part to reduce the emergence of more terrorists in the future, as well as making the world a better place in general. But such an answer, while vital and in need of frequent repetition, is not enough. Our concern is the more specific question of whether force, in particular the force of war, is a just response to terrorism. If it is not we ought not to engage in it; but if it is we need to know what sort of force, under what conditions, subject to what limits, and so forth.

The first thing to note here is that force is a neutral term. It does not by itself connote something either good or bad. The same is true, for instance, of tolerance. That too connotes something neither good nor bad in itself. Everything depends on what is tolerated and why. Tolerating the murder of infants would clearly be bad; tolerating the expression of different opinions in the course of philosophical debate would clearly be good. That is why those who praise tolerance as a virtue are speaking too simply. Tolerance as such is not a virtue, nor is intolerance as such a vice. We need to know tolerance or intolerance of what, by whom, when, how. That is also why those who condemn force as a vice, such as pacifists, are speaking too simply as well. Is all use of force always and everywhere wrong? Is the force used by parents to discipline children wrong? Is the force used by police forces to arrest criminals wrong? Is the force used to defend oneself against attackers wrong? It seems patent that to answer yes to all these questions is absurd. Some uses of force are clearly right and just. The only interesting question to ask is which uses are so.

Since force is in itself neutral, it can only be just or unjust according to the way it is used, that is say for what goals or ends, in what amount or kind, against and by whom, when and where, with what likely consequences, and so forth. Of these several features, the goal or end of force would seem to be the first and most important. No amount of force, used by anyone on any occasion, could be just if the end aimed at were not just. So what are the just aims for which force may be used? Well ultimately, since we are talking of the use of force by men against men, the goals must be the good of men. Only if force has as its goal the promotion of the human good could it be good. The human good is clearly a complex whole consisting of many parts, from material and physical goods, to external goods, to cultural, educational, and spiritual goods. There is no need to spell these out in detail or explain their connections and relative subordination to each other. It is enough to note them in their general outline. For our concern is less about what the human good is than about what uses of force are justified with relation to it. In particular, since the war on terrorism is directed against resisting an evil, the evil of attacks on innocent life and limb, on habitations and property, on economic and social structures, the question is what determines the legitimate use of force in resistance to evil.

The operative idea here is clearly that of self-defense. Since the human good is the object of pursuit, whatever attacks that good or hinders that pursuit may be resisted and repulsed sufficiently to make the pursuit of the good possible again. Suppose, however, that force is the only, or only reasonable, way to preserve and promote the good. Are we justified in having recourse to it? The answer would seem to be an unambiguous yes in the case of ordinary criminals who threaten us from within our own communities. One could hardly conceive of a community, at least a decent community, that did not protect itself and its members, using force if need be, against such criminal activities. Since such activities serve to undermine any community and threaten its viability, and the more so the more they are left to grow unchecked, a community that does not undertake to defend itself against them has, to all intents and purposes, given up the desire to survive as a community at all. By parity of reasoning, the same should hold in the case of enemies and terrorists who attack the community from without and in more violent and destructive ways. In other words, the justification for armies and wars is of the same sort as the justification for policemen and prisons.

There is, however, a paradox here, a paradox that lends considerable support to the case of pacifists. For any use of force seems always to be an attack on the good as well as a defense of it. Policemen have sometimes lost their lives in the attempt to arrest criminals by force and their families and friends have suffered all the grief of bereavement as a result. If such harm arises in these cases, how much more does it do so in time of war? Not only are more people maimed and killed in war (and in more awful ways), and more families tortured with grief, but the potential loss of civilian life, the destruction of property, the suspension of peacetime activities, the disruption of the economy and so forth make the damage to the human good so great as to render war unacceptable.

This paradox admits of an answer and an answer that points to the true place of force in human affairs, namely that it is a last resort, to be undertaken reluctantly and only because no other reasonable course of action is available. A situation where force is necessary is something regrettable, which one would avoid if possible, because it is a situation where one is unable to preserve all the goods one would wish to preserve. Some have to be sacrificed for the sake of others more important. That it is right to sacrifice some goods for the sake of others when harsh fate compels such a choice would be conceded by most of us, because it is conceded by most of us in many other cases besides war and the use of force. We consider it right to amputate a diseased limb to save the whole body or to cast overboard precious cargo to save the ship from sinking. One must look at the war on terrorism in the same way. Regrettable though it is, it is yet the only sensible way forward in some circumstances.

Force, then, is necessary for the pursuit of the good, but only as a last resort and only as long as force is necessary. As soon as it becomes possible to pursue the good again without recourse to the use of force we should do so. Now it is clear that in the case of the current war against terrorism the US and its allies are following the logic of this argument. Before any force was used as many appeals were made as possible and through as many channels as possible to get the Taliban to give up the terrorists within their midst and to close down the camps where these terrorists trained. The Taliban have refused and since the terrorists have also refused to give themselves up voluntarily both groups have effectively declared themselves at war with the civilized world. For any part of the civilized world is a potential object of their attacks. The civilized world, therefore, has been driven by them into the last resort of using force against them.

A clarification is needed at this point, however, because of certain confusions that have appeared in the media. The use of force is sanctioned under the idea of self-defense. It is because the pursuit of the good requires us to defend ourselves against attack that we are permitted, in extreme cases and as a last resort, to use force. But acts of self-defense, even acts that are themselves attacks on offending countries, are not as such acts of retaliation or revenge (contrary to what some of the media have implied). In fact, self-defense cannot and does not justify retaliation or revenge. It justifies only self-defense. Once sufficient force has been used to secure such defense there can be no justification for further use of force. To continue force beyond that point would be to engage in unjust aggression oneself and so to become guilty of  the injustice that one was condemning in one’s enemy. As has been said before, one cannot defeat evil with evil. Retaliation and revenge, however, clearly go beyond the requirements of self-defense and even if, in a given case, they do not, they cannot be justified by appeal to the human good. Retaliation and revenge are the infliction on another of suffering and loss because he has first inflicted suffering and loss on us. Such retaliation and revenge may simply consist in making the other suffer as much as he made us suffer, but more often than not the lust for revenge makes us inflict more suffering than we suffered. But how does the infliction of such suffering help us to defend ourselves against attack or help us to continue the pursuit of the good without fear and in peace? Take the concrete case of the attacks on New York. Over 6,000 people were killed in those attacks and billions of dollars worth of damage was caused. Are we to continue attacks on terrorists in Afghanistan until we have killed over 6,000 of them and until we have inflicted on them billions of dollars worth of damage? The very thought is ridiculous. Apart from the fact that there are probably not 6,000 terrorists in Afghanistan and that the country is too desperately poor to have assets totaling billions of dollars, the idea that inflicting such damage is the only way to defend ourselves against terrorist attacks only needs to be stated to be dismissed.

No, the war on terrorism cannot be about revenge; it is about self-defense. This point has been made very clear by the US and allied governments, and indeed by civilized governments all over the world, including China. Indeed the way the war is being talked about, the way everyone has insisted that only the guilty be pursued and only those countries that support them attacked, that collateral damage be kept to an absolute minimum, all demonstrate this fact. Of course, we must all remain vigilant that this goal is not in any way perverted. But such vigilance has been made all the easier by the fact that the US and its allies have tried to get the whole civilized world behind the war on terrorism. We may be sure that many countries will be watching the war with care and will not be slow to protest if it oversteps its stated limits. At the present time Pakistan is clearly exercising such vigilance and we can be fairly confident that the concerns of Pakistan are being carefully listened to and that they are having their effect on the conduct of attacks on Afghanistan. If the attacks have to be extended further afield we can be equally sure that other countries will exercise similar vigilance.

This vigilance must concern not only the aim of the war—defense against terrorist attacks—but the means used to achieve it and their likely effects. For clearly the means must be measured by the goal and must not exceed it. Once defense has been secured, say by destruction of terrorist training camps and safe havens, and once the power of the Taliban in particular to support and foster terrorism has been destroyed, there is no need to continue the attacks. Any such continuation would not fall under the needs of defense but under revenge or retaliation or something of the sort and so would clearly be unjust. Further, if the attacks, despite not fully achieving their aim, start becoming counterproductive and cause more damage, especially collateral damage, than they are meant to cure, then they should cease. The war is justified by self defense which is justified by the human good. But if the war starts causing more damage to that good than it could possibly remove, it has itself become an attack on the good and not a defense of it.

So much should, I think, be sufficient to show the basic justice of the war on terrorism and what its goals are and what its limits should be. There remains only the question of whether and to what extent the US may have brought terrorist attacks on itself by its own misguided policies. The policies in question, if we go by the remarks of Mr. Bin Laden himself, are the keeping of US troops in Saudi Arabia and US support for Israel. As regards the former, one can hardly see what the problem is, especially since US forces are there at the invitation and pleasure of the Saudis. If Mr. Bin Laden wants the US forces gone then he only has to persuade the Saudis to withdraw the invitation. Why has he not done that or why has he not taken his complaint, and his terrorism, to Saudi Arabia? Actually Mr. Bin Laden wants the US forces gone because they are infidels in the land of the Prophet. But why do the Saudis, who are the protectors of that land and of the holy places of Islam, not agree with him? Is Mr. Bin Laden the only true interpreter of what is and is not tolerable to Islam? Must all Muslims bow to Mr. Bin Laden’s authority or else face his terrorist wrath? It is beginning to look as if Mr. Bin Laden is more your typical tyrant than your typical Muslim. At all events we may dismiss this complaint of his as frivolous. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia is not unjust and not un-Islamic, whatever Mr. Bin Laden may say.

