On Pacifism and the Islamic State

I am not a pacifist. Never have been, never will be. This is because it unsettles the biblical balance between love and justice. Both must be affirmed, or we are not being biblical. Pacifism of course emphasises love – especially love of the enemy.

But in doing so it negates justice, especially justice for the victims of aggression. It allows the innocent to suffer and die. That is why the great majority of Christians – and non-Christians alike – have recognised the shortcomings of pacifism, and have supported some form of just war theory, or have approved the use of force by the relevant parties to deal with evil and aggression.

Given that entire libraries have been filled on this discussion, it is not my intention here to enter into a detailed biblical and theological discussion of this. For what it is worth, I have already penned 57 articles on war and peace which you can have a look at if interested: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/war-and-peace/

iraq 7I simply want to mention two famous essays on the topic, and then offer some practical application. While hundreds of books and articles can be appealed to which make the case for the proper use of force, and the problems of pacifism, let me note just two which came out last century from very important thinkers.

In 1940 English Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote a brief essay on “Why I’m Not a Pacifist,” in which he makes the case for the use of force in a fallen world filled with evil. He said, “The doctrine that war is always a greater evil seems to imply a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils.”

There can be greater evils than war, such as the unjust oppression and murder of innocent men, women and children. War may have been bad when he wrote this, but allowing Hitler and the Nazis to proceed with their genocide and global conquest was even worse.

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr has a chapter in his 1940 book Christianity and Power Politics entitled “Why the Church Is Not Pacifist”. Niebuhr was not a pacifist because for him “pacifism either tempts us to make no judgements at all, or to give an undue preference to tyranny”.

Again, the idea of allowing horrific tyranny and oppression to run unchecked is a leading case as to why pacifism is neither fully biblical nor fully moral. As I say, it is not my intention to make this case carefully here. These considerations merely offer a backdrop to my practical application: the demonic surge of the Islamic State which we are all now witnessing.

Much has been reported about the horror, death, bloodshed, rape, beheading and torture being carried out every day by IS. We all know of the beheading of James Foley, the cutting in half of a six-year-old boy, the sex jihad war crimes, and so on. As just one further example, consider this work of demonic evil at the hands of IS:

Some Yazidis, like Hassan, 22, a student, shake their heads in disbelief when recalling how only foreign Kurdish fighters from Turkey or Syria extended a lifeline in the face of Islamic State. “They tied the hands of one woman to the back of a car and her legs to another car and they split her into two,” he said beside makeshift tents as women cried. “Have you seen anything like this? This is all because she is not Muslim and did not want to be converted. We barely made it.”

This is not just a description of unconscionable evil, but a plea for help. Where is the West? Why is it standing by and doing nothing while all this slaughter, jihad and genocide is taking place? Entire communities are being ethnically and religiously cleaned and obliterated, especially long-standing Christian communities in the area.

Yet we have heartless and brainless Westerners telling us war is always wrong, and that pacifism is the way to go. The Australian Greens are a perfect example of this mental and moral myopia. They seem blind to the human suffering taking place there, as they push their ideological pacifism which only results in more murder, more bloodshed, and more atrocities.

For example, resident pacifist Senator Christine Milne said, “We cannot fix the tragedies and conflicts of the Middle East with more and more war. It is madness.” And fellow Greens politician Adam Bandt said this: “I don’t think we should be going to war again.”

Andrew Bolt has some hard questions for the Senator. Just what then should we do? He writes:

To be fair, you didn’t say we should do nothing at all. “The Greens have said all along that we support humanitarian assistance,” you added. Well, that’s nice, Senator. But here is what I don’t understand. What humanitarian assistance do you want sent to the hundreds of men, like US photojournalist James Foley, who have had their heads cut off? Band aids?
What humanitarian assistance do you want sent to the 250 Syrian soldiers who were last week stripped and then shot in their head, or the 670 men in Mosul that UN investigators say were executed in June, or the scores I saw on a video being shot and tossed into a river? Tents?
What aid should we send the hundreds of Yazidi women the Kurdish Regional Government says the Islamic State is holding in Mosul’s Badush prison, where they are sold off as brides for as little as $25 — or raped if they refuse? New dresses? Toothpaste? Senator, exactly how will your “humanitarian aid” stop that savagery?

He continues:

So I ask again: what is your plan? Indeed, what is the plan of so many of the Left, including even Labor MPs, now sneering at talk of sending in Australian forces? You must have a plan, and not just because we could — with US and British help — stop the worst of this slaughter. You see, this is not just about charity. It’s not even just about stopping millions more in Iraq and Syria from becoming refugees and crashing our borders to look for a new home or drown trying.
No, you must have a plan because the horror unfolding over there puts us in danger, too, if left unchecked. The thousands of foreign jihadists serving with the Islamic State — men from Australia, Britain, France, the US, Austria, Canada, Holland, Norway, Chechnya and more — have made numerous videos warning that we in the West are next.
Australian boxer Mohamed Elomar, seen posing with two severed heads in his hands, even tweeted: “Don’t worry ASIO there is plenty of work for you guys coming up.” Already one returned jihadist has shot dead four Jews in Brussels. So I ask you again, Senator Milne: what is your plan to stop the slaughter? Tell us, or just say it plainly: we should let those people die.

Letting them die seems to be their preferred option. After all, if the just use of force is seen as ideologically wrong and immoral, then what are we left with? Standing around at some peace march or interfaith service singing Kumbaya? Holding protest marches denouncing Abbott as a war criminal?

