International Terrorism in the Contemporary World

By Marius H. Livingston; Lee Bruce Kress et al. | Go to book overview

ROBERT A.FRIEDLANDER

Terrorism and Political Violence: Do the Ends Justify the Means?

The wanton and willful taking of human life, the purposeful commission of serious bodily harm, and the intentional infliction of severe mental distress by force or by threat of force are phrases that are legal terms of art (lawyers' words) describing actions and activities designated as common crimes by every civilized society on this earth. The victims of these purposive and, I think, indefensible acts are persons whose selection as victims, whether randomized or calculated, was due solely to their waiting in a hotel lobby, sitting in an outdoor cafe, standing on a street corner, flying on an airplane, riding on a train, or representing corporate interests in a country other than their own.

“No cause, argues French author Albert Camus, “justifies the death of the innocent, and terrorism is the slaughter of the innocent. No matter how we want to look at it, terrorism is a moral problem in addition to being a criminal act. As newspaper columnist, Father Andrew Greely has written: “Either terror is moral for everyone or it is moral for no one.” To save oneself by killing another is destructive not only of law and legal systems but of civilized society itself. Our Anglo-American common law system is based upon the worth, the sanctity of one human life, and this conforms to the basic human rights principles which have come to be accepted in public international law since the end of World War II. The admonition of legal philosopher Edmund Cahn still rings true: “Whoever kills one kills mankind.”

Traditional Anglo-American criminal law permits what are called “excusing conditions”—or, to use once again lawyers' terminology, mistake, necessity, provocation, duress, and insanity—to excuse or to mitigate what otherwise would be criminal acts. However, neither duress nor necessity may operate as an excuse for the taking of human life. The civil law system of Europe and Latin America permits the defense to be raised of a “political crime” and, thereby, it may prevent extradition of a wanted felon. The Third World, in national politics and in the international arena, has given a large measure of support to perpetrators of political crimes. Their attitude is that the end justifies the means. As a result, the continuing public debate over the nature of international terrorism has unleashed a cacophony of national self-interest in the council of nations. Political terrorism has become largely a matter of global perspective. The fundamental issue is whether the

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