Counterterrorism as an ethical challenge

IS figh­ters in Janu­ary, 2014 in the pro­vin­ce of Anbar in Iraq © picture-alliance/AP


Ter­ror­an­schlag auf das World Trade Cen­ter in New York, am 11. Sep­tem­ber 2001. © AP

9/11 marks a, if not the, defi­ning moment in the histo­ry of ter­ro­rism and was unders­tood world­wi­de as a dra­ma­tic expres­si­on of the new cha­rac­ter of glo­bal con­flict. Ter­ro­rism is just as des­truc­ti­ve as it is unsett­ling as it departs from the “rules” of clas­si­cal con­flict; for exam­p­le, that through ter­ro­rist attacks, non-combatants by defi­ni­ti­on must be har­med. This and other cha­rac­te­ristics of ter­ro­rism lead to the domi­nant cla­im that, from an ethi­cal per­spec­ti­ve, ter­ro­rism is high­ly pro­ble­ma­tic, if not com­ple­te­ly repre­hen­si­ble. Com­bat­ting ter­ro­rism has con­se­quent­ly beco­me incre­asing­ly one of the utmost prio­ri­ties in inter­na­tio­nal poli­tics in recent years. Not just ter­ro­rism, but also coun­ter­ter­ro­rism is accom­pa­nied by con­sidera­ble moral ques­ti­ons. Ter­ro­rism is the­r­e­fo­re not just a poli­ti­cal or legal chall­enge but, in many regards, an ethi­cal one. Ter­ro­rism pres­ents not just one ethi­cal chall­enge, which cros­ses many moral boun­da­ries and the coun­tering of which is also often moral­ly strai­ned, but also pres­ents a chall­enge for ethics its­elf as it pushes the con­ven­tio­nal scope of ethi­cal ana­ly­sis to its limits.

The pro­ject deals with the mul­ti­pli­ci­ty of ethi­cal chal­lenges pre­sen­ted by ter­ro­rism. The main aim of the pro­ject is to dis­cuss the so-called defi­ni­ti­on pro­blem in ter­ro­rism rese­arch and to find a spe­ci­fic “seman­tic” of ter­ro­rism. In a second step, the pro­ject will ela­bo­ra­te on the many facets of the ethi­cal pro­ble­ma­tic in the con­text of ter­ro­rism and counterterrorism.

The fol­lo­wing ques­ti­ons (among others) are the focus of the research:

“Which ethi­cal boun­da­ries must be adhe­red to when fight­ing terrorism?”

“How effec­ti­ve are mili­ta­ry mea­su­res against terrorism?”

“Can Just War Theo­ry be used at all in cases of com­plex, trans­na­tio­nal and non-state violence?”

“Are pre­ven­ti­on mea­su­res a pos­si­ble effec­ti­ve coun­ter­ter­ro­rism tool?”

Fur­ther­mo­re, media stu­dy and dis­cour­se ana­ly­ti­cal stu­dies will be taken into account as the per­cep­ti­on and judgment of ter­ro­rism and coun­ter ter­ro­rism stra­te­gies are ine­vi­ta­b­ly influen­ced by how they are pre­sen­ted in the media. This is also accom­pa­nied by many ethi­cal issues.

In the last stage of the pro­ject, the fin­dings from this cri­ti­cal eva­lua­ti­on should be brought into cont­act with eccle­si­al con­side­ra­ti­ons of ter­ro­rism and coun­ter­ter­ro­rism. The pro­ject aims to clo­se­ly ana­ly­se the stand­points from the “Bischofs­wort”: Ter­ro­rism as an Ethi­cal Chall­enge. A recom­men­da­ti­on for the revi­si­on of the church’s stand­point should fol­low from the­se con­side­ra­ti­ons. Final­ly, it should also gene­ral­ly be deter­mi­ned what addi­tio­nal value the Chris­ti­an peace ethics tra­di­ti­on has for the ethi­cal ana­ly­sis of ter­ro­rism and coun­ter­ter­ro­rism and which role the church can play for long-term pre­ven­ti­on and com­bat­ting of terrorism.

Project Supervisor

Prof. Dr. Hajo Schmidt