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This paper is not an attempt at religious apologetics. It is written by a scholar of military strategy and ethics for a general audience in an endeavour to demonstrate that the world’s second largest religion (only Christianity has more adherents) includes at its core a set of scriptures that contains a clear and very ethical framework for understanding war and guiding the behaviour of warriors. That framework only supports warfare when it is based on redressing substantial material grievances (especially attack or serious direct persecution), when it occurs after other means of addressing the grievances have been attempted, and when it includes the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of peace as soon as a resolution has been attained. It demands of warriors that they uphold the concepts of proportionality (doing no more harm than is necessary) and discrimination (directing violence only at combatants whilst minimising harm to civilians and their possessions and infrastructure). That framework is very compatible with the Western Just War philosophy that, for example, gave a moral underpinning to the United Kingdom’s war against Argentinean troops occupying the Falkland Islands in 1982, the US-led Coalition’s eviction of Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait in 1991, and NATO’s seventy-eight day air war against Slobodan Miloševic’s Yugoslavia in order to protect Kosovars from ethnic violence in 1999.
So, then, if the Qur’an itself condemns any violence that exceeds or sits outside of the framework for justice revealed within its verses, how can we explain the barbarous 9/11 attacks, the home-grown 7/7 attacks and other suicide-bombing attempts within our country and the murder of civilians by terrorists in other parts of the world who claim to act in the name of Islam? British scholar Karen Armstrong answered this obvious question so succinctly in the days after 9/11 that her words make a fitting conclusion to this article. During the twentieth century, she wrote, “the militant form of piety often known as fundamentalism erupted in every major religion as a rebellion against modernity.” Every minority fundamentalist movement within the major faiths that Armstrong has studied “is convinced that liberal, secular society is determined to wipe out religion. Fighting, as they imagine, a battle for survival, fundamentalists often feel justified in ignoring the more compassionate principles of their faith. But in amplifying the more aggressive passages that exist in all our scriptures, they distort the tradition.”81 Armstrong is correct, but her word “distort” is too weak for Al-Qaeda-style terrorists. They have not merely distorted the Qur’anic message; they have entirely perverted it and in the process created additional unhelpful hostility towards Islam—a faith of justice which seeks to create peace and security for its believers and a state of harmony and peaceful co-existence with other faiths.
Dr Joel Hayward is the Dean of the Royal Air Force College and a Director of the Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies. He is also the Head of King’s College London’s Air Power Studies Division. Dr Hayward is the author or editor of eight books as well as many peer-reviewed book chapters and journal articles, some of which have appeared in German, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Serbian translations. He lectures widely throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and beyond on various political, defence and security topics. He also frequently teaches and writes on Islam, war and justice and speaks at anti-radicalisation workshops. He is a member of the British Armed Forces Muslim Association and serves as Strategic Policy Advisor to Shaykh Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri and the international Minhaj-ul-Quran welfare, human-rights and education organisation that Dr Qadri heads. Unusually for a social scientist, he is also active in the literary arts and has published both fiction and poetry. His second collection of poetry is due out in 2011. He writes regular columns in Emel and other Islamic magazines.
This paper was published in the Spring, 2011 edition of Air Power Review, a publication of the RAF College of the U.K. Used by permission.
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