You are on page 1of 4

Can terrorism ever be justified?

Introduction: Terrorism has become a worldwide, philosophical debate, rooting from the terrorist attacks that have taken place. Over time, terrorism has shifted in its meaning due to circumstances in which have been difficult to classify acts of terror. This includes cases, such as Nelson Mandela and the IRA, which were controversial in the sense of either being classed as freedom fighters or terrorists. Terrorism has been studied by philosophers in order to answer the fundamental question: Can terrorism ever be justified? Whilst there is no clear definition for 'terrorism, philosophers such as Cody and Primoratz, have attempted to weigh up their views and arguments of terrorist acts. They have come to their own conclusion of terrorism being an act of violence to create fear, or to coerce the government and its population. The definition of terrorism can be seen to be in the word itself. Terrorism etymologically stems from 'terror' ideally giving negative connotations and illustrating terrorism being an act which creates undesirable feelings. Nevertheless, due to the discourse surrounding terrorism, individuals have their own views on 'terrorism,' making it difficult to create an incomparable definition. In regards to determining whether terrorism can ever be justifiable, philosophers can approach this in two ways. It can either be acknowledged through a consequential or a deontological perspective. Whilst philosophers can approach this question in one view or the other, each have their strengths and weaknesses as views are based on morality and ethical assumptions. Lit Review: Behaviours of terrorists have been changing; making it difficult to agree on a suitable definition for terrorism. Throughout history, terrorists have been able to fulfil the traits of terrorism: causing violence towards others and causing many attacks over a period of time. This suggests the behaviour of terrorists has somewhat stayed the same. However, from the times of The Sicarri to much more recent terrorist groups, the extent to which their actions have been taken has increased. From assassinating a few people to bombing cities, implies how the improvements of weaponry and technology have influenced death increases. The purpose of terrorist acts may be to either change something (laws or beliefs), threaten people with the extent of harm they could cause, or to coerce. If these goals are unattainable, terrorists change their tactics by not just using threats of violence; but violence itself. This leads to questioning whether there is more than one type of terrorism; which overall demonstrates changes in behaviour. However, the prospect of agreeing on a definition of terrorism is unlikely. Terrorism is part of a discourse; a communication of thoughts which holds different perspectives made by societies. The media and the government influence a discourse. Both have the ability to portray terrorism and shape the beliefs individuals hold. Individuals can either think subjectively or objectively. If a statement is objective, it is completely unbiased and is not touched by previous experiences or tastes. Subjective thinking, on the other hand, is based on how individuals perceive reality and this statement cannot be refuted or backed up with evidence. This leads to an idea of there being more than one truth, implying that there is no Ambeya Begum Page 1

consequentialism has solutions which are able to solve moral dilemmas. according to set morals. they fail to recognise that these actions may develop into the worst of outcomes. This leads onto another question. Ambeya Begum Page 2 . giving them both strengths and weaknesses. Framework: Ethical theories either fall under the categories consequentialism or deontology. They therefore respect humans rights. Definitions: Throughout the years in which the word 'terrorism' has come into use. Even though both branches of philosophy have their own appeal. Deontology s pledge to consider the rights of others. A major strength of deontology is that it morally considers that we should not use individuals as a means to an end and that individuals should only be held morally responsible for their own behaviour. deontologists strongly base their decisions on the action itself. Consequentialists are those concerned with the consequences of an action. It allows individuals to weigh up assumptions and take a logical approach in the steps which lead to an outcome. in real life situations. In many cases. They consider whether actions are reasonable depending on how positive the outcome is in which it brings. should an act be considered good/bad or right/wrong based on what is going to happen? Another weakness is the concept of putting a value on an action. On the other hand. Yet. Deciding whether actions are considered to be ethical depends on whether or not you are a consequentialist or a deontologist. However. to justify actions. it makes it difficult to measure the goodness and wrongness of acts. It fails to contemplate the moral rights of using people as a means to an end. As it is impossible to put a certain value on any action carried out. neither can fully conform to what society perceives as morality. This may create unfairness from the consequence. may bring negative and absurd consequences. we are set with dilemmas in which deontology cannot provide us with an indication of how to act. The term first came into use during the French Revolution. This exemplifies that deontology shifts towards a consequentialist's viewpoint. something which consequentialism does not take into account. Consequentialism is the opposite of deontology.Can terrorism ever be justified? such thing as the ultimate truth. This brought positive connotations to the word and was even taken on as a name 'Les Terroristes'. deontology does not provide a firm system which deals with conflicted situations. Deontology also helps establish a set of values. However. in order to come up with an absolute definition for terrorism. deontologists will have to consider an action s consequences. it s meaning has changed and shifted in different aspects. Even though they acknowledge the best moral intentions. something viewed as inevitable in this account. For example. Both ways of thinking therefore make it difficult to combine the two together. unlike deontology. contradicting the deontologist's view of not taking consequences into account. if an act is based on the assessment of its consequences. Consequentialism also suggests that we should base actions solely on its consequences. allowing people to be consistent with completing a set of actions each time they perform it. This enables us to understand the moral approach and gives general guidance into maximising goodness. whilst the Jacobins were achieving their goal to reshape society. counting on what they consider right and wrong. deontology hints that individuals should act.

