On Pacifism and the Islamic State

Barb Wire

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 emphasizes 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 recognized 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.

I 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.

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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 cleansed 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S., 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.”

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: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com. 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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