It is such a rare event when I disagree with George Jonas, my hero and mentor among Canadian newspaper columnists (along with the late Richard J. Needham), that I’m inclined to devote a whole column to it. The piece, to which I’m now referring, appeared in the National Post under the title, “Don’t Call it Terrorism.”
I don’t disagree with anything in his article, only with the headline. (Gentle reader should be constantly aware that editors, not writers, write headlines; often to a columnist’s chagrin.) I take issue with the suggestion that there is something absolutely wrong with terrorism.
Now, there is probably something wrong, when innocent people are targeted gratuitously. Or rather, let us call them “non-combatants,” for as my Church teaches, there were only two “innocent persons” in all history, and so the whole concept of an innocent bystander invites theological controversy.
Be that as it may, let us think back on the old George W. Bush phrase, “War on Terror.” Apparently it was too manly for his successor in the White House, who prefers, “overseas contingency operation.” To my view, “war on terrorists” would have been more accurate, “war on Islamist terrorists” sharper still, and “war on Islamists” would get us the rest of the way to the point. (Supposing, of course, that we agree on what the term “Islamist” means.)
And we need leaders who can say such things without wincing.
“Terrorism” is merely a means to an end; a means so extreme as to be seldom necessary, and therefore always hard to justify. And while I am not his press spokesman, I don’t think even Osama bin Laden thinks Allah wants terrorism as an end in itself. Give Osama what he wants—the whole world under tightly enforced Shariah, in the fanatical Wahhabi interpretation—and he will be glad to stop terrorizing us.
These distinctions may, at first, seem absurd, but they are crucial to understanding the moral dimension of international politics. They are, thus, also needed to make sense of history, in which, at one point or another, almost every side, including “the good guys,” have used some form of terror to advance some urgent interest.
The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will complete this point. They were designed to terrify the Japanese into surrendering promptly, thereby sparing millions of lives. And praise the Lord, the tactic worked: they surrendered.
So was it terrorism? Yes. And was it justified? Yes.
“The end does not justify the means,” we are taught from childhood. And like so many other things we were taught, including all proverbs in all languages, it is only true in context. “No end can justify any means at all” might be closer to precision.
The column by Jonas was on the blowing up of two cars containing Iranian nuclear scientists. As he explained, the regime of the ayatollahs may have had motives for killing them, then blaming it on the U.S. and Israel.
Others in Iran may have had motives. It would be foolish for us to take the regime’s word on a “Zionist conspiracy.” But even supposing “the Zionists” did it—well, good on them if by such means they can prevent Armageddon.
I wrote Wednesday and yesterday about the WikiLeaks issue, and the failure of our “liberal” elites to take questions of life and death seriously. To be fair to them, they are the products of their education, in the broadest sense, and many are animated by that coloratura soprano voice from childhood that sings, “The end does not justify the means.” They think they are being moral when, rather, they are being glib—and in the face of horrendous realities.
Let us bring this back to the large question of how we are to be governed—of the role of the state in our public life. I am, as any attentive reader must know by now, opposed to the extension of state power into common life, from education, to business, to health and welfare. I hold these are not legitimate fields for the exercise of the state’s monopoly on force.
They are also a distraction, to the state, from its legitimate functions, which pertain finally to life and death. Those functions are, classically: law and order, within the realm; and military defence against threats from outside it.
Moreover, there can be no prospect of individual human freedom unless the state is prepared to provide guarantees.
And here is the rub. The true business of the state requires very hard and consequential decisions on life and death: on crime, war and peace. We, as voters, cannot afford to be distracted by public policies that have nothing to do with these things.
For ultimately, our lives and the survival of our nation depend upon the spine of the men and women we elect to the highest offices of state. We need people there who can understand, not only that terrorism is bad form, but that there are things worse than terrorism.