Is terrorism ever justifiable ? The answer is no, terrorism is never justifiable. I will argue that terrorism is not justifiable because it does not contribute to a goal of a more peaceful society. Terrorism contributes to conflict, no matter what reason is used to legitimize it. But in order to argue that terrorism is unjustifiable I must first decide on a definition of terrorism. This definition encompasses all the acts that we would determine as terrorism. This includes acts that one side would label as “freedom fighting” and another would label as terrorism. Terrorism is violence set against non-combatants in order to intimidate a side to submit to a particular goal. For something to be justifiable, it needs to be morally right and it can never be morally right to intimidate people with violence whose sole purpose is to shock, intimidate and/or cause fear. What is terrorism ? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy presents several definitions from different thinkers: The performance of violent acts, directed against one or more persons, intended by the performing agent to intimidate one or more persons and thereby to bring about one or more of the agent's political goals (Bauhn 1989: 28).
The tactic of intentionally targeting non-combatants [or non-combatant property, when significantly related to life and security] with lethal or severe violence … meant to produce political results via the creation of fear (Coady 2001: 1697).
The deliberate use of violence, or threat of its use, against innocent people, with the aim of intimidating some other people into a course of action they otherwise would not take (Primoratz 2004: 24).
All three of these definitions agree that terrorism has a) violence and b) is done to compel a course of action. The rest of it is unclear. What qualifies as an “innocent” person ? Does a bomb planted at the offices of a murderous regime count as terrorism ? And what is a non combatant ? Do off duty soldiers in civilian dress count as non combatants ?
Whether a victim is innocent or not should not count as part of the definition. A terrorist act against a “non-innocent” still qualifies as a terrorist act. Even if the terrorist has the most altruistic intentions, the goal is still to scare a target into aiding towards a specific goal. Thus the “terror” is more important than the innocence. Whether the terrorist act actually causes any terror is also irrelevant. Terrorist acts are done with the intention to intimidate, shock and/or cause fear. It does not make sense to think that a terrorist act was done knowing that it would not intimidate, shock or scare anyone.
The definition that will be chosen for this essay is from former UN chief, Kofi Annan. He described terrorism as: … any action [that ] is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act This is the most complete definition of terrorism because it incorporates the actions of both state and non state actors.
But we are confronted once again with the description “non combatant”. A non combatant is someone who is not in a combat state. It is as simple as that. The combatant is not in a position to be in combat or is in an area where combat is not expected. This is important because whoever decides to commit a terrorist act will choose a target where they are the most venerable whether it is a public school or the house of a dictator. Even a mess hall in a military base will count as a terrorist act. The key is to attack a target when they are the most venerable and when they least expect it. If a terrorist can attack soldiers in their base when they are unarmed and unprepared it has been done with the purpose of demoralizing and intimidating the target. This would mean that terrorist acts also happen during war...