Guardian readers’ editor defends decision to publish letter justifying suicide bombing

Chris Elliott, the Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, responded today to criticism that his paper chose to publish a letter from “eminent” philosopher Ted Honderich defending Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.  As we noted, here, Honderich’s apologia for suicide bombing was quite explicit.  He said:

Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine [presumably the West Bank and sections of Jerusalem]…Terrorism as in this case can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.” [emphasis mine]

Elliot notes that he received a complaint – echoing our argument – that “this letter the Guardian [published] is inciting antisemitism, violence against civilians … endorses terror and calls for the murder of Jews.”

Then, Elliott says:

“It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others…”

Now watch this transition:

[However] It seems to me legitimate to debate…he is not advocating suicide bombing, he is questioning how it is regarded by most people in the west, and how it might be seen as something other than terrorism by people in other places and circumstances.  It is a legitimate area of discussion.

But, no matter how Elliott parses it, Honderich’s commentary wasn’t some abstract philosophical meditation published in a scholarly journal, it was a specific reply asserting the moral significance of the Palestine Papers.  Indeed, let’s look at how he begins his letter:

The revelations in detail [Guardian’s Jan. 25 piece on the Palestine Papers] of the intransigent greed, the escape from decency, of Israeli governments…serve one purpose….They provide an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition [the Palestinian moral right to terrorism]. [emphasis mine]

In other words, what Honderich has learned from the Guardian’s Palestine Papers is that Israel is such a morally indecent country that Palestinians now clearly have the moral right to murder Israeli men, women, and children.

No matter how much sophistry or rhetorical acuity Elliott attempts to employ, there’s simply no denying the obvious.

Seven years after Israel finally succeeded in ending a bloody intifada which claimed the lives of over 1100 Israelis – and left thousands more injured and permanently disabled – the Guardian published a letter morally sanctioning its return.

It needs to be remembered that evil acts throughout history have never occurred in a political vacuum.  The most violent and reactionary movements have always been nurtured by intellectual justifications for their extremism.

It is in this context that Ted Honderich’s apologia for the murder of innocent Israelis – published by the Guardian – must be seen.

If Mr. Elliott and his colleagues at the Guardian have a hard time understanding the real-world consequences of terrorist attacks in Israel, here are the names of those Israelis killed since 2000.  If he chooses to, Elliott can open the link below to see a photo and a brief bio of these very real citizens whose lives were extinguished by the extremism which intellectuals like Honderich nurtures.

Victims of Palestinian Terrorism in Israel Since 2000

14 replies »

  1. The agony of the survivors of sucide bombings

    In the event of a future attack in Britain, I wonder if Chris Elliott will be able to treat suicide bombings with such sang-froid if he discovers that many of the body parts he has just seen on the evening news in fact belong to members of his immediate family.

  2. “he is not advocating suicide bombing, he is questioning how it is regarded by most people in the west, and how it might be seen as something other than terrorism by people in other places and circumstances.”

    Very well then. My position that the future Jewish Republic of Israel is to clamp down on anti-Zionist outlets (at home first, and then abroad) might be seen as something other than censorship by people in other places and circumstances. It might be seen as legitimate self-defense, can it not?

    Sauce for the goose, dose of their own medicine, etc., etc.

  3. Well, now here’s a surprise. I have just received a reply from the PCC. However, it was not quite what I wished for. Below is the main excerpt from their email:

    Thank you for your email.

    I understand your concerns, but incitement to violence or murder would not be a matter for the PCC to consider, but rather the police. The Code does not attempt to replicate the law, but rather to operate within it.

    If you have concerns in this regard you should contact the police. If you would like the Commission to consider the matter under the Code, please let us know which Clause you consider to have been breached.

    A copy of the Code of Practice which all newspapers and magazines who subscribe adhere to, can be accessed using this web link:

    Does anyone in the UK want to make a complaint to the police? Is there any point?

  4. Palestinians – and their Arab masters – have a moral right not to terrorism but to make peace with their neighbour.

    The Palestinians would gain, the Israelis would gain.

    Who would lose out would be the Arab and Iranian masters.

    Oh, and the Guardian, which would have to find someone else to love to hate.

  5. Oh, and the Guardian, which would have to find someone else to love to hate.

    No way. As we all saw in the last week editorial the Guardian would continue to hate Israel just adding to the blacklist the Palestinain leaders who made peace.

  6. @anneinpt,

    Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to file your complaint with the PCC. As far as filing a complaint with the police, is anyone following this thread familiar with the UK’s laws regarding incitement?

