University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Can terrorism be justified?
The purpose of this essay is to explore the issues surrounding the morality of terrorism. I will begin by providing contextual information of the topic through exploring the history of terrorism. From the Sicarii in 50AD who carried out assassinations with short daggers to more recent attacks such as 7/7 bombings in the London underground. In this section however we will find it is not only the methodology of terrorism that has changed but its definition has evolved also. I shall use the historical examples to find any patterns in the use of the word and analyse what these examples tell us about the meaning of the word. Throughout my essay I shall adopt a narrow definition as I believe it allows you to explore terrorism in more detail. Subsequently I will seek to define terrorism along the basis that it sets out to instil fear into others in order to reach a final objective.
Following this I shall examine the arguments for and against the justification of terrorism through questioning the ideas of various scholars such as Rudolf Bittner who says terrorism is always wrong to the arguments of Kai Neilsen who says terrorism can be justified if the ends justify the means. Hence I shall reach my final conclusion and reinforce my core argument that terrorism can never be justified, as I believe there is always other less harmful options which reach the same results , furthermore I believe strongly that the lives of others should never be sacrificed for personal gain, whether that be social, political or economic.
The first known terrorist organisation originated in 50AD, they were called the Sicarii, The Sicarri wanted liberation from Roman leadership and assassinated all those associated with the Romans, it was said that the fear that was aroused by these crimes was worse than the act itself(law, R. Terrorism: A history, p.27). The arousal of fear is seen even in modern terrorism through the 7/7 bombings in London where civilians were targeted in the underground train stations, subsequently many feared to use London transport. This running theme of sparking terror within a population suggests that the meaning of the word terrorism must be based around the act of instilling fear; however this is only one aspect of the definition. In
the case of the Sicarri they committed these terrorist acts in order to reach an end goal of liberation, this highlights that the definition of terrorism must include a final objective. This end goal is seen through many other terrorist organisations and has become more apparent over time , for example the Ku Klux Klan wished to eradicate all rights of black Americans, this was demonstrated by burning down places of worship and public buildings owned by black Americans.
Despite these similarities the definition of terrorism has become elasticated over time, thus it has become difficult to pin down into a singular concept. This variation can be seen through the methodology, in the early stages of terrorism the use of swords and knifes were popular, such as the Sicarii’s use of daggers, however modern day terrorists use explosive devices such as bombs in the 7/7 attack in London. As terrorism has evolved so has the brutality of the act, the consequences of terrorist acts are much larger now than in 50AD, for example the al-Qaeda killed 3,000 people in the attack of 911 alone . This makes it apparent that a key part of the modern definition of terrorism should revolve around fear or terror being committed upon a large scale. Definitions
In this essay I will be using a narrow definition, as I believe it’s more efficient in focusing upon the foundations of terrorism. This is because I believe wide definitions are too vague as they incorporate all victims of violence. Thus it becomes difficult to be as thorough when zooming into who and what terrorists are. For example under the pretences of a wide definition anybody can be the victim of terrorism, therefore the assassination of Osama Bin Laden could be classed as a terrorist act. This is clearly not the case. Therefore I believe at times wide definitions can lead you to draw incorrect conclusions, as a result I will be using a narrow definition of terrorism throughout the essay. The two core aspects of terrorism is 1)the act of instilling terror and 2)the use of terrorism for a political goal, thus I believe all valid definitions of the term should revolve around these constant features. Various historians and philosophers throughout the course of history have put forward their definitions of terrorism. Walter Laqueur defined terrorism as the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent people are targeted (definitions of terrorism.
This definition of terrorism is successful in demonstrating that terrorism is always used as a means to reach an end. However it fails to mention the instilling of terror into a nation and rather focuses upon force by means such as weapons. It also highlights that government organisations can’t be terrorist groups, however many definitions such as Per Bauhn’s would disagree with this. Bauhn defines terrorism as the performance of violent acts, directed against one or more persons….to bring about one or more of the agent’s political goals (Bauhn, 1989:28). In Bauhn’s definition he fails to specify qualities of the agent , I believe this makes his definition invalid. As warfare could then qualify as a terrorist act, which in my opinion it isn’t . Terrorism is difficult to define, however I have reached a definition that terrorism is the illegitimate use of force against an innocent population in order to provoke fear or terror as a strategy to reach an end objective. I believe this definition is plausible as it focuses upon the two core features of terrorism whilst eliminating government organisations. Analysis
Philosophers and historians debate continuously about whether terrorism can ever be deemed morally acceptable. I take a deontological stand point and believe that terrorism is wrong in every situation. I believe this as there are always less harmful options which will reach the same result, for example protests and speeches. Moreover if we class terrorism as justifiable, society may begin to use violence to express messages regularly and what sort of a world would we live in then? For example if we classed the attacks of 911 as morally acceptable it would provoke others to do the same. In addition I believe that in any situation the use of terrorism will never be worth the end result, the lives of human beings are always going to be more valuable than any potential gain. However many may disagree with this view point, they could argue that if the end result of terrorism moves us towards a more ideal society then in the scheme of things the loss of a few lives is nothing. However this argument is invalid as how can society truly be improving if it relies on violence to do so? I believe that if change requires others to die in order for it to be fulfilled then it isn’t as beneficial for society as if the change was reached via other peaceful methods.
