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Debate: Can terrorism ever be justified?

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Background and context

Terrorism is usually defined as an unjust attack (mostly)on civilians in order to gain (in most cases political) influence or achieve other goals of similar nature. An example of 9/11 is the most famous one, however, we must be aware of the fact that there are many actions that might be perceived as terrorism, depending on one's culture, religious or political views or other factors. It can be also defined as a violent civil disobedience targeted against an authoritarian government while pursuing liberty.

Can terrorism be justified on some grounds? On any grounds?

Contents

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Is overthrowing/assassinating a dictator a sufficient justification for terrorism?

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Pro

  • There are no good alternatives to assassination. The alternatives to assassination would all leave a dictator in power for many years. In that time not only will many more people suffer under a repressive system, but the policies pursued by an out-of-touch and unrepresentative regime are likely to do serious (if unintentional) harm to the whole nation and its economy, making eventual rebuilding much more costly in both human and economic terms.
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Con

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Is fighting for national sovereignty a justification for terrorism?

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Pro

  • National sovereignty is essential. National sovereignty is by most nations perceived as something sacred that must never be sacrificed. It is a basic pillar of their culture and self-determination.
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Con

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Is killing civilians "for the greater good" justifiable?

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Pro

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Con

  • Violates rights and justification cannot be achieved. Natural Rights are violated due to deaths by terrorists. Imagine rights as a infinte number, no matter what you multiply it by it's still infinity and that is the value of rights. How do we know we acheived for the greater good? We don't, the greater good is justice and justice is never achievable because it may be justified in one's eye but not the other. Therefore it isn't justified to kill an infinite number of rights for justice because we cannot achieve justice.
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Is terrorism justifiable if it represents the only means to counter an authoritarian regime?

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Pro

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Con

  • To liberalize a regime, there are better ways than terrorism. Alternatives such as constructive engagement or economic sanctions are preferable and much more likely to result in eventual liberalisation of the regime, albeit slowly. The examples of Eastern Europe in 1989 and Yugoslavia in 2000 show that even in apparently hopeless cases, change can come through popular action, often quickly and without great violence. Cambodia in 1979, Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 all saw dictatorships quickly overthrown by external forces.
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Public opinion: Where does the public stand?

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See also

External links and resources

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