violence, ethics, religion and hypocrisy
by Graeme Davidson, October 2002
War, Jihad and terrorism
the 11 September Al Qaida attacks on Washington and New
York, the question of what is a justified military response
has been widely debated.
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.
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.
of Al Qaida and other terrorist groups ignore most of the
Just War principlesespecially 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.
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
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.
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
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 WarSaddam 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 vilifiedfrom 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
is clearly a case of noticing the plank in your own eye
before commenting on the speck in someone else's.
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.
(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.
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
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
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.
Turner Johnson, Professor of Religion at Rutgers University,
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.
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..
explanation of Al
Qaida with links to articles on their activities, history
and religious context is available from the Joyner Library,
East Carolina University.
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.
this year, the Los Angeles-based group Open
Doors claimed that Saudi Arabia headed the list of countries
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.
Harries, Bishop of Oxford, argues against war on Iraq in
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.
carries a news story of the US refusing to ratify the ICC
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.
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.