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War, violence, ethics, religion and hypocrisy
by Graeme Davidson, October 2002

Just War, Jihad and terrorism
Since the 11 September Al Qaida attacks on Washington and New York, the question of what is a justified military response has been widely debated.

The problem with traditional Just War theory (if war can ever be justified) and its embodiment in the Hague and Geneva conventions is that it assumes an interstate conflict rather than aggression from a fluid multinational group motivated by ideology and theology. The theory is more suited to how to respond to Hitler's unprovoked invasion of Poland or the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour than protagonists operating without geographical boundaries and territorial ambitions other than the 'liberation' of holy sites. Al Qaida recruits come from throughout the Islamic world and most of the September 11 hijackers had Saudi Arabia passports, a country friendly to the US. Their leader, Osama bin Laden, is also a Saudi citizen.

Al Qaida may rationalise their actions as Jihad or Holy War by issuing a fatwah or religious ruling against 'the crusader–Zionist alliance' to 'kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military' and 'fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God'. But apart from a Jihad where an unexpected emergency defence is required, Islam also believes in similar principles of a Just War. In general terms these are: the use of force as a last resort for a justifiable cause, authorised by legitimate authority with a proportional response limited to military targets aimed at a successful just and peaceful resolution. Justifiable causes include, defence against attack, to take back what has been wrongfully taken, and to surpress evil.

Members of Al Qaida and other terrorist groups ignore most of the Just War principles—especially the distinction between combatant and civilian and the requirement to limit violence to combatants. Like the suicide bombers of the Palestinian Interfada, and the methods of some 50 terrorist groups currently known to operate in different parts of the world, the end justifies the means. Their battles are fought for media impact where dramatic violence dominates primetime news, grabbing attention and forcing recognition of their cause. Shocked citizens compel their governments to retaliate and often to overreact. And in this Al Qaida has been effective.

The tragedy of September 11 and its images are now firmly etched in our psyches. They have stirred many in the West to learn about Islam, to re-evaluate Mid-Eastern policies and try to understand why the US is the country that others love to hate.

They have also successfully provoked the US military leviathan. After September 11, military hawks kept the doves in their dovecotes. President Bush's off-the-cuff and inaccurate 'first war of the century' comment was quickly downgraded to 'anti-terrorist action' so the protagonists could be treated as criminals rather than legitimate soldiers on the wrong side.

With the aid of US and allied firepower, the long-suffering, fiercely independent conservative Islamic Afghanis are currently being 'liberated' from the excesses of the fundamentalist Taliban and those Al Qaida fighters who didn't escape over the border. In the meantime, the Afghanis are being inducted into a democracy that is being received like the proverbial lead balloon from local warlords who run the mountainous countryside.

The 'dark side'
Flushed with the popularity of the Afghan campaign and other global anti-terrorism efforts, the most religious of recent US Presidents, George W. Bush has resurrected his father's nemesis of the Gulf War—Saddam Hussein. This at least is an interstate conflict where the traditional Just War principles can apply. But many commentators are asking, 'why pick on the Iraqis?' It's as if Americans need to have an evil power, a Jungian shadow or dark side, on which to project their own unacceptable evil so they can act as the conquering and virtuous white knight. And now that the spectre of communism has fallen with the Berlin Wall, new personifications of the devil need to be found and vilified—from Panama's former drug-dealing General Manuel Noreiga to today's Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Despite the US backing Iraq during the Iran-Iraq conflict, the White House now insists that the Baghdad administration's sins are those of developing weapons of mass destruction, that it supports terrorist groups and has poor human rights practises.

These are claims that can equally be made against the US. The US produces weapons of mass destruction and used them against the ordinary people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The American CIA has a record of backing anti-government forces against regimes that are unpopular with the US, including the notorious Bay of Pigs fiasco where US-backed rebels attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro's Cuban Government.

Civil rights and humanitarian groups frequently cite some of the inhumane incarcaration practices and the use of the death penality in the US. Most of the captured Al Qaida detainees at the US base at Guantanamo have been treated humanely according to Red Cross inspectors. But the detainees do not have the status of prisoners of war, and only a few have been charged of crimes.

Without providing public proof beyond reasonable doubt, Bush has cranked up military activity in the 'no fly' zones within Iraq, putting pressure on the UN to change the rules for arms inspection. He has also argued for the need for a pre-emptive strike, for which he has the guarded backing of the US Congress. It doesn't seem to make any difference that Saddam Hussein has said he will allow UN arms inspectors back into his country. Apparently Saddam can't be trusted and is expected to play the 'shell game' by moving his weapons operations around to fool the inspectors.

But neither can the US be trusted. Former US marine intelligence officer and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter claims that previous UN inspectors to Iraq were pressured to engage in espionage for the US.

Many commentators have pointed to a US double standard in allowing Israel to have weapons of mass destruction, to have elastic views on Just War principles and to flout UN resolutions for reasons of self-preservation. They also point to how other countries in the Mid-East also have undemocratic leadership and abysmal human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, which has only recently fallen to second place as the country with the worst record for persecuting Christians.

