Today the Guardian readers' editor, Chris Elliott, attempts to explain, and thereby defend, the decision to print that letter from Ted Honderich last week justifying 'the moral right [of Palestinians] to their terrorism'. With one thing Elliott says about this it is possible to agree: 'suggesting that a defence may be offered for an argument should not imply it is the attitude or position of the Guardian'. Indeed not. A paper doesn't endorse every view expressed in every letter printed in its pages. But the rest of what Elliott writes is confusion.
First, he says that the classic definition of terrorism is 'violence in the pursuit of political aims'. This isn't so: otherwise war would usually be assimilated to terrorism and it mostly isn't. In addition, a popular uprising against tyranny that defends itself with arms and doesn't target non-combatants is not - or at any rate not universally - regarded as terrorism. No, terrorism in its dominant meaning involves - as touched on in a letter to Elliott from which he quotes - deliberate, and often random, violence against civilians.
The second confusion is one which totally upends Elliott's defence of the decision to print the Honderich letter. The confusion is perpetrated by the Guardian's letters editor:
The letters editor defended the publication of Honderich's letter on the basis that it was about the way language is used: "What he is questioning is how things are defined - and how they might be defined as something else. It seems to me legitimate to debate (at least, by someone who perhaps has credentials to do so) – he is not advocating suicide bombing, he is questioning how it is regarded by most people in the west, and how it might be seen as something other than terrorism by people in other places and circumstances."
This is a manifest subterfuge. Honderich justifies the Palestinians' 'moral right to their terrorism' (my italics), calling the thing by its proper name. The letters editor defends him by saying he's debating the definition of terrorism. But Honderich wasn't; he was saying terrorism can be OK as self-defence, in the context of a freedom struggle, and so forth.
The consequence for Elliott of going along with this subterfuge is to disguise from himself the difficulty for his newspaper. For he says: 'It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others...' Honderich's letter may not exactly 'advocate' violence against others but it endorses it in the case in question. I repeat the point I made in my earlier post: 'I'd wager that a letter justifying murder on the streets of Britain from a correspondent of the far right wouldn't have found space on the Guardian letters page.' Elliott has now confirmed that I'm right about this. He gets round the Guardian's difficulty over the printing of Honderich's letter by doing exactly what torture apologists do when they rename torture they consider to be justified 'enhanced interrogation' and such. The letters editor and the readers' editor are playing the same game, though Honderich himself in that letter didn't do so: we can print a letter justifying the murder of Israeli Jews because... directed against them, it ain't terrorism.