Look for articles in this series every Monday and Friday….
The invasion of Iraq set off a volley of questions about the justifiability of war that continue to be asked as America, and the world, evaluates the continued presence and efforts of the Coalition forces in the country. Commentators on both sides of the issue, and on both sides of the globe, have argued vehemently over whether or not the United States was justified in deposing Saddam Hussein and seeking to establish a new government in his country. With this discussion, deeper issues have been raised—issues about the morality of war, the relationship between religion and politics, and the true meaning and intentions of two of the world’s largest religions.
Both Christianity and Islam have definite conceptions of war, its justifiability, and the larger political structures in which it takes place. Within a few centuries after its birth, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. With this status came responsibility, and theologians were forced to examine the relationship between church and state, morality and violence. These same questions were raised even more quickly among the people of the Arabian Peninsula. When Mohammed began to proclaim the messages he received from the angel Gabriel, a religious awakening took place. Within a few decades the new religion, Islam, had gained thousands of adherents. With its growth came expansion, and Mohammed and the rulers who followed him had to explain and defend their reasons for going to war with the surrounding tribes and nations. Both religions came up with broad theories on the nature of the state, its relationship to religious adherents, and the justifiability of war.
These theories still affect the world today, both within the religious communities’ responses to the possibility of war as well as in the way that the world understands and responds to various issues and crises. Over the next few weeks look for a series of articles on both the Christian and Islamic just war theories. Besides offering some interesting background information I hope to show that despite similarities in Christian and Islamic just war theories the Islamic identification of religious and secular authority prohibits Islamic just war theory from playing a relevant role in contemporary debate over the nature of just war.
So long as the majority of the world (or at least the majority of the world’s leaders) are committed to religious pluralism there really is no room for Islamic inisights on war and statehood to find a voice. This in turn means that any attempt to harmonize current Western political thought with that of a distinctly Islamic character is destined to fail. It is a debate over fundamental values and institutions, and where one side gains ascendancy the other necessarily must fail.