  7. I am at least as repulsed by Honderich as anybody. Maybe more so! But this is a waste of time. By “moral right”, Honderich does NOT mean “a right under international law”. Nor does he mean “a right that ought to be exercised”. He is not advocating anything. In his self-absorbed way, he’s just saying — as usual — that his philosophical argument was right all along, notwithstanding what everybody else thought about it. He’s referring to his theis that (1), under certain circumstances, there is an argument from Honderich’s beloved Principle of Humanity to the conclusion that terrorism is morally justified, and (2), those circumstances apply in the case of the Palestinians. In other words, Honderich is speaking as a philosopher, not as a political advocate.

    Like it or not, it’s part of a philosopher’s job to explore arguments, including arguments whose conclusions many find repugnant. If you file a complaint with the police in an attempt to brand philosophical argumentation as incitement, you will succeed only in rendering yourself an authoritarian with respect to intellectual life and public discussion. This can only be bad for your cause.

  8. I hate to sound like I’m defending Honderich when I loathe him and his views, but . . . for comparison, consider Michael Walzer’s famous argument that, during 1940-41, Britain was morally justified in employing terrorism — indiscriminate bombing — against German cities, because it was a “supreme emergency”, with Britain’s existence in the balance; because Britain stood alone until the USSR and the USA entered the war; and because Bomber Command was both the only offensive weapon available and incapable of precision bombing at night. (He thinks Britain lost this justification when it continued indiscriminate bombing until the end of the war.) If you think this is a good argument, then you might try to construct a similar one on behalf of Palestinian terrorism. It would be important to show that there was no alternative — in particular that negotiations were not an alternative, because Israel was not a peace partner.

    Honderich thinks that the Palestine Papers have shown this. I believe that he is completely mistaken. In fact, I find it hard to see how anyone could reach this conclusion on the basis of what we know — besides whatever we may or may not find out about the PA negotiators from the Palestine Papers — about Israeli offers and Israeli concessions in the past. But Honderich is not the only one who reaches this mistaken conclusion.

    Challenge him on this, not on a spurious charge of incitement.

  9. Adam, I’m not so sure that his approval of and justification for terrorism amounts to incitement under English law. What he says is wholly repugnant and should be wholly condemned. But it doesn’t seem so far from what the loathesome Tonge and the loathesome Cherie Blair have said.

    It might be worth asking the CST about it since it is antisemitic, it is published here and it could lead to further attacks on Jews. No matter how far the antisemitic poison spreads I understand that there are still rights to a Jewish national home enshrined in the 1922 Mandate and other documents.

    There was and there is still not any country called Palestine.

    The illegal immigrant, a Jamaican Muslim “cleric” who was jailed for incitement some years ago was actually going around exhorting people to kill Jews. He was charged under a 19c law but I don’t know its name.

    I looked up some PCC cases last week and the most prominent one concerning religion was a complaint about Melanie’s article on Druids. It was not upheld (or was dismissed), perhaps because no Clause had been quoted.

  10. @ Mendel: Read this rebuttal by Prof. Norman Geras of Normblog of the Guardian editor’s weaseling out of responsibility for printing a terrorism-promoting letter.

    A snippet:

    This is a manifest subterfuge. Honderich justifies the Palestinians’ ‘moral right to their terrorism’ (my italics), calling the thing by its proper name. The letters editor defends him by saying he’s debating the definition of terrorism. But Honderich wasn’t; he was saying terrorism can be OK as self-defence, in the context of a freedom struggle, and so forth.

    He gets round the Guardian’s difficulty over the printing of Honderich’s letter by doing exactly what torture apologists do when they rename torture they consider to be justified ‘enhanced interrogation’ and such. The letters editor and the readers’ editor are playing the same game, though Honderich himself in that letter didn’t do so: we can print a letter justifying the murder of Israeli Jews because… directed against them, it ain’t terrorism.

  11. Anneipt:

    I agree entirely with Norm that the Guardian editors’ account is subterfuge. Honderich isn’t debating nominal definitions in the sense of “mere semantics”. He’s endorsing a “real definition”. Better put, he’s endorsing an argument whose conclusion is that terrorism is, in the Palestinian case, morally rightful.

    In my above comments, I was responding specifically to the suggestion that Honderich is inciting violence and that it would be a good idea to bring in the law. He’s not inciting. But he’s not merely discussing words either.

    I’m not sure whether the Guardian should have published the letter or not. But, as things stand, they are either playing dumb or being dumb.