Gunfight at OK Corral
While Bush's rhetoric may raise his popularity with Americans brought up on a Hollywood diet of the 'Gunfight at OK Corral' approach to international conflict resolution, it has not found favour in other Western countries, including the UK. Devout Anglican Prime Minister Tony Blair, who backs Bush, faces dissent within his own ruling Labour Party. His stance has also sparked one of the biggest anti-war rallies in London for over quarter of a century.

While there was some hesitation as to the moral rightness of military action in Afghanistan, mainline church leaders are against unilateral action in Iraq. Most have cited how the UN should be the main legitimate authority to decide and how the Iraqi people, who have already suffered from over 10 years of trade embargoes enforced by a military blockade, would bear the brunt of the action, rather than Hussein and his cronies.

There are also those who maintain that more effort should be made to use non-violent means and that such a war will destabilise the Middle East, widen the conflict and confirm that the West is anti-Islam. The US immigration authorities' desire to single out Muslim visitors for special attention has reinforced these fears. So also has the US intention not to ratify a treaty establishing the UN International Criminal Court (ICC), thus considering itself to be no longer bound by the provisions of the pact. This means that no US military personnel accused of war crimes would come before the new court.

The Americans say they have their own tough justice system for dealing with their own errant troops. But many remember how Lieutenant William Calley only served three and a half years sentence before getting a pardon from President Nixon while most of his platoon and his commanders were exonerated for the 1968 massacre of civilians at My Lai and the subsequent military cover up during the Vietnam War.

If President Bush needs to wage war against the forces of evil and take America to the 'dark side', he need look no further than the epidemic violence within his own country and the way the film, TV and video games industries reinforce violence. The US gun lobby also sows the seeds of tragedy. How many Americans have died from handguns since September 11, 2001? Thousands more than at the hands of Al Qaida.

It is clearly a case of noticing the plank in your own eye before commenting on the speck in someone else's.


The early Church Fathers encouraged Christians to pray for their rulers and do what was lawful. They preached Jesus' message of forgiveness and fortitude rather than rebellion when facing persecution. For the first few centuries the Church Fathers were predominantly anti-war and opposed to Christians serving in the armed forces. Their main reason was that joining the military entailed allegiance to the divine Roman Emperor in contradiction to the first commandment of having no other god.

Tertullian (c 160-225) expresses this view in On Idolatry and On the Crown. Refer to Soldiers for Christ section in Robert K. Krupp's article Risky Lifestyles in Christianity Today.

St. Ambrose (340-397) and St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) were the first of the early Christians to propound the rudiments of a Just War. In Letter 189, 6 Augustine proclaims that peace should be the goal of any battle. For the text and discussion of this letter read the article in Touchstone magazine by Louis R. Tarsitano, titled Waging Peace.

Medieval philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the first to formulate the key principles for a Just War in Summa Theologica. Links to other historical texts on warfare and the ethics of war can be found at Warfighting Literature.

Vincent Ferraro provides a modern restatement of the Principles of a Just War along with links to discussions on Just War principles, including how it applies to terrorist groups such as Al Qaida and other modern conflicts. See also Peacemaking and the Use of Force: Behind the Pope's Stringent Just-War Teaching by Drew Christiansen, S.J., and Just War Principles and Counter Terrorism by Keith Pavlischek at The Center for Public Justice.

James Turner Johnson, Professor of Religion at Rutgers University, explains Jihad and the Just War in First Things. Bilal Ahsan Malik also gives insight into the relationship between Islam and Western principles of justified war in The Just War & the Jihad -Religion and War in two world civilizations.

The 1899-1954 Hague conventions on Warfare are available through the Yale Law School, Avalon Project. The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 aim to limit and prevent human suffering in times of armed conflict. It applies to government forces, armed opposition groups and any other parties affected by conflict. These can be found at the ICRC site in Geneva..

An explanation of Al Qaida with links to articles on their activities, history and religious context is available from the Joyner Library, East Carolina University.

The Israeli based International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism provides a full database of information on worldwide terrorist groups and their activities, while The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance provide a list of places were there is Religiously-based Civil Unrest and Warefare.

Until this year, the Los Angeles-based group Open Doors claimed that Saudi Arabia headed the list of countries persecuting Christians.

Sojourner's magazine provides a series of articles on why war on Iraq is not a good idea and how non-violent means can achieve the desired outcome. In contrast David Pryce-Jones argues in the Spectator that the destabilisation of the Middle East resulting from war with Iraq, is what the region needs.

The Boston Herald published an article entitled Bush and Clergy at Odds on Iraq in which it describes how Bush's own United Methodist Church is against war in Iraq.

Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, argues against war on Iraq in the Guardian Unlimited, and the Electronic Telegraph reports how Archbishop Rowan Williams and many other church leaders signed a petition calling for a peaceful resolution to the Iraq crisis. Todd Hertz in an article in Christianity Today entitled, Opinion Roundup: Is Attacking Iraq Moral? found that Christian leaders were in disagreement.

CNN carries a news story of the US refusing to ratify the ICC pact.

The story of the My Lai Massacre Court Martial including the cover-up, testimony, and polls that President Nixon conducted on how the public viewed Lt. Calley is fully covered by the University of Missouri, Kansas Law Site.

Colonel David Grossman is a US army psychologist and former Ranger who has done extensive research on the effects of electronic media violence. Many of his findings can be found at his Killology web site.



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