Philosophy 101: Ethics
What Is a Terrorist?
“A terrorist is one who sows terror,” says Elshtain. She means that the victims of terrorist attacks are subjected to terror, or great fear. The purpose of subjecting a group of people to such fear varies but usually aims to destroy the morale of a people in its attempt at some religious, political, or ideological goal. Crucial features of inducing terror are its randomness and its attack on civilians as opposed to combatants. This elicits fear in every person because they are afraid for their personal safety in their day to day lives, as opposed to fearing only for our soldiers. To determine who is a terrorist, we must ask who they are attacking. Do they mainly target combatants in the field or bases, do they try to destroy military equipment and are they open to negotiations? If so, we should not label them terrorists for simply being enemy combatants. However, if they are deliberately targeting noncombatants with the intention of killing as many civilians as possible, they are clearly terrorists.
The author holds that there is a “nihilistic edge to terrorism” as their goals are for brutal destruction in some hope of ludicrous utopian goals. She also compares the training videos of our U.S. military with that of one Islamic radical terrorist group. The U.S. military training videos teach our soldiers to distinguish combatants from noncombatants, called the principle of discrimination, and to disobey illegal orders under the laws of war which have evolved from the just war tradition and have become international conventions and arrangements. The terrorist training video however, depicts the decapitation of enemies who had already been disarmed which is forbidden
by the laws of war and is morally reprehensible. They go on to convince these radicals that they are killing in the name of god, or Allah, and that the enemies fight for Satan.
Central to her argument is that these extremists hate us for what we are and not for what we have done. What they hate about us is “not just a matter of sexual permissiveness, homosexuality and women’s rights as they exist in the West,” but that which is fundamental to our society, the religious tolerance and plurality that we built this country on, instead of “trying to serve a religious truth.” This means that some changes in U.S. foreign policy could deter some terrorist activity towards us, but that it would not really stop Islamic radicals.
Terrorism is the killing of all ideological enemies, civilian or combatant, outside the context of a war. Terrorists wreak terror. The terrorist kills as many of his objective enemies as he can in order to induce fear in the people that he has determined as the enemy. The method of inducing the most fear is by killing at random. By killing only in a certain way, fear is not as widespread. Terrorists do not want to compromise or come to some kind of agreement, in fact it is impossible when the goal of the terrorism is simply to kill as many civilians as possible.
Often times one side of a war will try to demonize the other by labeling them as terrorists. How do we know who is a terrorist? We must ask certain questions, such as who they are attacking. Are they attacking men in the field, in their bases, military equipment, and are they open to negotiate a resolution? If this is the case, they are not terrorists and we should not label them this way. If however, their immediate goal is to attack civilians, regardless of their ultimate goal, it is safe to assume that they are terrorists. Elshtain says “there is a nihilistic edge to terrorism,” because their goals are often ridiculous utopian visions with which they justify terrible destruction as a means to their end.
America’s war on terror would become an atrocious hypocrisy if we did not discriminate civilians from combatants as we would become terrorists ourselves. This is why we must be critical of ourselves...