Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
If the motive of military commanders is complex (they kill noncombatants but wouldn’t if they did’t have to), however, couldn’t the same be said of the terrorist whose killing of civilians is at once deliberate and yet coerced? He has reached the limit; he has no option left – or so he claims, when he argues that in order to try to prevent “the coercive transformation of (his people’s) way of life”, he must carry out immoral killings. If he kills enough civilians (so he reasons), perhaps those who are politically responsible will respod in the desired way.
So: it is not cruelty that matters in the distinction between terrorists and armies at war, still less the threat each poses to entire ways of life, but their civilizational status. What is really at stake is not a clash of civilizations (a conflict between two imcompatible sets of values), but the fight of civilization against the uncivilized. In that fight, all civilized rules may be set aside.
War is (…) a collectively organized, legitimized, and moralized game of destruction that is played much more savagely by the civilized than the uncivilized.
Western states (including Israel) have now massacred thousands of civilians and imprisioned large numbers without trial; they have abducted, tortured, and assasinated people they claim are militants and laid waste to entire countries. (…)
It seems to me that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies (especially if those armies belong to powerful states that are unaccountable to international law) and the horror inflicted by its insurgents.
The perception that human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to “civilized” and “uncivilized” peoples is not only quite common in liberal democratic countries; it is necessary to a hierarchial global order. (…)
Strenski’s redescription of motive in terms of the concept of sacrifice offers a religious model by means of which suicide bombing can be identified as “religious terrorism”. And that appellation defines the bomber as morally underdeveloped – and therefore premodern – when compared with peoples whose civilized status is partly indicated by their secular politics and their private religion and whose violence is therefore in principle disciplined, reasonable, and just.
Why do Westerners express horror at suicide terrorism – what is so special about it? (…) Warfare, of course, is an even greater violation of civilian “innocence”, but representations have sedimented in us so as to see that in principle war is legitimate even when civilians are killed that in principle death in war (however horrible) are necessary for the defense of our form of life. Here the language of “civilization” and “barbarism” comes readily to hand rather than the more superficial “clash of civilizations”
In the Abrahamic religions, suicide is intimately connected with sin because God denies the individual the right to terminate his own earthly identity In the matter of his/her life, the individual creature has no sovereignty. (…) In antiquity, by contrast, suicide was neither a sin nor a crime, although it was typically the elites, to whom that freedom was a personal entitlement, whocould legitimately take their own lives. Political authorities could offer suicide to members of the elite as a legal option to being judically executed (Socrates is perhaps the most famous example)
In the suicide bomber’s act, perhaps what horrifies is not just dying and killing (or killing by dying) but the violent appearance of something that is normally disregarded in secular modernity: the limitless pursuit of freedom, the illusion of an uncoerced interiority that can withstand the force of institutional disciplines. Liberalism, of course, disapproves of the violent exercise of freedom outside the frame of law. But the law itself is founded by and continuosly depends on coercive violence.
If modern law seeks to found or to defend a free political community with its own law, can one say that suicide terrorism (like a suicidal nuclear strike) belongs in this sense to liberalism? The question may, I think, be more significant than our comforting attempts at distinguishing the good conscience of just warriors from the evil acts of terrorists.