According to Purpura (2007), terrorism as a term does not have a fixed definition. This effectively means that its usage and application is largely hinged on a myriad of viewpoints, be they political or religious. In this text, I concern myself with terrorism; its justification, usage and application.

The Use of Terrorism by Powerful Governments to Delegitimize Less Powerful Governments

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Though terrorism cannot be seen to be a wholly biased term formulated by powerful governments solely to delegitimize those states having insignificant political or economic clout, there are instances where governments at a national level utilize terror so as to advance a well defined agenda. It therefore follows that though in most cases it is the “non-state actors” who are blamed for terror, powerful governments also utilize terror to stifle dissent or further diplomatic efforts as well as state policies abroad.

Terrorism as “War by Other Means”

It can be argued that regardless of which side wins a conventional war, the probability of enormous damage remains inevitably high. Hence in that regard, states could view terrorism as a less costly “war by other means.” Further, when terrorism is viewed from a rational perspective, it can effectively be described as “war by other means.” From this perspective, terrorism comes across as the use of conscious tactic to bring about terror aimed at destabilizing an established order. It can also be noted that just like war, terrorism can be thought of in terms of what motivates or drives the combatants. The combatant’s aspirations in this case could be hinged on psychological, cultural or even political motivations.

The Use of Terrorism by Al-Qaeda: Justification

According to the “Last Resort” just war tenet, the use of force can only be just if all the non-violent options have been pursued with little success. In Bin Laden’s Declaration of Jihad against America, the late al-Qaeda chief calls upon all Muslims to free their land from the aggressor. The tone he adopts in this case seems to demonstrate frustration at earlier efforts to accomplish a similar goal. When it comes to the “Legitimate Authority” tenet, a war is just if it is lead or called for by those who have the actual mandate to do so. As an aggrieved ‘prominent’ Muslim, Osama uses the Declaration of Jihad letter to call upon all the Muslims to wage war on their perceived aggressors (). In regard to the “Just Cause” tenet, war is waged for the wrong suffered. The wrongs suffered by Muslims in the hands of their oppressors are mentioned prominently in Osama Bin Laden’s Declaration of Jihad letter. This effectively justifies the use of terrorism by al-Qaeda as a form of self-defense. However, Saul (2004) observes that there is no way the “Just Cause” tenet can be used to justify terrorism in the case of al-Qaida. His argument in this case is founded on the organization’s violent operations which give a wide berth to moral innocence. Lastly, we have the “Proportionality” tenet which dictates that the force used in war must not exceed the injury suffered. In reference to his Declaration of Jihad letter, Osama notes that Muslims have been massacred across the world (Osama Bin Laden 1996). If this is the case, the use of terrorism by al-Qaeda can be justified.

Al-Qaeda’s Civilian Targets: a Look at the “Distinction” Tenet

According to this tenet, civilians cannot be considered legit war targets. Technically, even though al-Qaeda considers the United States to be its enemy, members of the public cannot be taken to be enemy combatants as they do not possess the ability to actively defend themselves against external aggression. With that in mind, al-Qaeda can only justify the death of civilians if such death occurs as a consequence of an actual confrontation with the actual combatants e.g. The military.


Osama Bin Laden (1996, August 23). Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holly Places: A Message from Osama Bin Muhammad Bin Laden to his Muslim Brethren All Over the World Generally and in the Arab Peninsula Specifically. Retrieved October 7, 2011, from the Terrorism Files Website:

Purpura, P.P. (2007). Terrorism and Homeland Security: An Introduction. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Smilansky, S. (2004). Terrorism, Justification and Illusion. Retrieved October 7, 2011, from: