LESSON ONE: THE DEFENCE OF TERRORISM
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. I’m just as clever. I titled this paper so that whatever censors might be out there would think it’s obviously tongue in cheek. But in fact it’s not. It really is about how to be a more effective terrorist.
In Canada I’m pretty much a nobody. A prophet is never honoured in his own country. But apparently in Germany and France, where academics are less squeamish about taking an interest in the Philosophy of War, it seems that, in the wake of my infamous “Defence of Terrorism” paper, I have an actual position named after me. Go figure!
Not unlike colonialism and genocide and other words that have lost their meaning through being metaphorised beyond all recognition, by terrorists is now meant little more than ‘them’. But here I want to resurrect what the term used to mean, namely the targeting of the enemy’s non-combatants, with a view to bringing pressure on its government to accede to the terrorist’s demands. And by ‘the enemy’ here is meant foreign or domestic.
The distinction between foreign and domestic may be useful for other purposes, but not for the analysis of terrorism. It doesn’t matter whether I’m driving the occupier out of my country, or dissuading the town council from expropriating my people’s sacred burial ground. For the purposes of this discourse it’s all of a piece.
Terrorism has been around since we came down from the trees. Why? Because it works. Not always. But often enough to always be a live option. In fact all of the governments currently engaged in the so-called War on Terror themselves came into being through terrorism. Try to name one that didn’t.
Oh, but of course that’s different. Ours was justified. Theirs is not.
And there we have it. As with pretty much every debate about what’s justified and what isn’t, it comes down to Hobbes versus Locke.
Here’s Thomas Hobbes. Terrorism is an act of war. An act of war is an act of war. And war is a contingent but nigh inevitable feature of the state of nature. “To this war of every man against every man,” says Hobbes, “this too is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place.”
John Locke, on the other hand, imagines that “a state of nature has a law of nature to govern it.” And presumably that law includes the immunity of non-combatants. Hence for Locke terrorism could never be justified, whereas for Hobbes it needs no justification.
The dispute couldn’t be more clear. If Locke is right then Hobbes is wrong. And if Hobbes is wrong then so am I. But Hobbes is right. So the law of the immunity of non-combatants, if it exists, couldn’t be ‘natural’. It would have to be posited. And it could be posited if and only if it were to the mutual advantage of both parties. For if it were not, it couldn’t be incumbent on the party for whom it’s not.
The immunity of non-combatants is to our mutual advantage, when it is, because pegging our conflict to the battle between, and only between, our respective champions, is Pareto. That is, relative to the alternative – namely the war of all against all, women, old men and children included – our champions are no worse off, but the rest of us are considerably better off.
But what if this condition of advantage fails to obtain? A Palestinian stone-thrower is no match for an Israeli tank. And so it’s not Pareto for the Palestinian to subscribe to the practice of championing. Neither, then, does it make any sense for him to subscribe to the immunity of non-combatants. Quad erat demonstrandum.
If this reasoning is unsound, what follows is dead in the water. But if it’s sound, let’s see what follows.
* * *
Let me be clear. I am not Pro-Life. In fact I’m agin life. I’d much prefer a world consisting of nothing but inanimate objects. But suppose I did believe that abortion is murder, that all non-violent means of protecting the unborn have been exhausted, and so it’s morally permissible – perhaps even morally mandatory – for me to do the only thing left to be done. I’m not asking whether killing the abortionist would be justifiable in your eyes. Clearly it’s not. I’m only asking that you grant it could be justifiable in mine.
If this be doubted, imagine you hear the man in the apartment next door beating his wife to death. Yes, a man’s home is his castle. But should that stop you from breaking his door down and coming to her rescue?
Perhaps you don’t think her life is worth saving. Fair enough. But what would we think of you if you did think her life worth saving but not at the cost of violating her assailant’s privacy? The moral issue, then, is not what you think about abortion, but what I think. And what you’d think of me if I didn’t act on my metaphysical and moral convictions.
Likewise, then, the issue is not whether we happen to be pro-Zionist or anti. It’s whether given what the occupied think of their seventy-two-year occupation, do they or do they not have the right to resist? And if they do – and given, as I’ve just argued, there is no categorical immunity of non-combatants – whether they have a right to resort to the ‘nuclear’ option, so to speak? I claim they do.
So from my perspective this has all been just throat clearing. What remains is, given this right, how is one advised to be a more effective terrorist? So it’s to this question of effectiveness that I now wish to offer my expertise, such as it is.
LESSON TWO: INTENT
In Lesson Four (forthcoming), I’ll be talking about corporate terrorism. Here I want to confine my counsel to the lone wolf terrorist. And I want to argue that almost invariably he’s nothing of the sort. What change in government policy did Timothy McVeigh hope to provoke by bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City? So at most McVeigh could only have been a vandal, by which is meant one who destroys, including lives, as an end in itself. This is not to say that vandalism can’t be as justified as terrorism. It can be and often is. It’s to say only that the two are not the same thing.
This is important. To count as a terrorist, there must be something one hopes to accomplish, and that something has to be very specific. Though it often is, a terrorist’s demands need not be made explicit. But they must at the very least be inferable. McVeigh’s were not. Bin Laden’s were.
Within an hour of the collapse of the second tower, no fewer than five spokespersons – for the city, for the county, for the state, for the federal government, and for the media – referred to the attacks as both cowardly and senseless. The Orwellian double-speak of calling this cowardly speaks for itself. But senseless suggests there was nothing Al Qaeda wanted other than to kill and destroy, because – and no, you can’t make this shit up – “they hate freedom!”
In the months and years following 9//11, the media has assiduously avoided asking that one question to which it didn’t want an answer, though the answer was there for the asking. What do they want? “For you to get your fucking McDonalds out of our country, and for you to stop killing our children!”
That said, I’ve argued elsewhere that whereas the Principle of Double Effect does us yeoman service in, say, medical ethics, it ought not to be appealed to in most military contexts. The reason for this is that in military contexts, the intention of an action is given not by what might be in the head of any individual actor, but rather in virtue of what do tokens of the action-type in question self-replicate. In virtue of what does the shelling of an apartment building in Gaza self-replicate? Is it the death of the Hamas leader who’ll be replaced within the hour? Or is it the terror it strikes in the general population by the death of the seven children sitting at the breakfast table with him?
Similarly, then, the intention of the terrorist need not be that the attack, all by itself, should cause, say, the occupier to withdraw from his country. It’s sufficient that he takes it as a token of the type of action that self-replicates because it forwards the conflict in the desired direction. So the lone terrorist is a terrorist just in case he takes himself to be a participant in what could count as a terrorist campaign.
Now let’s examine a fictional but instructive case in point.
LESSON THREE: THE LONE WOLF
As it happens I’m opposed to capital punishment. Not on principle, you understand. Being a Hobbesian I have none. As a Hobbesian I need only judge capital punishment to be imprudent, which I do. Suppose, then, I wanted to see it abolished, all peaceful means of doing so have been exhausted, and so it’s morally permissible – perhaps even morally mandatory – for me to do the only thing left to be done. And what’s that? The State of Texas has an execution scheduled for next week. I send an anonymous email to every media outlet in the State announcing that, henceforth, should any execution be carried out, ten randomly selected Texans will be killed in the 48 hours that follow it.
Needless to say, the State will call my bluff. So it can’t be a bluff. As with the pro-Lifer, I need to take lives in order to save lives. And so I do.
The Governor will then assure the people of Texas that the terrorist will be caught and brought to justice. But I’m not, at least not before the next execution, and so as promised I take another ten lives. Against his assurance goes unfulfilled. And so on it goes. At what point, do you suppose, would discretion prove the better part of Texan valour?
That, I submit, is the one and only surefire way to put an end to capital punishment in a Christian state like Texas. But it hangs – no pun intended – on my not getting caught. That’s a tall order, but made shorter by my being a lone terrorist rather than working in concert with others. Why? Because just as loose lips sink ships, likewise do they put the kibosh on an otherwise laudable crime spree.
But not getting caught requires something else. Means and opportunity are shared by pretty much every Texan over the age of ten. Motive is not. So who will the authorities be looking for? For the idiot who telegraphed his rabid opposition to the death penalty, to his friends, in his emails, in his tweets, in a blog like this one.
You can get away with wearing black face at a costume party when you were fifteen and still get elected to city council, especially in Texas. But not to the Presidency. So if you think you might someday want to become an ideologically motivated serial killer, you forfeit that option the moment you share your beliefs, even if they’re only nascent, with anyone. And that’s what makes domestic terrorism a species of Plato’s Paradox, by which is meant that the very people who could fill-in-the-blank are the very people who wouldn’t.
The successful domestic terrorist has to act alone. Difficult but surmountable. But anyone passionate enough to act on that passion is going to express it to others, because that’s the nature of passion. And it’s that sharing which is invariably going to get him caught. So though the authorities know the motive, they can only identify who might have that motive if he identifies himself as having it.
Which he will, unless, like me, he’s incredibly clever. I’ve never come out against capital punishment. No need to. We haven’t had it in Canada for over half a century. So would a mild-mannered septuagenarian philosophy professor from Canada find a rifle on the black market, spend his summers learning how to become an expert marksman, travel all the way to Texas to kill ten complete strangers a week, for a cause which surely must pale when compared to the dozens that manifestly do matter to him? I’m the very embodiment of the citizen above suspicion. I could even confess, as I did to being the second gunman on the grassy knoll, and no one would believe me, just as they didn’t believe me lo those 58 years ago.
So, to sum up, if you’re going to be a domestic terrorist, act alone. And whatever might be your motive, shut the fuck up about it! Be one of those people about whom the neighbours will say, “We had no idea!” Having to appear normal while harbouring terrorist ideation is not a recipe for avoiding mental illness. And mentally ill lone wolf terrorists get caught. Hence, as I say, lone wolf terrorism is a species of Plato’s Paradox.
And that’s the reason, and the only reason, why Texas still has the death penalty.
Lesson Four, which I’ll be delivering next week, explains how working in concert with others circumvents this problem. But it has problems of its own, which we’ll explore, and try to circumvent, in (hopefully adequate) detail then.