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CCADD Open Meeting 28th February 2006 at St. Ethelburga’s


 Rt Revd Richard Harries: Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy post 9/11


Summary of talk:


  1. The phrase ‘War on Terror’ is thoroughly misleading, since what matters most is intelligence and the ability to cope with the essentially political nature of the problem of terrorism.


  1. A key factor is that terrorists need the support of their ‘constituencies’ in order to survive and flourish.  Countering them means persuading their constituencies.


  1. Nevertheless there is unavoidably a military aspect to the struggle with terrorism, and here the ‘just war’ criteria have to come into play.


  1. The ‘just war’ criteria include having support of the UN, since today this is what ‘legitimate authority’ implies.

But a good many American thinkers are against this interpretation of authority.


  1. It is crucial to distinguish pre-emptive use of military force from preventative use.  The former is allowable within the ‘just war’ tradition if the likelihood of terrorist action is extremely probable (hence the need for good intelligence), but the latter, in so far as it is a response to a merely possible terrorist action, is not permissible.


  1. British legislation, notably on the use of detention without trial, is problematical.  A ban on the ‘glorification’ of terrorism is to be deplored, especially in the absence of an adequate definition of what counts as terrorism.  The latter should be construed as the systematic, intentional attacks, as a matter of a settled policy, on ‘non-combatants’; i.e. those who are not taking any part in the terrorist activity.


  1. American pre-millenarianism is very powerful at present.  It includes the belief that present conflicts and turbulence are but the necessary prelude to the coming of Christ in glory.  Hence today’s turbulence is to be welcomed as a sign of the ‘millennium’.


  1. The state of Israel must be recognised as legitimate, but violent support for it must not be seen as a divinely sanctioned prelude to the millennium.


  1. Christians today, facing the threat of terrorism, need to remember Reinhold Niebuhr’s insistence on the need for national humility: to believe in the intrinsic righteousness of our own state against all others is a form of self-delusion.


  1. It is important to recognise that democracy and Islam are compatible with each other.


The Questions were wide-ranging and vigorously pursued.  Some questioners thought that the phrase ‘war on terror’ was not mistaken, given the level of violence involved in modern terrorism; others questioned the relevance of the ‘just war’ criteria in the terrorist context.  It was pointed out that if Christianity has superseded Judaism, it is believed by Muslims that Islam has superseded Christianity.  One questioner pointed out that American government lawyers had a better case than was sometimes thought for justifying Guantanamo Bay and similar measures.  Another said we had no option but to put up with a situation of moral unclarity and uncertainty.