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Terrorism and Torture: History and Arguments Essay

Introduction: A Retrospective Into the History of Torture and Terrorism

There is no secret that in the Middle Ages, when torture was a common practice, such harsh and inhumane measures towards the imprisoned were applied not because the people of the Middle Ages were heartless compared to the humanists of the XXI century, but because in the XII-XVII century, it was less than unprofitable – it actually meant throwing the state money away on feeding and dressing the prisoners.

By spending the tax money on the prisoners, the person at the helm (i.e., a king, an emperor, etc.) would have little to no financial resources left for the rest of the fields, such as education, industry, armed forces, etc. Of course, it would be wrong to deny the existence of prisons in the Middle Ages; however, the purpose of these prisons was a tad different from the prisons of the XXI century: “During the Middle Ages, prisons were intended not as places of punishment but rather as places of detention for people awaiting trial and for criminals who could not pay their fines” (Kleinhenz 271).

Compared to the Medieval Age, modern society definitely has more opportunities for allowing people to mend their ways and try to become decent members of society once again. It can be argued, however, that prison changes people and, for the most part, blocks their way to have a well-paid job; yet tortures and the resulting painful death do not serve any purposes except for using the prisoner and then getting rid of him/her. Therefore, the question is whether it is more reasonable to use tortures as the means to receive the required information from the prisoner or to make the ultimate punishment for felonies remains open.

Terrorism is also rooted very deep in history. According to the existing data, the first terrorist act ever took place in Palestine by the so-called Zealot sect of the Second Temple Judaism (Chaliand and Blin 55). Although much water has flown under the bridges since then, the concept and purpose of terrorism remain the same; it is still considered the final resort for a group of people fighting for a specific political cause.

Concerning the Key Arguments Pro and Con: The Right Choice

When speaking of such phenomenon as torture, one might find hard times believing that there are actually arguments in favor of the given phenomenon in the XXI century. Indeed, with the surge of humanist ideas, the mere thought of hurting someone, not to mention the idea of jumping into terrorism. However, each of the sides in the given argument offers quite reasonable arguments, which means that both sides need to be heard to pass the judgment.

On the one hand, the majority is inclined to believe that tortures, as well as terrorism, are completely unacceptable in modern society, mostly for the reasons of humanism. According to Levinson, “an absolute ban on torture is the right thing to do when we wed moral and pragmatic considerations” (Levinson 240). The same principle can be applied to the idea of terrorism; being a pointless assassination and a suicide for the sake of vague politic goals, terrorism cannot be considered an adequate response to a specific situation and will hardly lead to any positive outcomes.

Some people, however, believe that tortures can and must be used in the legal system as the alternative to capital punishment. According to the existing comments on how society will benefit from bringing tortures back, some philosophers provide the key postulates of utilitarianism as the ultimate justification. Indeed, according to the principles of case utilitarianism, “the benefits that would flow from the limited use of torture would outweigh its costs” (Schulz 236).

As for the arguments in favor of terrorism – as a matter of fact, even the given phrase sounds somewhat wrong in the light of the terroristic acts committed over the past few decades – some of them even sound reasonable. For example, religious beliefs (Khattar 45) are often considered as a sufficient justification for terrorists’ actions.

Nevertheless, the arguments in favor of terrorism are voiced very rarely and anonymously whenever it is possible, due to the controversy around the very concept of killing innocent people for the sake of certain political goals. People are clearly reluctant to provide the reasons for supporting terrorism for quite understandable reasons; however, some offer the explanations as to why terrorists sacrifice their own and other people’s lives for the sake of a specific goal. Among such explanations, by far the most famous one was voiced by George Bush, Jr.: “The terrorist is horrible, terrible, irresistibly fascinating, for he combines in himself… the martyr and the hero.” (Downing 7). Therefore, terrorist acts can be viewed as the actions of the people who have been pushed to the limit by the unfair political antics of the government of a specific country.

My Own Conclusion: Terrorism and Torture Are Beyond Inhumane

Even judging by the arguments provided above, the very concept of torture, as well as terrorism, seems inconsistent. Personally, I am sure that there is no way in which terrorist actions can actually improve the state of people’s lives. The same humanistic principles can be applied to the concept of terrorism as a completely unacceptable activity. There is no doubt that to be heard, some people and organizations, especially the ones that do not have enough power, need to resort to drastic measures. However, the slaughter of innocent people can hardly be considered as the reason for someone’s requests to be considered legitimate.

