Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Terrorists have feelings too...

From NO BIAS AT THE TRIBUNE, NOT EVEN FOR REALITY:, at Touchstone's Mere Comments site, we read about the Chicago Tribune's distorted view of journalistic common sense. From the Tribune:
One other facet of the Russian hostage story also provoked considerable reader response: It was the Tribune’s use of the words “militant” or “rebel,” but not “terrorist,” to refer to the hostage-takers in news stories. “How can you . . . describe these folks as anything but ‘terrorists’?” asked Jim Ihlenfeld of Aurora, in one of the more temperate such messages. Our eschewal of the word “terrorist” was in keeping with a stylebook policy adopted several years ago, a policy that is in keeping with the journalistic purpose of the news pages: to provide as complete, thorough and unbiased an account as possible of the important news of the day. No intellectually honest person can deny that “terrorist” is a word freighted with negative judgment and bias. So we sought terms that carried no such judgment.
Why do I even bother attempting to point out the idiocy, as well as the fatal implications of, moral relativism when its adherents do such a better job on their own?

6 comments:

Rusty said...

It's worth noting that Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as:

...premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

That means that the US govt (or any other, presumably) can commit "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets" without it being terrorism. That sounds like moral relativism to me. Who knew that the President and his team were moral relativists?
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 - 4:44 pm | #

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Paul, it must be limbo time...

What you seem to be alluding to is historical fact in the form of Hitler invading Poland or the attempt to exterminate the Jews from Europe. Rather than be classified as terrorism, immoral acts such as these should be placed within the categories of unjust war and war crimes.

Context matters.
Rusty | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 - 7:30 pm | #

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Actually I was specifically thinking of events such as the bombing of Darmstadt on September 11th, 1944, or that of Dresden in February 1945. These attacks and many others fulfill every aspect of the definition of terrorism, except that they were committed by nations rather than subnational groups. That seems like a distinction without a difference to me - my guess is the thousands of civilians burned to death in the attacks might agree.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.15.04 - 8:05 pm | #

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Oh, as a practical matter it's debateable if Germany's war against Poland was unjust (it was undoubtedly a bad thing, but then that's what wars are), and I'd say the holocaust wasn't a war crime, it was a crime against humanity. See how difficult such relative judgements are?
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.16.04 - 3:27 am | #

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Paul,

Why can't different bad acts can have different (and appropriate) names?

If stateless thugs take hundreds of school children hostage and rape and murder them, that's terrorism.

If a state incinerates millions of people whom it considers subhuman, that's genocide or a crime against humanity (both, actually).

Fuzziness occurs when people want to analogize a state action to terrorism in order to produce moral equivalence between the state and the stateless. Why not say the state is oppressive, or committing crimes against humanity, or whetever you think the facts can support? Why fuzz up language (and morality) by analogizing? I think it's because, to leftists, hypocrisy is the biggest crime of all, and claiming that the state commits terrorism, too, allows them to make the real charge.
Ed Jordan | Email | 09.16.04 - 8:36 am | #

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Interesting point Ed. The point I'm making is that terrorism actually isn't definable as the State Dept tries to, because it misses out 6 important words at the end:

"and who aren't in our club"

There are two ways to get into the club - you can be a country, in which case you are somehow incapable of terrorism, or you can be on our side, in which case you're a freedom fighter.

I'm not trying to analogize here - I think there is a difference between war crimes, crimes against humanity and terrorism. But for me the difference is defined by the action, not the actor.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.16.04 - 10:38 am | #

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Paul, I'm in no way condoning the firebombing of Dresden, but I'm also reminded of the story of a female German civilian who, in the rubble of Munich immediately after the war, told a group of Allied soldiers, "None of this would have happened if you people would have surrendered."

Regardless of whether you classify the holocaust as a war crime, crime against humanity, or act of terrorism, you have at least confirmed that the act was morally wrong.
Rusty Lopez | Email | Homepage | 09.16.04 - 12:29 pm | #

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In my opinion, and in the opinion of society, yes.