Primoratz defined terrorism as being an attack 'against innocent people.. do people not have the right to live? Nicholas Fotion disagrees with Held. In regards to this.. are somewhat guilty. Bauhn added her own extension to this definition and considered terrorist attacks to be aimed at guilty people too. So far. Analysis: Terrorists tend to hurt or injure a group of people who happen to be in a certain place at a certain time. since then negative connotations have been brought to its meaning. However. some acts of terrorism can lead to positive outcomes. which contradicts her statement made at the beginning if all individuals should have their rights respected equally and morally. insinuating that they believe everyone who is injured. Their rights are violated they have no freedom for choice. In order to clarify her argument she created her own scenario: Part A of the population have their human rights respected whilst part B of the population have their human rights violated. Consequentialist. the innocent victim is worse off. This leads to distinguishing two types of definitions. In order to be able to justify terrorism. according to Held. Terrorism is indeed going to achieve an end result and there is no way it can be attained morally.. such as having human rights respected... a narrow view of terrorism should be adopted.. nor a human in the sense of simply having value as a human being. a narrow definition looks precisely on the idea of terrorist acts being subjected to only innocent people. Virginia Held. Part A have to be threatened with harm in order to coerce the government into treating rights equally. Held s urge to justify terrorism creates weaknesses.. as they are being used as means to an end.' Foiton argues that terrorists have their own conceptions of what brings goodness.. being enough to justify its means.Can terrorism ever be justified? However. Foiton states: 'In being treated as an object. terrorism will always fail to meet this principle. terrorism has been seen to violate the rights of individuals. Ultimately. treated as objects because they are humans. However. He illustrates that bringing about a mean to an end is always bad and terrorism is never the last resort to bring change and outcomes. He believes it is morally wrong to victimize innocent people.because that brings about more terror. without taking into consideration the interest of the people. with the aim of intimidating others. wide and narr ow. Her argument fails to consider the rights of the victimised population. the act must demonstrate the end bringing out goodness. Conversely. this does not involve treating them as humans. bases her justification on terrorism solely on human rights. In order for Part B to have their rights respected. A narrow definition would define terrorism as being an act of violence to cause intimidation and coercion towards innocent people. He also claims that in order to justify terrorism. they are victimized and. Foiton implies that terrorism can never be justified as there will always be an Ambeya Begum Page 3 . terrorism has been known to be an act of violence that intends to cause harm in order to fulfil political goals or to coerce through using threats.. Of course the terrorist needs to pick a human being as a victim. A wide definition takes into account terrorism being aimed at the innocent and the guilty. Both can be used in order to illustrate terrorism. This suggests that the consequence at the end of an attack will always have a negative effect. the innocent victim is neither a human in this judgemental sense..

for political aims without political authority. immeasurably awful. I have analysed arguments made by philosophers and have been able to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. it also takes into consideration the destruction of political order. is a matter as clear as can be. However. . terrorism has been understood as being acts of violence which can be viewed from a deontological theory or a consequential theory. Ambeya Begum Page 4 .. Walzer concluded that the bombing that ripped through Germany was justifiable due to the supreme emergency Britain was facing. that the consequences of its final victory were.. terrorism will always be wrong. deontologists are also presented with arguments into whether or not it can be considered to morally justify certain acts of terrorism. strongly find terrorism immoral.. He states: 'An ultimate threat to everything descent in our lives. In their view. Fotion s argument is much stronger in suggesting that terrorism is unjustifiable. Terrorism. This argument also justifies terrorism in exactly the same as the supreme emergency argument. Both consequentialists views have identified ways in which terrorism can be and cannot be justifiable. He writes that it is wrong. and obviously wrong.. Walzer expands his line of reasoning by creating a political emergency argument. deontologists such as Rudiger Bittner. then terrorism is the only action that can block the threat from causing any damage. then why should individuals? In conclusion. Taking into consideration human rights and the lives of innocent people. so degrading even to those who might survive.' During the war. to kill innocent people. Britain s realisation that they were going to be defeated by the Germans. as it is considered immoral.Can terrorism ever be justified? alternative method to bring about change. To help others. as all else had failed. terrorism and any act of violence should always be unjustified. Lastly.' Walzer illustrates Britain being under threat by an external force. So. He therefore implies that if war can be justified. However. However. Throughout. I have not defended any acts of violence or suggested any acts of terrorism being justifiable.. He reckons that if a society is faced by a threat which risks survival. From the deontological perspective. Waltzer s argument is considered as weak as he moves to a consequentialist s view point. The World War ll German bombings are one of the terrorist attacks in which Michael Waltzer uses in order to argue his reason for being able to justify terrorism. then so may terrorism.He suggests that if political authority shouldn t make attacks.Firm argument into understanding that k illing innocent people is wrong . However. 'an imminent threat of something utterly unthinkable from a moral point of view.. terrorism is never justified due to justice and rights.. Fotion s argument would be considered as strong into suggesting that individuals should not be used as being a means to an end and there is always an alternative to terrorism. Terrorism was the only hope of fending off the threat. I believe terrorism should not be justified. demonstrated Britain being a country facing supreme emergency. Instead. this becomes problematic as this argument brings forward more questions: How do you know when you have tried everything and when do we know when everything has been tried? From a deontologist s approach. Not that it is right with political authority to kill third parties for political aims.. by ruining other people s lives is wrong so I do not agree with Held s argument.