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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 20, 2004

War and Terrorism

Alistair M. Macleod
Pages 97-108

Terrorism and the Root Causes Argument

Without attempting a full-scale definition of “terrorism,” I assume (for the purposes of the argument of the paper) (1) that terrorist acts are politically motivated, (2) that the political goals of terrorists are both diverse and (morally) a “mixed bag,” (3) that terrorist acts inflict deliberate harm on innocent civilians, and (4) that they are therefore to be condemned even when the goals they ostensibly serve are defensible goals. The various versions of the “root causes” argument seek to explain the phenomenon of terrorism, not to justify it. Nevertheless, anti-terrorism strategists must take these explanations seriously and be prepared to adopt a suitably broad view of the causal factors that may be involved. Exclusive concentration on the motives of terrorists is a mistake. Also important, for example, are the attitudes of (nonterrorist) members of populations in which there is sympathy for the goals of terrorists without any endorsement of their methods.

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