But your article seemed in part dependent on the fact that terrorism is not morally relative, and I'm arguing that thinking the same act, done for the same reasons, even by the same person (theoretically) can be terrorism or not depending on who gave the order sounds like moral relativism.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.16.04 - 3:23 pm | #

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Paul, if I'm understanding you correctly then I would agree that there could be such a thing as state sponsored terrorism. I don't see how that equates to moral relativism though.

The act doesn't cease to be a moral wrong.
Rusty Lopez | Email | Homepage | 09.16.04 - 5:04 pm | #

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Well, part of your quote asked how you could describe them as anything but terrorists. Well, you could describe them as something else just by changing the title of the person who ordered the attack. Magically they become freedom fighters, or merely soldiers, and a soldier's war crime is not morally the same as a terrorist act (otherwise we'd call it a terrorist act wouldn't we?). So we *can* remove some of the moral weight of the act by changing its title, yet if morality is absolute that couldn't be possible.

Of course there is a flaw in the argument, in that what I mean by absolute is not what you mean. Perhaps more on that later.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.16.04 - 8:09 pm | #

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I would say that an act of terrorism, a war crime, and a crime against humanity are essentially in the same league and all are removed from the types of acts that the term "freedom fighter" might conjure up. The question is, can we redefine the act of a terrorist to that of a freedom fighter? The Chicago Tribune thinks so, but I don't. The flaw in arguing that the U.S. government is somehow left out of the definition of terrorist is that other definitions can equally describe the same level of evil.
Rusty Lopez | Email | Homepage | 09.17.04 - 8:20 am | #

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An interesting point Rusty. As you argued in an earlier post, what is moral or not depends in part on why it is being done (which is why your god could argue the deaths of thousands, when killing is generally immoral). So given that a terrorist may have no other course than terrorism (given that modern militaries are so overwhelmingly powerful), and also given that their cause might be just, then labelling them a terrorist judges them without justification in my opinion.

Having said that, I don't hold with that morality, believe that the killing of children under *any* circumstance is immoral, and makes these people terrorists.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.17.04 - 9:21 am | #

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Paul, the issue I have with your explanation is that God is not liable to us. In other words, if he is the giver of life, he can also take it away - without having to answer to us. As I stated in the earlier post you reference, whether we like that situation or not is irrelevant.
Rusty | Email | Homepage | 09.17.04 - 8:41 pm | #

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Paul, the ”just war” philosophy addresses your concern about perceived moral relativity in the definition of terrorists, war crimes, etc.

The distinction between state-supported killing and rogue killing is one involving authority. It is a moral absolute in the “God-order” (for lack of a better term) that governments carry authority, that they are ordained as authoritative by God. This is a common theme throughout the Bible.

Authority is a much-unappreciated concept in contemporary American culture, unfortunately, but the issues of authority and moral absolutes go hand-in-hand.
Bonnie | Email | 09.17.04 - 9:11 pm | #

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Rusty, I understand your assertion. And within its assumptions I agree with it. But given that you don't know if god wants some group we would label terrorists to do what they are doing (because if he sees the need god can order *anything* to happen), then you can't damn them. Correction, you can damn them all you like, you just can't know if that has any weight.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.18.04 - 5:04 am | #

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Bonnie - I don't know what link you meant to put in there, but I'm aware of the just war idea and find it to be largely nonsense. You're out there taking lives which for me is so morally abhorrent (in my opinion of course) that making rules is ridiculous. If you really have to be at war with these people (e.g. the British in the world wars, not the US in Iraq) then you need to do whatever needs to get done, because it must be a question of the survival of millions and your entire system.

