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Aristotle defines courage as the mean between cowardice and rashness. (Aristotle,49) On one end stands the ultimately fearful man who, for example, allows others take advantage of him or flees the country in the face of being drafted into a war. On the other hand there is the rash man: overpowered and fueled by his wild passion, he say, seeks murderous revenge against those who have wronged him. In between lies the courageous man who reacts appropriately in the face of fear, and does so for noble reason. However, what determines an act of courage is not always so cut and dry. On September 11, 2001 nineteen Islamic terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York City, New York. These men surely faced and subsequently overcame fear in order to accomplish this malicious task, however what they exhibited was not truly courage. Because these men both acted in vengeance and preyed upon innocents, it is unlikely that they could be considered courageous under Aristotle’s standards.
The September 11th attacks were directly fueled by a desire to seek vengeance against the United States due to political and religious conflict. The men involved in this attack were part of an Islamic terrorist group called Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden. Following United States support of the expansion of Israeli holy land, Bin Laden issued a fatwa, or order, to all Muslims urging them to seize any available opportunities to punish Americans. (Bin Laden) As the September 11th attackers were operating under the command of Bin Laden, it can be surmised that the attacks on the World Trade center were not a reasonable, logical, or noble response to a diplomatic dispute but rather a hatred-fueled attempt to seek vengeance against Americans. Aristotle states that a seemingly brave act committed out of passion is merely masquerading as courage: “Passion also is sometimes reckoned as courage; those who act from passion, like wild beasts rushing at those who have wounded them…” (Aristotle, 53). But, alternatively, one could argue that these members of Al-Qaeda felt that the United States posed a genuine threat to their religion’s “holy land” and therefore saw an attack on U.S. soil as a necessary defensive precaution. This argument would render their actions a reasonable and noble defense of their way of life rather than a brutal, rash and passionate decision.
Aristotle does specify that a man who is confident in the face of battle qualifies as courageous (Aristotle, 50). Consequently, had the hijackers engaged confidently in an evenly matched battle against a militant United States force, their acts would likely be deemed courageous. However the hijackers attacked not a willing group of equally armed men but rather, an unsuspecting crowd of innocent working civilians. They acted with the awareness that their opponent not only had no advantages or knowledge of the attack, but no possible escape or defense. Because these men had such an advantage, their apparent bravery in the face of fear is disqualified.The nature of this offense by Aristotle’s standards would likely exclude them from being considered courageous. However, one could concede that in the eyes of these terrorists, the Americans they murdered on September 11th were not “innocents”, but perpetrators of an evil infringing on their religious freedom. It is possible that the hijackers actually did fear the threat that we as Americans posed against them, and that it truly did take courage for them to stand up to such a threat.
Aristotle writes: “But courage is noble. Therefore the end also is noble; for each thing is defined by its end. Therefore it is for a noble end that the brave man endures and acts as courage directs.” (Aristotle, 50) Here, Aristotle clarifies that while an act can certainly mimic courage, what determines a truly courageous act is the final outcome. Ultimately, it would be unreasonable to claim that the murder of innocent people out of vengeance could qualify as a noble end, no matter the circumstantial justifications of these men.
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