Oskar Lafontaine, a German politician of the Left, has weighed in on the definition of “terrorism”: Herr Lafontaine asserts that “terrorism is the killing of innocent people to achieve political objectives”. By this definition, certainly, the men who turned jetliners into weapons on September 11 are terrorists. Herr Lafontaine concedes this. But, by the same token, he argues that “Americans are also terrorists when they bomb cities and villages in Afghanistan (and) Iraq and kill tens-of-thousands of innocents.”
There is, of course, a consistency here, something different from blind anti-Americanism. It is a consistency born of a simple moral absolutism: All killing is wrong. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. It is modified in that only the killing of innocents is to be considered terrorism. This means that any time collateral damage occurs, the actor who caused such damage is to be regarded a terrorist, regardless of the lengths taken to avoid it.
The refreshing thing about this, of course, is that it’s not quite moral relativism: It is moral equivalence. The only way to avoid ever becoming a terrorist, then, is for a state actor never to act at all. This is, essentially, a strict liability view of the world: It matters not what your intentions were; if some innocent somewhere dies, and the proximate cause is your action, you are automatically a terrorist.
Yes, it’s easy to ride the moral high horse when you’re not in charge. The fact that Herr Lafontaine has no real power whatsoever is a testament to the limits of such a position among even the cynical German electorate.
(Hat-tip: Davids Medienkritik)
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]