As even you would admit, Bonnie, the extra authority that a state has is nothing compared to the authority of your god, and given that we cannot *know* his will I'd say you've devalued the authority of government. I'll be happy to defend that assertion when you're interested.
Paul | Homepage | 09.18.04 - 5:04 am | #

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oops! Here's the URL for the link: http://www.pfm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=BreakPoint1&template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=3263

Go ahead and defend your assertion, Paul, but I don't think it's a "given" that we can't know God's will about certain things. The just war theory actually elevates the authority of government in the context of deciding the morality of acts of terrorism or war, which is what I thought we were talking about.
Bonnie | Email | 09.18.04 - 12:44 pm | #

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Read the link - it's a lovely theory, but still assumes that war can be sanitized. If you have gone to war, it's because your nation's and it's citizens' existence is under direct and immediate threat, and that's the most valuable thing you have. Therefore anything should be allowed, because there's nothing you could do that's worse than what you're at risk of losing. Anything less makes war a political maneouver, which is repulsive to me.

Another thought - if government leaders are uniquely answerable to god, and their very position gives them unique authority (which, incidentally, is unconstitutional in the US, where only Congress can declare war), then how could any subnational group oppose a government? If, for example, the federal government decided to overthrow the state government of, say, Texas, it appears that the inhabitants of Texas couldn't resist without it being an immoral act (defying the unique authority of the govt).
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.18.04 - 4:06 pm | #

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As to my idea on 'knowing' god's will, why don't you post on your blog with why you think we can, and I'll explain why I think it's wrong. Unless of course you convince me, I'm certainly open to that.
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.18.04 - 4:09 pm | #

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Paul, I don't quite concur with your summary of just-war theory, but I'm not sure it's worth getting into at the moment.

Now, what you said in your 2nd paragraph about the unique authority of governments is an extremely interesting question; one I am pondering myself. (But let me clear up that Congress=government, not just the President, i.e., leader) I think you are on to something with that. And I think you are right.
Bonnie | Email | 09.18.04 - 8:40 pm | #

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As to knowing God's will, I think I've already explained how I think it can be known. But maybe if you give me a little more to go on (something specific), I can post about it on my blog & we can stop cluttering up Rusty's LOL!
Bonnie | Email | 09.18.04 - 8:44 pm | #

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Bonnie, Fair point about congress, though if too many people are held accountable I wonder if they can really be held accountable. But perhaps that is thinking in terms of human accountability.

As to my idea of why god's word is unknowable. I'm still pondering the exact formulation, but here's the starting point:

The bible is too contradictory to be the literal word of god in all respects. Therefore it must need to be interpreted. We need to have some basis for interpreting it. Clearly the bible can't provide it, because that's the thing that requires interpretation (so how would we know what bits would be the key to interpretation?) The only alternative I see is some sort of divine inspiration. Yet people have been divinely inspired for 2,000 years, and opinions of what god wants have varied significantly over that time. So why would I think that today's divine inspiration is right? Or tomorrow's?
Paul | Email | Homepage | 09.19.04 - 4:38 am | #

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Valid question, Paul, and I will attempt an answer when I have more time. I don't feel adequate to provide a great one, however, so I will try to find some resources you can read. Maybe someone else reading this thread can help as well.
Bonnie | Email | 09.19.04 - 9:09 pm

Bonnie said...

Paul, you said: "The bible is too contradictory to be the literal word of god in all respects. Therefore it must need to be interpreted. We need to have some basis for interpreting it. Clearly the bible can't provide it, because that's the thing that requires interpretation (so how would we know what bits would be the key to interpretation?) The only alternative I see is some sort of divine inspiration. Yet people have been divinely inspired for 2,000 years, and opinions of what god wants have varied significantly over that time. So why would I think that today's divine inspiration is right? Or tomorrow's?"

Well, you raise some very good questions. I will give you my take, though it is by no means definitive; I am, after all, merely human (not to mention that there are others far more gifted than I in answering these types of questions.)

