Terrorism in America

Kerby Anderson

An American Tragedy

Many are calling September 11, 2001 one of the bloodiest days in American history. And now we face the prospect that terrorism has become a part of modern life. Crashing planes into buildings, hijackings, bombings, and assassinations on different continents of the world may seem like isolated attacks, but they reflect an easy reliance on violence as a way to promote social, political, and religious change. They are elements of a pervasive "end justifies the means" philosophy being followed to its most perverse conclusions.

Terrorism has become the scourge of democratic governments. According to Rand Corporation expert Brian Jenkins, nearly a third of all terrorist attacks involve Americans. Democratic governments, accustomed to dealing within a legal structure, often find it difficult to deal with criminals and terrorists that routinely operate outside of the law. Yet deterrence is just as much a part of justice as proper enforcement of the laws.

Democratic governments that do not deter criminals inevitably spawn vigilantism as normally law-abiding citizens, who have lost confidence in the criminal justice system, take the law into their own hands. A similar backlash is beginning to emerge as a result of the inability of Western democracies to defend themselves against terrorists.

But lack of governmental resolve is only part of the problem. Terrorists thrive on media exposure, and news organizations around the world have been all too willing to give terrorists what they crave: publicity. If the news media gave terrorists the minuscule coverage their numbers and influence demanded, terrorism would decline. But when hijackings and bombings are given prominent media attention, governments start feeling pressure from their citizens to resolve the crisis and eventually capitulate to terrorists' demands. Encouraged by their latest success, terrorists usually try again. Appeasement, Churchill wisely noted, always whets the appetite, and recent successes have made terrorists hungry for more attacks.

Some news commentators have been unwilling to call terrorism what it is: wanton, criminal violence. They blunt the barbarism by arguing that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." But this simply is not true. Terrorists are not concerned about human rights and human dignity. In fact, they end up destroying human rights in their alleged fight for human rights.

Terrorism has been called the "new warfare." But terrorists turn the notion of war on its head. Innocent non-combatants become the target of terrorist attacks. Terrorist warfare holds innocent people hostage and makes soldier and civilian alike potential targets for their aggression.

Terrorism will continue even though war has never been formally been declared and our enemy is not a single identifiable country. Instead an international terror network bent on crippling American morale is victimizing us.

What is a Terrorist?

I would like to continue by defining a terrorist. Is a terrorist a common criminal? If terrorists are only common criminals, then biblically speaking, they should merely be dealt with by their host governments.

In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul says, "He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil."

This passage of Scripture helps us make an important distinction we will use in our analysis of terrorism. The Apostle Paul's teachings on government shows that criminals are those who do evil and threaten the civil peace. Any outside threat to the existence of the state is not a criminal threat but an act of war, which is also to be dealt with by the government.

In other words, criminals threaten the state from within. Foreign armies threaten the state from outside. In the case of seeking domestic peace, the Apostle Paul outlines how governments will approve of good works, but that governments should bring fear to those that are wrongdoers.

Evildoers should live in fear of government. But in the case at hand, terrorists do not live in fear of the governing authorities in the countries where they live. Their governments do not think of them as breaking civilian laws and thus do not prosecute them.

This is foreign to the American mindset. If a terrorist group that targeted Afghanistan were based in the United States, we would prosecute those terrorists as enemies of the state. A U.S. based terrorist group would be illegal in the United States. And they would be illegal since they're carrying out activities reserved for Congress and the President. Only governments have foreign policy and war-making strategies. But Middle Eastern governments do not prosecute terrorists the way we would. Why? Because terrorists often carry out policies and desires of such host governments.

Middle Eastern terrorists, far from fearing the sword of the governing authorities, instead are often given sanctuary by such governments. Governments who give sanctuary and even give approval have often adopted the attitude that terrorists do them no harm so why should they move against the terrorist organizations? In fact, they are not seen as a threat because terrorist groups are acting out the host government's policies.

In conclusion, both the terrorist groups and their host nations are truly enemies of the American government when they capture and kill U.S. civilians for military and foreign policy purposes. This is not civilian murder, but military warfare.

Rules of Engagement

Based upon the Apostle Paul's teaching of government in Romans 13, terrorists should be classified as common criminals in their host countries. But they are not prosecuted by host countries and are often carrying out the military policy and foreign policy of that country.

Thus, when terrorists attack, we should not view them as criminals but as foreign soldiers who attempt to threaten the very existence of the American government. Whether or not the terrorists have the firepower and strategic wisdom to actually undermine the U.S. government is not the issue. At issue is how to deal with a new type of military aggressor.

Terrorists are not common criminals to be tried in American civil courts. They are military targets who must be stopped since they are armed and military enemies of the American government who are on attack.