Thus we should always use other strategies available to us to portray our beliefs rather than opting for terrorism. There are many justifications for terrorism which disagree with my claims; Kai Neilsen is a consequentialist therefore judges every action upon its consequences. He argues that terrorism can be morally acceptable in a situation, if it can be shown to be 1) the most effective action with 2) the least bad overall consequences. His basic argument is that if the means justifies the end then it is acceptable. However a major flaw in his argument is that it is impossible to calculate whether the end result is of a greater good than the course that had to be taken to get there. For example was the death of tens of thousands of French people worth liberation in the French revolution, the families of those who lost loved ones may argue that it wasn’t. In addition how can we be sure before carrying out such terrorist acts that this greater good is going to be reached, we cannot be certain of such things. A disadvantage of all consequentialist ideas is that we cannot predict consequences therefore using Neilsen’s criteria it would be difficult to deem whether a terrorist act is justified before it has taken place, this makes Neilsen’s argument unreliable.
Moreover we are unable to define what the ‘greater good’ is, as it varies from person to person, an act which may benefit one person may not have the same effect upon another. This can lead to an individual’s happiness being over looked, as John Stewart Mill stated through the idea of higher and lower pleasures an individual’s happiness can be of a greater worth than the majorities. Quite often in Terrorist acts minorities are over looked which results in the least amount of happiness being achieved. Due to these major flaws in Neilsen’s argument I reject his views. Rudolf Bittner supports my claims and as a deontologist abides by moral norms, as a result he believes terrorism is always wrong as violence violates human rights. I agree with his argument as laws are made for a reason, to keep peace and order in society .Violence however is detrimental to the majority of the laws that society upholds. Therefore if we justify a violent act as extreme as terrorism we are only inflicting terror upon ourselves. On the other hand Emile Henry argues that civilians who benefit from unjust societies are somehow to blame for the society they live in. Henry says that these civilians aren’t innocent at all and should serve as targets for violence.
Osama bin Laden adopted this view and justified killing innocent Americans in 911 by saying ‘the American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes which bomb us in Afghanistan’
(full text: Bin Laden’s ‘letter to america’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver, retrieved: 03/08/14).
Using Henry’s argument all those in the world trade centre on the 11th September 2001 were guilty and therefore the attack was morally acceptable. However these civilians are not guilty they pay taxes because its compulsory not because they want planes to bomb Afghanistan, they do not give the orders which kill their people, they have no real voice in the matter. This is where Henry’s argument becomes invalid; it is difficult depending upon your perception to say whether a person is truly innocent. Henry’s argument is short sighted and doesn’t think of the bigger picture, If this justification was used then society would be a constant war zone, just because you consider a person to be guilty of a crime doesn’t make their murder acceptable. Nicholas Foiton’s argument against terrorism being justifiable influenced my opinions strongly, he said terrorists have ‘ideological’ conceptions of what is good which misrepresent actual peoples interests. I agree with this entirely as quite often a terrorist organisation becomes deluded by their aims and forgets to look at the wellbeing of a whole society.
For example the members of the Ku Klux Klan believed that immigrants didn’t belong in America. They thought that by attacking black Americans they were moving society forward, when in actual fact they were doing the opposite, they had ‘ideological’ conceptions of what was good for America. Foition additionally said that terrorism is never the last resort to make a change; I adopted this point as there are always alternative less aggressive strategies. For example Martin Luther King’s speech which wished for equality between white and black people in America was extremely influential and helped strive towards the more equal society which we live in today. This highlights that’s terrorism isn’t the most effective option and often results in a nation abiding out of fear rather than choice, therefore has no real change to a societies opinion. Thus terrorism cannot be justified on the basis that is the only available option. Foiton additionally argues that terrorism is not morally acceptable because all objectives that need innocent people to die to be reached are bad. If an objective requires people to die for it, is it really worth carrying out? I agree with Foiton as a human life is worth more than any potential political gain, therefore terrorism cannot be justified upon the grounds that the end will justify the means. Conclusion
In my conclusion I shall reiterate my main findings which I have discussed previously. I strongly believe that terrorism Is always wrong and cannot be justified in any situation. My main reasoning for this is that violence should always be considered immoral, it goes against human rights and laws which are implemented into our society for a reason. If we justify violence as extreme as terrorism people will begin to believe that is acceptable to behave in such a manner in everyday life. Furthermore terrorism cannot be justified upon the foundations that it is the last resort, there are always other strategies that are just as effective and less detrimental to society. I conclude that if society has to use violence in order to move forward then society in reality is not really improving at all. In addition I believe that all consequentialist arguments for justifying terrorism are invalid as they lack reliability, we cannot predict outcomes therefore we are unable to utilise justifications such as Neilsen’s in practice.
Moreover how can we justify terrorist acts such as 911 which killed thousands of innocent people? No act that brings such damage and devastation can ever be morally acceptable; it goes against all the political and religious laws of which our society depends upon. I also believe that defining what the ‘greater good’ for society is, is impossible, therefore any justification which revolves around terrorism being used as a method to improve society is invalid. This is because terrorists believe their opinions to be the only ones that matter, therefore the interests of societies who are affected by these groups are overlooked, this results in the greater good not being reached at all. Subsequently I take a deontological stand point and agree with scholars such as Bittner and Foiton, there is never a right time or place to use terrorism as it can simply never be justified.
KS5-Philosophy-Can terrorism ever be justified? (brilliant club text book)