It would be wrong not to mention that terrorist acts do not necessarily have to involve slaughter; according to the existing definition, the following actions are to be viewed as terroristic:

  • Force or violence used against people/property in an unlawful manner (Whittaker 3);
  • Threatening with the violence/using violence as an act of intimidation (Whittaker 3);
  • Violence for political reasons aimed against the noncombatant targets (Whittaker 3);
  • The use of violence against people for a political/religious/ideological cause (Whittaker 3);
  • Targeting innocent people for the sake of achieving a political goal (Whittaker 3);
  • Using violence to intimidate people in order to achieve political goals (Whittaker 3);
  • The use of force in pursuit of political goals (Whittaker 3).

That being said, it is clear that terrorism aims at changing the existing regime. It is also evident that the key weapon of terrorists is fear. Leaving alone the fact that in the course of their activities, terrorists threaten the lives of innocent people, the mere idea that far is being used to change the political state of affairs, or any state at all, for that matters, seems entirely wrong. Changes are not supposed to be brought about by fear.

Changes must come either as a result of natural progress or as the solutions to the problems currently faced by a specific society on a specific time slot. In addition, these changes are not supposed to be inflicted by brutal force. Instead, a diplomatic approach is much more preferable, since an efficient solution is possible only once both sides come to terms. Unless each of the opponents is satisfied with the provided solution and takes a specific step on his/her own, there will always be the threat that, sooner or later, the terrorists will be eliminated by the opponents.

Therefore, apart from its inhumane methods, terrorist provides an only temporary solution to the problem that the proponents of terrorism face. The characteristics of terrorism provided above show that on no account can it be considered a reasonable solution to a specific problem. Therefore, I am strictly against any terrorist actions.

As for torture, the very fact that it is actually being considered as an option frustrates me. While it used to be the only way to treat the prisoners in Medieval times, at present, it seems completely useless and serves the sole purpose of making the convict suffer.

While it can be argued that tortures can be offered as an alternative to imprisonment, the issue still remains very debatable. To start with, even passing the sentence of torture for the person who has committed the most horrible crimes, such as child molestation, etc., the jury will be reduced to vigilantes, and the concept of punishment will, therefore, be changed from the means to cause redemption to the method of taking revenge on the criminal. Thus, torture presupposes a considerable downgrade in morals. Finally, even if the arguments above are disregarded, it will be very difficult to correlate the tortures with the committed crimes. For example, it will be quite hard to decide whether a murderer should be boiled, frozen or burnt.

The Reasons for the Provided Arguments: An Overview of the Results of Torture and Terrorism. When Ends Do Not Justify the Means

Like any other assumptions, the ones provided above are based not only on my personal ideas concerning terrorism and torture but also on specific evidence concerning the effects of the given measures. Indeed, taking even a quick glance at the examples of terrorism and the Medieval score of tortures, one must admit that history has provided enough proof for the inefficiency of both methods. To start with, the most famous cases of terrorism and their results must be named. For instance, the case of releasing the sarin agent into the air in the Tokyo subway carried out by Aum Shinrikyo (Wheeler, Wong and Shanley 1731) resulted in a massive stir in the Japanese media.

However, this was as far as the situation got; after the case was investigated and the criminal was identified, the Japanese government returned to its traditional policies. Needless to mention, the notorious 9/11 terrorist act did not lead to any major changes in the American policies towards North Korea or Iran, apart from the fact that the security system was enhanced several times (Wheeler, Wong and Shanley 1742). As for tortures, they have certainly proven to be an efficient means to obtain information from prisoners and make them confess in the crimes that they have never committed. That being said, I believe that terrorist actions, as well as torture, serve no purpose other than vengeance, which is never the answer.

Works Cited

Chaliand, Gerard and Arnaud Blin. The history of terrorism: From antiquity to al Quaeda. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Web.

Downing, David. The Debate about Terrorist Tactics. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group. 2008. Print.

Kleinhenz, Christopher. Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge. 2004. Print.

Levinson, Sanford. Torture: A Collection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2004. Print.

Schulz, William F. The Phenomenon of Torture: Readings and Commentary. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007. Print.

Whittaker, David J. Terrorism Reader. New York, NY: Routledge. 2012. Print.

Wheeler, Derek S., hector R. Wong and Thomas P. Shanley. Pediatric Care Medicine: Basic Science and Clinical Evidence. New York, NY: Springer. 2007. Print.

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"Terrorism and Torture: History and Arguments." IvyPanda, 26 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/terrorism-and-torture-history-and-arguments/.

1. IvyPanda. "Terrorism and Torture: History and Arguments." June 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/terrorism-and-torture-history-and-arguments/.


IvyPanda. "Terrorism and Torture: History and Arguments." June 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/terrorism-and-torture-history-and-arguments/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Terrorism and Torture: History and Arguments." June 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/terrorism-and-torture-history-and-arguments/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Terrorism and Torture: History and Arguments'. 26 June.

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