Professor Gregory Fried
Ethics of Peace and War
December 11, 2014
The Morality of Terrorism
People tend to use violence in order to resolve disputes; we deal with violence on a daily basis, from local criminals to wars overseas to fighting non-state actors such as terrorists. The way on how we should respond to terrorists and terrorist’s acts often brings up several ethical questions such as: is terrorism ever justified? Or whether or not is it ethical to use torture and preemptive war as a technique to prevent suspected attacks on a state? These are controversial issues that are constantly being debated from all perspectives. In this essay we will explore this questions from different viewpoints in order to get a broader perspective and be able to make educated judgments towards this issue. Terrorism is often defined as those activities that i) involve violent acts towards human life that violate the law and ii) appear to be: intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; and finally affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, murder or kidnapping. From the just war theory point of view, terrorism is always an impermissible tactic, since it involves the killing of innocent civilians. After 9/11 the U.S. launched a military campaign to destroy the perpetuators, at first Osama Bin Laden’s and Al-Qaeda network of terrorists where the main targets, however the war on terrorism has expanded, targeting many loosely cells and movements that have emerged all around the world and that share a common goal. The war on terror involves military action, which includes the tactic of preemptive war in order to prevent attacks on the state. In order for a state to use this tactic the danger of an attack must be imminent, the UN charter prohibits any member nation from using armed force unless it is for self defense. While fighting against terrorists the morality of what to do with captured terrorists has been questioned, according to the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war should be treated under the scope of benevolent quarantine, which means enemy soldier can be stripped of their weapons, incarcerated and questioned; however they cannot, under any circumstance, be tortured. The main issue concerns on whether terrorist should be treated the same way as a soldier fighting for its country. Many argue that the laws of war and the just theory must be rethought in what its currently known as the age of terror. In order to get a deeper understanding in the morality of terrorism and how it should be targeted I will explore this issues from different perspectives. Beginning with Michael Walzer, a political thinker who has written a variety of books on political theory and moral philosophy; according to Walzer terrorists are people who belong to a certain group attempting to bring attention to an issue by bringing terror to the larger populace, for Walzer terrorism is wrong because it involves an attack on innocent parties, it is deliberate and terrorists are rational on their choice of targets. He believes terrorism should be avoided at all costs, he compares it to crimes such as murder and rape but a on a greater scale. According to Walzer terrorism aims at vulnerability “kill those in order to terrify those”, the peculiar evil of terrorism is the killing of innocent and the intrusion of fear into people’s every day life. Walzer’s main argument against terrorism is that he believe we live in a political culture of excuse, where terrorism is constantly and openly defended and justified. Walzer gives a list of four excuses on how terrorism is justified in today’s society. The first and most common excuse he gives is that it is the last resort; however Walzer argues that in order to reach the point where there are no more options other than terrorism the person or group must have literally tried and run out of all political and...
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