Can terrorism ever be justified?

Since the turn of the century, the postmodern world has seen increasing levels of political, cultural, military and socio-economic tumult, much of this due to a series of terrorist attacks on American soil and the resultant waging of Washington ’s “War on Terror”. Consequently, the nature of terrorism has come under intense media focus and is subject to immense debate, especially on its justification. Before engaging in such a debate one must first identify terrorism as an act of widespread violence, whether on the part of a state or individual, against another state or society, with the ultimate goal of forcing the latter party to cede to the formers demands – be they political or socio-economic. With such a definition in place we find that terrorism is indeed unacceptable in a vast majority of occurrences. But we cannot be entirely certain that that is the case for a few but highly controversial situations. In its entirety, though I would tend to agree with the statement I must also state that it is too complex to be offered a clear-cut response.

From the perspective of a humanitarian, terrorism is completely abhorrent and totally unacceptable no matter the opinion of the terrorists themselves. All areas of terrorism in recent years have been manifested in the form of the taking of innocent lives – lives that had little to do with the terrorist’s main cause. From the attacks on New York City in 2001 to the spate of car bombings in Moscow to the insurrections of the Southern Philippines, almost all terror attacks have caused the death of thousands of innocent bystanders, wanton destruction of private property, and incredible distress and pressure brought upon those who had the misfortune of seeing their loved ones being threatened with decapitation on news channels. It is through this argument that we as a “moral” global people condemn terrorism and its perpetrators no matter what their cause is. They as human beings are simply barred by the laws of humanity from inflicting such atrocities upon the lives of those who had nothing to do with their past hurts and grievances.

Indeed, terrorism is essentially a magnification of previous injustice. While terrorists such as the impoverished minions of Al Qaeda or Abu Sayaff feel that their lives have been cheated by the big American Satan, what they do to take the lives of civilians elsewhere is, in fact, even more satanic than the policy makers in the White House refusing to end economic aid to developing countries.

Apart from criticizing terrorism by measuring it according to the standard of universal human values of justice, we as a community of nations must also condemn it according to international law. State-sponsored terrorism is no different from the terrorism of a fanatical private individual and hence must also be stopped. And this is extremely important because state-sponsored terrorism is easier to identify and curb, it also makes the nation-perpetrator extremely illegitimate because it violates international law in the most despicable of manners, show’s the leaders of their nation as callous brutes, and thus degrades the international reputation of that country. For example, Muammar Gaddafi’s sanctioning of civilian airplane bombings over Lockerbie , Scotland in 1986 gave him the international image of a madman and turned Libya into a pariah nation even until today. For the sake of protecting national dignity, each and every member of the international community must never see terrorism as acceptable.

Finally, terrorism as a solution to one party’s problems must be rejected because it is extremely ineffective in the long run. Though seemingly inhumane for its lack of human rights consideration, this argument is built on unshakable logic and is exemplified by recent events. Palestinians regularly don bomb-jackets and detonate themselves in Israeli cafes and buses in order to secure a future for their Palestinian homeland. What they have succeeded in achieving to date is an ever increasing rate of Israeli military incursions into refugee camps, helicopter muscle strikes on their key leadership such as the Yassin assassination earlier this year, and increasing international unwillingness to broker a peace deal that may well guarantee the very Palestinian security which they died for in the first place. In short, violence only begets more violence, nothing else, hence making terror totally unreliable as a means to an end.

But, as with all controversies, the issue of terrorism has spawned a large number of devil’s advocates, and hence a member of arguments that terror is “acceptable” because it is “a natural consequence” of the actions of one nation upon others. Though highly repugnant to the humanitarians, these arguments do make for a convincing, if controversial, case.

