When terrorists blow up innocent people, the right to self-defense justifies retaliation of an appropriate kind. A U.S. drone that kills innocent people is indistinguishable from a man who machine guns a crowd. A drone attack that kills innocent people is an act of terror. Both the drone attacker and the machine gunner have justifications and claim they are using proper means, but these claims cannot be sustained. It is unjust to kill innocent people while in pursuit of someone whom you regard as an enemy. It is unjust to kill innocent people under the claim that you are after someone else whom you regard as guilty. The claim of self-defense doesn’t extend to killing innocent people. “Collateral damage” or the taking of innocent lives as a by-product of killing an enemy is unjust. Innocent but dead people are not by-products. If the attackers do not regard those whom they attack as innocent but complicit in crimes against them, then what’s appropriate is to capture them and make their case through courts. Justice includes using measures of justice to decide upon guilt or innocence. The Paris murderers have no justification whatsoever in killing innocent people anymore than a lynch mob or a drone attacker. They are all using unjust (wrong) means.
The “terror” and “terrorist” labels get in our way of understanding that what’s involved in these situations is more than brute force undertaken with certain political, religious, strategic and psychological aims, but injustice and an absence of just methods. The attacks in Paris, Beirut, the Sinai, London, New York, Mumbai, Moscow, Oklahoma City, Nigeria, Kenya and many other places all involve the application of unjust methods.
Once we see that the key feature of terror is its injustice, we can realize that the U.S. forces have been acting unjustly, massively so, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in drone warfare, in undermining Libya and Syria, in interfering in Ukraine, and in supporting Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen.