PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, November 07, 2008

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Terrorist or Hero? + Exhibition

Essay by Richard and Lawrence + details about a visit to an Exhibition on Saturday

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Terrorist or Hero? The last time we discussed this theme was four years ago and it was our 21st meeting.

Luckily today we also have an essay by Richard, who reminds us about the historical movements and questions of terrorism which we might have forgotten. In my short essay I try go look for new philosophical perspectives we might be able to reconsider the terrorists and their actions. I have also included the short essay I wrote four years ago on the subject. I am, of course, not going to reveal the plots of the two new essays, I’ll let you read the essays for yourselves. All I will say, however, is these are not good times for terrorists. And we have the philosophy to prove it.

Which brings to some good time that could be had this Saturday. Kim asked me to let you know that there is a photography exhibition at the FUNDACIÓN CANAL, on the theme of MUJERES EN PLURAL. We meet this Saturday, 8th Nov, at the entrance of the building at five pm (17:00). Details: Mateo Inurria, 2, Metro: Plaza de Castilla. www:

Take care and see you Saturday and Sunday



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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting:

----------------------new essay Lawrence--------------------

Terrorist or Hero?

The last time we discussed the subject of Terrorism was approximately four years ago, around September time of 2004. This was also our twenty first meeting. It has been a long time and a lot has happened in the confused world of terrorism.

I say confused because eight years into the twenty first century the way countries are conducting their affairs is more towards reconciliation than aggression, more cooperation than confrontation. It is true that terrorism is still alive and killing. Only today, the 6th of November 2008, we have news of terrorists bombs exploding in Pakistan and that Israel and the Palestinians are once again pursuing their never ending sabre dance. But the world political situation today is very much different.

The two most compelling themes of terrorism are territory and non-democratic means of achieving political ends. We are eloquently reminded of these themes in Richard’s essay. He develops his essay on more historical grounds rather then philosophical conjecture.

My two concerns about a discussion on terrorism is whether a historical analysis of terrorism will help us understand the fundamentals of terrorism? What I mean by this is whether we should start an analysis of terrorism by considering the philosophical issues first, if at all, or by going the historical route. My second concern is how important is philosophy, or a philosophical analysis of terrorism, to help us deal with this scourge?

Not surprisingly, I am in favour of starting with philosophy. Moreover, I also think that any reference to historical event s are only useful in so far as to help us extract the philosophical issues rather than to solve the terrorism in question.

There are two reasons why I favour the philosophical route. The first is that philosophy gives us a neutral ground where we can discuss and dissect our problems. Philosophical debate does not and ought not to involve blood and death. Religion does, politics does, economics does, natural survival does, but philosophy does not involve blood and death. The second reason is that in philosophy all players are equal. In a philosophical debate all the participants are philosophers and of equal status. There are no victims or oppressors in philosophy, there are no good men nor bad men and there are no terrorists nor heroes in philosophy. There are only rational beings.

Richard refers to the IRA and the N Ireland troubles and although I follow his arguments I am not as sceptical about the success of the peace agreement as Richard is. Sure the feelings of the people have not necessarily changed and of course there are many who would rather use the gun than the ballot box. But as Richard pointed out, the parties did give up their weapons. The symbol of this is not that there are no sub-machineguns available to be fired at each other; one does not need guns nor bombs to kill people. The symbolism is that a group of people with their own political agenda gave up their recognised means to achieve these ends. And the British government, by sharing power in Northern Ireland, gave up their recognised means of suppression and discrimination in favour of dialogue and cooperation. It is not that the different groups in Eire and Britain gave up their political convictions about the North but that there is a strong movement to solve their problems by different means. The philosophy here is to reinforce the positive experiences and quickly solve the negative problems. Bombs and guns only reinforce the negative.

Richard also refers to the problem in Spain between ETA and the Spanish State. I am not familiar enough with the issues here to comment constructively. However, philosophy does give me the ground to make an observation. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the N Ireland agreement it must surely be this: in the N Ireland question, language was never an issue. As I have said in the past, language unites us, languages keep us divided. The devil, of course, is in the detail.

