I am grateful to my friend and professional colleague Irfan Khawaja for his incisive critique of my short piece, Terrorism as a Toxic Term: Why Definition Matters, and for generously allowing me to post my reply on his website. As Irfan underscores, our main difference regarding the definition of the term “terrorism” is a difference in “focus,” but perhaps there is also a difference in kind. That is, the kind of definition that one might find morally adequate for describing terrorist violence. I argue that the disposition of the perpetrators and the objective innocence of the victims should be the focus of an adequate and fair definition of terrorism.
Irfan, however, argues that one “should focus on the reasons that terrorists cite to justify their actions.” He contests “the idea that a definition of terrorism should describe it merely as a use of violence rather than an “initiatory” [my italics] use of violence and a response to one.” Irfan’s suggestion is well taken. I agree with him that there is a relevant distinction “between purely initiatory aggression on the one hand, and disproportionality or indiscriminateness in an otherwise justified response to aggression on the other.” Continue reading