I think the Bible can provide plenty of its own interpretation. I’ve certainly discovered this over the years as I’ve gotten more and more familiar with it. Have I “mastered” it? Heavens no; but I think I have a good basic foundation of understanding.

A study Bible can be of great help in this regard, as it provides hundreds of cross-references, a basic concordance, and background information, i.e., scholarship on literary interpretation, cultural interpretation, and the like. It does take awhile, though, to gain a depth of Biblical understanding; you can’t do it in a few hours, days, weeks, or maybe even years.

You are right, though, about divine inspiration being a key to interpretation. Here are some verses that speak to that: John 14:26 (Jesus is speaking here) “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James is a letter written to dispersed Christian Jews)

As to differences in interpretation, I think there are various reasons for that. One of the foremost is expressed by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: I Cor. 13:9, 10, 12: “For now we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. For now we see as in a glass dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known (by God).”

All “believers” are still human, and therefore have areas of ignorance as well as areas where they are not completely open to God. It gets very complex, but the end result is that we are all still mistaken about a lot of things. Some believers are more mature than others – also from I Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as child, thought as a child, reasoned as a child; when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Earlier in the letter, Paul refers to an earlier time when he was with the Corinthians believers: I Cor. 3:1-2 “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.”

Another big problem is that we are all part of our culture, and culture can blind us to many things. It’s always been true that Christians tend to interpret things of God according to the times, rather than interpreting the times according to things of God.

HTH, Paul

Paul said...

A very fair response Bonnie. I only saw two problems:

1. You seem to have described biblical interpretation as a self-supporting edifice. That seems like a flawed approach to me - the interpretation you have come up with *could* be 100% correct, but it could also be 100% wrong, and you would never know - the only corroboration you have is the book you are trying to corroborate.

2. From your quotes on divine inspiration I got the impression that we can't say now exactly what is 'perfect', but we'll know it when we get there. Given that, how can you claim to be any distance along the path at all? How do you know that you are any closer to the 'right' interpretation of god's wishes than the Borgias, Archbishop Martinez or Robert, Duke of Normandy? I'm sure their faith in what they were doing for god was every bit as profound as yours, wasn't it?

Bonnie said...

You seem to have described biblical interpretation as a self-supporting edifice. That seems like a flawed approach to me - the interpretation you have come up with *could* be 100% correct, but it could also be 100% wrong, and you would never know - the only corroboration you have is the book you are trying to corroborate.Well, in an abstract world, maybe. But it's not exactly "a book I'm trying to corroborate:" the Bible is not a "book," per se, it's a compilation of writings spanning millenia. The writings have various authors. I'm also aware that there are independent writings which corroborate Biblical ones, tho I can't cite any as that's not my area of expertise. I'm sure they could be looked up though.

From your quotes on divine inspiration I got the impression that we can't say now exactly what is 'perfect', but we'll know it when we get there. Given that, how can you claim to be any distance along the path at all? How do you know that you are any closer to the 'right' interpretation of god's wishes than the Borgias, Archbishop Martinez or Robert, Duke of Normandy? I'm sure their faith in what they were doing for god was every bit as profound as yours, wasn't it?"Getting there" isn't referring to a progressive path of enlightenment; it's referring to heaven, when we're finally "with God," as supposed to this existence here on earth.

Ultimately, I can't judge the heart or mind of any other person. I can only deal with my own, before God. So I don't worry about whether I'm "righter" than anyone else; I try to be "upright" before God.

Hope that clarifies.

Bonnie said...

oops, that should be "as opposed," not "as supposed."

sorry about lack of separation between quote and response.

Paul said...

I realize there are other sources that corroborate parts of the bible - I'm curious if you know of any that support the 'miracles' described in there, or any of the other things that I would consider fantastical (people living to 900, all the stuff Erich von Daniken quotes, etc)?

And how do you know what 'upright' is? Presumably all those other people tried to be 'upright', yet their views seem to differ from yours.