Vishnu Neppala: Religious Ethics of War

From the outset, it seems a bit unusual to even have a conversation with regards to a religious ethics of war as the very concept of war seems to directly contradict the core tenets of religion: friendship, peace, and ultimately coexistence. War seems to be operating against these very notions, and is representative of disunity and a lack of interest in maintaining peace. A religious ethics of war is almost paradoxical in this sense, but it also makes sense as to why a religious ethics of war might exist: to minimize the effects of the manifestation of things that are specific to war. A religious ethics of war seems to recognize the inevitability of armed and violent conflicts as a way of straying away from God’s teaching or as a way of ultimately defending one’s faith. A religious ethics of war seems to signify the maintenance of a sense of morality amidst the perceived breakdown of this morality. It strives to find a way to minimize the effects of the horrible things which will take place under the guise of war. Within Islamic teaching, the concept of jihad has been very much open to interpretation as to it’s significance and as to it’s symbolism in terms of what it means for every Muslim’s mission on earth. Jihad is often represented in multiple ways, but usually to signify an inner battle and at times an outer military struggle against aggressors or those who seek to oppose Islam. In Paul Heck’s writing on pluralism, he writes that jihad represents a “an inner struggle” and is representative of “inner sacrifice” which one must make in order to create a relationship with God. The outer jihad is of a more militant nature, and denote the possibility of having to engage in physical force for the defense of Islam against aggressors. In Sachedina’s chapter on Islamic war, she states that war in Islam is not for the sake of forcefully spreading Islam to those who oppose Islam but rather is directed at those, who through their opposition to Islam, actively aggress against Islam. The struggle truly lies in reconciling the use of force to defend Islam, with the virtues of peace inherent to Islam. A concept also inherent to the Islamic ethics of war seems to be who should be targeted as a result of war and who should be spared, which applies to the lives of woman and children. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Hussein regime’s cyanide attacks on entire villages went against this ethic. In John Kelsay’s writing on Islamic war ethics, he writes, “they are to use the minimum force required for victory.” This indicates that an Islamic ethics of war is built on premise of quickly bringing war to an end. With Catholic war tradition developed by Alexander of Hales, it’s interesting that those engaging in military conflict in defense of religion may not be clerics, which lends to the belief in the irreligious nature of war. Another aspect important to a Catholic ethics of war is that of intent when undergoing any type of violent conflict. To have one’s intent be to kill is going against the tenets of religion which respect the sanctity of human life. During military conflict, the nature of war must be that of self-defense. This is extremely similar to an Islamic ethics of war where the minimum amount of force required for victory is the only thing that may be mandated. The point of war must simply be to end war. Under the view of Thomas Aquinas, choosing an act of self defense must be only to stop the actions of the aggressor, where killing is only an acceptable byproduct. Thus, a religious ethics of war seeks to quickly put an end to war.