Resulting in the death of two children; and then bomb blasts in New York and in Bombay. These are merely a few examples of terrorist activities around the world.
Terrorism is the random use of violence to achieve political ends that inflicts damage on innocent people and property creating terror or fear in them.
An individual who commits violent acts to seek public attention for his cause- which he thinks justifies his violence- is a terrorist.
The terrorist aims at focusing attention on his problem by destroying innocent people besides property. He sees himself as engaged in an ‘unofficial war’ aimed at political objectives and identifies his cause with the fight for human rights.
To the terrorist himself, of course the means he adopts is justified. However, we would have to consider the causes and the gamut of responses to terrorism before we can agree-or disagree with the terrorist’s view.
Today, almost every country faces the threat of terrorism in varying degrees. Why has terrorism become so popular a means for achieving ends? Political, economic and social causes can be identified for the mushrooming of terrorist groups.
Political desired and ambitions conflicting with those of the government are expressed through violence so that they would be better heard. Growing political unrest and dissatisfaction erupts in the form of terrorist activities as the state itself is seen as the seat of sin and corruption.
The constitutions of most democracies provide for equal rights but often these may be denied to one group. Some statuses of the law may not be rightly enforced or enforced at all. Criminalisation of institutions leads to a general sense of discontent.
To a large extent it is such a scenario which is responsible for the deterioration of the social and economic conditions. The formation of terrorist groups then is reactionary.
Aiming to revamp the social set-up or improve the economic situation of ‘common people’, terrorist groups seek political goals through the means of violence.
It is again the wish to improve one’s lot socially and economically that drives ordinary persons to terrorism. This is much the case in India.
Mistreatment in homes has also been identified as an important factor. Joining terrorist group is a way to express individual grievances and private rage.
Once a terrorist enrols himself in a group, he is often caught in its trammels by threats of the group itself.
A genuine cause can indeed, be identified with a terrorist group or its members but it is rather rare.
In such cases, it is a blind irrational devotion to the cause that spurs the terrorist on so that he not only commits violent acts but is even is even zealous to justify his extreme violence. He may also find in his violence an adequate means to express his private anger.
Terrorist often assume the garb of ‘urban guerrillas’, ‘resistance fighters”, ‘revolutionaries’ and others. The terrorist however unlike the guerrilla fighter does not seek to demolish political authority for the sake of creating an improved authority in its place; his activities are not outcome-oriented.
Terrorist activities overlook conventional distinctions of person and place while guerrilla warfare is genuine warfare is genuine warfare against a stated enemy.
It is the terrorist’s randomly executed violence that puts him in a category different from that of the assassin’s.
Political assassins single out as their victims those individuals who are felt to be accountable for alleged misdeeds or for their anticipation in just institutions.
While the assassin attempts to remove one office-holder so that he would be replaced by another pursuing more acceptable policies the terrorist-seeks simply to destroy.
Terrorist acts may sometime include assassinations of a person but all assassinations cannot be regarded as terrorist activities.
The terrorist more often than not proclaims his killings while the subversive postpones self-identification and bids for recognition. Sometimes, acts of kidnapping and hijacking by a person or persons can be mistaken for terrorist acts.
The distinguishing feature is that such person or persons usually demand money as ransom and do not identify themselves with any terrorist group or cause. On the other hand all these activities may be employed by terrorists for their own ends.
Though the goal of coercion cannot be built into the definition of terrorism, the violence it employs is coercive in nature.
The terrorist resorts to sudden violence in order to achieve his political ends but this in it self cannot be, enough to condemn terrorism for all violence is not necessarily unjustifiable.
A list of situations that might be held to justify violence would include cases of self-defence, prevention of threats to one’s own life or other’s lives and protection of individual or collective right to liberty. Violence cannot be condemned outright even if it is a type of force.
Force is a common feature of the political system itself and is used by the legitimate authorities to ensure payment of taxes, control of crime, and for upholding law and order.
But terrorist violence is deplorable mainly because it is randomly executed and is directed most often at the innocent or ordinary people who are totally unprepared for it.
