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The Moral Justification of Terrorism and Its Controversial Nature, Essay Example

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Throughout history, power has rapidly become a social phenomenon and its practices have taken a number of forms, being compelled by prevailing factors such as self-interest and necessity. Most often, power has been exercised and maintained through terror like in the case of despotic societies and totalitarian regimes. Mass obedience to established laws and to an absolute power influenced citizens to consider that they can go on with their lives in peace and security. They believed that their submission to laws will provide them with an increase in freedom and welfare. Terrorism represents a broader phenomenon that can be traced back to the first Mesopotamian Empire and to events such as the French Revolution. The occurrence of terrorism acts undoubtedly represents a valid proof of inhumanity and a wake-up call.

The scope of this paper is to identify the potential causes of terrorism by analyzing its general elements and by observing the psychological reasons that lie at its core. The paper looks into specialized literature on international justice and seeks to determine whether terrorism can be justified under any circumstances. The reason for which I have chosen to tackle this subject is mainly linked to Walzer’s hypothesis about terrorism and its acts of inhumanity. His hypothesis reveals a dreadful truth, i.e. that maybe “… inhumanity is simply humanity under pressure” (4). This opinion influenced me to believe that terrorist acts are motivated by certain aspects and can be justified to a certain extent. Thus, I shall attempt to present a number of arguments expounded by some philosophers and back their ideas with personal beliefs. Moreover, I will also include in this essay some powerful counterpoints which will hopefully provide an understanding and an insight into the real causes of terrorism that may represent valuable resources in the combat against terrorism. 

In order to address and discuss the issue of terrorism in detail, one must propose a definition for this appalling word and a theory about people’s engagement in acts of terrorism. So as to understand terrorism, one needs to fully comprehend the moral contexts in which people behave and how changes in these contexts can easily lead to dramatic changes in their demeanor and actions. As Walzer claims, people make choices according to their moral values and emotions. The social context contributes enormously to the development of a citizen’s moral values and emotions that can easily influence him to take part in dreadful acts of terrorism. Thus, the neglected imperfections of the social context can sometimes result in terrorist acts (4). I support Walzer’s opinion because the most common causes of terrorism point to the social and political injustices or to a historical wrong. For instance, in cases of state repression in which initiatives of international relief fail, oppressed people resort to violence to protect their cause and beliefs. According to Walzer, “… war lies beneath moral judgement … and war is a social creation” (3). Walzer’s conviction is by far valid because social and political injustices trigger terrorism and war and in a war, each of the adversaries forces the hand of the other.

A valid definition of terrorism should include any kind of terrorism. Terrorism is undoubtedly a moral action most commonly triggered by a state’s social behaviour. According to Bouhana, Schmid writes that“Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group, or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal, or political reasons, whereby—in contrast to assassination—the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators” (9).

Walzer clearly expresses his belief that a group’s discontent about the denial or neglect of their rights and interest can lead to violent acts and finally to war: “Here men and women do what they must to save themselves and their communities, and morality and law have no place” (3).  Walzer introduces the notion of morality of war as a struggle between two kinds of discernments: discernments about the conditions under which it is admissible to wage war and discernments about the demeanor in a war what it is allowable to do during the war (12). He comments upon the idea of good guys and bad guys, i.e. that the bad guys are actually the good ones because they have significant reasons for starting a war. They are perceived as bad guys because they managed to win by fighting in unjust ways (12).

I have to disagree with Walzer in this good guy – bad guy dichotomy. He believes that not even the good guys are permitted to do just anything in order to win. Everyone must fight morally right and refrain from winning by evil means. Although I agree with the fact that terrorism is awful and that peaceful and democratic means must always be used, sometimes there are extreme cases in which passive and democratic methods have become completely depleted, so it is justifiable in a way to turn to terror. In an oppressive state it is sometimes necessary for people to resort to violence to defend their best interests. Every person or minority group has the right to manifest its dissatisfaction. The state should be a representation of the people and should provide them with this right. Moreover, the state should encourage the rights of minorities. Otherwise, the state has failed to serve its purpose and loses its quality of being considered legitimate. Certain rights that were denied together with significant injustices among displeased groups can indeed justify terrorism.

In his book, Sterba approaches the principle of discrimination and the concept of ‘just’ war, pinpointing the interpretation of an ethical act of defense. He maintains that acts of war shouldn’t be targeted at civilians, but rather at those who actually cause damage or who pose an impending danger (31). I support Sterba’s idea that bombing civilian areas as a response to an act of war cannot be understood as an ethical act of defense. Moreover, I agree that the United States should not support acts of Israeli terrorism against Palestine if it does not want to represent a target of terrorist attacks.

Taking all these facts into consideration, I strongly believe that terrorism is justified by its success in obtaining good results when passive means have proven unsuccessful. For example, in many countries terrorists have triumphed in getting governments to negotiate with them. Sometimes terrorism can contribute to the acknowledgement of a cause especially if governments have not been willing to make concessions when provided with rational arguments in a peaceful setting. However, terrorism has far less chances in the long term and “The terrorist attacks that attract the most attention are the violent ones, and they are likely to be met with reactions of disgust and grief. This means that the international community is less likely to sympathize with their cause, which results in less support” (Chomsky).

Works Cited

  • Bouhana, N. Theorizing Terrorism: Terrorism as Moral Action. 2008. Web. 12 October 2012
  • Chomsky, N. Terrorism Works. 2001, October 18. Media Monitors Network. Web. 12 October 2012.
  • Sterba, P.J. Terrorism and International Justice. 2003. Web. 12 October 2012.
  • Walzer, M. Just and Unjust Wars. 1977. Web. 12 October 2012.
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