August 7, 2012
On September 11th 2001, two aeroplanes crashed into the world trade centre in New York, this was the horrifying beginning of what would come to be known ‘the age of terror.’ Although terrorist acts date back decades, it was this attack on the world’s most powerful nation, America, that struck fear into the hearts of the Western people and the potential severity of these attacks was realised. Acts of terrorism are becoming part of everyday news, they are occurring around the world and being carried out by various different groups of people. Reaching a definition of ‘terrorism’ is an ambiguous task but in his book Terror, Gearty (1991) cited 109 different definitions of terrorism which he obtained in a survey of leading academics in the field. From these definitions, the author isolated the following recurring elements, in order of their statistical appearance in the definitions: Violence, force (appeared in 83.5% of the definitions); political (65%); fear, emphasis on terror (51%); threats (47%); psychological effects and anticipated reactions (41.5%); discrepancy between the targets and the victims (37.5%); intentional, planned, systematic, organized action (32%); methods of combat, strategy and tactics (30.5%).
A recurring theme between most definitions is that it deliberately targets innocent people. Leiser’s definition (cited in Khatchadourian, 1998, p. 5) equates terrorism with what he calls “the victimization of defenceless, innocent persons” as opposed to “the assassination of political and military leaders”. This concept, and now, widely-used tactic is what seems to be the precise element that makes terrorism itself immoral. Like most elusive and ambiguous expressions “terrorism” has a “common core of meaning” in its different usages and this is the notion that “terrorist acts are 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) (Khatchadourian, 1998, p. 6). Terrorism is a well established aspect of world politics and the literature on this topic is seemingly endless. A major issue when dealing with the topic of terrorism is whether it can be justified and if so, when and how. This essay will explore this issue, taking into account some of the many issues involved.
If there are examples of the terrorism permitted under the just war theory, they will have to meet a number of challenging requirements. We will explore a few of these. An element of the just war theory is ‘right intention’, and it can be argued that terrorism satisfies this criteria although it is from this that we must explore the intentions and motivations of terrorism. Finding the root of terrorism would profoundly affect the occurrence of such acts, and one such cause seems to be oppression of minority groups. Minorities with clear ideologies use terrorism to make their cause heard and noticed, and as acts of terror dominate the media when they occur, it often fulfils its purpose, to bring the world’s attention to that specific cause. For example, looking back to 1970, teams from a little known Marxist resistance group, ‘The popular front for the liberation of Palestine’ set out to simultaneously hijack four western passenger aircraft and its aim was to confront the West with the plight of Palestinians in the Middle East who’d been displaced by Israel. They used force and terror to make the world pay attention and it was successful in doing so, it was the first world media terrorist event. “Each man is an enemy to every other because each is a dangerous rival in the struggle against scarcity” (Sartre cited in Wilkinson, 1977, p.72). Scarcity is a predominant problem in the world; lack of sufficient food and clean water is a major world issue and occurs particularly in the eastern countries.
“Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich”.
(Peter Ustinov, Actor)
The pattern being seen today is one in which the topic of terrorism automatically insinuates involvement of peoples from the eastern countries. This pattern that is emerging may have some implications when trying to combat terrorism from its roots. In an interview with Abu Bakar Bashir (Insight, SBS, 9 March 2004), the leader of Jamaal Islamiah, made a poignant comment, he said, “we are defending Islam and through their actions they are daring to oppose America, as the west are oppressing the Islamic world and they are just reacting, even though it is violent, it is legitimate, because they see the west as supporting dictatorship.” This made an interesting and thought-provoking point, echoed in many other acts, such as the 1970 hijacking of the aeroplanes by Palestinians, and may have been a contributory reason for the September 11 attacks. Such terrorist acts as these fall under the category stated by Khatchadourian, (1998) as retaliatory terrorism, and using political terrorism as a weapon of the politically powerless and oppressed. As cited by Young (Primoratz, 2004, p. 58), even Gandhi contended that, “it was better to resist oppression by violent means than to submit”, in the event that a non-violent response was precluded.
The West upholds the view that there can be legitimate uses of war in accordance with the just war theory. Valls (2000) proposes that if acts of terrorism can satisfy the conditions of just war theory then they would have a moral legitimacy. The just war tradition is based upon the presumption that coercive power, whether used at the domestic level or at the international level, is legitimate “when it serves morally legitimate purposes” (Amstutz, 2005, p. 110). The just cause provision of the just war theory holds that the state has a right to defend itself against aggression of other states. Take the invasion of Iraq for example; it can be viewed from two sides. The first is that the grounds on which it was originally based, to topple Saddam Hussein’s government and seize weapons of mass destruction, this, according to the just war theory could be thought of as a ‘just cause’. However, having done so, America now fails to recover any weapons of mass destruction and it has become apparent that there may have been underlying motivations for this ‘heroic’ action by the American government and its army. The motivations for this invasion, which are now being realised, may not have been a ‘just cause’ after all; the control of their oil fields has surfaced as a credible alternative motivation. Amstutz states that “the effort to alter territorial boundaries by force or to extend political and economic control in foreign lands is considered unjust” (2005, p. 111). Not only was their reasons for entering Iraq not credible, but in doing so, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were killed. Surely this act cannot be considered ‘just’, it seems an act of terror to some degree, and was carried out by the world’s super power! Abu Bakar Bashir, in his interview in Insight (SBS, 2004) points out that “America is the instrument of evil, as it is them who terrorises nations and kills people.”
