Q&A: Terrorism's ethical components
Dr. Rushworth M. Kidder is Founder and President of the Institute for Global Ethics . A noted speaker and former senior columnist for The Christian Science Monitor, Kidder is most recently the author "How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living" .Skip to next paragraph
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Rushworth Kidder was interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor's online news producer, Josh Burek.
csmonitor.com: President Bush told the nation last night that the United States "will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." What ethical boundaries must US leaders consider before committing to a response?
Kidder: Well, I think we need to put this into the broader context of where the terrorist activity comes from. Bear in mind that terrorism is always perpetrated by a small group of people.
They're supported by a slightly larger, but still very thin layer of people who are the ones who harbor and give them safe houses, give them money and all of that. Below that, there's a group of people who generally in some vague way, think that this is an OK idea even that's not a particularly large bunch. Because below that, then, you get the typical factions in any kind of a group; those people who would generally be opposed to the United States but wouldn't want to go the level of that kind of appalling violence and those who are on the other side, defending the United States. So we're not talking about a large group of folks up here who are the actual perpetrators and the ones who are sustaining and supporting it.
And I think there's an interesting connection. Would you make a distinction if you were fighting a war between the soldiers on the front line, and the logistical support behind the lines that provides the ammunition, the movement, the food, and all that stuff? You typically don't.
They typically all seem to be soldiers and you go after them; you're trying to get at the enemy, wherever it happens to be. To say that all we're trying to do is to get at the perpetrators of the thing, is a bit like saying all we want to do are capture the guys who are dealing drugs on the street corner; we're not going after the kingpins; we're not going after the folks in the back room who make it all possible. And, we don't typically do that. We typically say: "We're going after the whole business" bearing in mind that the whole business is not a big huge number of people.
csmonitor.com: What does history tell us about the best methods of combating terrorism? Are there lessons the United States should learn from the current Mideast conflict?
Kidder: Oh yes. All sorts of things. And the lesson in all of this, if you talk to the folks who study these things, and make it their business to think about it, terrorism is principally a message system. It's a way for people who are typically not being heard to get attention in international, diplomatic, and political circles.
An individual I've talked with about this has an interesting analogy about terrorism. He said, "In some ways, this is like the five-year old kid, tugging at the skirt of his mother, who's deeply engaged in conversation with some other adult and not paying attention, and tugging and tugging and finally spilling milk and finally creating in a sense, right there at the mother's feet a little terrorist scene that has to be paid attention to.
Now, in a sense, what you're doing here, is ratcheting up the stakes. If you're not listening with the small terrorist act, the act gets bigger and bigger and bigger, until finally there is some attention paid.
Now, the danger here, is that the attention we'll try to pay is to respond in kind. Respond the way they did, with a similar kind of violence and all that sort of thing. And that as I think we've learned in the very recent experience in the Middle East simply doesn't work. That's revenge building upon revenge and it simply escalates the whole issue.