Islamic Just War Theory Essay, Research Paper
One of the oldest traditions in religious ethics is that of the just war. In the monotheistic religious traditions of Christianity and Islam, one role of God (or Allah) is to limit or control aggressions among humankind. In these religious traditions, God establishes an ideal or standard for the righteous use of force by followers of the faith. These standards, or just war traditions, address details of when to use force to solve disputes, to what extent the force should be employed, and whose blessing is required to insure that the use of force is appropriate in the eyes of God.
If a situation satisfies the just war tradition in that culture and the aggression is carried out for religious reasons, the action can be further classified as holy war. Many Americans connect the concept of holy war only with Islam. In fact the Christian crusades during the middle ages were just such a holy war being waged by Christians against Muslims. Whether a particular situation qualifies as a holy war or not, the focus of the just war tradition is to ask God for approval. “Appeals to ‘holy war’ or ‘religious crusade’ in one or another tradition are one type of appeal to divine authority regarding the use of force.”
In recent history numerous conflicts, border skirmishes, battles and wars have arisen in which governments have decided to apply military force to varying degrees. Inevitably, politicians, policy-makers, religious and military leaders seek divine authority on which to base the struggle of their population and the loss of life. Have religious ethical values or theological aspects of the just war tradition influenced the nature of these military actions? Have the prevailing religious values kept military actions any more humane than they might otherwise have been? This paper will examine the theological roots of the just war tradition in the Christian and Islamic cultures. In addition, it will try to ascertain how religious ethics, and the just war tradition in particular, was used during the conflict between Iraq and the United States (as part of the United Nations Security Council) in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Finally, this paper will demonstrate that the true religious doctrines on just or holy war are often left far behind when political leaders from predominantly Christian and Islamic nations try to find moral high-ground on which to base their military actions.
Islamic Just War Ethics
The Islamic concept of jihad, often mistranslated as “holy war,” plays a strong role in Muslim just war tradition. Jihad more correctly refers to a “holy struggle” or “striving”. Unfortunately, jihad has been used as a means for justifying everything from defense of the right to worship Allah to blatant aggression against neighboring countries. Some of the confusion over jihad is the result of Western Both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim scholars recognize that jihad is a term to be used cautiously as it seems to be in some sense applicable to fighting anyone whose faith in Allah can be questioned. Political leaders on the other hand have had a tendency to use the term whenever it increases their popularity or their people’s patience for enduring conflict.
Iraq is one of numerous Middle Eastern nations that could be classified as dar-al-Islam, or “the abode of Islam,” defined as a nation in which Muslim law or Shari’ah dictates much of everyday life. On the other hand, the United States can be classified as a predominantly Christian nation if not by ethical values, then certainly by population. While the significance of the Christian ethics of just war in the response to the invasion of Kuwait could certainly be questioned, public opinion in the United States was much more clearly affected by Christian ethics. Numerous Christian organizations in the United States expressed deep concern to the government about the dangers of retaliatory aggression and of wrong intentions. From the Iraqi perspective, Sadaam Hussein employed the Islamic concept of jihad or “struggle” against the enemies of Islam to gain popular support for the occupation of Kuwait and to rally the citizens to stand firm during the constant bombardment from United States air strikes.
In Islamic tradition, just war theory rests in jihad. Unfortunately the term itself is somewhat elusive in nature. On the most fundamental level, Islamic states denounce any war other than jihad, and in the loosest sense jihad is defined as a holy struggle. The term is almost analogous to the phrase “just war” in English. The term’s elusive nature stems from the inconsistancy with which it is applied to an act of military aggression. In the situation of the Christian Crusades, Muslims called for a jihad to repel Christians moving into the Islamic Ummah and killing Muslims as heretics. This action would clearly have been in defense of the faith, which seems to be where the Quaran draws a line. Aggression to protect the religion or people’s right to practice it takes precedence over other kinds of conflict. In addition there is frequently a distinction between theological and activist interpretations of jihad. For this reason, we will examine some of the influences on Arab thought that led to the many interpretations of jihad.
As Islam grew in popularity throughout the Middle East, Islamic territories expanded into what used to be Persia, the Ottoman Empire, most of North Africa, and elsewhere. As these geographic territories were converted to Islam, certain aspects of culture became ingrained in the interpretation of Islamic doctrine. Byzantium and Persia had militant cultures that lent themselves to a broad interpretation of jihad once they became part of the Islamic Ummah. They were both already expansionist societies and, as they grew, the culture adopted jihad as justification for expanding boundaries even further and converting as many people to Islam as possible along the way. The conversions were usually not coerced in a violent way, but the territories were taken over in the name of Allah and all residents were required to pay a poll tax.
In addition, the Shi’ite Muslims have a more liberal sense of the word jihad. Their belief is that the Imam or carrier of the prophetic light is currently in hiding and will return again someday
Christian Just War Ethics
Christian Theology has no clear term like jihad for a defensible use of military force, but theologians including Augustine and Thomas Aquinas have addressed the issue, and so it is reasonable to discuss a Christian theory of just war. As we examine the Christian theory of just war, it should be clear that many of the concepts it details are as viable in modern Christian ethics as they were in the first millennium. In addition, the Christian theory of just war has much in common with Western secular concepts of the same. They share much in the way of philosophy
After early Christians determined that there might be a long wait for the return of Christ and the end of time, they resumed a participatory role in worldly affairs that had been absent for most of the first century CE. This role included discussing moral and ethical dilemmas in matters of state and politics. The following is a very brief attempt to summarize the Christian theory of just war.
Augustine, and perhaps earlier his mentor Ambrose, first identified the concept of a good Christian coming to the aid of a neighbor having harm inflicted on him by an unjust aggressor. In their theory, the aid provided could even consist of the use of force when necessary, with the response of the Christian limited by the fact that Christ died for the assailant as well as the victim.
Aquinas added to this concept in the Summa Theologiae by stating that just war required that three conditions be met: the war must be fought on right authority, with just cause, and be waged with right intentions. By right authority, Aquinas meant that the actions must be endorsed by the highest political and religious figures in the land. Just cause implies that the object of the aggression is committing some intolerable act of harm on a primarily helpless victim. Right intention means that the objective of the aggression needs to be peace and not retribution or hatred. At its most fundamental level, this theory rests on the moral duty of love of neighbor and adds the limitations of protecting the innocent and minimizing the damage done to the aggressor.
1991 Persian Gulf War as a Brief Case Study
In the example of the Persian Gulf War, both Christians and Muslims used just war theory to solidify the moral ground for their actions. Iraq had only marginal success in convincing other nations that their cause was holy. Not even many Islamic nations felt that Iraq had legitimate claim to invade Kuwait. Despite this fact, Sadaam Hussein called his people into action by claiming that Kuwait had become a stronghold of capitalist and an enemy of Islam (despite Kuwait’s 10 Billion U.S. dollar contribution to Iraq’s war against Iran).
The United States, on the other hand, used Christian just war theory to claim that our response to Iraq was out of love for our “neighbors” in Kuwait, and therefore just. In reality our foreign interests in the area run so deep that no action by the United States in the Middle East could be thought to be undertaken purely out of Christian love. Despite our fossil fuel interests in the area’s politics, the rhetoric of religious ethics was indeed used by United States politicians as George Bush publicly prayed over his decisions regarding the American response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. When a response came from the U.S., it was announced by Bush as a careful and measured response to the Iraqi aggression against it’s neighbor, with the clear goal of getting Iraq out of Kuwait and removing their ability to further terrorize the region. Clearly all three of Aquinas’ bullet points were ostensibly addressed in the response, we fight on right authority, with just cause, and with right intentions. Whether or not United States motivations were pure, it was clear that they were being sold to the public as just and righteous.
Just war is an elusive concept since the evil and violent nature of war defies being classified as righteous, but both Islam and Christianity have clearly taken theological steps to apply religious ethics to the politics and execution of war. While they base their claims for justice quite differently, the objective seems the same in as much as they both attempt to fit war into the context of a righteous and holy society.
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