Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Zarqawi justifying civilian deaths in Iraq terror attacks?

I am very curious about this short AFP article, here, which says Zarqawi seeks to justify the deaths of Iraqi Muslim as "human shields" and as, seemingly, not the deaths by terrorism as they obviously are, but instead permissible collateral damage under shari'a law:

Anti-US attacks in Iraq which also kill Muslim civilians do not violate Islamic law, Al-Qaeda's feared frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said in a purported tape posted on the Internet.
The recording emerged as the US military said that leaders close to Zarqawi had ordered a recent car bombing campaign that has killed hundreds in Iraq.

"Our fighters only take the initiative of carrying out such operations in line with the principles of the sharia," said the voice attributed to the fugitive leader who has a 25-million-dollar price on his head.

"It is legitimate to shoot all infidels with all the kinds of arms that we have," said the voice, similar to those in earlier recordings attributed to Zarqawi.

"Killing Muslims who are serving as human shields (for the Americans) is allowed by the sharia," he said, backing his arguments with statements from several Muslim clergymen.

In the audiotape, Zarqawi mentioned the death of Pope John II -- which indicated that the message was recorded after April 2.

Many have been criticising the fact that guerrilla attacks in Iraq have been inflicting more victims among Iraqi civilians than US-led forces.

From the standpoint of Western moral theory, this version of "collateral damage" doesn't work - even if you were to treat them as military actions rather than simply for the terrorism that they are - because, after all, most of the attacks have not been on US forces with attendant collateral damage to civilians. They have instead been aimed at civilians as such.

Call me culturally insensitive, but it does not appear to be the case that Islam has worked out a systematic ethics of warfare. It is not alone in that - Buddhism, for example, doesn't need one as a religion of nonviolence; Judaism historically has had one only in certain respects, as the historical consequence of a diaspora people who until recently haven't had a state to run and, with it, an army. Christianity's development of an ethics of war was the result of a peculiar circumstance of inheriting state power, and then inheriting a bunch of squabbling kingdoms all with nominally the same religious commitments. And, of course, it is possible to say that Christian just war ethics, secularized into such moral concepts as "permissible" collateral damage, are just immoral accommodations with power, although I, for one, certainly don't believe that.

There is a scramble among Muslim clerics underway to formulate war ethics - but there will always be a difficulty with an ethics that begins, as so many of them seem to, with a proposition that it is not okay to kill and make war against fellow Muslims - independent of considerations of justice and just cause - but it is okay to make war against the infidel, at least if the cause is independently just.

I also find it interesting that during the Iraq war, several prominent Muslim clerics essentially rejected the collateral damage principle - essentially, the doctrine of the double effect - as a kind of sophistry to ease one's conscience about the killing of innocents. Fair enough - many have made that criticism consistently. But if you do that, then you have two choices. Either you can reject the use of force that might lead to innocent collateral damage - which is, practically, to say, renounce war and accept, also, that great injustice (such as the annexation and rape of Kuwait) might be maintained by the use of human shields and other means to force you to the choice of collateral damage or not fighting. Or, alternatively, you can say, let's be honest, we intend to fight, and we will abandon all pretense of justification of collateral damage - we will simply kill as seems to us effective, period.

Zarqawi has opted for the latter, of course, using terror against civilians in particular as what he sees as the most effective means of pressuring his enemy. But it is striking that even he sees some obligation to justify even terrorism aimed directly at civilians as being simply the killing of "human shields," civilians who happened to be in the way.

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