CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Moral and Political Clarity in an Age of IS

Dec 5, 2015

We live in an age which is so reduced to mere emoting, to clichés, to celebrity opinions, and to 30-second soundbites, that properly dealing with vital issues can be quite difficult indeed. We are so dumbed down, so historically illiterate, and so bereft of the ability to think critically, logically and most importantly, morally, that we are in a very bad place to reflect carefully and intelligently on any of the pressing matters of the day.

And when the issues are really significant and controversial, such as the nature of international justice, warfare, and geopolitics, then the fuzziness in thinking and the mushiness in moralising especially comes to the fore. We see this all on display once again with the West as it seeks how to deal with IS.

syria 13England for example has just announced that it will join in attacks on IS in Syria. Indeed, airstrikes against IS targets have just been carried out. But already the airheads are out in force with their ridiculous and vacuous posturing and posters: “Don’t bomb Syria” eg. Um, we are not bombing Syria, but seeking to specifically target and destroy the murderous IS which happens to be in Syria and elsewhere.

All the usual suspects are condemning the West for anything it tries to do to contain or eliminate IS. We have Western fools (and that is exactly what they are) actually saying that terrorism is caused by things like global warming. Any stupid excuse will do, given the self-loathing of so many of our Western leftists.

Of course more careful and sophisticated voices are being heard in this debate. As but one example, a friend who does indeed offer intelligent and considered responses to such matters recently posted some remarks in which he said he was not sure the West had any right to intervene in the Middle East at this point.

He was under no illusions about IS, and is certainly no pacifist, but he felt the West had not thought carefully enough about how and what they might do there, and that Just War principles might be violated, and so on. He believes the West does not have the resolve to see this through and win, and therefore we should not get involved – at least at this point.

In response, it depends in part on who is meant by “we” of course. We know that Obama does not have the slightest intention of stopping IS. He is our most pro-Islam, West-hating POTUS ever, and cannot be counted on for anything worthwhile in this regard.

And yes, some other Western leaders do not have much resolve on this issue as well. Indeed, far too many have been clueless wonders, appeasers, and dhimmis just like Obama. They are part of the problem therefore, and not the solution.

So if my friend was saying that Obama and some others are not doing the right thing here, and may not be capable of doing the right thing, given their blinders as to the nature of Islam, then yes, I would agree. But if he was suggesting that the West in general, and various nations in particular, have no clear mandate to intervene, or might be unjust to do so, then that is another matter.

To suggest that the West does not yet have a perfect, long-term strategy to carry out, and therefore would be unwise to get involved now, is a yes and no affair. Yes it is always good to go into any situation – especially a wartime situation – with well-thought out strategies and goals.

But no, that is not always possible. To argue in effect that the West needs a careful, foolproof strategy to stop IS, or do nothing, is of course to present us with a false dilemma. The ideal is to have a careful, long-term strategy in place, but sometimes the real world does not allow us the luxury of waiting for such ideals to be realised.

My friend was quite right to suggest that going in now without such plans, resolve and clarity of purpose and outcome could make things problematic there. Yes, things could certainly get messy in such a scenario. But of course things are always messy in a fallen world, and certainly in a war situation.

The truth here is pretty straightforward: IS has declared war on the West, whether we like it or not. While we may debate what our best response might be, doing nothing is clearly not any sort of morally licit response. Sometimes opposing an immediate and very real threat must be done, as finer points of longer term strategy are thought through and worked out.

Sitting around waiting for a perfect or even near-perfect Just War scenario to emerge is something IS would love of course, but is not all that helpful. There is no perfect anything in a fallen world, including just warfare. This is an international emergency of huge proportions, and sitting around waiting for an ideal policy to emerge, while millions more innocent men, women and children are tortured, enslaved and killed is not my idea of Christian justice, compassion or realism.

And we face this dilemma in a fallen world all the time. In God’s plans for justice and the punishment of evil, he has established the state to primarily carry this out, as we read in places like Romans 13:1-7. So the ideal is that the state and properly established authorities deal with matters of crime and punishment.

That takes personal vengeance out of the hands of individuals and puts justice where it belongs – in the hands of duly delegated authorities. So if there is a disturbance on the streets, the police normally deal with such matters. But sometimes the right to self-defence arises, and even takes priority.

If a gang of rapists break into your home, threatening your wife and children, the ideal is to get on the phone, call the police, and hope and pray that the usual arrival time of twenty minutes is miraculously shortened. But if you have the means to defend yourself and your loved ones, most sensible people would of course take that option – and rightly so.

A registered gun owner in America for example might well brandish his firearm in the hopes of thwarting and resisting this great evil which is about to take place. Again, the ideal would be for the properly-designated authorities to deal with this, but we do not live in an ideal world.

This is not a perfect analogy of course, but I think you see where I am going with this. There are always emergencies that arise in life. A gang threatening your family is one such emergency. IS threatening the whole world is another such emergency – just on a bigger scale. And it is the nature of emergencies that rapid responses are often required.

