Who is responsible for terrorism?

Who is responsible for terrorism? Terrorists. What, are you an idiot? It's an obvious trick question. Perhaps I'm being mean, this trick question has stumped media pundits and opinionators for many years but the answer really is that simple.

The man in this picture who is about to hack a journalist's head off, he is responsible for what he does. Not society. Not some cartoons. Not Fox News. Not The Daily Mail. Not even Tony Blair and his war in Iraq or a magic book from the middle ages. Not you. Not me. Not anyone else. Him. He's responsible.

I remember laughing at the pathetic excuse used by Nazi war criminals when told about it in our history lessons. They were "just following orders". I'd have been in secondary school at this point. It seemed absurd to me that anyone could claim that as a defence. "Why did you steal chocolate from the corner shop?" asked my parents. "The bigger boys told me to do it", was a useless excuse. My parents were too clever: "if 'the bigger boys' told you to jump off a cliff, would you?". Uh, I guess not.

Personal responsibility is the bedrock of adulthood. If we lived in a society of adults, in control of their lives, it would not need explaining.Who is to blame for suicide? The person killing themselves.Who is responsible for crime? Criminals.Who is responsible for you and your life? You are. Currently we do not live in such a society. Instead we live in country where childish lies are pushed to us by sinister people who want to control everyone.

This is because were people to universally understand, admire and practice the concept of personal responsibility we'd be very difficult to control. None of us would look blankly on and shrug while doing the wrong thing on behalf of someone else. Those who want to control you prefer you to be just following orders. A nation with a deep sense of personal responsibility would be less easily led.

That's why the notion of personal responsibility is so rarely advocated by your so-called leaders. That's also why I think you have a responsibility to preach it.
Previously in the UK our version of the Christian religion carried a version of personal responsibility. It didn't matter what excuses you had up your sleeve, God was going to hold you to account after your life. In practice this would, on occasion, make the population difficult to manage. The pacifists in World War One, largely inspired by Jesus's non-violent teachings, are a classic example.

The Deserter by Boardman Robinson, 1916

This might explain why the belief system pushed by the establishment these days is "rationalism". Currently we lack a fully developed understanding of human consciousness. Enthusiastic rationalists often ignore this and assume people to be like complex computers, programmed by our past experiences and custom designed by our genetic make up. In this world view our past dictates our future.

"You are not responsible," goes the argument, "your tough upbringing and bad parents are". This is great news for those who wish to lead you. It swiftly abolishes the notion of 'free will' and allows all sorts of people to assume responsibility from others.

However, reality seems to have a different point of view. People are not nearly as rational as our leaders would like us to think. Perhaps this is why collectively we are not easy to control and no matter how many times the notion of individual responsibility is stamped upon it keeps re-emerging in different forms. I think this is because personal responsibility is a universal fact of the human experience. In real life, if the bigger boys tell you to jump off a cliff, reality makes you responsible for that decision.

So too, if you hack a journalist's head off, or shoot a bunch of cartoonists, you're the one who is responsible for that. Not your religion, your mates, your tough upbringing, The West or anything else. You. You did it.


I wrote a virtually identical article last year. I am going to keep writing it until everyone in the world has read it. Please help me by sharing it as far and wide as you can...


Damien Quinn said…
I think this argument has been addressed elsewhere by others but I'm not familiar with the specifics, I just want to make it clear that I am not taking credit for my counter argument, I feel I am repeating something established elsewhere.

As far as I can see, the formal(ish) rendering of your logic is as follows;

premise (a) every person is responsible for their own actions
premise (b) the terrorists are people
(conclusion) the terrorists are the only people responsible for their terrorism.

If this is not the roughly formal rendering of your position, please correct me so I can address it properly.

Premise (a) is false in effect. I mean, it is true to a point, but there is an important caveat which you ignore and which, I believe, invalidates your conclusion.

It seems obvious to me that each person can only assess their actions from the perspective available to them. A person who is misinformed or who misunderstands the situation can not be held responsible for their actions in the same way as someone who is well informed.

For instance, if we both have guns and you see me pointing my gun at you, it is reasonable for you to later say you were defending yourself when you shot me. The fact that I was aiming at the man with a knife who stood behind you does not invalidate your position, you could only base your actions upon the fact that I seemed (to you) to be aiming in your direction.

(to expand on your analogy) This is the reason Eichmann couldn't say he "was just following orders", he understood the situation fully. A train-driver who delivered people to a concentration camp, on the other hand, could not be reasonably expected to understand the full ramifications of his actions and so could not be held responsible, even though you could argue that he was an instrumental lynch pin in the holocaust.

Including this caveat leads to a conclusion that is entirely counter to the position you outline in the article, as follows;

premise a) every person is responsible for their own actions, to the extent that it is possible for them to understand the situation in which they find themselves.
premise (b) the terrorists are people
(conclusion) the terrorists are responsible for carrying out terrorism to the extent to which they can reasonably be said to understand their actions.

In other words, it is not just they who are responsible for their actions, responsibility must also reside with both the people who create the situation in which they find themselves and those who influence their understanding of the situation in which they find themselves.

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