The terrorist’s focus on ordinary people is based on the fact that they are easy to reach and are susceptible to the deadly force. He hopes that the ‘spared’ innocents would recognise that they might have been the victims of the terrorist’s ambitions and so take him seriously.
The terrorist ensures greater attention to his problems by targeting the innocent. A terrorist often justifies his acts by pointing out that the victims are not really innocent, but are threats due to their financial or electoral support or an institution or the state.
The terrorist even holds the innocents punishable for their crime of ignoring him and his causes.
But such arguments cannot be taken seriously; any individual has the liberty to extended support or refrain from extending support to any group or institution as long as he does not intrude other’s rights and does not act for the deterioration of the society or his country.
The killing of ordinary people raises arguments that identify destruction in wars as similar to that which results from terrorist activities.
The comparison is weak for whereas wars are fought for the sake of protecting the populace at large, terrorist activities serve the interests of a specific group only.
Once we denounce the kind of violence adopted by the terrorist there is not much of case for defending his acts on grounds of morality.
Terrorist violence shakes the framework of morality because it amounts to doing things to people without warning mercy or recourse it takes away the rights of the people.
The members of a terrorist group may be genuinely suffering because of the denial of certain rights by the government or the state. Ironically they in their turn think nothing of exercising their rights by intruding upon those of the ordinary people.
The problem posed by terrorism is that of achieving effective respect for the basic human rights of the members of one group by the violation of the basic human rights of another group.
Strictly speaking rights should not be judged in comparative terms. No single right can be suppressed for the sake of another.
But where rights conflict, their priority has to be taken into consideration some rights have to be seen as more basic than others.
So it would be more imperative to stop violations of the black population’s right to freedom and right to live in South Africa than to prevent the violation of the white’s property rights.
Even if one sympathises with a terrorist cause the sympathy is diluted on the realisation that the terrorist does not respect another human being rights as a human being.
The terrorist’s violation of the people’s right o live the most serious serious violation because it attacks the fundamental rights of all- the right to live.
This has to be safeguarded even if it is means denying the terrorist one of the comparatively less important rights, like the right to expression.
There are rare instances when terrorism can be condoned and hence justified. When the state itself resorts to terrorist activity in the first place, then the terrorists activities can be justified as a from of counter-terrorism.
But again, it is difficult to justify the killing of ordinary people who are as much victims of the terrorist state as the terrorist groups. Terrorism provides legitimisation for political repression and hence cannot be defended.
Even on the plane of practical reality it is difficult to justify terrorism as it rarely succeeds in achieving its objective.
It is argued that terrorist activities do succeed in acquiring the release of convicted and imprisoned colleagues and in influencing the behaviour of the public.
The militant Palestinians terrorist campaigns against their moderate counterparts in the West Bank have succeeded in the sense that it has become difficult for any moderate public leadership to survive.
But we can effectively argue against the “success claim” of terrorist activities by pointing out that their basic purpose remains unfulfilled i.e. their political goals are hardly achieved.
There is no indication that damage to persons or property does indeed advance political ends. Terrorists themselves are not unaware that they cannot topple regimes by harming the innocents.
Some people extend the view that the terrorist’s aim is to express support for political outcome and not really to bring about those outcomes.
And so it is said sometimes no group takes the responsibility for an attack, leave alone present a list of political demands. The terrorists claim to be content that their activity is expressive in nature.
But even if it is so, it does not succeed, for it is viewed more as an act of horror that creates fear and terror in the people than as the expression of a legitimate cause with which the masses can sympathise.
The expressive activity is possible only at a very heavy price-the loss of human lives. When the dis satisfied people have other channels like negotiated settlement non-violent civil disobedience etc open to then for expression their recourse to terrorism cannot be condoned.
Nor is their attempt to justify the desirability of their cause by relating it to elimination of injustice acceptable.
The terrorist in his quest for ‘rights’ thinks little of destroying the rights of others. However deeply we study the causes of the growth of terrorism even understands the motivation behind it we cannot justify it.
Even if we leave aside the moral issue involved and look at it from the ‘practical’ point of view we fail to find a justification for it hardly ever accomplishes its objective merely wreaking futile destruction.