Waiting around for an ideal response may be helpful under more normal circumstances, but in times of dire and life-threatening emergencies, leisurely armchair discussions and deliberations may well be an abdication of responsibility. When a little girl walks into the path of an oncoming vehicle, you don’t chat with the parents and seek to get their permission first – you run out and rescue her.

Here we have a major emergency situation, and every day that we sit around discussing things, or wait for some UN committee to come up with the ideal response, means many more people will die, be beheaded, tortured and enslaved. Of course every emergency may not demand an instant response, and careful reflection, when and where possible, is always worthwhile.

But the West has been sitting on this for two years now. How many more innocents must die? How many more churches destroyed? How many more Christian communities totally obliterated? Yes by all means, we need big picture, long-term plans and strategies not just for stopping IS, but for the broader issues of peace and justice in the Middle East, and so on.

And I am thankful that careful reflection on issues of war and peace have developed over the centuries. Just War theory is just that – theory. It was developed and refined over two and a half millennia by both Christian and non-Christian thinkers. It seeks to offer helpful broad principles concerning morally-licit warfare.

It is not set in stone, and it does not always work out perfectly in a fallen world. So by all means let us bring to bear such things as Just War thinking even on this messy situation. We do need to think about issues like justice in going to war (jus ad bellum), such as just cause and just intent.

And we must also carefully consider justice in war (jus in bello), such as limited objectives and proportionate means. But we have here situations which were not fully considered by those who devised the Just War criteria. With terrorism, and new global realities, and so on, we must think afresh about how we apply these principles.

The fact that IS is not a particular nation with well-defined borders and policies, but a transnational terrorist organisation makes it a bit harder of course to apply JW considerations. But one thing we know for certain: IS has declared war on the West, and the West therefore has a moral and political responsibility to defend itself and its citizens.

By all means we must be thinking through the long-term strategies and objectives. But even if we start with some limited bombing strikes (which are already occurring), that is a minimal response which is morally justified. Yes there are all sorts of difficulties and possible problems that can arise with any Western intervention.

I am fully aware of that. And no, I do not of course have some fail-proof military and geopolitical strategy in mind that we can make use of. That is for the politicians, the strategists and the generals to decide. But the policy of doing nothing, because we cannot do the best, is not to my way of thinking the Christian or moral response in light of this emergency.

So regrettably, dealing with the emergency of IS will be a somewhat scattered and make-things-up-as-you-go sort of policy. Is this ideal? Of course not. It would be far better to have a thoroughly thought-through and carefully calculated response in place. But we don’t at the moment.

So we are stuck in a very difficult situation. But it seems to me that allowing IS to continue on its murderous killing spree and ugly expansionism while we wait to devise a morally and strategically sound approach is not the way forward.

Indeed, it is a step backwards, certainly for the many more victims of this political and religious plague wreaking havoc around the globe. Sometimes it is better to act, even without all the best of plans and policies, than to sit back and do nothing.

I wish this were not the dilemma we find ourselves in. But it is. If nothing else, pray mightily for our decision makers, our leaders, our strategists and our military chiefs. They must make difficult choices in the days ahead. Some of these choices may be less than ideal.

But making no choices at all is even less ideal.

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5 Responses to Moral and Political Clarity in an Age of IS

  • I have twice in my life had use force by way of a firearm to stop a violent crime happening ( one a murder that was in the act of being commited and the other a brutal violent attempted rape of a 16 year old girl ). Both times outside my front door ,the Police were called by my wife, while I went out and confronted the attacker, because I went out and DID something, the offenders stopped and then ran away, both times no one else in our street did anything else except look through partially opened curtains to watch the crime happening, everyone else cowered in fear. The Police 40 minustes later , had I waited for the Police , well ,you can guess, when they came praised me for taking action, I was braver than my fear, I was scared of pulling the trigger to possibly kill or injure another human being, but I was not able to stand by and let another innocent person be brutalised or have a young girl raped and murdered , I had to take very quick swift decisive action, I am glad now 20 years later that I took the action I did, would I have pulled the trigger to kill another person in defence of an innocent ? would I act the same way today to defend my family ? my community ? if called to so ? YES ! would you ???? or how many would tell themselves to not get involved ? I abhor violence and I detest violent acts on people, I detest those who behead, rape or chop off peoples hands for theft and who would throw people alive off four story buildings and destroy stone buildings from old Persian cultures that are historical records of empires past.

    Nations must also act like I did, to do less is to let evil thrive among us, to delay justice to the oppressed and the widows and the poor.

    To let ISIS continue to kill by terror where ever they are with impunity may well mean that civilians themselves may now indeed be put in harms way before the Police arrive on the scene, my honest question is for those people, are you prepared to stand up for others to stop evil men from taking innocent lives ?. I know I am .

  • I have just found out: The civil war in Syria started out in 2011 with a small band of protesters demanding democracy, who were harshly slapped down with torture by Syrian authorities. This was the optimistic time of “the Arab Spring” but it escalated to a civil war of Sunnis, who were later joined by ISIS Daesh, against Assad’s supporters the Shiites.