So is it to be “terrorist or hero?” Today, there was also the news of the meeting between the Taiwanese President, Ma Ying-Jeou and the Chinese envoy, Chen Yunlin. Who is the terrorist and who is the hero, here? I am the first one to criticise the Chinese political system for its oppressive policies, but I will also be the first one to recognise that diplomatic initiatives like this meeting demand our attention and respect. A truly democratic China will benefit all the people on Earth, especially the Chinese.

Which brings me back to Richard’s aptly reminder of Churchill’s claim that democracy is the worst form of government, but it is the best form we have. The Wikipedia entry has this quote, “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Not only is democracy the best form of government we have, but post 4th November 2008, American democracy has been shown to be the best form of democracy we have today. But as Churchill knew very well and Obama will soon discover, the devil is in detail. But the lesson for the terrorist today must surely be, get off your back side and change your frame of mind. The rest of humanity has a life to live.

Take care


--------- Richard Essay --------
Terrorist or Hero?

The question, as I see it this time, is relatively simple but seen from a democratic perspective.

I understand that any act of resorting to physical force should be condemned as an act of terrorism and not as an act of heroism if it is directed at undermining any democratically functioning institutions for the simple reasons that democracy in practice offers other means to solve conflicts, which will always exist. If there are no such possibilities, a country concerned is not a democracy and the case is closed.

In order not to discuss a theoretical approach to the problem, let’s see two parallel and very similar practical examples, albeit not identical cases: IRA and ETA. The occupiers: the English, the Scots and the Welsh, the defenders the Irish and the Basques respectively. The only important difference in the Spanish case is that the Spanish and the Basque have always lived together, there are no religious rifts between them and an extra “invasion” conducted by non-Basques started in the 19th century and continued later on due to a strong industrial development of the Basque country: people simply migrated searching for jobs. And the result: they stayed and they put down roots there like so many other Spaniards overseas. Tensions sooner or later appeared and a process of radicalization continued and culminated at the end of the 19th century (Sabino Arana; if he had lived in the 30s of the 20th century he would have been called a fascist) After his death the pro-Basque radical movement calmed down but it had to be revitalized during the last stages of the Franco regime due to heavy repression not only political but cultural.

In the Irish case the “invasion” started in the Middle Ages and continued undisturbed until the 17th century when the Irish staged an uprising. But that did not help much. The rift was finally “solved” by the partition of Ireland (the second decade of the 20th century). Ulster remained part of GB.

Someone wise once said in the 60s that Ireland would be a paradise if there were no Catholics and Protestants in Ulster. Unionists, the Protestant minority (40-45% wanted to be part of GB whereas IRA fought for bringing Ulster to Ireland. For some 40 years a bloody deadlock continued. The conflict was not limited to Ulster only, but spread to England, especially London (the same tactics ETA still uses). In the 70s Paul McCartney composed a song called “Give Ireland back to the Irish” and the British democracy banned it from the BBC.

Eventually a few years ago an agreement was reached based on self-government and sharing power between the two communities. Before that the IRA had laid down their arms. The British troops almost withdrew completely. The question remains: how long will it last? Anyway, the agreement serves as a model for peaceful solutions of conflicts.

And here, if you will permit me, I would like to make a general observation: let me wish the Irish and the British all the best, but I can’t believe in peace there to last for a long time unless a strong cultural element (in its widest meaning) is introduced. The reason being that it is politics, religion and often racial issues (unfortunately even in the “civilized” world) that separate human beings; culture unites us, rarely does it cause rifts. One may not like Brahms preferring Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones but that will not cause riots giving rise to the destruction of records shops or preventing people from going to concerts. The same is true in other areas of culture.

The advent of democracy in Spain was to cure the situation with the Basques. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of a wide-range of autonomy granted to them, they still want more. It will be nice to compare their aspirations with a well-known proverb with literal translations:

UK Give him an inch and he will take a mile.
PT Não dês o dedo ao vilão que ele te tomará a mão.
"Don't give the finger to-the villain, because he you (Dat) will take the hand"
ES Le dan el dedo y él se toma la mano
"Him they give the finger and he takes the hand"
DE Wenn man ihm einen Finger reicht, nimmt er die ganze Hand.
"When one him a finger gives, takes he the whole hand"
SE Ge honom ett finger och han tar hela handen.
"Give him a finger and he takes whole hand-the"
PL Daj mu palec, a on weźmie całą rękę
"Give him finger and he will take whole hand"
RU Daj emu palets, on i vsju ruku otkusit.
"Give him finger, he even whole hand will bite off"

The Irish model serves the Spanish government as an example to follow, but the problem is that ETA refuses to lay down their arms. The Basque nationalists proposed a sort of plebiscite (as a referendum within autonomous regions is anti-constitutional). As the odds are within the range of 50-55 per cent in favour of the nationalists, the central Government don’t want to agree even if the results will not bind the government to give more concessions. What should be done? The deadlock continues.

