Terrorism: Meaning of Life and Oxford University Press

Topics: Meaning of life, Morality, Life Pages: 8 (2952 words) Published: March 10, 2013
In his article “Terrorism,” Michael Walzer describes terrorism as the indiscriminate murder of innocent people. He goes on to explain that terrorists have the objective of destroying the morale of a nation and instilling fear within a society by not targeting a specific group of people, but rather, targeting the population as a whole and killing “random” people. Walzer and many like-minded philosophers share the view that terrorism is wrong and is not justified under any circumstances; thus rendering it akin to murder. The preceding view is referred to as the “the dominant view,” as labeled by Lionel K. McPherson, because it is common to a great deal of people – many of who are not philosophers. McPherson attempts to discredit the notion that terrorism is wrong by relating it to modern warfare and showing the ways in which it is better in comparison. After reading the opposing arguments presented by Walzer and McPherson, I will be proving that although terrorism is not as immoral as war, it is still wrong. The first premise to my argument is the fact that terrorism is not as immoral as war; the majority of proof collected to support this premise is obtained from Lionel K. McPherson’s article, “Is Terrorism Distinctively Wrong?” McPherson raises a rival view to Walzer and suggests, “terrorism is the deliberate use of force against noncombatants, which can be expected to cause wider fear among them, for political ends[1].” The first piece of evidence lies in the fact that noncombatant deaths contribute to between 75 and 90 percent of all war deaths. McPherson points out that we do not know the reason of these deaths, but because it happened during the period of war, it can safely be said that whether it be directly or indirectly, war leads to a high number of civilian casualties. Moreover, terrorism is considered wrong because of the fact that it instills fear in the civilians, but as McPherson asserts, civilians have more to fear when it comes to conventional war as opposed to terrorism. The reason for this is because of the fact that terrorists generally don’t have the ability to attack and employ violence on a large scale because of state security or lack of resources. Thirdly, McPherson introduces the proportionality principle, which is a one of the laws of war. This principle “prohibits disproportionate or excessive use of force, with an emphasis on noncombatants[2].” This means that combatants cannot intentionally and excessively hurt noncombatants without a justified reason. This principle is used by those who are against terrorism to prove that unlike terrorists, war combatants have a degree of care and concern towards noncombatants. Although this is true, it is necessary to look at the reasons behind an action when discussing the morality of a situation. It is known that states abide by the laws of war that prohibit the excessive use of force against noncombatants, however, it would be foolish to accept this fact without seeing why this rule was made. McPherson points out that rather than these laws of war being based on moral concern for noncombatants; they are designed to protect the shared interests of the states in the grand scheme of things. So, rather than the logic being ‘lets not harm the noncombatants because we would be harming them,’ in reality, the logic is ‘lets not harm the noncombatants because, in the long run, it is in our best interest not to harm them.’ This does not seem very moral to me. Lastly, I’d like to look more closely at a point raised by Walzer to defend McPherson’s argument that terrorism is more moral than modern warfare. Often, terrorists make moral distinctions on who can and cannot be killed, and under what circumstances it is okay. This demonstrates the idea that, just like some war combatants, because they are human, a sense of hesitation and morality in the actions of terrorists is instantiated. Although this may not justify said actions of the terrorists,...
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