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Why is Terrorism Unjustifiable?

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Why is Terrorism Unjustifiable?

Terrorism has always been a contentious issue in our society, predominantly after the 1911 attack. It is often defined as a deliberate use of violence to attack innocents for namely political agendas. Not to mention, this is just an ambiguous interpretation comprehending that there is no universal definition of terrorism. This essay aims to argue that terrorism is neither morally correct nor justifiable under any circumstances; an argument concerning Michael Walzer’s sole proposition of “supreme emergency”. Foremost, I will first offer reasons why terrorism is morally wrong, which would additionally highlight why it is unjustifiable. Next, I will provide arguments against the objections namely retaliation and supreme emergency for further reasoning.

Terrorism is always a prima facie case of violence. Furthermore, it is organized warfare where civilians are specifically picked as the primary targets. Subsequently, it is of paramount importance to highlight that the civilians are ‘intentionally’ aimed, not randomly. This violates the ethical principle jus in bello in just war theory, which prohibits attacks on non-combatants1. Take the Manchester Arena Bombing as an illustration where individuals attended the concert to get a thrill out of it. Instead, a mass shooting transpired, which led to the death of numerous individuals. How would you feel about it? In such incidents, the individuals who get murdered or wounded are most certainly victims, nonetheless, the people who witness it are victims too as it might leave behind a mark of terror on their psychological state. Provided such incursions, how can you plead that terrorist attacks are not morally wrong?

In addition, the motives behind terrorist attacks are often either vengeance or political agendas, which are long-term ambitions relatively unlike the typical pursuits of crimes such as greed. Some may argue that terrorism could be a way for minorities groups to bring forward their agendas. Terrorists regard launching attacks as the most effective way to usher a change by inciting fear and terror amongst people. Accordingly, their attacks are a route to symbolize their existence and express themselves. Yet, it is noteworthy that in certain cases but not all, their long-term goal could be fitting to a certain extent. For instance, Hamas is a militant organization that also goes by the name of the Islamic Resistance Movement. On top of that, they intend to drive away Israel from occupied areas of Palestine, which rightfully would have been theirs under the Partition Resolution2. As a result, their long-term pursuit could be discernible, though that does not justify their method of pursuing their aim by spreading terror. The group has launched organized attacks several times on Israel, killing numerous people3, including children, which is morally unacceptable.

In addition to the aforestated view, it can also be brought to the context that using terrorism should not even be a resort for achieving an agenda. Attempting to gain advantages through violence or unlawful action while deserting the system is embraced by the majority of the society is certainly an act of covetousness. Notably, terrorist attacks can bring about neither efficacious nor immediate outcomes. Instead, it escalates international tension and creates a vicious cycle of violence in which countries thrash each other in the name of countermeasures or retaliation. Rather than resorting to more peaceful approaches, strategies could potentially call forth a transnational solution while maintaining social cohesion internationally. To cite an example, platforms such as media can be utilized to convey messages, provided their high popularity and perceptiveness around the world. Compared to terrorist attacks, they not only leave a discredited image but invariably usher people to doubt their objectives. Once again, taking Hamas as an illustration, after the commencement of implanting suicide bombings in Israel was it earmarked as a terrorist group. However, before the terrorist group was identified it was only regarded as a political bloc in Palestine. All in all, regardless of the motives, using means of terror cannot be condoned as morally appropriate and cannot be justified.

On the other hand, some may reason that terrorism specifically state terrorism could be justified if it is used as a measure of self-defense or retaliation. I would like to utilize one of the most prominent examples to object, which is the USA dropping atomic bombs on Japan4. They would often advocate that dropping the bombs would instead bring damage during the world war. Yet consequently, it can end at a quicker pace and minimize the collateral damage. Moreover, some would suggest that the dropping of the bombs was the reason that led Japan to surrender, and the causalities were lower compared to what would have been from a land invasion.

Now, this is where I disagree. Foremost, I believe the usage of the bombs violated both jus ad bellum and jus in bello principles of just war theory. The cities where the bombs were dispatched were neither military nor naval basis; they were highly populated cities with non-combatants. In contrast, which is against the upright intension principle of jus in bello. Another question here was whether using the atomic bombs on civilians is indeed the last resort? The USA could have used conventional bombings as Japan was already on the verge of defeat. Hence, such acts of terrorism where endless innocents are killed cannot be justified regardless of who is the attacker is.

From my point of view, terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstances. However, Michael Walzer defended that terrorism would be justified under the sole exemption of “supreme emergency5.” In his words, a supreme emergency is an ultimate threat to everything decent in our lives. The prime example he provided to uphold his idea of a supreme emergency was the threat Nazi Germany brought to the UK. He suggested that indiscriminate bombings of German cities and civilians by Allied powers were justified as Nazism would have been a substantial threat to them5. In simple words, Walzer contended that the doctrines of just in war theory could be overridden by complying with the principle of the lesser of two evils principle here. In other words, he agreed that it was pertinent to kill innocent civilians to prevent the domination of the immeasurable evil Nazism.

Withal I don’t quite see the view. Foremost, it raises the query of what could be determined as a supreme emergency as the term could have vague interpretations. Likewise, it should be remarked that a threat to the UK was the survival and freedom of a democracy, which is not the same as a threat to everything decent in our lives. Hence, per Walzer’s definition such a situation cannot put the military cannot defend itself by attacking enemy civilians as it diminishes the significance of the just war restriction on killing innocent people. Consequently, if such an exception is allowed, it could be a potential loophole and may be applied too indulgently. For further understanding, let us take an example here when Hamas or other Palestinian militant groups launch an attack on Israeli civilians, they could simply justify it under the expression of supreme emergency. For a fact that we know, the Israelian government and military have been unruly aggressive and have certainly killed many Palestinians. In fortification, the Palestinians could argue that they are in a supreme emergency, articulating that they are in danger of extermination, so a terrorist attack is the only way to protect themselves from Israel as it has been inflicting murder on them. Nonetheless, in reality, regardless of their rationales, we do not tolerate such forays. Hence, in my opinion, the supreme emergency suggested by the UK was rather a single community fearing another s political domain.

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Now, let’s agree for a moment that there indeed is a supreme emergency, though I shall still criticize that terrorism is not a way of solution to the problem. Some may claim that it could be used as a last resort, in truth, it could just be a sub-last resort where there are rather other conceivable ways out. Feasible methods include seeking help from a third party or targeting the person responsible rather than the innocents. In the case of Nazi Germany, the question is were the attacks on German civilians the last resort. Considering the circumstances during World War II, I believe if the threat was as dire as showed, surroundings countries such as Russia and USA would have supported them.

Let’s make another assumption here that there was no third party that they could have sought help from. However, in my opinion, the UK could have targeted directly the military bases of the Germans instead of the innocent civilians. The civilians were not responsible for the actions of the Nazism government. Moreover, we should not forget that the war did not end till 1945, whereas the UK started bombing in 19406. This showcases that the rate of success of bombing the cities to defeat Germany was low, yet such actions were still carried out. Furthermore, I would like to highlight that just because others are doing something morally incorrect, it will not justify your wrongdoing. As I objectified above, terrorism may should not even be considered a resort to resolve issues. All in all, the idea of a supreme emergency would be nothing but just a critique of an excuse at the end for terrorists to justify themselves.

In conclusion, I strongly affirm the claim I have established that terrorism is morally wrong and cannot be justified under any circumstances. And perhaps the strongest argument for justifying supreme emergency by Walzer is a flop.


1. C.A.J. Coady, The Morality of Terrorism, page 261

2. BBC News. (2021, July 1). Hamas: The Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza.

3. Ibid.

4. Mason, E. (2022, April 7). Was the US justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War? History Extra.

5. Walzer M. Just and unjust wars: a moral argument with historical illustrations. 3. New York: Basic Books; 2000.

6. Imperial War Museums. (n.d.). The Blitz Around Britain.

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