I think that no-one in Democracy should negotiate under duress and with those who practice violence as a means to obtain their aims. I was astonished when some 3 years ago Mário Soares, the man thanks to whom Portugal was brought to democracy 30 years ago, publicly expressed being in favour of negotiating with ETA. He was 81 at that time, but still with his sound mind (he ran for President the following year). I ascribed his opinion to his old age. Nevertheless, whatever the outcry among the democrats, it must be stressed that Aznar was the first who actually started unofficial secret negotiations with ETA. The socialists continued and stopped (as far as we know it, because “en la política lo real es que no se ve”: these words are not mine, they come from José Martí, the 19th century Latin American revolutionary).

Those in power don’t mind promoting referenda if the odds are in their favour. But a question is serious. The central government should protect its citizens. Basques are also Spanish citizens. But if they want to take their destiny in their own hands, don’t they have the right to do it? If Chechnya wants to be separated from the Russian Federation, what’s wrong? Who should decide it, the Russians? This is why I don’t understand some Spanish intellectuals like Pío Baroja and many others, saying that all the Spanish people should decide whether Spain should let the Basques go. Sooner or later, my vision is that they will go; the same los polacos will press harder for their Catalunya to become an independent state. Spanish nationalistic problems remind me of parents-and-their-children relations. How long should the children stay with their parents? In order not to sour mutual relations, let them go. They will not fly to the moon nor the Iberian Peninsula will detach itself from Europe as in Saramago’s novel “A jangada da pedra”. Neither Bilbao nor Barcelona will drift away or close their borders like it happened many times in case of Gibraltar.

Now what happens in case of the absence of democratic peaceful means? What should Palestinians do? After all they were kicked out of their own country when Israel was founded in the late 40s and ever since they have been living as refugees. The worst thing is that in such circumstances they have radicalized their claims and fundamentalist groups like Hamas proclaim that their objective is to destroy Israel (and they even won democratic general elections!). So, having no other methods, they resort to pure violence and the whole social and political turmoil is the end result. Their attitude, to my mind, is understandable and they cannot be called terrorists, although I would not call them heroes either for ruthlessly killing innocent civilians. These are not acts of heroism, but acts of desperation. But it is an act of heroism to show the courage by throwing stones at the soldiers in armoured vehicles.

My only doubt is whether we do not exaggerate by projecting democratic models onto other peoples in Africa or Asia. Do they have to follow in our footsteps? Are they able to do it? Should they do it? One does not build democracy in a day.

UK Rome wasn't built in a day. / Troy was not taken in a day
PT Roma e Pavia não se fizeram num dia.
"Rome and Pavia not were made in-a day"
ES No se ganó Zamora en una hora. "One not won Zamora in one hour"
DE Rom ist nicht an einem Tage erbaut worden
"Rome is not during a day built become (= was not built)"
SE Rom byggdes inte på en dag "Rome was built not during one day"
PL Nie od razu Kraków zbudowano. "Not at once Cracow they built"
RU Moskva ne srazu / vdrug stroilas' "Moscow not at once / suddenly was built"

Europe needed more than 2000 years to achieve it. But American presidents seem to have never understood History, especially the outgoing one, who has been extremely clever and knowledgeable, full of brains.

Do we have the right to teach other peoples which is a good political system and which one is bad?

W. Churchill is quoted as having said that democracy is a very bad political system, but it is the best of the existing ones.

Karl Popper believed in the democracy’s self-improvement. In his view human beings will always want to change something within the system to live better. I am not tempted to agree on that point, at least as far as the whole society is concerned. To live better is a good argument but one must ask: who is to live better? The chosen ones, the rich ones or those in power?

