Terrorism and Violence

This post is motivated by the unfortunate events that have occurred yesterday in France, as well all acts of violence, hate, terrorism, etc. that have occurred in the history of the world, including those of small and large scales. Love and light to all who’s lives have been changed because of particular acts of violence.

As I was driving home from work yesterday I heard the broadcast on NPR of the events that had just taken place in France. Immediately, it forced me to reflect on events such as 9/11, the numerous school shootings that have happened over the past few years, and also events that I was not even alive during, such as past wars. I, personally, have much difficulty ever finding sufficient justification for any acts of violence at all. When I first began studying Philosophy I took a course on Jainism and other religions and was introduced to the term “ahimsa,” which translates into “non-violence,” or “non-harming.” Ever since then the notion just kind of stuck with me.

However, as I’m sure we are all aware of, the field of Philosophy contains numerous arguments both in support of and against acts of violence and terrorism. Two questions are asked: What is violence and/or terrorism? Can they ever be morally justified?

As I began considering these questions I remembered several readings of figures such as Noam Chomsky and Emile Henry. Below are excerpts from pieces of their works that give an idea of their thoughts on the topic of violence and terrorism. Take a look and feel free to reply with thoughts, opinions, feelings, etc. Do you agree with them? What are your own personal beliefs on the topic? Do opinions change at all when we consider the victims of such acts?

Noam Chomsky commented in an interview in 1967…

ROBERT B. SILVERS: … Under what conditions, if any, can violent action be said to be “legitimate”? …

NOAM CHOMSKY: My general feeling is that this kind of question can’t be answered in a meaningful way when it’s abstracted from the context of particular historical concrete circumstances. Any rational person would agree that violence is not legitimate unless the consequences of such action are to eliminate a still greater evil. Now there are people of course who go much further and say that one must oppose violence in general, quite apart from any possible consequences. I think that such a person is asserting one of two things. Either he’s saying that the resort to violence is illegitimate even if the consequences are to eliminate a greater evil; or he’s saying that under no conceivable circumstances will the consequences ever be such as to eliminate a greater evil. The second of these is a factual assumption and it’s almost certainly false. One can easily imagine and find circumstances in which violence does eliminate a greater evil. As to the first, it’s a kind of irreducible moral judgment that one should not resort to violence even if it would eliminate a greater evil. And these judgments are very hard to argue. I can only say that to me it seems like an immoral judgment.

Now there is a tendency to assume that a stand based on an absolute moral judgment shows high principle in a way that’s not shown in a stand taken on what are disparagingly referred to as “tactical grounds.” I think this is a pretty dubious assumption. If tactics involves a calculation of the human cost of various actions, then tactical considerations are actually the only considerations that have a moral quality to them. So I can’t accept a general and absolute opposition to violence, only that resort to violence is illegitimate unless the consequences are to eliminate a greater evil.

For full reading: http://chomsky.info/19671215/

In regards to the victims of such acts, Emile Henry stated in “A Terrorist’s Defence,” commenting on his attack in which he placed a bomb at a cafe injuring twenty people and killing one,

“Those good bourgeois who hold no office but who reap their dividends and live idly on the profits of the workers’ toil, they also must take their share in the reprisals. And not only they, but all those who are satisfied with the existing order, who applaud the acts of the government and so become its accomplices … in other words, the daily clientele of Terminus and other great cafés!”

So, he is claiming here that all members of a social class are liable to be killed regardless, some for operating the system of exploitation, others for supporting it, and still others for benefiting from it.

Seems a little extreme???



2 thoughts on “Terrorism and Violence

  1. The temptation is to say that violence is only permissible in defense. If only it were that simple (you kill someone fighting over a loaded weapon they mean to kill you with; or maybe you stub someone’s toe who’s trying to mug you, and you run away–problem solved forever). It looks that simple, because the guilty party has no right to retaliate. But we fear they will anyway, because violence historically begets violence. So, even an iron-clad case of self-defense rarely plays out so straightforward in the real world.
    I’m just going to assume that violence is permissible under certain circumstances and say that violence ought to cease when the threat is neutralized. But the threat is never neutralized, because violence is complicated. ISIS looks like a threat to be neutralized, because we categorize them as an entity. The Nazis were categorized as an entity. There’s no entities of violence, though. There’s just a long history of violence that we were born into, and the tools we use to handle it were being passed down at the same time. Those tools are anger and fear. ISIS evolved, and when they’re gone, they’ll have someone to replace them, and their successors will use the same tools that everyone else did. It seems hopeless, because the violence never really ends, and the tools of violence are part of us.
    It’s not hopeless, though, because the world is a lot less violent than it used to be, and we have plenty of other tools. We’re doing things other than violence, and it seems to be working. The hungry and the oppressed are fewer and are less desperate to act through force, where innocent lives are always harmed. The fanatical are fewer–people know more about themselves and the world around them than they used to, and they’re less desperate to cling to and defend views they might’ve thought to be integral to their existence or well-being. People are less desperate, and they have less to fear. Does violence always come from desperation, fear, and anger? Probably (the mentally unstable notwithstanding).
    Cracked(.com)’s David Wong wrote an article, published today, giving pretty much the same sentiment. Maybe you guys want to check it out. It’s not on a philosophical or political website; it’s actually a comedy site, so just keep that in mind. I don’t think Word Press allows URLs in the comments, so if you want to read it, it’s right on Cracked’s front page, entitled “6 Ways to Keep Terrorists From Ruining the World.” He talks about what he calls “Team Violence” and asks us to keeps our heads screwed on straight when dealing with this end of history. If it isn’t comprehensive enough for you guys (it’s not), take the time to read the Chomsky panel, as well.
    Either way, just take heart and remember that Team Violence is losing.

  2. I’ve unfortunately been given plenty of reminders by recent events that I am extremely naive about all of these matters. Part of that might be because I’m not sure what to make of definitions of “violence” or its alleged opposite “peace.” If we assume that violence is an unjust or unwarranted use of force, when would use of force be justified? And if we assume that peace is a mutual harmony between people or groups, does that mean that use of force, if agreed upon, is justified?

    I suppose it’s easy to say that use of force is justified when the act is done toward specific persons, namely members of a terrorist organization or those who commit hate crimes. The problem is that there is never a clear distinction of who is represented, and the search for them has led to more violence. We can easily say that ISIS or whatever new group we’re supposed to not like is responsible for acts of terrorism, but governments and people alike have proved infallible (again) in identifying the difference between the terrorist and, say, a Muslim who would never have wished violence on anyone. If we act on both the terrorist and the innocent indiscriminately, we are no better than the terrorist. I know nothing of any solution outside of the circular definitions of violence, terrorism, or peace, but I do know that if retaliation is our response to terrorist organizations like ISIS, we would be doing exactly what they want. And that should not be a solution at all.

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