On Holy War

Religion, Violence, and ‘Holy Wars’,” by Hans Kung, International Review of the Red Cross, 30 June 2005, vol 87, No 858, pg 253- 268, http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/iwpList598/A72B6F5B45A9771FC125705F004F9A0B.

Background material for future writing on 4GW Tactic, Caiaphas and Diocletion, and Panzer and Soldat.

Let us approach the problem of religion and war with the sober acknowledgement that ever since man came into being, there have been religions, and for as long as man has existed, there has also been violence. In the human world, which has evolved from the animal kingdom, there has never been a paradisiacal society in which violence plays no part. The image of the pure, peace-loving “noble savage” was long ago exposed as a myth created by the optimistic Enlightenment, to which even such a well-known cultural anthropologist as Margaret Mead fell victim when studying the supposedly entirely peaceful inhabitants of Samoa.

Yet wars have existed from time immemorial, above all to acquire the power (mana) and renown they were believed to endow, and to restore the allegedly disturbed divine order of things.

“Holy” wars are understood to be wars of aggression waged with a claimed missionizing purpose at the command of a given divinity

The Hebrew Bible is nevertheless characterized by the conviction that the violence of nature, like that of man, is the mark of earthly reality, and that the power of evil can only ever be temporarily held in check. It therefore gives unvarnished reports of acts of violence, whereas in other ancient cultures — Rene Girard has elaborated on this4 — violence was veiled in silence, referred to only indirectly, glossed over, or glorified in myths and legends.

The extent to which the heroic tales — likewise set down in writing only hundreds of years later — of the legendary prophet Elijah, who as the ruthless champion of the religion of Yahweh is said to have slain all the prophets of Baal and Aschera,11 are historically true can likewise no longer be established.

According to the admonitory story of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the climax of prehistory is the story of the Flood which, unlike any other account of it in the area around Israel, centres on the problem of violence: humanity [the earth] was “corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” and was therefore doomed to destruction.

There is consequently no need today, in the transition to the post-modern period, for a mythologically garnished return to gods. What is needed, rather than the creation of artificial myths, is a return to the one true God, who, as the God of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, will not tolerate any false gods beside Him. Therein lies the foundation for tolerance amongst people: because God is the one God for all people, each and every person — even non-Jews, non-Christians and non-Muslims — is created in His image and as such merits respect for his or her dignity.

After Christianity was elevated to a State religion at the time of the old Roman Empire it was an almost inevitable development, both for the Greek area covering the provinces of East Rome and the Byzantine Empire and for the Latin area covering West Rome and the Holy Roman Empire which came into being with Charlemagne, that the State and church should use their respective powers to protect, support and promote each other, despite the rivalry that soon developed between them. As the domains of the sacred and the profane became intermeshed, the secular rulers saw themselves as protectors of the church, and members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy legitimized and inspired the secular authorities on many occasions. An expansion of secular domination always led to an expansion of the church, just as missionary work on the part of the church led to an expansion of secular domination. National law and canon law supplemented each other, ecclesiastical standards governed civil life and civil authorities punished violations of the moral and religious precepts. In this way “the secular arm and the spiritual arm” gave mutual assistance to each other.

In the High Middle Ages, one militant church waged “holy war.” Although the Orthodox churches of the East were also involved in the mostly politico-military conflicts of secular power and often conferred theological legitimacy on wars or even inspired them, it was only in the Latin Christianity of the west that the (Augustinian) theory of the legitimate use of force to achieve spiritual ends applied and ultimately also permitted the use of force to spread Christianity.

One thing is clear from the start: the followers of Christ are committed to non-violence in accordance with the teachings, the conduct and the fate of their Messiah, whereas the followers of the Prophet Muhammad are obliged from the outset to engage, if necessary, in militant dispute which does not stop short at violence. War as a political means is accepted, ventured and — in most cases — won. It

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more effective motivation for a war than a struggle/battle (often expressed by the unmistakable term quital = armed “fight”) against the “unbelievers” for the cause of God Himself. A most worthy battle, which is declared to be a duty in the Koran itself. This duty was an incentive mainly for the committed tribal warriors and the leaders fighting with them in and around the Arabian Peninsula in the first wars of expansion,

During the large-scale Islamic conquests, the jihad doctrine almost became a sixth pillar of Islam. Other than in Christianity, it was possible in Islam to become a “witness” (Greek martys) — a concept also found in Arabic with the sense of martyr (sah/d, plural suhadåˆ) — not only passively by suffering for the faith, but also actively by fighting. Any persons who sacrifice their lives in this way go immediately to Paradise: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads (…). As for those who are slain in the cause of God, He will not allow their works to perish …. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the Paradise he has made known to them.”

The fact that Wahhabism encourages intolerance and xenophobia, both in Saudi Arabia itself and in the Islamic world as a whole, can no longer be overlooked.

The fact that Wahhabism encourages intolerance and xenophobia, both in Saudi Arabia itself and in the Islamic world as a whole, can no longer be overlooked.

To remedy the internal causes of the Islamic “disease” of fundamentalism, as manifested in particular in Wahhabism, the Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb suggests taking action at three levels: tradition, law and education. First, the numerous controversies and debates in the Islamic tradition should be recalled in order to create, with critical awareness, the freedom of a pluralistic discourse within Islam today. Secondly, when norms appear inhuman, defects should be sought in past tradition (principle of talq/f) in an effort to render the law more humane and adapt it to the present time. Thirdly, anything that is fundamentalist should be purged from school curricula: “Wahhabism, which is diffuse by nature, contaminates consciousness via the teaching in our schools, backed up by television.”

Secondly, the peace-promoting words and deeds in one’s own tradition should, however, be taken seriously as an inspiration for the present era. This should be easiest for the Christians, since they do not trace their origin back to warrior prophets and heroes such as Moses and Elijah or an aggressive king such as David, but to a preacher of non-violence and an early church which, at least initially in the old Roman Empire, expanded not through violence but through a message of justice, love and eternal life. In the beginning Christians were forbidden not only to do military service, but also to work as a butcher [?!? — tdaxp]. A Muslim who advocates violence and war will possibly invoke the Koran and the words and deeds of the Prophet. A Christian who has recourse to violence and wages war cannot cite Christ as his justification [?!? — tdaxp].

The Koran even contains a sort of golden rule: “Requite evil with good, and he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend.”

For a policy to be successful, it must have a “mode of action.” Ideological military policies without any ethical principles, representing only the economic and political elite’s interest in power and justifying all means for politicalends — including lies, deception, political assassination, war and torture — must be rejected outright, as must ideological peace policies relying solely on the purity of intentions and giving no thought to the balance of power, actual feasibility and possible negative consequences.

The art of formulating a responsible peace policy is shown in its combination of the admittedly inevitable political calculations with ethical judgement.