The New Global Threat of Terrorism

Prof. Michael F. Hull, New York

There is nothing new about terrorism. Acts of violence against others are as old as original sin, as old as Cain’s murder of Abel. Terrorism or planned acts of violence as a means of coercion, has been around as long as men have conspired in sin. What is new is the global threat of terrorism. With the unparalleled technological progress since World War II, the world has become "a global village." Terrorists have access to more weaponry and personal communications than ever before and use them in order to inflict violence on a grand scale in any corner of the world. Terrorism is more widely reported than ever before by a profit-driven mass media—ready and willing to show any horror "live"—which only serves to enhance terrorists’ coercive expectations. What is new is terrorism’s larger, global, scope of evil and its prospects for destroying the peace of men and offending God.

Acts of terrorism are criminal acts. The acts of violence perpetrated by terrorists against sovereign nations and peoples are not acts of force, defence, or war; they are not political acts. The state has a legitimate right to protect itself from loss of life. Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly teaches that an individual has a right to defend his life, even to the point of taking the life of an unjust aggressor. Just so, the state has a right to defend the lives of its people even to the point of taking the lives of unjust aggressors (ST II-II, q. 67, a. 7). Pope John Paul II clearly teaches that the absolute necessity of taking life in order to preserve it is extremely rare in contemporary circumstances (Evangelium vitae, no. 56). Oddly enough, the state in the twenty-first century finds itself in a conundrum: The same technological proficiency, which enables it to preserve life (even the life of the guilty), has been used to escalate the effects of terrorism to a scale of atrocity hitherto unknown to man. If the first few years are any indication, the twenty-first century promises to be even bloodier than the twentieth, the bloodiest century in human history.

Clearly, the responsibility of the state is to safeguard itself from loss of life. This means that, given the circumstances of the twenty-first century, the state must make every effort to prevent terrorism rather than respond or react to it. As Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, once said: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In order the fulfill its responsibility to safeguard life, the state must revamp its laws and policies — mindful that the moral law remains in effect no matter what the threat of violence — for dealing with the criminals who are terrorists, the criminal conspiratorial activities of terrorists, the criminal acts of violence perpetrated by them, and the media who sensationalise them. This liability lies squarely on the shoulders of individual sovereign nations, who alone have the right and responsibility to protect their people, and it cannot be relinquished to assemblies of nations or world courts.

"There is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl 1:10). Original sin and concupiscence are ever present in men, and they will be in the world until the parousia. There is nothing new about terrorism, but its vast destructive capabilities and the likelihood of occurrence in the immediate future have heightened its threat against man’s peace and God’s justice. The global threat of terrorism will only come to a halt when nations make clear their commitment to stay a course of justice and peace, to punish the criminals in their midst, and to call out to Jesus Christ our Lord and "to draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25).