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Volume 24 • Number 3

July 2010



Précis of How Terrorism Is Wrong

by Virginia Held

In the essays in How Terrorism Is Wrong, I aim to provide moral assessments of various forms of political violence, focusing especially on terrorism. Also considered are war, military intervention to protect human rights, and violence to bring about or to prevent political change. Among cases considered are the liberation movement that brought about the ending of apartheid in South Africa, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the genocide in Rwanda, the NATO intervention in Kosovo and its antecedents in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the U.S. response, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I argue that terrorism is best understood as on a continuum of violence, rather than as uniquely atrocious. I question such frequently made judgments as that war can be justified but terrorism is necessarily wrong. I explore definitions of terrorism and conclude that even though it often targets civilians, it should not be thought to be wrong by definition. Yet, although it may be less unjustifiable than war, terrorism is very difficult to justify. Ways ought to be found to reduce all forms of violence, including political violence.

The book examines also the question of who has legitimate authority to use political violence, for instance in a liberation movement. Just War Theory has been developed for violence between the armed forces of states. It is questionable how and whether it should be applied to the increasingly common sorts of violence used by nonstate groups. I also discuss whether and how nonstate groups can be morally responsible for violence, including ethnic violence, and how the media should cover terrorism.

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ISSN: 2152-0542