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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Jul 02nd
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Analysis arrow Military Jihad in modern times is illegal
Military Jihad in modern times is illegal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Walid Phares   
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Dr. Walid Phares
Dr. Walid Phares

One of the strangest, but not unexpected, battles of words and ideologies is over the claims made about the Muslim perception of jihad and Jihadism and their impact on public speech. Although there are various clashes on this level it is appropriate here to introduce the essence of this ideological confrontation.

In the three Wars of Ideas from 1945 to 2006, the heart of the Western engagement in the conflict was the understanding of two issues: what jihad was historically and what Jihadism is in modern times. These are two different but related phenomena.

Jihad, like a number of other historical developments throughout the world, was a religiously based geopolitical and military campaign that affected large parts of the world for many centuries. It involved initial theological teachings and injunctions, followed by 14 centuries of interpretations by adherents, caliphs, sultans and their armies, courts, and thinkers. The historical reality of jihad is intertwined with the evolution of the Islamic state since the seventh century. It is emphatically not a modern, recent, and narrow creation by a small militant faction. It has to be seen in its historical context.

But on the other hand, this giant doctrine, which motivated armies and feelings for centuries, also inspired contemporary movements that shaped their ideology based on their interpretation of the historical jihad. In other words, today's jihadists are an ideological movement with several organizations and regimes, who claim that they define the sole interpretation of what jihad was in history and that they are the ones to resume it and apply it in the present and future. It is equivalent to the possibility that some Christians today might claim that they were reviving the Crusades in the present. This would be only a "claim" of course, because the majority of Christians, either convinced believers or those with a sociological Christian bent, have gone beyond the Christianity of the times of the Crusades.

 Today's jihadists make the assertion that there is a direct, generic, and organic relation between the jihads that they and their ancestors have engaged in from the seventh century to the twenty-first. But historical jihad is one thing, and the jihad of today's Salafists and Khumeinists is something else.

As with all historical events, literary, analytical, and documentary efforts to interpret and represent past episodes frequently influence the psychology, imagination, and passions of modern-day humanity. Textbooks across the world detail battles, discoveries, and speeches that are the benchmarks of the formation of the national or civilizational identities of peoples.

But even if the events in some nations' eyes are proud episodes, they are often considered disasters by other nations. The Native Americans obviously do not celebrate the Spanish conquests; the British Empire is a matter of pride to the English but not to the colonized peoples; and Napoleon's "liberations" are not fondly remembered by those who were conquered.

And this is the perception of jihad among classroom pupils in the Arab and Muslim world: it is a matter of historical pride. For example, in the books from which I was tested for my history classes, a famous general of the Arab Muslim conquest, Khalid Ibn al Walid, is treated as a hero because he conquered Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon's shores. But to Aramaic's, Syrians, and Jews, he was a conqueror. He was what Cortez was to the Mexican Indians – an invader.

In the same textbooks, Tariq bin Ziad, the general who led the Muslim armies into Spain, is presented as the hero of heroes; but in the eyes of the Iberians, he was a conqueror, and in the modern lexicon, he would be described as a colonial occupier.

So, historical perception is really in the eyes of the beholder.

This is about Western guilt here. While the latter culture has largely demythologized its own conquerors and ideologies, once described as heroic – Napoleon, Gordon of Khartoum, "Manifest Destiny," etc – it has accepted docilely ideas like the "spread of Islam," the benevolence of Arab occupation, etc. Westerners are schooled to repudiate the errors of the past in their own culture, but to overlook those of other cultures today. This is where the jihadi propaganda campaign deliberately harps on "Muslim resentment of the Crusades," in order to play upon this "guilt complex."

Historical jihad doesn't escape this harsh rule of history. Those who felt their ancestors' deeds were right – including military invasions and their violent consequences – see jihad as a good thing. And those who felt their ancestors were conquered and victimized see it as a disaster. This is the drama of the invading Arabs on the one hand and the conquered Persians, Assyro-Chaldeans, Arameans, Copts, Nubians, and Berbers on the other; of conquering Ottomans and conquered Armenians, Greeks, and Slavs.