Walzer, in his book Just and unjust wars (2000) has problems succumbing to the idea that terrorism may be justified, and questions the probability of success criteria (is there a reasonable chance of success?) and points out that there is no nation that he knows of that owes its freedom to ‘random murder’. Similarly Valls (2000) believes that in most cases there is little hope of success. The occupation of Iraq has sent the place into chaos, civilian deaths occur everyday, women and children are killed by car bombs and suicide bombers, and yet, one of the reasons for America’s intervention was to save the civilians from the abuse of human rights by Saddam. Success, we are yet to see.
“One can define the state, as Weber does, in terms of physical violence without having to relinquish the ability to differentiate the forms in which state agencies apply that violence. That the state is ‘legitimate violence’ (if it is) does not mean its agencies cannot be terroristic.”
(Stohl, 1983, p. 181)
Our culture ingrains in us the concept of the state as neutral, a manager of conflicts, that the thought of our governments participating in terrorist acts seems abominable! Evidence in the history of terrorism gives credence to this. In 1946, one of the two men who led the revolt against the British by bombing Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, went on to become the ruler of Jerusalem. Fidelle Kastro, an instigator in the Red Army Faction’s revolution also went on to become the leader of the Cuban nation. These men represent heroes in their societies; they are symbols of hope for the future of the oppressed people in their societies. The more ‘daring’ approach or direct approach would be to view some of our current-day leaders as terrorists. The leader of Zimbabwe is a terrorist towards both the black and white people, using coercive methods such as torture to chase them out of the country, and those who do not flee are murdered. This would seem in itself the height of inhumane acts and it is being carried out by the leader of this ‘democratic’ country.
A number of states including some European ones would describe the U.S. President George Bush (senior) as a terrorist, and regard bombings during the Gulf War as obvious examples of terrorist acts and violation of the international law. President Bush can also be viewed as a terrorist to the people of Iraq, despite his ‘clean’ image of having ‘saved’ them; the deaths of the innocent are representative of this terror. Riz Wakili (Insight, SBS, 2004) passionately voiced his observances; using ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ as a tool seems hypocritical because when the foreign extremists, supported by the United States, carried out massacres and destroyed schools in Afghanistan in the ’70′s and ’80′s, it was referred to in the western media as the acts of ‘freedom fighters’, and the suffering of the Afghani people went unnoticed. However, when the situation was reversed and the terror landed on the doorstep of the West on September 11, 2001, and the Bali bombings, it was then referred to as terrorism, hence the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” The idea that one person’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter’ cannot be allowed. George (1990) points out that freedom fighters or revolutionaries don’t blow up buses containing non-combatants; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don’t set out to capture and slaughter schoolchildren; terrorist murderers do.
“Direct attacks against civilian targets are morally impermissible and every effort must be made to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants” (Amstutz, 2005, p. 111). This is another element of the just war theory and acts as one of the defining features of terrorism today. It is precisely this nature of contemporary terrorism, ‘the random murder of innocent people,’ that prohibits Walzer (1988) from justifying a terrorist act and even if one were to grant that terrorism necessarily involves the killing of innocents, this alone doesn’t exclude it from the just war theory because innocents may be killed in a just war. All the just war theory requires is that innocents not be targeted. Contrary to this, Machiavelli (1998) has argued that there is no alternative to terrorist activity if oppressed people are to be liberated and views terrorism as the only means of destroying oppressive regimes and founding new nations. This view of Machiavelli is echoed consistently by the views of eastern nation peoples as seen in this essay.
So, on the one side there are the views of the West which strongly condemn those acts of terrorists which destroy the lives of millions of innocent civilians and act to undermine the stability of democratic society. Reactions of people in the West are natural as indeed the use of terrorism is a psychological tactic used to induce fear, which evidently it does, and also to make their messages heard, whether these are political, religious or retaliatory. On the other hand, there is legitimate evidence to suggest that these acts of ‘terror’ are indeed the desperate attempts of oppressed peoples to get noticed, to get their messages across to the powerful nations of the world. Lowe, in his article ‘Terrorism and Just War theory’ argues that just war theory does not provide an appropriate analytical tool from which acts of terror may be judged; as acts of terrorism targets the safety of innocent citizens. Terrorism targets people who are not combatants and is therefore not compatible with the just war theory. Which ever way you look at it, terrorism is not morally justifiable, the targeting and deaths of innocent civilians can never be justified for what ever the cause may be. However, dealing with the possible causes of terrorism, such as oppression (as seen above) of minority groups, religious or otherwise, may have some effect on this ever-growing issue of terrorism. Terrorism destroys solidarity, cooperation and interdependence on which social functioning is based, and it substitutes insecurity and distrust. If the world is to ever resemble a peaceful place, the issues underlying such acts as terrorism must be dealt with. Promotion of democracy, education and equality in all societies is the way to begin tackling the problems of condemnation of other peoples. People must be able to attain justice if peace is to prevail and intervention of the international community is fundamental to this. What is happening to minority groups in the world today is not fair and not acceptable, it is oppression. At the end of the day, people must stop killing people.