I for one will stick with millennia of sensible thinking and careful moral reasoning on the need to use force when appropriate to curtail evil and stop tyranny. Great minds like Lewis and Niebuhr are just two of many who know of the inherent weakness of pacifism in a real world of evil, and evil men.

By all means, pray for the situation overseas. But as they used to sing during WWII, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”


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11 Replies to “On Pacifism and the Islamic State”

  1. I guess you have to understand The Greens point of view here – they are waging their own infanticide here in Australia which takes time and money that cannot be spared to prevent a genocide elsewhere in the world.

    Of course, if the “humanitarian aid” requested was RU486, I’m sure The Greens would be scrambling to spend tax payer dollars to help out.

    All in all, The Greens have relied on a culturally subversive form of Marxism to send our nation into a spiral so any form of militaristic warfare just doesn’t conceal like the ideological warfare they invest everything in. Plus, true charity doesn’t bring any benefits to them so their stance it at least consistent with their selfish policies and attitudes.

  2. This article was emailed to me by Dr. Michael Brown. Wow, this is a great biref article and to the point of how hypocritical is the pacifist view. Thanks for writing it. It also came at a timely manner. I need to share it with some pacifist Christians who condemn to hell the United States military (much like the hippies did in America during the Vietnam War, so it seems).

  3. Well said Bill. You’d no doubt recall Winston Churchill’s label for these political lightweights: ‘reckless pacifists’. History never repeats?

  4. Thanks Bill, for an insightful article.
    Let me say that trouble with modern pacifism goes even deeper:
    1. Underneath the high-sounding rhetoric about the value of life and immorality of war is at base, a fundamental cowardice: cowardice which hides behind the cloak of ideals and values; cowardice which leaves others to do the hard yards of fighting to restore justice and peace, but yet is content to bathe in the idyllic pools of the peace won by the blood of others.

    2. It gets worse. I remember the Vietnam years when this modern pacifism became the fashionable view of the New Left. I debated with one zealot over the meal table and it came out that under the moralising funk what he really wanted was a Communist victory. This, he admitted, was a general view among his co-ideologues. Considering that what we face now is an unholy alliance between Islam and the Left, the common factor is a commitment to world totalitarianism, with the Left naively believing that they would share power with Muslims in such a scenario. Hence the Left, just like in the Vietnam years, want Western powers simply to lay down their arms, stand by, and allow the victorious jihadists free reign.
    Hence I have no hestitation in declaring them to be traitors. Never mind their moral funk and disingenuous rhetoric about the value of life: they don’t care about human life! Remember the response of one of Christine Milne’s colleagues, when asked about all the boat people lost at sea: “Tragedies happen”, she shrugged.

    And if the present situation does lead to an outbreak of full-scale war, just wait (not very long!) for the Greens and the Left to start shrieking against involvement – but not because of high principles, but because they are voices from the opposite side. As Andrew Bolt keeps saying, they (the Left) don’t support a principle but a side – the wrong side.

  5. But aren’t the Greens the first to “support” Hamas’s right to “defend” themselves against Israel’s oppression, sighting dead civilians which were used as human shields by their own leadership?
    But I guess they made their choice as to which dead are worth mourning over.
    2 days ago the news reader on the ABC, I am sure the news is scripted for them, but I wanted to hit somebody, said that the women that were sold as “wives” to Isis fighters were “OBLIGED” to convert to Islam.
    Can you just imagine it, “obliged!” No wonder nobody realizes the severity of the situation when they trust in the reporting of our national news carrier.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  6. The legacy of Neville Chamberlain was, alas, not the “peace in our time” he hoped for. War sends people into eternity, whether they are ready or not. Nazi death camps also “eliminated” people before they would have normally expected to die.

    The Jazira region – eastern Syria and northern Iraq, between the Euphrates and the Tigris, is a strategic “keystone” to the geographical “arch” that is the Fertile Crescent. An Islamic caliphate at this Middle Eastern crossroads has serious implications for the land routes between Asia, Europe and Africa.

    I respect both the Christian conscientious objector to military service and the Christian who includes bearing arms “for king and country” as part of Christian duty towards divinely-ordained “powers that be” in this world.

    Neither of these attitudes to war has anything to do with the New Age notions of an evolving international “global consciousness” imparted to earth’s “enlightened ones” from some non-terrestrial spirit entity. Lennon’s anthem, Imagine displays a blind, misplaced faith in fallen humanity.

  7. “…..Remember the response of one of Christine Milne’s colleagues, when asked about all the boat people lost at sea: “Tragedies happen”, she shrugged….”

    Very good point Murray, as that reminds me of Green’s Senator Lee Riehdon’s position on the USSR invasion of Yugoslavia – just another ‘tragedy’ in the advancement of communism/marxism. While everyone else saw it as the face of organised terror.

    And just like Yugoslavia was the wake-up call that the West needed to see the evil in the spread of Communism – the current Middle Eastern ‘march of evil’ is now being seen as the very same – dangerous to the existance of life itself everywhere – by the spread of Islam.

    Having your throat cut in the ME or in the street of Old London Town for simply holding a differing opinion is something Senators in Australia should be very concerned about – rather than trying to excuse or rationalise it like Milne, Riehdon and others are currently trying to do.

  8. I for one will stick with millennia of sensible thinking and careful moral reasoning on the need to use force when appropriate to curtail evil and stop tyranny.

    And none of this “proportionate response” rubbish, either. Sufficient overwhelming force to give them the clear message that they were not being allowed to do it again.

  9. I think we’re in the opening skirmishes of Armageddon. There can be no bystanders in this war. I know which side I’m on. The case for a just war is too complex to present briefly, but this is it and we’re all in it, like it or not.

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