Terrorism is essentially an inflammatory expression used in a pejorative manner to label various violent acts as morally blameworthy. Governments continually use this term to label individuals or groups that seemingly use violent means in a morally reprehensible manner. Terrorists are not necessarily bombers or killers such as suicide bombers as depicted in mainstream media but also entail people from numerous religious, political and cultural backgrounds. Terrorism typically involves violent acts performed against innocent people within societies, as well as other non-combatants within society (Christopher, 2004). Terrorism, however, does not involve acts of violence perpetrated against enemy combatants. As a consequence, the use of terrorism by al-Qaeda is quite justifiable since the group primarily targets enemy combatants such as the US army. This paper will examine the justifications of terrorism under the Distinction tenet that affirms that war should never be directed at non-combatants, but rather towards enemy combatants.
The use of terrorism is largely war perpetrated through other means. This is because those involved in acts of terrorism are often mentally healthy individuals who believe that the cause they are fighting for and the methods they use to fulfill their objectives, is quite justified. It is vital to realize that only all people who commit acts of terrorism are mentally disturbed. This is also the case in a war where conflicting groups, for instance, warring nations use their available resources to eliminate their opponents in the war and attain their desires, for instance, freedom (Steinhoff, 2007). Therefore, people who participate in acts of terrorism are essentially freedom fighters or warriors for justice who fight against powerful governments whose aims are to delegitimize those with modest amounts of power. Under this tenet, the use of terrorism by al-Qaeda is justified since the group’s primary objective is to affirm its power in an environment where governments, for instance, the US seeks to delegitimize the power of countries such as Iraq.
Some of al-Qaeda’s members are extremely well-educated individuals who have resilient moral convictions that afford them the status of justice warriors. This means that the acts al-Qaeda commits are not universally morally reprehensible. As a matter of fact, the society, particularly in countries with little power may consider the actions of the al-Qaeda as commendable acts of courage against evil, powerful governments that seek to maintain the status quo. Critics who condemn acts of terrorism do so under the premise that it is morally unjust to participate in activities that harm innocent people. However, the society constantly engages in acts that harm innocent people. For instance, during war, enemy combatants attack one another and in the process harming innocent people by bombing inhabited regions or raiding nonmilitary buildings during law enforcement practices (Rapport & Alexander, 2003). Members of the al-Qaeda essentially believe that they are acting out God’s will and thereby believe their actions are morally justified regardless of what they do to fulfill God’s commands. Therefore, under the Divine Command Argument, the actions of al-Qaeda are justified since the group primarily acts with a view to fulfilling the commands of God. As a consequence, al-Qaeda are justified to attack American civilians whom the group has declared the entire US as an enemy. This essentially means that all persons within the US will be deemed enemy combatants rather than non-combatants. In this case, every American becomes a plausible target of the al-Qaeda rather than an innocent person.
Christopher, P. (2004). The ethics of war and peace: An introduction to legal and moral issues (3rd ed.). New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Rapport, D., & Alexander, Y. (2003). The morality of terrorism (2nd ed.). Colombia: Columbia University Press.
Steinhoff, U. (2007). On the ethics of war and terrorism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.