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Volume 24 • Number 3

July 2010



 

 

Terrorism and the Types of Wrongdoing


by Thomas J. Donahue


One of the many striking theses for which Virginia Held argues in How Terrorism Is Wrong is that terrorism is not necessarily morally wrong. In principle, she argues, terrorism can sometimes be permissible (pp. 82, 88–89). Call this "the Non-necessity Thesis," or NNT. As so often in this deep and thought-provoking book, Held gives a powerful and illuminating argument to this thesis. The argument begins by asserting what we may call "the Violations Distribution Principle" (VDP): if we must have rights violations, then a more equitable distribution of such violations is better than a less equitable (p. 88). It then claims that this implies that "it is better to equalize rights violations in a transition to bring an end to rights violations than it is to subject a given group that has already suffered extensive rights violations to continued such violations" (p. 88). But this in turn implies that where one group's rights are severely and systematically violated— say, by an oppression, in which their right to personal safety is systematically violated—and another group's rights are not so violated, then a transition which involves a sharing of proportionate rights violations between the oppressed and the non-oppressed is permissible, "if this and only this can be expected to lead to a situation in which rights are more adequately respected" (p. 89). In those and only those circumstances, terrorism would be permissible, since it centrally violates the right to personal safety. Hence NNT. The idea, then, is that VDP implies that where there is a systematic imbalance in the distribution of severe rights violations between one group and another (the Oppression condition), and where only a transition which involves a sharing of proportionate rights violations between the oppressed and the non-oppressed can be expected to achieve a situation in which rights are more adequately respected (the Uniqueness condition), then terrorism aimed at the oppressors and in conformity with the Uniqueness condition is permissible.


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ISSN: 2152-0542