The Moral Roots of Terrorism (c1980), by Chris R. Tame

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The Moral Roots of Terrorism
by Chris R. Tame
(Written c.1980)

The title of this article might sound excessively academic or intellectual. To analyse the moral and ideological roots of terrorism might seem to be engaging in "airy fairy" metaphysics in the face of a "real world" problem. But this is not the case. An engineer building (or repairing) a bridge can only do so as a result of his knowledge of the characteristics of his materials. In the case of terrorism our raw materials, so to speak, are the acts of human beings, individuals motivated by beliefs and justifying their acts by those beliefs.

The root of terrorism is a belief, a moral premise, that innocent humans can be justly sacrificed to attain particular political goals. The terrorist does not see him or herself as immoral. It is their moral self-righteousness whilst committing bestial acts that so puzzles many people, and is precisely what we need to understand.

The moral premise shared by all terrorists whether of so-called left or right, and whatever their specific goal, is that which underlies all socialist or collectivist political doctrines. It is the idea that the individual has no rights before the good of the collective or higher good, whether that is conceived of as the Proletariat, the Race, the Nation or the True Faith. Doctrines of collectivism are not simply seized upon by criminals to justify crimes, they directly create those crimes. Thus, Marxism holds that man's real nature is as a collective entity, finding its true realization in its alleged "species essence" rather than in so-called "atomistic", "alienated", and selfish human rights. Similarly, Fascism and National Socialism equally proclaim the primacy of "the common interest before the self” and of "sacrifice" and "renunciation" over individual freedom. Moreover, in both variants of collectivism their proponents explicitly justified terrorism. In practice National Socialist and Marxist regimes alike constituted an institutionalization of terrorism: permanent terror, in which genocide, massacre and individual murder maintain the political and economic order.

How does this relate to the solution to terrorism? A terrorist attack is fundamentally an ideological, a moral attack. Better intelligence gathering, bodyguards, and physical security, while necessary, are not long run solutions. Only an ideological counter-attack, a refutation of the moral and political roots of terrorism, will constitute a solution. The Red Army Fraction lives on because of the beliefs of its members and of a wide range of ordinary Germans who accept its moral righteousness. The West is perpetually crippled in its willingness to fight back effectively by its own doubts about its moral legitimacy. Repeatedly the media echoes widespread views that retaliatory force and restitution against terrorists are no different from, and make us "as bad as", the invasive force. Similarly, the idea that "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter" is widely touted. But the use of terror - the invasion of individual rights - to attain goals is itself an indication that the real goal of the terrorist is not freedom - the attainment or maintenance of human rights. Not surprisingly, no movement utilizing terrorism has resulted in anything resembling freedom, whether or not a morally decadent West is now prepared to call ex-terrorist dictators "Third World Statesmen".

The struggle against terrorism can be won only by the propagation of Western ideologies of individual freedom and rights, not only amongst non-Western populations but amongst our own, and especially amongst the intellectual, political and media elites who currently share the rationale for terrorism.

Businessmen must realize that the business of business is not merely business. Free enterprise, and the wider freedom of which it is a part, is the target of all terrorists, both "left" and "right". If business is to have any social responsibility, as well as a self-responsibility to defend itself effectively, it must be prepared to do so morally and intellectually and to finance those groups and individuals who are already attempting that task.

The Author: Chris R. Tame has contributed to such journals as The Jewish Journal of Sociology, Science and Public Policy, Economic Affairs, and The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies as well as a number of books. He appears frequently on TV and radio.