Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The quality that distinguishes terrorism from violence in general is not merely that it is political, but that it is opprobrious because it targets innocent people by design. In my own work I have insisted that terrorism may be carried out by non-state actors as well as by governments, including our own. You can find this approach developed in my old essay in Ethics and International Affairs, in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, and in a variety of other publications. Unless we insist on preserving the term "terrorism" to refer to opprobrious violence, the term is, in a sense, cheapened and it becomes only a rhetorical bludgeon.

This brings me to the case of Samir Kuntar (Quntar), the Druze terrorist who has been in jail in Israel for almost three decades for the murder of a father and child. By my understanding, what this then young man did was unquestionably a truly despicable act of terrorism. I happen to know a bit about the victims who lived at 61 Jabotinsky Street in Nahariyya, Israel, and I find the account from the trial of Kuntar an accurate depiction.

One may argue that his pending release by Israel is something of a political victory for Hezbollah, as Amal Saad-Ghorayeb does, but it is simultaneously a moral defeat for Hezbollah. This man was not a victim, but a bona fide terrorist. He is not like those Lebanese seized, reprehensibly, by Israel in years past to be held for years as bargaining chips, or those Lebanese jailed by Israel for fighting to liberate their country. Whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, there should be not doubt about the distinction being made here. The fact that Hezbollah has made his release a centerpiece of its policy, and that his release was a rationale for the infamous operation of July 12, 2006, undermines whatever moral claim the group might otherwise make.

The Israel-Hizbollah prisoner-deal | open Democracy News Analysis


My sentiments exactly.

Readers' comments in ICGA.


Helena Cobban said...

Dick, the acts for which Kuntar was convicted were heinous, indeed. But I don't nthink we can ignore the fact of his youth at the time-- he was 16, I believe. In most civilized countries (though not, alas, the US), that would be given special consideration. As, too, would the pretty unstable circumstances of his childhood and youth and the fact that he'd been impressed as a child soldier during the Lebanese civil war-- by the notorious Abul-Abbas's PLF-- while he was still only 13 or 14 years old.

His youth at the time means that a great deal of the responsibility for the acts he committed should surely lie with those who had 'trained', despatched, and commanded him.

arn said...

I thought I had responded to this comment by my friend Helena Cobban, but somehow the comment did not posted. Let me try again.

I acknowledge the fact that Kuntar was only 16 in 1979. However, even if that fact somehow--by some degree--mitigates what he did, it is still disgraceful that he should be celebrated as a hero in Lebanon by some Lebanese.
He now claims that did not actually bash in the brains of a 4-year old child, but the trial record does seem to belie his claim of innocence.
Some may judge that 30 years, more or less, is enough time for him to pay for his crime. OK, but I still see no reason to extol him as a hero.