War with Iran (3): Antiwar Activism with Student-Soldiers

An excellent (and for me, live) question on Facebook care of Mark LeVine, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at UC Irvine:

So, fellow academics — The new quarter/semester starts, you get an active duty or reserve service member in your class who might be deployed because of this nightmare Trump is so gleefully creating for us. Do you reach out to her/him and advise/urge/suggest that s/he refuse to deploy for anything related to a war with Iran, explaining that such a war would be a crime against humanity? Or do you wait for them to come to you if they so choose?

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War with Iran (2): Moral Blackmail and Salvation by Faith

The moral blackmail regarding Iran has begun, and often enough, it sounds like this:

If you had certain intelligence of an imminent threat on American lives, would you or would you not use military force to stop the person responsible for it?

If you say that you wouldn’t, you sound like a callous traitor, willing to sacrifice American lives to the Iranian regime. If you say you would (or even “I would under these circumstances”), you’re effectively ratifying the Trump Administration’s decision to kill Qasem Suleimani, and by implication ratifying-in-advance whatever decision it ends up making about war. And that’s the whole game. Continue reading

Reason Papers Vol. 41:1 Is Out

The latest issue of Reason Papers–the first issue edited by Shawn Klein (Arizona State University)–is now out. This issue contains (among other things) the long-awaited symposium on Vicente’s Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified, based on an Author-Meets-Critics session held at Felician University in April 2018. Thanks to everyone who worked on the issue, and especially to Shawn, for the work they put into it. Incidentally, though there isn’t one in this issue, the journal often runs a “Discussion Notes” section for responses to material in previous issues. So if you feel inclined to respond to anything you read here, send something along to Shawn via the journal.

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“Terrorism” as Toxic Term: A Reply to Irfan Khawaja

I am grateful to my friend and professional colleague Irfan Khawaja for his incisive critique of my short piece, Terrorism as a Toxic Term: Why Definition Matters, and for generously allowing me to post my reply on his website. As Irfan underscores, our main difference regarding the definition of the term “terrorism” is a difference in “focus,” but perhaps there is also a difference in kind. That is, the kind of definition that one might find morally adequate for describing terrorist violence. I argue that the disposition of the perpetrators and the objective innocence of the victims should be the focus of an adequate and fair definition of terrorism.

Irfan, however, argues that one “should focus on the reasons that terrorists cite to justify their actions.” He contests “the idea that a definition of terrorism should describe it merely as a use of violence rather than an “initiatory” [my italics] use of violence and a response to one.” Irfan’s suggestion is well taken. I agree with him that there is a relevant distinction “between purely initiatory aggression on the one hand, and disproportionality or indiscriminateness in an otherwise justified response to aggression on the other.” Continue reading

“Terrorism” Revisited

My friend Vicente Medina (Philosophy, Seton Hall University) has a short piece out on the semantics of “terrorism” in Government Europa Quarterly, an online journal.  We had a few discussions of Medina’s views on terrorism here at PoT in advance of the symposium on his book, Terrorism Unjustified, that took place at Felician about a year and a half ago (see here and here). A published version of the Felician symposium is about to come out soon at Reason Papers, consisting of three critical responses (by Graham Parsons, Theresa Fanelli, and myself), and a response by Medina. Continue reading

Droning On

I’m teaching the issue of drone warfare and targeted killing in one of my ethics classes, the fifth or sixth semester in a row I’ve taught this material, via Kenneth Himes’s 2016 book, Drones and the Ethics of Targeted Killing. It’s been a frustrating, even despair-inducing experience: Of the 90 or so students enrolled, only half attend. Of the 45 of who attend, 40 are utterly indifferent to the material, unmoved even by the most shocking finding, revelation, or video I can throw at them.

My students–whether rich or poor, urban or suburban, black or white–simply do not care whether drones increase or decrease the incidence of terrorist attacks, much less whether their use is in any sense morally justified. Whether drones kill innocents or kill “bad guys,” whether the targets are justified in resisting U.S. policy or obliged to lie down and take it: none of this is nearly as important as whatever they’re doing on their phones. Continue reading

9/11 + 17: Lessons

I post this every year around 9/11, so here it is again. Though it isn’t up yet, Chris Sciabarra’s annual 9/11 series is always worth reading and should be up soon. And feel free to take a look at my recent apologetic essay here in defense of terrorism, eventually slated for publication in Reason Papers as part of a symposium on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified. 

We’re just a few days away from the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the last decade and a half of perpetual warfare. I offer them somewhat dogmatically, as a mere laundry list (mostly) minus examples, but I have a feeling that the lessons will ring true enough for many people, and that most readers can supply appropriate examples of their own.  Continue reading

Terrorism Justified: A Response to Vicente Medina

[This is a draft of the paper I’ll be presenting this Saturday at the Author Meets Critics session I’m organizing on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified: The Use and Misuse of Political Violence, featuring presentations by Theresa Fanelli (Felician), Graham Parsons (West Point), and myself, with a response by Vicente Medina (Seton Hall). Comments welcome. For a link to an earlier discussion of Medina’s book at PoT, go here.]

Terrorism Justified: Comment on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified
Author Meets Critics Session
Felician University, Rutherford, New Jersey
April 21, 2018
Irfan Khawaja
Felician University

  1. Introduction

Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified offers a comprehensive, clear, and thorough critique of terrorism. There’s a sense in which I agree with and greatly admire Medina’s argument, and a sense in which I fundamentally disagree with and reject it. In this paper, I’ll focus on the disagreement, in the hopes that in doing so, the implicit agreement will come out as well.

I begin in Section 2 by making some critical observations on Medina’s definition of “terrorism.” The definition, I suggest, pushes the reader in two different directions—a categorical rejection of terrorism, and a subtly conditional one. On the latter interpretation, terrorism can be justified, but only in situations that Medina regards as extremely implausible and unlikely. In Section 3, I offer an extended thought-experiment, verging on a fable, intended to give plausibility one such situation. In other words, the case I describe is one in which it seems (to me) justifiable to target people that Medina would regard as “innocent noncombatants,” or else to inflict foreseeable harm on them without having to meet a “reasonable doubt” criterion as to their moral status. In Sections 4 and 5, I make explicit what the fable leaves implicit. Continue reading