It should be noted that many of the conquered had been conquerors earlier, such as the Greeks, Persians, Assyrians, and Egyptians. World history is made up of such reversals. But the emotional perception of the past should stop at contemporary reality. Feelings and passions about the tragedies of the past cannot be erased and should not be forgotten, but they have to give way in the end to international law and doctrines of human rights.

Many Christians today may believe that the Crusades were warranted at the time, but that cannot become a basis for military action under today's international consensus. The religious legitimacy of the Crusades or the Spanish Conquista no longer exists. Even the theological ground, upon which many European Christians settled North America, although studied as a historical phenomenon, is irrelevant after the Constitution. And despite the fact that many Jews invoke religious Zionism as a basis for the re-creation of modern-day Israel, and that this is a deep conviction of many evangelical Christians, international law doesn't allow it as a component for the recognition of the state of Israel.

In essence, twenty-first-century world society does not and cannot function as an extension of past centuries' theologies and philosophies. There is a full freedom of religion and though for individuals and communities to believe in their faith's tenets regarding questions of land, nations, war, and peace. But these beliefs have standing under international law only insofar as they correspond to and fall within the world consensus on peace and coexistence.

From this perspective, the question of contemporary Muslims and jihad cannot be an exception. Today's Muslim individuals and communities may have their feelings, passions, and readings of past historical jihads. Some may attach a religious value to them. But even if in the past jihad was a tool of the state and considered a legitimate form of warfare led by the caliphs (in the same way the Crusades and biblical wars were legitimate in the eyes of their peoples), under international law today there are no legitimate jihads. The theological authority of Charlemagne and Caliph Haroun Al Rashid, and of Louis XIV and Suleiman the Magnificent may have been mainstream during their times, but not anymore. Hence neither French president Nicholas Sarkozy nor Iranian president Ahmedinijad can invoke religion in his defense or when discussing international policies.

Thus the Muslims' relationship with this old and historical jihad is in the domain of past events and emotions; however, it can be reinterpreted to fit the form of modern society in such a way that it does not violate international law. Jihad as a personal "spiritual" dimension can exist, but only as different, separate, and distant from the historical jihad.

The new proposition advanced by scholars in the West that a nonviolent, inner, and personal jihad is the "real one" can be tested only in the wake of a cultural, widely accepted principle that the historical, theologically endorsed jihad warfare is over, and not just suspended or hidden. Short of this fundamental reform in jihad perception, similar to the modern repudiation of the Crusades and biblical wars by Christians and Jews, any current political affiliation with the ancient jihad would be in contradiction with contemporary international law. Hence the argument that the Muslims have "sensitivities" regarding the issue of historical jihad, which therefore cannot be criticized or maligned, is at odds with the current structure of international relations and laws.

As long as a world consensus exists on the nonreligious nature of international relations, the political and legal dimensions of the historical jihad cannot be played out in the international or public policy affairs of modern society.

One cannot argue, for example, that jihad is the equivalent of self-defense in the modern international system. Self-defense doesn't relate to any theological concept. But if self-defense in Islamic religious law covers oral insults to Islamic values, then Muslim governments or a future caliph could declare wars of "self-defense" based on mere statements made by individuals and groups (thus, the Danish cartoons would have justified jihad against Denmark in the name of "self-defense").

Similarly, if to some Christian sects self-defense could be linked to an "end-time" theology, or if future religious groups through self-defense could be a response to a divine order to reshape humanity by force, these interpretations could lead to a collapse of the planetary order.

In sum, the basis of twenty-first-century peace is to abandon the racial, religious, and cultural legitimization of wars. International society, with its various nations and cultures, including the Muslim ones, has agreed on this since 1945, at least in principle.

by Walid Phares, Ph.D., originally published in the World Defense Review, 1 August 2007
World Defense Review columnist

Dr Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a professor of comparative politics and the author of The War of Ideas

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 August 2007 )
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