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Is Terrorism Ever Justified? -- A Debate

Terrorism is SOMETIMES justified (counter argument to NEVER justified)


Note: quick points are made in brackets after the sentence

Different Definitions:

According to the Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary--

1) The art of terrorizing or the state of being terrorized.

2) Unlawful acts of violence comitted in an attempt to overthrow a government. (US Revolution of 1776)

3) A system of government that rules by intimidation. (Japanese Americans in WW2)


According to the National Resource Net--

Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United

States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the

public, to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get immediate

publicity for their causes. (The abolitionists and the underground railroad.)


According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)--

Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives. (anti-abortionists and animal right activists)


Terrorism Research Center

Terrorism by nature is difficult to define. Acts of terrorism conjure emotional responses in the victims (those hurt by the violence and those affected by the fear) as well as in the practioners. Even the U.S. government cannot agree on one single definition. The old adage, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is still alive and well. Listed below are several definitions of terrorism. For the purposes of the Terrorism Research Center, we have adopted the definition used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Historical Aspects:

American Revolution (Boston Tea Party, etc)

Underground Railroad and similar anti-slavery movements

The US's detention of Japanese Americans during world war 2.

Misc Points / Counteraguments to certain points:

(taken from the Terrorism Research Center's FAQ on terrorism)

What is the definition of terrorism?

There is no single, universally accepted definition of terrorism. There are many reasons for this (not the least of

which is the cliche "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter"). Even different agencies of the US

gov't have different working definitions. Most definitions usually have common elements, though, oriented

around terrorism as the systematic use of physical violence--actual or threatened--against non-combatants but

with an audience broader than the immediate victims in mind, to create a general climate of fear in a target

population, in order to effect some kind of political and/or social change. For examples of various definitions of

terrorism, please see our definition page.

What is the main cause of terrorism?

Dissatisfaction with a political or social system or policy, and an inability to change it through "mainstream" or

non-violent means.

Is terrorism ever, in any situation, justifiable in this day and age?

For any act of terrorism, there is always a political, social, ethnic or religious creed that can be used to justify it

by someone. To "justify" an act, one must compare it with a legal or ideological sys as a basis of justification.

If one considers an act "justifiable," one probably wouldn't call it terrorism.

What are some motives behind terrorism?

Political (e.g. Red Army Faction), religious (e.g. Islamic extremism), ethnic (e.g. hate crimes), social (e.g.

single-issue such as anti-abortion).


Main points of my part of the presentation-


Looking upon the statement: "Terror is never justified."

1. This could mean anywhere on the time-line: past, present, or future.

2. "Never" means there isn't even ONE exception. Meaning ALL terroristic activities EVER committed were/are/and will never be justified.

3. Justification can be of several types: legal, moral, ethical, religious, etc.

4. What is seen as unjustifiable to one person/party/group may be seen as justified to another.

5. In the U.S., the general consensus sees the terroristic actions of abolitionists and american revolutionists as justifiable.


Web site address of information gathered:


Chris Keesling - Terrorism


Terrorism is relative (Labeled terrorism when cause is unpopular, rebellion

when it is supported)

Three main points:

1. If freedom is sacred enough to preserve with the loss of human life,

than it is sacred enough to achieve with the loss of human life.

2. The state has legitimate power only so long as it serves the people it

governs. Revolt always starts out as acts of terrorism against corrupt


3. As long as the American government has justification for its power over

us(elections, representation) we have no justification for taking that

power away. Acts of terrorism aimed at revolution cannot be based on

paranoia or petty anti government sentiments.

My research included philosophical works on government and the right to

revolt. These included the Declaration of Independence, Rousseau's Social

Contract, and excerpts from Malcolm X, John Locke, John Adams, Abraham

Lincoln and David Hobbes.


The way that we did the write up is we summarized the main ideas and

the research that was done by each member on an individau basis. We also

did the assessment of the contribution of each member individually as well.

We then got together and talked about how the presentation went and addressed

some of the criticisms from the class.

1) We thoght that the debate went pretty well and that there was a lot of

good points presented by both sides. We thoght that this was an issue that

was going to be hard to use facts to back up the argument of either side.

We were all a little surprised at the nember of people that were on the

side that it is sometimes justified when we took the poll before we got

started. We figured that most of the class would think that it is never

justified. We felt that there was a lot of good questions raised by the

class and that we both answered them as effectively as possible on an issue

like this one. Some of the criticisms that were mentioned on the feedback

was that som of the information was sometimes unclear. We felt that we were

trying to get the class to look at this issue from different angles, ones

that they would not normally think of, and that this might have contributed

to some of the ideas being unclear. Several people mentioned that this was

a tough issue to argue because of the problem of not being able to use facts

that was mentioned before.