I argued that they were cowards, given that their intended victims in the World Trade Center and Pentagon were unaware of the attack, and hence incapable of self-defense. A criminal who attacks a much larger, well-armed victim who is aware of the risk of assault, if nothing else, can be said to have displayed physical courage even while performing a morally objectionable act. However, the same criminal would never be considered courageous in any way shape or form if his victim is an old lady or a child incapable of self-defense, or say by sniping at the larger victim from a distance.
Furthermore, the mere fact that the 9/11 attacks were a suicide mission doesn't confer the merit of courage on its attackers. Society, while maintaining empathy for those who commit suicide, generally does not describe the act as courageous. Given that Muhammed Atta and associates (half of whom did not even know the true nature of the operation) committed suicide solely as a means to murder thousands of people, it is clearly not appropriate to describe their action as courageous when we'd condemn the more morally neutral act of killing oneself.
(My former colleague, incidentally, is now a professor of political philosophy at Oxford. He also maintains a web blog that once made a very condescending remark about me in the context of this debate, although sadly, I can not find the link. But I digress).
This previous debate came back to me in the light of two recent articles on the battlefield tactics of the jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq.
First, the Times of London reports that the Taliban are repeatedly
Second, we received the sad news yesterday that the bodies of PFC Kristian Menchaca and PFC Thomas L. Tucker were found. Al Qaida in Iraq has claimed credit for their kidnapping, so not suprisingly, evidence suggests they were tortured before being murdered.
In the end, these "insurgents" are nothing more than cowards who propogate not the word of God, but rather a nihilistic death cult. If this were a movie, there would be no hesitation to call their actions and their aims evil.
As much as we are fighting them physically in the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert of Iraq, we must fight against the tendency of certain intellectuals and pundits to assert some sort of moral equivalence between U.S. forces and the terrorists.