In Lesson One we asked under what conditions terrorism might be justified, and we concluded that there are no conditions under which it’s not. This is because justification in a state of war is what, were he using Gilbert Ryle’s terminology, Hobbes would call a category mistake. In a state of war ”the notions of just and unjust have there no place.”

In Lesson Two we took a closer look at what, in order to qualify as such, the terrorist must intend. In Lesson Three we rehearsed the reasons for the less-than-stellar success rate of the lone wolf terrorist. And in Lesson Four we counselled against going down with the ship, so to speak, when a lifeboat is readily available. 

But apart from the example of how, if one were so inclined, to bring an end to capital punishment in Texas, we’ve yet to precisify who, to greatest effect, should the terrorist be targeting. Let’s address that question now.

The object of terrorism, recall, is to bring pressure on the government to accede to the terrorist’s demands. But by the ‘government’ here is meant nothing more than the ‘special case’ of the more general one of bringing pressure on whomever might be the author of the behaviour the terrorist would see altered. So, for example, there’s no need for the government to criminalise abortion if, for fear of being killed, no one would perform one. Call this, if you will, taking the direct approach to modifying the behaviour the terrorist finds objectionable.

Note the same approach could be taken in the capital punishment example, if the terrorist could identify the people directly involved in executions. Kill a couple of them, or perhaps members of their families, and the state would find it impossible to recruit executioners. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The state would, of course, do everything in its power to protect the identity of its executioners, or failing that to assign each of them a robust protection detail. But it would then have to protect the protectors, and then the protectors of the protectors, and so on. And so at a certain point the cost of security ceases to be feasible.

The sine qua non of the direct approach is, of course, accessing the identities of the would-be targets. But most objectionable behaviour is public enough that this is not a problem, especially today with the ubiquity of cell phone cameras. There’s no need to attack a police station or an army barracks. Policemen and soldiers are people. People have mothers and wives and children. Go to the officer’s or soldier’s home and kill his wife, or his mother, or his children. 

Once again, the advantage of it is the exponential explosion of the protection details this kind of direct targeting would provoke. Every layer of protection simply adds to the number of people requiring protection. So the only defence against the direct approach terrorist is to find him. We’ve already seen that this is feasible where that ’him’ is the lone wolf. Or a member of an identifiable pack. And I suppose where a pack gets big enough, we’ll be inclined to recategorise the conflict as a civil war. 

But in civil war nothing prevents both sides resorting to direct terrorism, which is precisely what we see, for example, in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Whether we call such a conflict civil war or just war simpliciter is irrelevant to our analysis of terrorism. Terrorising your own population is no less terrorism than terrorising another’s.

Government’s like to reserve the right to terrorise their own population, which entails the duty of others not to intervene. So for our part if we reserve the right to intervene, we must think government’s don’t have the right to terrorise their own population. Of course Hobbes argued – and it’s hard to naysay him on this score – that without the sovereign’s right to terrorise his own population there could be no such thing as civil society. But on the distinction, if any, between government and terrorism, we shall have to leave until we’re more at our leisure.   

At what point does the direct/indirect distinction break down? It breaks down, I suppose, when there are no longer people who can reasonably consider themselves out of the fray. In the occupied West Bank, for example, you’re probably safe if you cower in your hovel whenever there’s a demonstration against the Occupation. Of course that fear is precisely what every occupier is counting on. That and that the occupied don’t have the wherewithal to repay that fear in kind. 

And that’s precisely why the first task of any occupier, foreign or domestic, is to disarm the occupied. Which is also why the right to bear arms was enshrined in the American Constitution. So long as the occupied in America have access to guns, the occupier has reason to behave himself. When he doesn’t – as was the case with Derek Chauvin – the direct terrorist targeting of white policemen, when it comes, as I suspect it will, should come as no great surprise.

One final example. Some people, myself included, believe that Guantanamo Bay is a war crime. War crimes are as common as over-parking. Think of the International Criminal Court as you would if there were only one apathetic meter maid for the entire world. And those countable-on-one-hand few who do get a ticket are protected from enforcement by the government on behalf of which they committed these crimes in the first place. So for all juridical intents and purposes, there’s really no such thing as a war crime.

But there are purposes other than juridical. The respectful treatment of prisoners of war is in the interests of every soldier, including the victorious one, because “There but for fortune go I the next time around!” Imagine, then, a cadre of American soldiers capable of thinking beyond the moment and so intent on ending this particular violation of the rules of war. Target anyone who serves at Guantanamo Bay. If they’re protected target their families. If they’re protected target their protectors and their families. And so on. 

In short, the beauty of the direct approach – if beauty can be used in this context – is that there’s no need to enter a debate about the behaviour being ‘discouraged’. And good that there isn’t, since, as we’ve already learned, entering the public debate immediately disqualifies one from participating in the terrorist campaign. One doesn’t even have to announce the objective of the campaign. The result will speak for itself.

To sum up, then, terrorism is not about winning hearts and minds. Nor, therefore, is it about drawing attention to one’s cause, so that one can then try to win hearts and minds. Terrorism is about bringing about a change not in the enemy’s heart or mind but in his behaviour. Full stop. In fact I’d go so far as to say one should forgo any attempt to win hearts and minds. Which is not to say terrorism isn’t an argument. It is. It’s called the argument ad baculum.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: