Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Telegraph | News | Terrorists can have serious moral goals, says Williams: "Terrorists can have serious moral goals, says Williams
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 15/10/2003)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, yesterday urged America to recognise that terrorists can 'have serious moral goals'.
He said that while terrorism must always be condemned, it was wrong to assume its perpetrators were devoid of political rationality. 'It is possible to use unspeakably wicked means to pursue an aim that is shared by those who would not dream of acting in the same way, an aim that is intelligible or desirable.'
He said that in ignoring this, in its criticism of al-Qa'eda, America 'loses the power of self-criticism and becomes trapped in a self-referential morality.'
Dr Williams made his comments in a lecture to the Royal Institute for International Affairs, in which he said he wanted to challenge violence 'as the tool of private interest or private redress'.
Dr Williams said that no government should act as its own judge on whether to launch military action against a rogue state.
'Violence is not to be undertaken by private persons,' he said. 'If a state or administration acts without due and visible attention to agreed international process, it acts in a way analogous to a private person. It purports to be judge of its own interest.'"

Interesting. I agree that terrorists can have serious moral goals--think of abortion clinic bombers. Their stated goal is the ending of abortion.

But several questions remain. First, rather than simply stating the possibility of serious (and I would add legitimate) goals, one has to ask if any specific terrorist or terrorists has such goals. Second, one has to consider how serious such terrorists goals are, and how seriously held. In the case of all the terrorist groups I can think of, the "goals" either long ago became subsumed in the violence (the IRA's goal of a "united Ireland" has long been overtaken by reality), or were adopted purely for marketing purposes. (Osama bin Laden cynically manipulates the Palestinian cause, just as most Arab governments do.)

A third difficulty arises as well. People who hold shared goals but repudiate wicked means for achieving them have to consider what responsibility they have for stopping the violent advocates of their goals. That obligation can be tentatively formulated this way: The more violent, and the more organized the violence, the greater the responsibility for self-policing.


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