Can Terrorism Ever Be Justified? If So How? If Not, Why Not?

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Martin Allan


Can Terrorism Ever Be Justified? If So How? If Not, Why Not?

Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends. This definition was proposed by terrorist analysists in 1979, but has never been surpassed for clarity and concision. Schmidt and Youngman in their book Political Terrorism for example, cited 109 different definitions of terrorism, which they obtained in a survey of leading academics in the field. Thus, for the purpose of this paper I shall make no attempt at defining this ambiguous and elusive term but will nevertheless reveal its importance in helping to discuss the question with which this paper is concerned.

Terrorism is now a well established feature of world politics and conflict. Indeed, the literature on this particular form of political violence is seemingly endless. This paper shall take precedence with the highly contested issue of whether terrorism can ever be justified.

In what follows I shall endeavour to explore a number of issues that confront academics when discussing the judgement of terrorism. Primarily, a comprehensive analysis of just war theory shall be undertaken to see if acts of terrorism can accommodate its citation. A particular focus into the discriminate principle shall be discussed, as it is widely believed that a terrorist act is often judged from within this "non-combatant immunity" concept. Secondly, this paper shall focus on the importance of defining terrorism and how the lack of agreement regarding the phenomena can often get confused with notions of revolutionary violence and national liberation. Finally, I shall conclude by exposing the need for a common definitional consensus on the term, if acts of political violence can be officially labelled as terrorism and ultimately their actions being condemned or justified.

The just war theory...