Can terrorism ever be justified?
What is terrorism? Is one person's terrorism another person's freedom fighter? Or resistance

Can terrorism ever be justified?
Sevillana123
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Posted May 14, 2012 - 5:19 AM:
Subject: Can terrorism ever be justified?
Terrorism is understood as a type of violence. Whilst most people would agree that killing innocent civilians is wrong, what would people think about the resistance in France against the Nazis during World War II? What about the killing of Ghaddafi or Osama Bin Laden?
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Posted May 14, 2012 - 5:57 AM:

First of all, there are various definitions for terrorism and the term can be used in many ways. It is a very emotionally and politically charged negative term usually used by one side of a conflict. Naturally it is the victor of a conflict that decides who were 'terrorists' and who were 'freedom fighters'. And naturally this question is quite the same as "Can war ever be justified?"

I presume you are defining terrorism to be 'attacking civilians and non-military targets'. This is one definition and used in terms like "terror-bombing" and so on. The problem is of course is that in a war so-called civilian targets are essential targets and to attack civilians has long been one strategy in war. For instance, to deliberately de-populate a region by forcing the people to become refugees and leave their homes is one way to counter an insurgency: once there are no farmers to support the insurgents, the insurgents have a tough time to use a region as a base of operations. Hence the reason why Afghanistan is littered with mines and millions of people are refugees internally in the country and are in neighbouring countries.

One general way to see terrorism is that it a method to promote ones objectives through violence usually by some group or faction is unable to combat and defeat a government or military in the traditional way on the battlefield through conventional war or through an insurgency. And typically acts of terrorism are publicity stunts to gain media coverage and publicity for one's cause. And some times it works quite well.

If the Taleban hits ISAF troops with a roadside bomb in Afghanistan they act as insurgents in an insurgency or low-intensity conflict. Their objective is to inflict casualties to the ISAF that it would leave Afghanistan. If a group attacks a Western Embassy in Africa it is terrorism. But still the line just what is terrorism isn't generally defined (even if the UN has wanted to define it).
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Posted May 14, 2012 - 8:17 AM:

Vague question...

Who is making the justification?

By what standards measure are the value assessments being attributed?

It might be worthy to note that from the perspective of the "Terrorist" the actions are viewed as "just".

Do note, terms we now associate with bad like "a witch hunt" at one time was a very nobel act...that is, from the perspective of the "hunters".

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Posted May 14, 2012 - 8:28 AM:

I take 'terrorism' to mean the deliberate induction of fear in others by a physical assault on someone else, for the purpose of bending them to one's will.

And I take 'justified' in this context to mean shown to be just and fair.

And the answer to be 'no'.

Which is to say that resistance to occupation, or assassination, need not be a means to terrify others, even if it unfortunately has that effect. Nor is the punishment of criminality terrorism. Protection rackets, show-trials, random attacks on civilians, punishment beatings, such things are designed to inspire terror in the client population, in order to suppress opposition; there is no hint of justice, and so no justification.
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Posted May 14, 2012 - 10:06 AM:

Terrorism is not "a method to promote ones objectives through violence". Every war does that. It is the infliction of the psychological state of terror on a population. I'm not even sure it is always with the intent to promote the group's political agenda. It may simply be for revenge.
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Posted May 14, 2012 - 1:09 PM:

brenda wrote:
Terrorism is not "a method to promote ones objectives through violence". Every war does that. It is the infliction of the psychological state of terror on a population. I'm not even sure it is always with the intent to promote the group's political agenda. It may simply be for revenge.


This comes alot closer to an acceptable definition. Typically terrorism is defined as the military strategy of targeting a civilian population with the express purpose of undermining its support for its government/military and its policies.

Sevillana123 wrote:
Whilst most people would agree that killing innocent civilians is wrong, what would people think about the resistance in France against the Nazis during World War II? What about the killing of Ghaddafi or Osama Bin Laden?


I'm not sure what you're saying here- are you claiming French resistance against the Nazis, or the killing of Bin Laden were acts of terrorism? Only if our definition of terrorism is so broad that any act of violence, war, or physical coercion on the part of law enforcement counts as terrorism!

Going on my above definition, these acts are not terrorist acts- and we have a more narrow scope with which to answer the question. For my part, I think that in theory, it could well be justifiable- but of course this will depend on your own moral compass and what is going to count as justified in your book. But clearly, if a governments policies are wanton, harmful, immoral, etc. and their civilian population is directly responsible for said policies, it seems justifiable in theory. The occupation of Palestinean territory and the continuing settlement of Palestinean territory by Israeli civilians is a case in point- the settlers are non-combatants, but not only do they (presumably) support a policy that is harmful to the Palestinean people and their interests, they are directly furthering this policy. I can think of no reason why they should be exempt or "off-limits" in a dispute that they have chosen to take part in of their own free will.

On the other hand, perhaps a more interesting question is whether it is ever wise or productive to resort to terrorism. The historical record is fairly emphatic that, as a military strategy, terrorism is woefully ineffective. In the few cases where a group who had used terrorist tactics in furtherance of their cause eventually wins out, it is usually only after they abandon such tactics (thinking of the early Israeli militia groups for instance). Recent history furnishes us with quite a few examples- the Taliban, Hamas, etc. but we can also draw more famous examples from history- certain historians hold that it was such attacks on civilian populations that directly contributed to the fall of Rome (from the inside as it were- their armies had many officers who came from conquered areas and likely harbored resentment towards their Roman conquerors).
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Posted May 18, 2012 - 8:38 AM:

brenda wrote:
Terrorism is not "a method to promote ones objectives through violence". Every war does that. It is the infliction of the psychological state of terror on a population.


Very nicely articulated.
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Posted May 18, 2012 - 10:17 AM:

Terrorism is a word typically used by terrorists. You're more likely to die drowning in a bathtub than by so called terrorists. For that trillions have to be wasted on a "war on terror", and all your rights have to be sacrificed.
On May 21, 2012 - 12:10 PM, busycuttingcrap responded: Really? I thought it was used as a word for the OTHER guy... WE are never terrorists, THEY are
On May 22, 2012 - 8:25 AM, SittinWSocratesTiff responded: This post has been quoted on the Philosophy Forums Facebook page. Congratulations!
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Posted May 18, 2012 - 6:06 PM:

keda wrote:
Terrorism is a word typically used by terrorists.

I guess terrorists wont call themselves this way.
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Posted May 21, 2012 - 9:26 PM:

brenda wrote:
Terrorism is not "a method to promote ones objectives through violence". Every war does that. It is the infliction of the psychological state of terror on a population.


This isn't a bad definition, but to excessively nitpick, the use of the term population implies innocent civilians. Not sure if that was your intent or not, but can terrorism be defined purely in terms of inflicting said psychological state on innocents? Maybe it should be. That might help clarify its usage and misusage.

But a group may also inflict terror upon other groups (substituting this for the word population) that it deems to be complicit in particular misdeeds that it opposes, whether rightly or wrongly. In that sense, assuming the definition applies to inflicting terror within innocent populations, they are not terrorists and they would claim their acts are justified. We are left with a subjective definition that relies on abstract claims of 'guilt' and 'innocence.'

As an example, modern democratic societies assume a measure of 'consent' in the governing of their populations. Can a terrorist organisation justify violent acts against civilians by claiming their guilt stems from this consent regarding their Government, and therefore the actions of their Government?

Of course we want to say no. But it's not like there isn't a case to be made on the other side, one that will to a large extent rely on abstract principles not open to clear definition.
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