PM5112: In defence of Jihad

I want to speak in defence of the concept of Jihad, that is to say holy war. Is it ever a good thing? Or is it always bad?

The variety of 'jihad' taught by Osama and his ilk, is without doubt bad. They are fighting for an evil cause. They destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas. They oppress women. They want to kill LGBT people. They commit atrocities like capital and corporal punishments (e.g. cutting off the hands of thieves, executing rape victims for 'adultery'.) They are war criminals -- they commit disproportionate attacks upon civilian targets which do not advance legitimate military objectives (e.g. 9/11). Both their ends and their means are evil.

Their war is evil in its ends and means - that is not to say that all war must be evil in this way. For example, waging war against Hitler need not be evil, either in its ends or its means. Both of course it depends -- if one wages war against Hitler because one wants to prevent him from doing further evils, then that is a good end. Whereas, if one wants to stop Hitler because one wants to take his place, then that is an evil end. And likewise, even with a good end, one's means may be good or evil.

Waging war against Osama bin Laden could be a good end (to prevent the evils he has wrought and seeks to wreak, as described above), and could be achievable by good means. But that is not to say that the war against Afghanistan or Iraq were good ends by a good means. America claims oppression of the Taliban as part of the justification for overthrowing them -- yet American conservatives still seek to oppress women and LGBT people at home; and America props up allies with policies as atrocious as the Taliban's like Saudi Arabia. Indeed, America overthrew Saddam yet left the House of Saud alone -- yet the House of Saud is the greater evil, for at least Saddam let women drive cars, something the Wahabbis/Saudis still will not. So, it would be right for someone to wage war against the Taliban and Saddam -- but it was not right for America to do so, because although such a war could be justified by a good end, America lacked that good end which could so morally justify the war.

But if a force, truly noble, unlike the United States, sought to overthrow the Taliban by force, by violent yet morally permissible means, that would be morally worthy. And, since the ultimate source of morality is religion, such a noble war would be a holy war. So, Jihad, holy war, is permissible in some cases. Indeed, this is the true Jihad, a holy war -- for the 'holy' war of Osama and his ilk is anything but holy -- it is entirely unholy.

Likewise, there is value to be found in martyrdom. Not in the false 'martyrdom' of the Islamists, who die to achieve nothing but atrocities against innocents, and a misguided quest to impose great evil upon the world -- but in the true martyrdom of those who willingly give up their lives in pursuit of the truly good, such as those who die fighting on the side of the good in a true holy war.

To consider martyrdom, we should begin by considering those who die for love. Let us consider the supposed that hadith --"He who loves but remains chaste and dies of longing, achieves the status of a martyr in the Jihad." But let us dispense with the androcentric expression, and this obsession with chastity -- "Whoever loves and dies of longing, achieves the status of a martyr in the Jihad." Some die from unfulfilled longing, maybe some die of fulfilled longing (There was a singer in France of old..., as Swinburne said -- was the death of that sailor one or the other or both?) -- Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons (p. 122-123) says:
It has been claimed that, at the height of their ecstasy, certain Japanese couples leap off precipices, because they do want to die. They want to die because they are at the height of their ecstasy. Could this be a reason for committing suicide?... These couples do not want to die because this will end their ecstasy. They want their lives to end at the highest or best point. This is not what most of us want. But, though this desire is unusual, it is not clearly irrational.
I am reminded of Nietzsche's discussion of the noontide, the golden ball, "die at the right time", etc. And in a more martial sense, of the Sacred Band of Thebes...

Those for whom there is nothing for which to die -- there is nothing for which to live either. We should not condemn, dying for a cause, when the cause is truly just and noble, when the death really achieves something. But, we should oppose those who die for an ignoble cause; and those who, even while dying for a noble cause, in doing so achieve nothing -- throwing their lives away prematurely, without benefit, when they could have achieved much greater things for that cause by going on living.

That is why I think we must condemn the 'martyrdom', the 'Jihad', the 'holy war' of Osama and friends; but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater -- let us not reject true martyrdom on account of the martyrdom of falsehood, neither holy war on account of unholy wars which falsely claim for themselves holiness.

Holy war is the true peace; its opposite is the peace of falseness, which is not other than the war of unholiness.

Do I propose a holy war? No; there are no holy wars today. That is not to say that there are rightful ends which might be attained even today by holy war; but, to have a holy war one needs a sufficient number of people, willing to fight for that end, and not motivated by other unacceptable ends, such that they have a decent chance of success by moral means. So, even if one is willing for holy war, there must be enough others also so willing, that one might succeed by moral means.

It is immoral to start a war, even for a good cause, which is unlikely to succeed by moral means. If the war is unlikely to succeed, then it cannot justify the suffering it will cause. It need not be certain to succeed, just reasonably likely. It does not even need to be more likely than not -- just not overly unlikely. A war which has a 1 in 10 chance of success, even though it is a longshot, is not by this criteria overly unlikely to succeed. But a war which had a 1 in 1000 chance of success, that would be overly unlikely, and hence morally unjustifiable, even if the cause was good.

The likelihood of success is linked to the morality of means. When people fight hopeless wars, they tend to be tempted to immoral means -- such as indiscriminate attacks on civilians -- things which a small number of people can carry out. If they had more resources, they could engage in more targeted actions, which would be less likely to be immoral. So, for a moral war, it is important to have a sufficient number of fighters supporting it. With less than that, they will too easily be tempted to turn to immoral methods such as indiscriminate attacks on civilians, which would render the war immoral, however moral the cause.

So, based on those criteria, there is no holy war in the world today, and I very much doubt one could be started. There are many unholy wars, ignoble wars, etc., but no wars of holiness. There is much false Jihad, but no true Jihad (no Maratrean Jihad). And there is not going to be any, any time soon. This is something far off, which we shall not live to see -- or something far behind us, such that it has been entirely forgotten. But we should make preparations for the centuries to come.

The best advice for today, is, except in circumstances where you or your family or friends are directly at threat, stick to pacifism, and refuse to participate in any wars or military actions.
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