Terrorism Against Non-Innocents: The Ethical Implications

In Paul Omoyefa (ed.), Basic Applied Ethics. VDM (2010)

The debate on the ethics of terrorism focuses for the most part on the argument that employing violence against innocents or non-combatants is morally wrong. This point is usually made in combination with a so called narrow definition of terrorism , i.e. one that defines terrorism as exclusively targeting innocents . Yet, some scholars prefer a so called wide definition of terrorism, i.e. they hold that it may well be directed against non-innocents. Leaving from the assumption that terrorism can be directed against non-innocents, in this paper I explore the ethical implications of such a wide definition regarding the possible justifiability of terrorism. As terrorism in this wide sense does not infringe the prohibition against killing innocents it seems, at the first glance, that such terrorism is somewhat less reprehensible or even justifiable. I use the term terrorism as describing an indirect strategy of using fear or terror induced by violent attacks or force (or the threat of its use) against one group of people (direct target) or their property as a means to intimidate and coerce another group of people (indirect target) and influence their actions in order to reach further political objectives. Terrorist acts are the violent acts that form part of such a strategy. I will furthermore distinguish between strong and weak terrorism: When the direct targets are so-called innocents it is strong terrorism; in any other case it is weak terrorism. I focus on the question of whether killing in the course of acts of weak terrorism may be justified, and if so, under what conditions. According to my definition, weak terrorism is characterised by violent acts that are not intentionally directed against so called innocents, i.e. people who cannot be held responsible for the problem the terrorists are fighting and are thus immune from attack.
Keywords Ethics of Killing  Terrorism
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