We have already created and are still creating a huge bureaucracy that has more and more to say as Max Weber predicted 100 years ago. And it impedes normal development, because there must be some cushy jobs for boys (and for girls too). And this state of affairs is being perpetuated. Is this democracy’s self-improvement? Simply the interests within the system dictate its evolution and not the rational idea of improvement as Popper thought. One day the system will implode, because it will become unsustainable.

To finish with, let this short essay serves as a proof that the author has not in mind any manipulation as Richard Dawkins will understand. It is just my expressed opinion. I don’t intend to convince anyone. On the contrary, I will be willing to read some other views, perhaps I could even drop mine if others result in being more convincing to me.

I am not saying that Dawkins is wrong. In political squabbles, business negotiations, court cases and even in innocent debates “in favour or against sth” opinions expressed carry heavy weight of manipulation, but there is still, fortunately, some areas in human life that manipulation through discourse is not present.

All the best,
PS. I have written this opinion, because I am not sure whether I will be coming to our tertulia on Sunday.

-------- Lawrence 2004-12-20 Essay ----------

Let's get to the point. There is no reason why someone's terrorist is someone else's freedom fighter.
The following conditions for an act to be a terrorist act might not be to everyone's liking, but they will do for now:
1) there is an alternative and peaceful way to bring about one's political cause;
2) the cause is unreasonable and/or unjustified;
3) the terrorist is not a legitimate representative of the people.
Of course, philosophers are very lucky; their raw material, aka concepts, can be so vague and imprecise that makes it all worth while getting up in the morning. So let's see what we can do with all this luck.
By definition terrorists usually, but not necessarily, use violence against the civil population to achieve their objectives. Sometimes they target assets, sometimes government employees and sometimes the military. However, by definition, using violence against people is not something one can justify very easily. And when it is justified it is usually done with a whole legal or moral system to support it or regulate it. Self defence and justified war come to mind.
It is easy to claim that one does not have an alternative but to use violence. Of course, the ability to use violence gives one a certain degree of power, but that is not a justification. Not unless, that is, if we accept the slogan ‘might is right.’ At least in today's world, we are fast discovering that economic power or strategic alliances have a better leverage than semtex.
Terrorism is first and foremost associated with territorial claims. Anyway, there are enough historical precedents that should put territorial claims on top of the list. Ideology, in the form of political convictions or religious beliefs, are also quite high on the list. So, what justifies a cause or makes it reasonable? Since it is the business of the courts to tell us what is reasonable, we need not concern ourselves with this question here. Deciding what is a justifiable cause is more difficult. We first have to ask the question justifiable for whom? Followed by, what is being justified?
I suspect that matters of justification depend on whether the above three conditions are to be taken as necessary and sufficient together. Or whether each of the above conditions are to be treated as separate conditions.
Who do the terrorists represent? And how do they become representatives? In a way the cause has a lot to do in determining this question. Fighting an occupying force is surely a different matter from fighting to establish an oppressive regime. It is true that in some cases so called terrorists have wide support from the population, but there are occasions when the legitimacy of this support is not clear. Using coercion is not exactly the idea of representation we have in mind anyway.
A subject like terrorism will always come with some loose concepts attached to it. Two of these concepts are 'state sponsored terrorism' and freedom fighter.
I don't know about you, but for me 'state sponsored terrorism' is an oxymoron, especially if that terrorism is directed at an other state. It’s an oxymoron because if a state supports or directly uses terrorists or terrorism against another state that would be an act of war by whatever language or other system one wishes to stretch the semantics. States commit act of wars; individuals commit acts of terrorism.
At a superficial level the term 'freedom fighter' is also vague. What does the freedom fighter want to achieve? Does the freedom fighter want to get rid of an occupying force or replace an occupying force with their own ideological system? How important is it distinguish between the terrorist who specifically targets the civil population and the freedom fighter who targets the occupying force?
Finally, it is sometimes said that when terrorists bring about a change in the political scene they operate in it is because things were due to change anyway. In other words, the terrorists, at best, hastened the inevitable. The questions then follows: what causal implications does terrorism have? What exactly do terrorists achieve? And how does terrorism affect the population, governments and other institutions? However, the most pressing issue moralists and philosophers have to address themselves to is this: do we have a duty to protect the rights of terrorist?
Take care
-----------------------------------------end essays-----------------------------------

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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Terrorist or Hero? + Exhibition

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