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Can terrorism ever be justified?
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Terrorist acts intentionally kill or injure innocent people

Terrorism includes the deliberate killing or injury of innocent people. Even in cases where terrorism is used against an oppressive regime, it disregards the basic moral principle of civilian immunity.

The Argument

Since terrorism intentionally kills, injures, and poses a serious threat to innocent people, it can never be justified. This feature of terrorism differentiates it from killing or harming in self-defense. Ideally, in a war or a fight against an oppressive regime, the targets are people and objects of military value. Innocent people who are not taking part in military activities are not supposed to be targeted. International humanitarian law contains the principle of discrimination. This principle requires that all attacks be aimed at military personnel and that noncombatants are not legitimate targets. Soldiers may be attacked because they have surrendered their immunity by becoming members of the military. Civilians, unless they have, in some way surrendered their rights, have a moral immunity to attack.[1] Terrorists treat all direct victims as objects to be used for a higher good and claim that they have no alternative in cases of intense state oppression. However, as philosopher Nicholas Fotion argues, they always have an alternative of taking on the opponent’s military establishment or going after government officials responsible for the wrongs they object to instead of attacking innocent people. That kind of terrorism may sometimes be justified, whereas terrorism that targets innocent people never is.[2] Overall, considering that terrorism includes the intentional murder and harming of innocent people, it cannot be justified on any grounds.

Counter arguments

Terrorism may result in murder, which is bad –but not bad enough to be a uniquely evil and threatening phenomenon. A terrorist murder is not any worse than other murders. Indeed, what distinguishes terrorists from ordinary murderers is the deliberate frightening of people for political advantage. In this regard, states can be terrorists too. When terrorism is used as a political strategy to protect those oppressed by the state, terrorism can be justified despite it intentionally killing or injuring innocent people. In such cases, killings by terrorists can be considered as killing in self-defense since terrorists try to protect the rights of an oppressed population.[3] The ethical framework of consequentialism also supports this counter-argument. It argues that terrorism is unjustifiable and morally wrong only if it has bad consequences on balance. If the benefits of terrorism outweigh its costs, it can be justified. The innocence of people does not change the arithmetic calculation of benefits and costs.[4] Additionally, noncombatant immunity is not an absolute, exceptionless constraint on how wars or rebellions may be carried out. In cases of supreme emergency (when dangers are so imminent that there are no other alternative means to counteract the threat), civilians become permissible targets.[1]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Thursday, 19 Nov 2020 at 22:46 UTC

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