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The line of legitimacy, separating socially approvable use of force from violence, cannot be effectively drawn without an agreement on what constitutes the optimum amount of force necessary to maintain social order and to protect human rights against encroachment. A society subscribing to infinite morality which condemns all use of force as immoral is doomed no less than a society accepting the absolute pragmatism of tyrants. "
As Oleg Zinam proposes, these two extreme social attitudes to morality are equally unprofitable to the societies that adopt them. The attitude of absolute pragmatism can easily lead to the acceptance of political assassinations, as long as such acts may help the final political purpose. An example of absolute pragmatism can be the regime initiated by Hitler, who ordered the extermination of all Jews in an attempt to "purify" the human race by excluding anyone who did not fill in the Arian ideal. The same thing happened with other executions throughout the ages, like the witch hunt for example, when the witches were seen as a threat to society and the authors of dreadful crimes. The opposite social attitude would be that of the infinite morality, which can not find a political assassination to be justifiable by any end. Again this attitude is not tenable because of the impossibility to completely abolish political conflict from society, and because of the need for determent of some policies and political organizations.
Zinam also contends that the present postmodernist era of civilization is socially characterized by anomie, or the lack of guiding moral standard or values. This causes instability and lack of social order and results in dangerous acts of political violence such as individual assassinations or organized murders like terrorism.
According to him, the present times are inclined towards "dispassionate rationality," that is, towards a loss of idealist principles. In these conditions, social order is threatened because it is no longer founded on a common set pf norms:
The present tendency is toward 'irrational passion for dispassionate rationality.' Deliberate avoidance of values has greatly contributed to anomie, the 'twilight of authority,' indifference, boredom, and alienation. And yet, without understanding and deep feelings for values, which must be internalized to make society viable, no social order can persist. Social cohesion depends on adherence to a common normative system, 'it does not come about automatically and cannot be taken for granted: it requires continuous attention and concern.' 'This society has a shortage of things to believe in, 'and "new society wide ideals must be forged. People do not conduct themselves ethically unless they believe ethical conduct has some merit[...]"
Thus, in the contemporary context assassination is still possible because of the loosening of the moral principles that could normally forestall it. It is obvious that political murder is immoral when it is regarded as the deliberate attack on another human being. However, many of the political scientists have proposed that it may be justifiable as long as it serves an imperative and important purpose, related to political or social safety. In this perspective, some of the deliberate assassinations or attempts at assassination against political leaders who are considered dangerous to either the national or international political context, such as Saddam Hussein for example, are accepted as long as they do not impinge on the established laws.
However, allowing exceptions to the general moral rule that considers that assassinations are not admissible would be to actually admit that murder as such is justifiable. As Robert Friedlander notices in his article Terrorism and Political Violence: Do the Ends Justify the Means?, terrorism and assassinations are either moral for everyone, or moral for no one:
No cause,' argues French author Albert Camus, 'justifies the death of the innocent,' and terrorism is the slaughter of the innocent. No matter how we want to look at it, terrorism is a moral problem in addition to being a criminal act. As newspaper columnist, Father Andrew Greely has written: 'Either terror is moral for everyone or it is moral for no one.' To save oneself by killing another is destructive not only of law and legal systems but of civilized society itself. Our Anglo-American common law system is based upon the worth, the sanctity of one human life, and this conforms to the basic human rights principles which have come to be accepted in public international law since the end of World War II. The admonition of legal philosopher Edmund Cahn still rings true: 'Whoever kills one kills mankind'"
While analyzing the program which was meant to lead to the assassination of Fidel Castro from an ethical point-of-view, John Orman proposed that the morality of an assassination act can be measured on a scale which ranges from just slightly immoral to absolutely immoral:
By most religious standards, including the Judeo-Christian ethic, it is immoral to murder another human being. When one head of state plots the death of another, the character of the act remains essentially immoral. However, there are degrees of complicity about this basically immoral act, and there are extenuating circumstances that make some offenses less immoral than others. The rightness or wrongness of a political assassination attempt can be thought of as existing on a continuum ranging from slightly immoral to absolutely immoral. The following discussion will consider some of the extenuating circumstances."
This view however does not correspond in any way to the Christian view according to which, there are no degrees of morality or immorality, but only definite notions. The supposed involvement of president Kennedy in the plot against Castro complicates the matter, since, as Orman also suggests, there is no explicit law that the president may not engage in or dispose the death of some political adversary.
However, there are different stances with regard to the legitimacy of political assassinations. According to Ben-Yehuda for example, the moral precept of the Bible that prohibits murder of another human being is not necessarily applicable universally. In his view, assassinations can actually be interpreted sometimes as "positive deviances," which are justified socially as a form of alternative justice:
The biblical injunction 'Thou Shall Not Murder' could be interpreted to mean that taking another human being's life is a universal crime. It is not. Such an act is defined differentially in different times and/or cultures (Nettler, 1982; Lester, 1986). Killing other people is not always interpreted as a negative and stigmatized act that is criminalized - it can certainly be interpreted as positive deviance."
In the light of Ben-Yehuda's interpretation, it can be said that, although assassinations are almost invariably considered as unlawful from a strictly moral point-of-view, they can be seen as justifiable from the social perspective, as patterns of behavior identifiable throughout the ages. Thus, according to Yehuda, although ideally assassinations should not exist, they are nevertheless a common form of behavior. The same applies to the motivations usually used by the assassins to justify their murders or murderous plans: vengeance, treason and so on. The example chosen by Yehuda in his study are revelatory: he comments on the assassinations committed by the underground Jewish groups during the first decades of the twentieth century, who claimed that they used intentional murders as a tactic that would help the British to occupy Palestine. Their tactic however, included, under different pretexts, the murder of Jewish "traitors," of British allies as well as Palestinians. In this case it is plain to notice that the claims used were not entirely true, and that political assassinations usually make more victims that it were necessary, if it can be said that any of them were either a political or a social requisite.
While it is plain to see that assassinations can indeed be interpreted in this way from a social point-of-view, and that they may be seen as a common form of behavior, it is hard to agree that they should be considered also as normal phenomena in the world of men. As Yehuda goes to demonstrate further, the so-called reasons for assassination used by the Jewish groups in the particular case mentioned are many times non-existent, and therefore the acts of violence are purely a means of manifesting discontent and frustration:
The claims made by the assassins [...]ranged from specific and detailed accusations to instances where no specific charges were made, and the 'reasons' given were phrased in very broad terms. I tried to divide the "reasons" by the order of frequency in which they were presented. The category 'traitor/squealer' was used most frequently (91.2%) in association with Jewish targets. The category 'revenge' was used most frequently (63.2%) in association with British targets and 20.4% of the time in association with Arab targets. Thus, the structure and content of the claims made by the groups that were involved in assassinations, implies that these groups justified their assassinations on the ground that they were involved in a struggle for national independence. That struggle necessitated the use of various forms of killings, of non-Jews (as 'enemies') and…[continue]
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