Monday, December 29, 2014

Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Hardly a day passes without a news story on how religion motivates hate, violence and barbaric acts of terrorism.  In her latest book, Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong seeks to absolve religion of blame for the violence of war, indicting instead the secular forces of modernism and progress to which she also attributes the rise of religious fundamentalism in The Battle for God.  In truth, religion is not the sole cause of the world’s violence, and it can be a motivating force for peace when it supports a rule of law that protects fundamental human rights.

            War is orchestrated violence that is considered an extension of politics by other means.  Not all peacetime military operations are violent, but they all require public support to sustain their legitimacy, and the standards of legitimacy are different in war and peace.  In wars that threaten national survival, might makes right.  In peacetime operations, might must be rightbased on standards of legitimacy in both the U.S. and the area of operations, and those standards may conflict.  Because of painful lessons in legitimacy learned in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, contemporary U.S. military operations to counter insurgency and terrorism are considered peacetime operations and avoid direct combat “boots on the ground.”    

            Religion is a primary source of the standards of legitimacy, and U.S. standards can be in conflict with those in hostile cultural environments in which U.S. forces are deployed.  That can create daunting challenges for U.S. military operations in cultures where Islamic law conflicts with the fundamental freedoms so prevalent in Western concepts of justice.  It is a conflict between concepts of faith and freedom that can deny public support for the political objectives of U.S. military operations in Islamic cultures and jeopardize U.S. national security interests.

            Conflicts in legitimacy originate with the way religions and culture shape behavioral norms.  Religions in the West have long embraced the secular libertarian standards of the Enlightenment that emphasize individual freedom, while Eastern Islamic cultures continue to embrace the authoritarian norms of the Qur’an that emphasize communal obligations.  Whenever religious fundamentalism embraces an immutable code of laws in a holy book, whether it is the Hebrew Bible or the Qur’an, it conflicts with more modern and progressive religious views that accept changes in standards of legitimacy based on new knowledge, reason and critical thinking.
            A common word of faith can help us resolve conflicting standards of legitimacy.  The greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (see  Protecting the human rights of our neighbors is an act of sacrificial love that requires defending those rights against those who would violate them, and how we do that creates complex issues of faith and military legitimacy.    

            Moses and Muhammad taught and exemplified that lethal force could be used to deter threats and to punish those who were a threat to others, but unlike Moses and Muhammad Jesus never addressed the use of force and taught his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies.  But while Jesus discouraged violence, he never prohibited the use of force for self-defense or the defense of others.  His central teaching was that we love one another (John 13:34-35), and that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for another (John 15:12-14).

            Self-defense and the defense of others is a universal standard for the use of lethal force.  It is based on having a reasonable belief that lethal force is necessary to defend one’s life or the lives of others.  The same principle applies to nations that are attacked or threatened with an imminent attack, but the standards for the use of military force are more complex. 

            The Just War Tradition evolved as the Christian standard of legitimacy for going to war (jus ad bellum) and for the conduct of war (jus in bello).  Going to war requires a just cause and right intention, and the conduct of war is based on the principles of discrimination (choosing legitimate targets) and proportionality (using no more force than necessary).  These principles of Just War are not just moral standards, but obligatory legal standards of the Law of War.    

            The Just War Tradition and the Law of War illustrate how religion and the rule of law address the violence of war, but neither apply to peacetime military operations.  Human rights are a primary standard of military legitimacy in peacetime, and they include the freedoms of religion and expression and equal protection of the law for women and religious minorities.  This presents challenging issues of military legitimacy in fields of faith as well as in fields of blood wherever Islamic law rejects fundamental human rights. 

References to Website Resources:

On war as an extension of politics by other means, see Military Legitimacy at p. 53, note 1; on the requirements and principles of military legitimacy, see Military Legitimacy at chapter 3; on Just War, see MilitaryLegitimacy at pp 54-55 and pp 66-68.

On conflicting concepts of human rights in Western and Eastern Islamic nations, see Religion, Legitimacy andthe Law at pp 7-8 and end notes 17 and 18.  Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ratified by the U.S. in 1992 and by Israel in 1991) protect the freedoms of religion and free expression, but the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights of 1990 has no comparable provisions, and Articles 24 and 25 of that treaty condition all human rights on Shari’ah “…as the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification to any of the articles of this Declaration.”     

On how conflicting concepts of human rights can jeopardize the legitimacy of contemporary U.S. training and advisory missions and national security objectives, see Back to the Future.

On turning the other cheek and love for enemies, see the J&M Book topics, Submission, retribution and giving to all who ask at pp 102-103, and Love for enemies at p 104; see also A new command: love one another at pp 325-329, which is the greatest commandment of John’s Gospel and considers giving one’s life for another as the highest form of love (John 15:12-14); on Islamic laws on belief and rewards and punishment for Jews and Christians that support laws on apostasy and blasphemy that conflict with the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression, see Appendices to the J&M Book at pp 476-485; and on Islamic laws of war and the morality of violence, see Appendices to the J&MBook at pp 498-502.

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