Friday, September 16, 2005

The Terminology Of Terrorism

At 8.10 on yesterday's Today programme we had Prince Harry. Today we had King Tony.
King Tony said that terrorism was very simple to define. It was 'the intentional killing of innocent civilians'.
That also happens to be a pretty good definition of murder.
In addition to the criminal offence of murder, we have the offence of conspiracy to murder. We also have the lesser charge of manslaughter for cases where, although death occurred, it was not necessarily either the inevitable or intended outcome of an action.
This makes you wonder why we need very many additional laws to deal with terrorism. The London bombers were, like many terrorists before them, first and foremost murderers.
Political or religious motives are not a defence against the crime of murder.
If the perpetrator has suffered persistent violence at the hands of their victim, as in some domestic abuse cases, that is not a defence either, although it may sometimes cause juries and judges to take a more lenient line.

The second interesting thing about Tony Blair's definition of terrorism is the meaning of the word 'deliberate'.
Many of us hold Blair and Bush responsible for the thousands of civilian deaths in the Iraq War. Their defence would be that these deaths were not deliberate and that, unlike terrorists, they made every effort to minimise civilian deaths - or 'collateral damage' as they prefer to call them. (Their motivation was, of course, like that of terrorists, political).

The question is whether, either in a court of law or in the mind of an objective observer, this defence stands up. If you drop tons of high explosives on a city like Baghdad in a campaign of 'shock and awe', some civilian deaths are an inevitable consequence. Modern technology, to the extent that it actually works, means that civilian deaths may be less than in carpet bombing of cities in the Second World War. But what is beyond dispute is that civilian deaths will occur and that the political leaders who ordered the bombing knew that civilian deaths would result. I cannot see how that does not amount to 'intentional killing'.

The second line of defence put forward by Blair and Bush is that, regrettable though the deaths of innocent civilians might be, they killed far less people than the man they were deposing, Saddam Hussein.
Staying with the analogy with murder and arguing from the premise that all taking of human life is murder, a crime that has no defence in either law or morality, if you gun down six of your neighbours it won't do you much good in court to point out that you murdered considerably less people than Dr Harold Shipman.

Another line of defence from Tony Blair, although it's more of an evasion of discussion, is to say that whatever views other people may take, he believes he did the right thing and will be answerable for his actions to his God.
Since, so far as we know, he does not lie awake at night tortured by images of the corpses of babies being thrown on to the back of lorries in Baghdad, we must assume he thinks that his God is more likely than not to share his own view that he did the right thing. This is eerily similar to the thought processes of the people who detonated bombs on the London tube.

This links back to the problem of terrorism because you can only effectively condemn the deliberate killing of innocent civilians if your own hands are not stained with blood. Furthermore, Tony Blair is the only person in the country who believes there is no link between the Iraq War and terrorist acts in this country. Actually, it's rather hard to believe that he really believes that. If he does, he must be suffering from some serious mental impairment.

Jack Straw has gone rather further and suggested that the London terrorists used Iraq as an excuse for murder and would use any other excuse but that their real motivation is killing for the sake of killing. This at least recognises that their crime is one of murder and that we might as well call it that and that there is no defence against murder. But it is also supremely silly in suggesting that the perpetrators were simply psychopaths who would have still behaved as they did if the entire planet was living in a utopian state of peace and harmony.

When Tony Blair defines and condemns terrorism as 'the intentional killing of innocent civilians' we must infer that he regards that as a moral absolute. Most of us would agree with that. But that means it applies to you too, Tony. Those who think otherwise, whether for political or religious reasons or from mental derangement, are a danger to the billions of innocent civilians on this planet. We have police forces to protect us from random individuals. We have little to protect us from the leaders of nation states who claim the right to derogate from both law and common morality.

4 Comments:

At 10:18 AM, Blogger patroclus said...

Too bloody right. And well said. But it'll fall on deaf ears as history and God are the only judges that Tony will countenance. Both of them conveniently abstract concepts.

 
At 6:30 PM, Blogger Helzepops said...

So what are we saying here, that you turn the other cheek until all but the terrorists are dead?
Being a leader means taking difficult decisions in the midst of ambiguity. Knowing that you took the best decision that you believed you could with the information available at the time and that you had the moral courage to take it.
Its a whole lot easier to be a whinger.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger zaphod said...

Death is a bit final for Blair. He is probably looking well beyond death. He obviously has scant regard for life.

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

What a coincidence. I've been called a whinger two days running.
helzepops: no, I didn't say what you say in your first sentence.
The information available to Blair at the time is now public knowledge and it wasn't what he claimed it was.
Finally, it's a whole lot easier to engage in infantile name-calling than to construct a thoughtful, reasoned argument. You should start a blog and try the latter some time.

patroclus, the very characteristics that attract some people to political leadership are the ones that make some leaders so dangerous. I don't know what the answer to that is.

zaphod, yes, scant regard for lives outside his own family.

 

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