    The US coalition intervened and has been bombing Syria’s sovereign territory for 14 months, because they wanted regime change, citing Assad’s barrel bombing with chemical weapons his own people against their wishes for democracy.The US objective then was to topple the elected President Assad. At Assad’s request Russia has launched air strikes on Syria, their objective being to target ISIS, not toppling Assad. Russia achieved much in a few weeks to strategic effect, targeting the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and ISIS oil convoys crossing the border to Turkey and progress was made pushing back ISIS. The US has resisted co-operation with Russia in the war against ISIL.

    The reason people do not support more bombing of Syria is that there are proxy wars going on. It is a quagmire within a quagmire and now rumours of Saudi Arabia and Iran involvement. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya all ended as failed states in chaos with no leader. It could be strategically savvy for more parties to join the ongoing attack on ISIS in Syria at a later date. What is deplorable in the rush to start bombing Syria is the memory of former leaders Bush and Blair rushing to war and now UK Prime minister Cameron posing for photographs smiling broadly, with hands in their bomber jackets pockets with Bush saying “Bring it on”. War is not a time for macho posturing to impress one’s allies but requires leaders of gravitas and statesmanlike qualities to devise an end game and ultimately to sit down at a conference table and strike a deal. ISIS is a terrorist global entity which pops up all around the world and reprisals will not be taken in Syria but in Western countries, as has happened in California mass shooting yesterday. People who say no to additional bombing in Syria are not terrorist sympathisers but don’t want to see a repeat of mistakes in Iraq, Libya which only escalates world chaos. A different strategy is needed for ISIS like intercepting their internet communications and radicalising propaganda and intercepting the oil convoys and means by which ISIS fund their operations.

  • According to Wikileaks and Edward Snowdon the US State Department had determined back in 2006 to destabilise and over through President Assad. Why ?

    A very interesting analysis is that Qatar and Saudi Arabia want to build a pipeline across Syria to Turkey and then into Europe to challenge and compete with the current Iranian Pipeline that services Europe which flows through Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, giving them oil dominance in Europe.

    Turkey is trafficking the ISIS oil out of Iraq/Syria into the world economy giving ISIS $ 97 million per month in revenue. The Russians have proof that President Erdogan and his family are personally the beneficiaries of this trade. This proof has already started coming out from the Russian Defence Minister and more will be disclosed this week.

    Turkey is a Nato partner and the EU have just allowed free visa access for Turks into Europe. Because Turkey is militarily weak they would not have downed the Russian fighter without encouragement and support from Obama. There is evidence growing that both Turkey and the US are actively assisting ISIS both militarily and financially.

    Turkey picking a fight with Russia, who are acting to destroy ISIS, will bring all of Nato into a war as treaty partners.

    Yesterday BAGHDAD, Iraq called on Turkey to “immediately” withdraw forces, including tanks and artillery, it has deployed in the country’s north without Baghdad’s consent, the premier’s office said on Saturday. “The Iraqi authorities call on Turkey to… immediately withdraw from Iraqi territory,” the statement said. “We have confirmation that Turkish forces, numbering about one armored regiment with a number of tanks and artillery, entered Iraqi territory… allegedly to train Iraqi groups, without any request or authorization from Iraqi federal authorities,” it said.

    Iraq is supporting Russia, who are destroying ISIS, as is Iran who is supporting Assad. China is supporting Russia, so the line up seems to be

    America, Nato, Saudi Arabia vis Russia, Iran, Iraq and China.

    Russia already has troops in Syria, Turkey seems to have troops in Northern Iraq and certainly in Syria, America has just announced sending more troops to Syria (and the giving of a new contact to buy another $49 million of missiles from Lockheed) and the UK and France also have a presence.

    It is all shaping up for a hot war.

  • “Um, we are not bombing Syria, but seeking to specifically target and destroy the murderous IS which happens to be in Syria and elsewhere.”
    What makes you think this?
    I agree something must be done, but can we trust our leaders seeing that their interventions in the Middle East so far have been disastrous?

  • People are asking about the present troubles in the Middle East, “Where will it all end up?”. Tragically, the last book in the Bible points to an apostate, blasphemous world’s penultimate stand against Heaven at Armageddon.

    Islam, ever since the riddah that followed hard on the heels of Muhammad’s death, has always been a geopolitical entity born with the seeds of its own schisms already germinating beneath the surface. After the pious caliphs quelled the riddah amongst the Arabian tribes, there was an unstoppable century of conquest in the Middleast and North Africa: Mecca, Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul have already been capitals of Islamic caliphates centuries ago – caliphates with distinclty “global” aspirations!

    The present struggles in Syria and Iraq are, in part, a thinly-veiled Middle Eastern Islamic version of the politico-religious “troubles” that ravaged Ireland for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

    As the Soviet Union, Maoist China and the US and her allies had their local proxies in the Indo-China wars of the second half of the 20th Century, so too, Teheran and Mecca have their proxies in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon today. Some, north of the Syria-Turkey border, may still have a nostalgia of sorts for the long-gone heady days of Ottoman power and opulence.

    In the midst of this maelstrom of infighting, non-Muslim communities in Syria and Iraq continue to be targeted by combatants who find no place for them in their competing visions of a triumphant Islamic ummah.

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