I wrote this before the President asked Congress for permission to begin a three-year military campaign against the IS, but as a result it is all the more relevant.
One of the members of our panel on the Iraq aftermath hosted by the Circle of Peacemakers last Saturday noted that the Kurdistani population of Iraq welcomed Barack Obama’s airstrikes targeted at the Islamic State because the U.S. was targeting their oppressors. The old adage goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
For me, it is a familiar argument. In my upbringing the typical American patriotism that fuels the military industrial complex was not why my parents were so supportive of the war on terror. It was because, in their minds, the war on terror was targeting people in the Middle East that have persecuted them while they were still living in Egypt. When the terrible events of 9/11 happened and it became apparent that radical terrorists were behind the attack, my parents welcomed the opportunity for a president to be “tough on terror.” Peace does not seem possible when your freedom to exercise your faith is threatened. Peace does not seem practical when your “nation” is stolen from you by the decolonization of your region and you’re hopelessly oppressed by warring political parties (as is the case with the Kurds).
What do we do with the case of radical, violent terrorists? How do we handle the violence of the Islamic State? How do we have a conflict with a violent person?
These are the same kinds of questions that came up when I was speaking about the collective national anger at Koinos Community Church. One new couple’s question was, “What about World War 2? What about Pearl Harbor? The Nazis? What would you do then? Isn’t violence justifiable at that point?
Thomas Aquinas came up with the Just War Theory that attempts to discern when a Chrisitan should wage war and how he or she should act in said war. According to Wikipedia, the criteria is unachievable. No U.S. war has ever been a “Just War.” These systematic criteria are too idyllic to be helpful.
I think Jesus already established our criteria. I am not sure Aquinas needed to come up with something new to appease the powers. Love your enemies. Take care of his sheep. Christians have no business fighting in a war when Jesus died to end all of them. Whose life do we have the right to take? Who made us those kinds of judges? When did we become our own gods? The nation-state and the military might associated with explain why we have a god-complex. Our endless material acquisition can explain why our interests are so easily threatened and why are anxiety is made so high. I think when you assume so much power, when wealth and domination are your goals, you can get into wars rather easily. The United States has demonstrated such for years.
Regardless of the unrealistic criteria Aquinas set up, and the so-called “idealism” of Jesus (there are other Christians who think every time Jesus mentioned peace, or even the poor, he was strictly being “spiritual”), what happens when people are suffering around the world and the only way to respond, seemingly, is to return an eye-for-an-eye? What about the Islamic State? What about Boko Haram? What about Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians? What about police brutality against people of color? Is not violence OK? Other than the imperative from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek, here are four reasons why I think peace is a better solution for violence prevention then, well, more violence.
- First: who makes the rules of practicality? Are the warhawks coming up with what is practical or not? Science? Modern logic? Postmodern indifference? When we have a premise from which we criticize another argument, we need to wonder where that premise came from? Who thought of it? Who funded it? My premise, and the beginning and end of the question for me is Jesus. My basic rule is: Jesus saves—nothing else does.
- War is expensive. Some estimates peg the wars in Afghanistan costing the U.S. $4 to 6 trillion. There are estimates that are much higher. It is hard to determine this, but one thing is certain, war costs more than peace does. The question we need to answer is: how can we help those who are in need? If that is our goal, as Christians, is war the best thing for them? What else can we use the money for? Violence seems to be the answer for an individual who has lost an imagination.
- Before we focus on a specific issue and say “peace is impractical,” let us consider the cycle of violence. In the Middle East alone: the Ottoman Empire’s fall, the decolonization and how England and France cut up the Middle East that followed, and the subsequent violence among a variety of groups points to a bigger problem. The U.S. did not let Jews running away from Nazi Germany enter its borders easily, and moreover, the League of Nations and its harsh reparations on Germany allowed such a brutal dictator to emerge. The question of violence is never as simple as the warhawks make it seem.
- Violence begets more violence. It is rare, unless under absolutely oppression, that violence causes less violence to occur. Nation-states that conquer other nation-states usually commit the sins of their predecessors (the Russian Revolution is a good case-in-point). Even when violent radicals in the Middle East were oppressed by Western-style dictators, the radical movement grew underneath them. Groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are fueled in military dictatorships.
- When we kill someone, we are saying that there is no hope for them, even in Jesus. We rob a person of their chance to follow Jesus. God may still have mercy on them, but we take away their opportunity—when it is not our right to. Murder is universally illegal it seems, unless you have an arbitrary flag pasted on your shoulder. Our societies seem to have spoken on the issue, but we turn a blind spot to warfare. It is against our God-given nature to kill someone else, but it becomes more realistic once we think that person is about to harm our friend. That psychological manipulation and the PTSD is causes is reason enough not to go to war, but more importantly is killing the enemy that we crafted and his or her chance to be transformed. What should we do with the IS? Idealistic, I know, but help them follow Jesus.