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the just war

a briefing document

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the just war related item: ends and means and the individual
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The just war

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The myth of Islamic tolerance in al-Andalus - a briefing document

The idea of crusade or jihad can be found in the old testament of the Bible (e.g. Joshua) and developed during the standoff between Islamism and Christianism.

Jihad is still regarded as a religious duty imposed on Muslims to spread Islam, one of the means being by waging war; any who professed belief in a divine revelation—Christians and Jews in particular—were given special consideration. They could either embrace Islam or, at least, submit themselves to Islamic rule and pay a poll and land tax. If both options were rejected, jihad was declared.

Islam is a religion of war and conquest, whereas Christianity evolved as a religion of peace. “All that take the sword shall perish by the sword” [Matthew 26:52]. Under confrontation, Christian thinkers developed a theology of self-defence and of the just war.

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Cicero (106-43 BC) believed in universal standards, his view was that there was a “society of mankind rather than of states”.[1]

Early Christianism started from a pacifist stance. Over time, under the pressure of pragmatism, there developed the notion of the ‘just war’. The ideas went into jurisprudence, and eventually we now have the Geneva Convention and the war crimes court in The Hague.

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Augustine (354-430 AD) included duties of just treatment of prisoners and conquered peoples, saying that mercy should be shown to the vanquished, particularly if they are no longer a threat to peace.[2]

Augustine was also heavily committed to pursuing ‘heretics’. Again, this pattern still remains, with pressure on organisations such as polygamous Mormons, Moonies, Scientologists, and a great many more.

Augustine held that legitimate war must meet the test of just cause, must be under competent authority, could be used to establish peace and order, and that the state (like the individual) has a right to self-defence against both internal and external enemies. He developed his theology from Roman legal concepts. Thus warfare was abhorrent but sometimes necessary.

But Augustine warned strongly against war pursued for domination and to crush people who do you no harm - “What else is this to be caled than great robbery”.

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Isidore of Seville (540-636)

Just war is carried out after a declaration, to recover property or warding off enemies.

Like Augustine, Isidore built upon Roman law.

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Gregory VII (1015/1028-1085) [Pope] extended just war to the promotion of ‘right order’. He used this form to justify the Crusades in Spain and the Holy Land. Remember that the Church of Rome grew out of the Roman Empire. Much of that declining empire was attacked by the Muslim hordes. The Crusades were seen as a recovery of lands invaded by Muslims and, thus, as righting a wrong.to top of the document

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Gratian (12th century)

Gratian compiled the Decretum, which dates from approximately 1140-1150. Very little is known of his life.

The Decretum became a foundation of canon [Church] law, not revised until 1918.

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Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) developed the principles of ‘the just war’, in order to reconcile the moral imperatives which the Churches have traditionally upheld; with the realities of the statesmen who must deal with external threat to their citizens. Aquinas outlined his Just War theory in that section of his teachings which dealt with charity. The three tests for war suggested by Aquinas are

  • Just cause;
  • Competent authority;
  • Right intention.

Just cause: David Oderberg,[3] has said that, “A state may launch a pre-emptive strike if it has very good reason for thinking that another state is preparing for war”. Both the Israeli actions in the Six Day War of 1967 and the strike against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 were morally just by this judgment. Saddam Hussein’s current drive to create weapons of mass destruction, in defiance of the international community and with proven past aggressive intent, would also justify pre-emptive action.

Competent authority: the case of action against Iraq has become confused by notions of approval from the United Nations. But the Just War tradition locates competent authority in legitimate national governments, not in supranational bodies. National governments cannot ethically abnegate their responsibility by subordinating their duty to external approval. It is wisdom to seek the maximum level of international support through institutions such as the UN, or NATO, but the key issue is to act in defence of one’s citizens.

Right intention: this is satisfied by the declared aims of Western leaders regarding Iraq. The desire to impede the use of weapons of mass destruction by an unstable, mass-murdering tyrant is a just cause. The nobility of that cause would, however, be morally compromised if the tyrant’s defeat were to be followed by colonisation. There is a moral burden on those who are contemplating war to ensure that all understand the removal of Saddam, and the dangers he poses, should be followed by strenuous efforts to help the Iraqi people rebuild their nation on democratic principles.to top of the document

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Grotius (1583-1645), from a secularist standpoint, says that a war is just if three basic criteria are met. [4]

  1. The danger faced by the nation is immediate;
  2. The force used is necessary to adequately defend the nation's interests;
  3. The use of force is proportionate to the threatened danger.

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Given current human development, Hobbes (1588-1679) view that “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man” [5] can be seen as reasonable. This being so, it is unsurprising that common war theory has regarded the only legitimate pursuer of war to be the state; naturally that serves the interests of the rulers of states. These earlier writers might even be regarded as earlier spin-doctors allied to the interests of those rulers.

Another historical problem was that every local warlord tended to be attempting to extend their territory and that travellers were subject to widespread harassment (Note the recent similarity with Afghanistan). Thus, at the turn of the millennium around 1000 AD, the notion of the ‘peace of god’ emerged from the ever-strengthening power-base of the roman church. The ‘peace of god’ aimed to end private warfare and to limit violence against certain categories of people and property.

The various associated peace decrees differed in detail, but in general they forbade, under pain of excommunication, every act of private warfare or violence against ecclesiastical buildings and their environs, against certain persons, such as clerics, pilgrims, merchants, women, and peasants, and against cattle and agricultural implements. All laymen and clerics in the areas adopting the Peace of God were required to take a solemn oath to observe and enforce the peace. At the Council of Bourges (1038), the archbishop decreed that every Christian 15 years and older should take such an oath and enter the diocesan militia.

However, much recent history has also shown that the state is a very dangerous enemy to the individual, usually far more dangerous that any modern 'terrorist' organisation. Thus we have Jefferson (1743-1826), living in more modern revolutionary times, warning that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” [6]to top of the document

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Further commentary on just war and its relationship with modern, evolving law

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For further reading: related item: ends and means and the individual
denialism psycho-babble
categories, analogy and reification drugs

End notes

  1. David J. Bederman, “Reception of the Classical Tradition in International Law: Grotius’ De Jure Belli Ac Pacis”, Emory International Law Review, 1996.
  2. In Augustine: Political Writings, Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries,trans, Ernest L. Fortin and Douglas Kries, eds., 1994.
  3. This example is a modified outline from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,542-406087,00.html
  4. Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. II, Ch. 1, 1949.
  5. In 1651.
  6. 1787.to top of the document

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