As regards the other complaint, US support of Israel, it is again difficult to see what the problem is. That Israel has the right to exist, and therefore also the right of self-defense, is conceded by the whole civilized world, including the Arab world, and is expressly guaranteed by UN resolutions. Even the Palestinians under Mr. Arafat concede this. Now some Arabs of course do not concede it, including the terrorist organization Hamas and including Mr. Bin Laden. But then Mr. Bin Laden has set himself, not only against the whole civilized world, but against the whole Arab world. Must the Arab world again bow down to him and follow only his judgment about what Muslims should believe and do about the state of Israel? Is Mr. Bin Laden the new prophet, the new voice of God?

We may dismiss this complaint then as frivolous too. US support for the existence and defense of the state of Israel is only what the whole civilized world concedes. We may, however, raise another point which no doubt lies behind Mr. Bin Laden’s anger as it also lies behind the worries of many Arabs and Arab states. I mean, not the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, but the particular acts that Israel carries out in the name of self-defense. I have in mind the periodic incursions of Israeli military into Palestinian areas, the destruction of property, the resulting deaths of Palestinian protesters, the targeted killings, or assassinations, of specific individuals. The first thing to note here is that the US has itself been at the forefront of those criticizing and condemning Israel for these kinds of attacks. Israel certainly has the right to defend itself, particularly against the frequent terrorist attacks within Israeli territory, but not the right to go beyond that. I am inclined to think, in fact, that Israel has fallen into the error of confusing retaliation with self-defense. As I said earlier, the two are not the same and the second does not justify the first. Yet Israel typically describes its incursions into Palestinian areas as reprisals and these incursions also typically come after some terrorist attack. Such incursions cannot be justified, or they cannot be justified like this. They, or some of them, could, however, be justified as acts of self-defense, but only if they take that form. For instance, the terrorist attacks on Israel are planned and carried out by terrorist groups, such as Hamas, that deny the right of Israel to exist. They do not come from the PLO, the organization headed by Mr. Arafat. What Israel may legitimately do, therefore, is to go after Hamas, arrest their personnel and destroy their training camps and weapons (not unlike, indeed, what the US is trying to do in Afghanistan). This might require incursions into Palestinian territory of a greater nature than Israel currently undertakes for acts of reprisal. Moreover such acts could be done in concert with the PLO. Indeed the PLO is itself partly to blame here. It should be their responsibility to suppress terrorism within their territory, as Israel has often and legitimately complained. But the PLO are seemingly incapable of doing so. Since the PLO agree that Israel has a right to exist, that Hamas and similar organizations are wrong and engaged in acts of terrorism, why do they not call upon Israeli help to rid Palestine of such people? Israeli fire power and PLO intelligence should together be enough to do the job. Palestine is not a big place. There are not many places for terrorists to hide.

Well, that is one suggestion. Perhaps it is a good one, perhaps it is not. I do not know enough, I’m afraid, to be able to judge. But what I can and will say is that the US cannot in any sense be blamed for its policy in the Middle East. The US is upholding, in a way that few other countries have been willing to do, the basic right of Israel to exist. That is an important, necessary, and fundamentally just act. The US has nevertheless recognized the right of the Palestinians to a homeland and to a peaceful homeland. Indeed the US has recently recognized the desirability of there being an independent Palestinian state. The US has also condemned many Israeli acts of reprisal, particularly the targeted killings or assassinations. Moreover the US has tried time out of number to broker a workable peace in Israel. The Camp David accords, which secured the basic peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, go back to the presidency of Jimmy Carter in the late 70s. Every president since has tried to build on those accords and bring final peace to a troubled land. That success has still not been reached cannot, I think, be put down to lack of will on the part of the US. I don’t think, therefore, that US policy in the Middle East can be blamed in any fundamental way. Perhaps mistakes have been made, but if so they are the mistakes to which human nature is only too prone. They do not spring from malice, or hatred of Islam, or indifference to Palestinian rights. In short, a fair minded assessment of US policy cannot, I think, accuse it of being a cause of terrorist attacks. Terrorists may allege US policy as a cause but then it is they who are at fault for having an unjust approach to the Israeli question in the first place. They want Israel to cease to exist and that can in no way be conceded to them, as the whole civilized world, including the Arab world, agrees.

In short, whatever were the motives that drove the terrorists to their attacks on the US, the blame cannot be put on the US. The terrorists and they alone must bear the responsibility for their deeds.