Terror must be accepted as the inevitable outcome of the damning legacy of colonialism that the First world has left on the Third, which was further exacerbated by Cold War machinations and power plans. Since the last century the vast majority of African, Arab, and Asian states have suffered under periods of debilitating colonial rule, and we find that the majority of terrorists have come from such impoverished nations. But their plight was forged into a cause for violence because of the First world ’s action In the Cold War. When we examine the methodology, tactics and weaponry of the international terror organizations, we find that they in fact had their origins in the First world! American and Soviet Cold War era weapons are the mainstay of Al Qaeda’s and Abu Sayaff’s arsenals, and CIA training doctrines in Afghanistan have had a massive impact in shaping the methods of infiltration carried out by Al-Qaeda’s cells. But more importantly, it was the actions of the United States in leaving Afghanistan to languish in poverty in 1987 after the Soviet Union withdrew that brought an incredible sense of bitterness and resentment upon many a mujaheedin fighter, most notably a certain Osama bin laden. By taking the macro point of view we find that the terrorism of today is but a natural consequence of the plans that were set in motion a couple of decades ago by the world’s most powerful countries.

Excellent in the way you organize your arguments, looking at the principle and the practice as well as the conditions/situations faced by the terrorists. Must your paragraphs be so long? Granted you want to cover all the points here but points tend to be over-elaborated. The result – essay twice the length of what is expected!

In addition, we must accept terror even though we do not condone it because it is also a natural outcome of severe desperation and bitterness of the world’s impoverished majority. By examining the root causes of terror in the terrorists’ own homelands, we find that their suffering in poverty and that their perceptions of the “unfairness” and moral decadence of Western capitalism have resulted in terror because they have no other room to make their opinions heard. All the Arab states save one or two exceptions are run by autocracies without the slightest hint of free media. This has given rise to entire societies that have no room to voice their opposition to American policy in Israel or Russian occupations of Chechnya . And this is not limited to Arabian monarchies or theocracies. In Southern Thailand the Muslim peoples became increasingly bitter about their situation because of the lack of national focus on their plight. When two such powerful forces, one of government repression and the other of a people’s bitterness and envy and need to be seen and heard, collide, the resultant outcome can only be violence in the form of terrorism. One has only to look at the societies from which Al Qaeda’s operatives, Abu Sayaff’s guerillas, Palestinian suicide-bombers, and even the Spanish Basque Separatists come from to see the ongoing trend of desperation and need to be heard being put down by government repression and international indifference. Terror must be an accepted outcome if we do not give ear to the needs of the poor.

Finally, we cannot immediately condemn all violent actions in society as a form of terror. Terror to one is not terror to another; this is clearly seen in the split of world opinion over the mounting Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The American government, heavily pressured by a powerful Zionist lobby, sees the Palestinian suicide bombers as callous terrorists whilst the Muslim world, as evidenced by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Doctor Mahathir’s speeches, views them in the light of martyrs, sacrificing themselves for Allah and Palestine. In such a situation it is virtually impossible to objectively define what constitutes a terrorist and what does not. And even if we do say with conviction that such suicide bombers are terrorists, who are we to say they are unjustified in fighting they only way they know? The weight of suffering and mistreatment of the Palestinians by the Tel Aviv coalitions has grown almost unbearable over recent years. If the immense injustice the Palestinians have borne is not justification enough for their taking of innocent Israeli lives, then surely we can argue that the USA ’s refusal to listen with unbiased hearing to their cause is. It is an plausible that the Palestinian suicide bomber does what he does because violence is the only thing that would make the rich Jewish businessmen in America sit up and take note of CNN’s coverage of the burdens the Palestinians have to bear because of the biased American support of Israel or whoever’s in power. In this scenario, the case for terror is stronger than the case against.

In summary, I would not condone terror nor deem it acceptable under any circumstances. But I also have sympathy for the societies in which these terrorists are born and raised for it is the sense of injustice that they feel there that causes even more injustice around the world. As much as I condemn terror as an act of taking innocent lives, I sympathize with the demands of terrorists because that which drives a human to take the lives of others must be an unbearable force indeed. In the final analysis, a clear-cut response to the scourge as terror is illusory and cannot be found.

(P.S. Terrorism need not have a political agenda. You could have made this point but chose to concentrate on politics for your essay)

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