Commentary Magazine


Defining Terrorism

Real Clear World‘s Greg Sclobete takes issue with a post I penned yesterday, in which I argued “the fact that some argue Israel “started it” shows moral blindness and ignorance of context.” Sclobete then falsely summarizes my argument by suggesting I said some terrorism is bad and other is good. But that was not the point of the post Sclobete selectively cites, nor is it even a fair reading of it. Rather, I list a litany of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish terrorism sponsored by Iran during the past two decades and exclaim that pundits who are jumping on the terrorism bandwagon now show their selectivity by having ignored for so long Iranian sponsorship of terrorism against Israel, Israelis, and Jews.

As for assassination, a tactic used to prevent a wider conflict or an existential challenge, I see nothing wrong with it nor, for that matter, does the Obama administration. Assassination does not violate international law; it is not terrorism.

The broader problem, however, is that there is simply no universally accepted definition of terrorism. As I noted in this paper on asymmetric threat concept, as of 1988 there were more than 100 definitions of terrorism in use in Western countries, and that number has only proliferated in the past quarter century.

So how to move beyond the very real problem of moral equivalence or a la carte terrorism definition? Perhaps it’s time for the United States to tie counter-terrorism assistance to an agreement by its partners on a universal definition of terrorism.

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