Moral and Political Clarity in an Age of the Islamic State

Barb Wire

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 the Islamic State.

England 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.

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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 the Islamic State. 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.

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.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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