In the same way that it took traditional armies some time to learn how to combat guerilla warfare, so it is taking Western governments time to realize that the rules for warfare have also been revised in the case of terrorism. Diplomatic efforts have failed to convince Middle East governments to help the United States in bringing terrorist groups to justice. Meetings and negotiations have not been able to strike fear in terrorists' hearts.

When we fight terrorism we need to realize we are talking about war. Military warfare is different from civilian peacekeeping. In civilian peacekeeping, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. A citizen can be arrested and detained before trial, but must be released unless guilt is proven.

Military warfare is different. A trial is not held for each military action. In a sense, in a just war, a "trial" of sorts is held before any action is taken. Discussion and debates among congressmen and senators usually occur before war is declared. Fact-finding studies, presentations, testimonies, and other kinds of forethought go into a declaration of war. In a sense, when the use of the military is involved, the trial period comes before anyone is confronted or arrested. But once war is declared, there are no more trials until the enemy is defeated. And every one who aids and abets the enemy is guilty by association.

However, we must also be careful to define the enemy. The U.S. is not going to war against Islam or even Arab countries. We should make sure we clearly define our goals and our adversaries.

At present, terrorism is a one-sided war that the United States has been losing for decades. American soldiers and citizens are being killed in the war. To be successful, the United States must treat terrorism like war. The goal is not to bring terrorists to justice. The goal should be to defeat them and eliminate their threat to peaceful societies.

Fear Factor

We have noted that terrorist groups are not living in fear of their host governments. Instead, law-abiding citizens live in fear of terrorist groups. In one TV interview a Middle Eastern terrorist was quoted as saying, "We want the people of the United States to feel the terror."

The ability of these groups to carry out their agenda is not the issue. The fundamental issue is how U.S. government leaders should deal with this new type of military strategy. Terrorists have held American diplomats hostage for years, blown up military compounds, and hijacked airplanes and cruise ships. Although some hostages have been released, many others have been killed and the U.S. has been unsuccessful at punishing more than a small number of terrorists.

Although international diplomacy has been the primary means used by the United States against terrorism, we should consider what other means may also be appropriate. In the past, American leaders have responded to military aggression in a variety of ways short of declaring war.

The U.S. Constitution grants the following powers to Congress: "To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations; To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water." Terrorist acts fall into at least two of the congressional provisions for dealing with attacks on the nation. They are (1) to punish offenses against the law of nations, and (2) to declare war.

In either case, there are strong Constitutional grounds for taking action against terrorists. The difficulty comes in clearly identifying the enemy and being willing to risk offending many Arab nations who we consider allies. Congress must identify the enemy and call that group a military target. Once that has happened many of the other steps fall into place with less difficulty.

At this point military strategy must be deployed which can hunt down small groups of well-armed and well-funded men who hide within the territory of a host country. We must also develop a political strategy that will allow us to work within a host country. We must make it clear how serious the United States takes a terrorist threat. American citizens are tired of being military targets in an undeclared war.

Through diplomatic channels we must make two things very clear to the host country. First, they should catch and punish the terrorist groups themselves as civilian criminals. Or, second, they should extradite the enemy soldiers and give them up to an international court for trial.

If the host country fails to act on these two requests, we should make it clear that we see them in complicity with the terrorist groups. But failing to exercise their civil responsibility, they leave themselves open to the consequences of allowing hostile military forces within their borders.

Just War

I would like to conclude by talking about the concept of a just war. The following seven points are a summary (by Arthur Holmes in War: Four Christian Views) of the concept of a just war.

  1. Just cause. All aggression is condemned, only defensive war is legitimate.
  2. Just intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain not ideological supremacy are justified.
  3. Last resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
  4. Formal declaration. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
  5. Limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender or the destruction of a nation's economic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.
  6. Proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks, that is to say to secure a just peace.
  7. Noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of a government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict should be immune from attack.

In the context of our discussion on terrorism, I believe that we should apply proportional punishment to terrorists and host countries. First, this means that we should not apply too severe a punishment. Calls for bombing cities of host countries in retaliation for terrorist actions should be rejected as inappropriate and unjust.

But this also means we should not apply too light a punishment. Host nations who harbor terrorists and refuse to punish or extradite terrorists should be pressured by the United States. Punishment could come in the form of economic embargoes, severing diplomatic relations, or even military actions. But the punishment should be proportional to the terrorist act.

In conclusion, I believe we must recognize terrorism as a new type of military aggression, which requires governmental action. We are involved in an undeclared war and Congress and the President must take the same sorts of actions they would if threatened by a hostile country. We must work to deter further terrorist aggression in our world.

© 2001 Probe Ministries