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The Lesser Evil$
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Michael Ignatieff

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780748618729

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748618729.001.0001

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The Strength of the Weak

The Strength of the Weak

(p.82) Chapter Four The Strength of the Weak
The Lesser Evil

Gifford Lectures

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter focuses on terrorism itself. The chief claim used to justify terrorism is that if oppressed groups were required to abstain from violence directed at civilians, their political cause would be condemned to failure. In the face of oppression and superior force, terrorism rationalizes itself as the only strategy that can lead the oppressed to victory. This argument from weakness presents liberal democrats with a special challenge, since liberal democratic theory has always admitted the right of the oppressed to take up arms as a last resort, when their cause is just and peaceful means are certain to fail. It is argued that the way to meet the challenge of terrorism is to ensure that the oppressed always have peaceful political means of redress at their disposal. Where such means are denied, it is inevitable that violence will occur. Terrorists exploit injustice and claim to represent just causes. Hence a counterterror strategy that fails to address injustice, and which fails to maintain political channels for redress of grievance, cannot succeed by purely military means. The key dilemma is to address injustice politically without legitimizing terrorists.

Keywords:   terrorism, oppressed groups, liberal democratic theory, counterterror strategy, injustice

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