Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

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Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

DETERRING NONSTATE ACTORS

nent Muslim groups and individuals around the world. What

so many found objectionable was the deliberate targeting of

innocents,” which is to say individuals not directly implicated

in US policy towards the Middle East. Acts of this kind, it was

observed, are contrary to the dictates of Islam and therefore

something that all right-thinking Muslims should eschew. 2 According

to the Koran (17:15), “No soul laden bears the load of

another.” In the present context, this is interpreted as meaning

that the people of a state are not accountable for the sins of

their government. 3 This, by extension, rules out terrorism as a

means of achieving one’s political objectives.

That al-Qaeda is sensitive to this form of criticism is demonstrated

by the fact that Osama bin Laden subsequently made a

public effort to justify the 9/11 attacks on juridical grounds.

On the specific issue of targeting civilians, he took refuge behind

Koranic references to the principle of reciprocity in human

affairs, such as sura 16, verse 125: “And if you chastise,

chastise even as you have been chastised.” 4 Al-Qaeda, he maintained,

was only paying back the United States in kind for its

past transgressions, and this it was fully entitled to do: “God,

the Almighty, legislated the permission and the option to avenge

this oppression [against Muslims]. Thus, if we are attacked,

then we have the right to strike back. If people destroy our villages

and towns, then we have the right to do the same in return.

If people steal our wealth, then we have the right to destroy

their economy. And whoever kills our civilians, then we

have the right to kill theirs.” 5

A problem for al-Qaeda in this regard is that its justifications

for terrorism are derived from a selective and highly contestable

engagement with the dictates of Islam, which in theory is

easy to refute. Bin Laden’s position on the principle of reciprocity

serves to illustrate this point rather well. Strictly speaking,

the injunction to “chastise even as you have been chastised”

applies not to acts of war but to acts of retribution for personal

injury or murder. Thus, a murderer who kills his victim with a

sword should himself be executed with a sword and so on.

Moreover, even this basic principle of reciprocity is subject to

qualification. Certain modes of killing—such as with fire, for

example—are altogether forbidden. Thus, a murderer who immolates

his victim may not himself be immolated. 6 Bin Laden’s

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