Monday, September 12, 2016

Terrorist as non-state actor?

Adam Garfinkle

Way back on September 20, 2002, Adam Garfinkle reflected on "What Our Children Should Learn About 9/11/2001" (Foreign Policy Research Institute), and among other things, he put forward this generally accepted point:
A pertinent example: Those who shun moral judgment often say that "terrorist" is a meaningless word because "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." But a terrorist can be defined with reasonable precision, as a non-state actor (i.e., an actor unaccountable, democratically or otherwise, to a larger community) who deliberately kills innocent civilians to advance a cause. Whatever the cause and however one feels about it, there is still nothing amiss with our children reaching the moral judgment that such behavior is always wrong.
In light of the Islamic State's existence, can we still define terrorists as non-state actors? Reality is in constant flux, as Heraclitus would often note, so our definitions necessarily change over time. That would seem to have be the case in this example, because the IS has sent jihadists to Europe to attack whatever they can.



At 7:56 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...


I am not a professional philosopher, but I sometimes indulge in philosophical issues.

So what does it mean to say "reality is in constant flux" if the flux itself is part of reality? I submit it is, rather, the state of reality that is in constant flux.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Point taken. I was expressing myself too loosely.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:30 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


I used to think as Garfinkle did/does re: terrorists, especially regarding their "non-state" nature, but my circle of friends finally brought me around to the view that states are almost always involved in terrorism: terrorists aren't merely rogues with their own miraculously appearing supplies of money and munitions. Especially for the terror groups that have gone so far as to give themselves names and create internal hierarchies (command structures, etc.), the large volumes of money, guns, missiles, and bombs that must be moved seem to point to state-based aid on some level.

Starting right after 9/11, many of my more hawkish friends felt that we needed to be squeezing (monetarily) those states that we strongly suspected of sponsoring terror. I've come around to this point of view, having started off as more of a liberal "transnational progressivist," as some pundits have called that worldview. Assume state support, and the rest follows. Of course, to use Facebook's terminology, this will involve a lot of painful "un-friending" on the geopolitical scene. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia both come to mind. But to compensate, there are plenty of ties we could strengthen, e.g., ties with India (I think we're insane not to grow friendlier, faster, with the world's largest democracy), and especially ties with ex-bloc Eastern Europe. I can't speak more specifically since I'm no policy specialist, but grosso modo, those're my two cents. Terrorists—the highly organized ones, anyway—can be assumed to be state-sponsored.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, you're right. I suspect Garfinkle himself might agree.

Jeffery Hodges

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