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The Moral Status of Terrorism

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1 The Moral Status of Terrorism
Philosophy 220

2 Some Definitions: Terrorism
Coming up with a useful, non-controversial definition of terrorism is more difficult than in the case of war. One big problem is avoiding question-begging definitions. A definition is question-begging when it includes an assumed moral stance, such as defining it as wrong (eg. “Terrorism is an immoral type of armed conflict.”) Terrorism (borrowed from Sterba): the use or threat of violence against innocent people to elicit terror in them, or in some other group of people, in order to further a political objective (391). Notice what this definition implies: (1)terrorism can be an act of state or non-state individuals/groups; (2)terrorism is always and only directed at innocents/noncombatants; (3)aim of terrorism is some political.

3 Khatchadourian, "Terrorism and Morality"
K begins by reiterating something that we've already noted: it is difficult to articulate a morally neutral (non question-begging) definition of terrorism. This is complicated by the common rhetorical use of the term by governments to characterize the behavior of any opposing forces—one person's "freedom fighter" is another government's "terrorist." Despite this, we can identify a "common core of meaning."

4 What's at the core? At the core, K defines terrorist acts as: "acts of coercion or actual use of force, aiming at monetary gain (predatory terrorism), revenge (retaliatory terrorism), a political end (political terrorism), or a putative moral/religious end (moralistic/religious terrorism). Another element of the core is the distinction between the "immediate victims" and the "victimized" (the "indirect but real target" of terrorist acts).

5 Putting JWT to Work K seeks to correct the lack of attention paid to the question of the moral status of torture by employing the conceptual machinery of Just War Theory, particularly the principles governing the analysis of Jus in Bello. The three principles K focuses our attention on are: Necessity, Discrimination and Proportionality. K argues that the various forms of terrorism typically violate these principles. With regard to the Jus ad Bellum demand for a "just cause," K insists that typically terrorist acts do not satisfy this demand.

6 "Just Cause" as self-defense.
K's abbreviation of the Jus ad Bellum requirement for a just cause is "the self-defensive use of force." Clearly, predatory and retaliatory terrorism don't meet this standard. Just as clearly, political terrorism, when the political goals are immoral, would fail as well. But, it's not clear that it would fail if the goals were morally acceptable. The same is true of moralistic/religious terrorism.

7 Necessity and Terrorism
The Jus in Bello principle of necessity requires the use of minimal force to accomplish morally appropriate ends. Among a range of possible tactical means, we should always pick the one that causes the least destruction and loss of life. Applying this principle to the various forms of terrorism, K. argues that the principle of necessity seems to clearly rule out predatory and retaliatory forms. He doesn't speak to political or moralistic/ religious forms. Would these always violate the principle?

8 Discrimination and Terrorism
The Jus in Bello principle of discrimination requires combatants to distinguish between "non-innocent" and innocent" targets and limit violent aggression (to the extent possible) only to the former. Once again, K argues that in predatory and retaliatory forms, terrorism typically fails to discriminate properly. The situation is much more complex in political and m/r forms, as it is in war. K. identifies a number of factors which clarify the situation with regard to both these forms of terrorism and war: "Innocence" refers to moral status relative to the actions in question. "Innocence" is a matter of degree. The relativity defined in terms of degree is causal responsibility for the wrong which provokes the actions in question. Causation can be direct or indirect.

9 Proportionality and Terrorism
Proportionality has both Jus in and Jus ad significance. In both cases, the evaluation ultimately requires some sort of comparative calculation. The calculation in the former requires that we measure the tactical or strategic benefits obtained against the costs associated with the act/campaign. Image:

10 Jus ad Proportionality
K. argues that the calculation required to evaluate the decision to violently respond to a given provocation (to war or terrorism) runs afoul of a difficulty we discussed in conjunction with consequentialist moral reasoning. The comparison of incomparables.

11 What about Rights-Based Theories?
K. relies on the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Key element: "Everyone has the right to life" (407c1). Condition of the possibility of meaning/value? Don't buy that? How about a little Kant? To kill someone is to treat them as a means to your end, rather than as an end in themselves. Implication: The killing of innocents (?) justified only on 2 conditions (Ibid.): It's the lesser of two evils; No one's human or moral rights are violated. (?)

12 The Final Word So for K. terrorism is immoral.
But there is at least a plausible argument to be made, from the JWT perspective for political and moralistic/religious forms.

13 Walzer, "Five Questions" #1, another definition: "the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, in order to spread fear through a…population and force the hand of its political leaders" (409c1). Seems to rule out state terrorism, but included with the modification of controlling political opposition. Doesn't buy the equivocation: freedom fighter or terrorist. Blowing up tourists is not freedom fighting (Jakarta attacks, July 17, 2009). Never?

14 An Explanation but not a Defense
#2, terrorism is a choice. It is one of a number of possible responses to political or social circumstances. Walzer highlights a number of cases where the choice was intuitively unjustified. #3, we can explain it, but we can't defend it. Two possible strategies: the situation of the oppressed, the guilt of the oppressor. Neither does the job.

15 What should we do? "War" on terror. Needs to be a just (discriminating) one. Real wars (Afghanistan) perhaps justified by extension. It's also a matter of police work, though perhaps a bit more covert/dirty than we typically tolerate. Walzer admits he's not clear on where to draw the line, but seems tolerant of assassination. We also need diplomacy and "ideological work."

16 Sterba, "T and International Justice"
We've already seen Sterba's definition of T. The use or threat of violence against innocent people to elicit terror in them, or in some other group of people, in order to further a political objective. Obviously, this definition includes acts like the attacks on the WTC buildings (and probably the Pentagon), but just as obviously it includes lots of actions taken by our government over the past years: atomic bombings of Japan, Iraq Sanction Regime, Iran-Contra (supporting terrorism).

17 JWT and Anti-War Pacifism
Sterba develops a framework for the moral evaluation of T by drawing together JWT with a particular strain of pacifism: Anti-War Pacifism. A-W P distinguished from more other forms. Nonviolent Pacifism: "any use of violence is morally prohibited;" Nonlethal Pacifism: "any lethal use of force is morally prohibited. (416c1). Sterba believes that A-W P is straight-forwardly justified by JWT.

18 The JWT in A-W P Jus ad Bellum Jus in Bello
Aggression sufficient to justify? Non-violent means exhausted? Violent means neither hopeless or too costly? Typically, wars have not added up. Jus in Bello Proportional? Discriminating? Typically, no. JWT + A-W P = JWP (Just War Pacifism)

19 JWP and Terrorism Clearly, JWP rules out most acts of terrorism, but because it does not rely on a theory of Nonviolent Pacifism, it does not in principle rule out a justifiable use of violence against innocents. Harm to innocents justified if the harm is: trivial, easily reparable, non-reparable but substantially outweighed by consequences. Spelunker thought experiment. Atomic Bombings? (Unconditional Surrender?) Counter-City Bombings? (Early vs. Late?) Palestinian Suicide Bombings? 9/11? Afghanistan? Iraq?

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