Archive for Jihad

Jihad By Any Means Necessary?

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by loonwatch

 

The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which is a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, I am herein refuting chapter one of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.”

An anti-Muslim canard that has gained considerable popularity in the post-9/11 world is the idea that Muslims can do anything, no matter how morally questionable, if it furthers the Islamic cause.  According to this idea, jihad can be waged “by any means necessary.”  Robert Spencer argues this in his book, writing:

Islam’s only overarching moral principle is “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right.” [1]

Spencer traces the birth of this Islamic “principle” to the life story of the Prophet Muhammad, specifically the raid at Nakhla.  To properly debunk this conspiracy theory, we must then transport ourselves back in time to this controversial event.

In the year 610 A.D., Muhammad declared his prophethood.  His people, the Quraysh of Mecca, violently rejected him.  The early Muslims suffered heavy-handed persecution, which they endured with patience for well over a decade.  Finally, the God of the Quran permitted them to take up arms in self-defense.  Muhammad and his followers, who had regrouped in the nearby city of Medina, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the powerful Quraysh.

I have discussed Muhammad’s guerre de course in quite a lot of detail in a previous article.  This tactic was not only something considered acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also has a celebrated history in the American–as well as French and German–naval traditions.  Historically, it has been considered a valid military strategy and a means of waging economic warfare against a more powerful enemy.

The early military operations led by the Muslims were largely unsuccessful–that is, until the raid at Nakhla.  Muhammad had dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh with secret instructions contained in a letter that were not to be opened until after traveling two days journey.  (This precaution was designed no doubt to thwart potential spies, who may have informed the Quraysh of Muslim “troop” movements, which could explain the earlier failed military expeditions.)

When Abdullah opened Muhammad’s letter, it read:

When you have read this letter of mine proceed until you reach Nakhla between Mecca and Al-Ta’if. Lie in wait there for [the] Quraysh and find out for us what they are doing. [2]

On the way to Nakhla, Abdullah and his fellow riders happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan.  They debated among themselves whether or not to waylay it, for it was the last day of the month of Rajab.  The pre-Islamic culture at the time assigned four months of the year as sacred (of which Rajab was one), in which fighting was proscribed.  In addition to the four sacred months, fighting was forbidden in certain holy sanctuaries (i.e. Al-Bayt Al-Haram, the area around the Kaabah).

Abdullah’s contingent faced a difficult choice:

If [we] leave them alone tonight they will get into the sacred area and will be safe from [us]; and if [we] kill them, [we] will kill them in the sacred month. [3]

They were also not quite sure what day it was.  Was it the last day of the sacred month of Rajab or the first day of of the next month, Jumada (in which fighting was permitted)?  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes of this:

The uncertainty of the day is a natural result of the calendrical system of that period, in which the moon was the primary measurer of time, because the beginning of the month was established only by actual observation of the new crescent moon. [4]

Making matters worse was the fact that, according to the lunar calendar used by the Arabs, days change at sunset, not midnight.  One of the men explained to Muhammad later that

it was becoming evening. We looked at the crescent moon of Rajab, and we did not know whether we [struck during] Rajab or in Jumada. [5]

Initially, Abdullah and his men hesitated, but then decided to attack.  The Muslims shot and killed one of the Quraysh (a man by the name of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami), captured two of them, and seized the caravan’s goods.  By killing Ibn Al-Hadrami, the Muslims had violated the pre-Islamic Arabian custom forbidding bloodshed during the sacred month.

When Abdullah and his men returned to Medina, Muhammad rebuked them, saying:

I did not order you to fight in the sacred month! [6]

Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote of this incident:

In so doing, [Abdullah] had not only acted without authority but had violated the sacred truce within Arab custom caused to be observed throughout the month of pilgrimage.  Muhammad received him coldly with the words, “I gave thee no command to fight in the sacred month;” dismissed the prisoners, and from his own purse paid blood-money for a Meccan who had lost his life in the fray. [7]

Other Muslims in Medina also chastised the men.  Meanwhile, the Quraysh exploited the incident to further their war propaganda against the Islamic nation.  They effectively drove a wedge in the community of Medina, with Muslims distancing themselves from other Muslims, and non-Muslims from Muslims.  Muhammad’s leadership itself was called into question.

It was in this crisis that the following Quranic verse was revealed:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense, but to bar others from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him, prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its people, are still greater offences in God’s eyes: [their] persecution is worse than the killing [of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami].’ They will not stop fighting you [believers] until they make you renounce your faith, if they can. If any of you renounce your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain.  But those who have believed, who were driven out from their homes, and who strive for God’s cause, it is they who can look forward to God’s mercy: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Quran, 2:217-218)

This response from the God of the Quran successfully rallied the Muslims around their leader and their cause.  Muhammad’s treatment of the raid was splendidly balanced, neither making the Muslims look too warlike nor too humiliated: on the one hand, he paid blood money for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners.  On the other hand, he released the two Qurayshite prisoners only in exchange for two Muslim prisoners, and also accepted the confiscated goods as legitimate spoils of war.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer writes of the Nakhla raid:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent and helped form Islamic theology–as in one notorious incident when a band of Muslims raided a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, a settlement not far from Mecca.  The raiders attacked the caravan during the sacred month of Rajab, when fighting was forbidden.  When they returned to the Muslim camp laden with booty, Muhammad refused to share in the loot or to have anything to do with them, saying only, “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.”

But then a new revelation came from Allah, explaining that the Quraysh’s opposition to Muhammad was a worse transgression than the violation of the sacred month.  In other words, the raid was justified.  ”They question thee, O Muhammad, with regard to warfare in the sacred month.  Say: warfare therein is a great transgression, bu to turn men from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel his people thence, is a greater sin with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing” (Quran 2:214).  Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

This was a momentous revelation, for it led to an Islamic principle that has had repercussions throughout the ages.  Good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, regardless of whether it violated moral or other laws.  The moral absolutes enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and other teachings of the great religions that preceded Islam, were swept aside in favor of an overarching principle of expediency. [8]

In true Spencerian fashion, he misleads the reader using lies of omission and commission.  Spencer does not clearly state that Muhammad had dispatched the “band of Muslims” on a reconnaissance mission, in order to “find out for us what [the Quraysh] are doing.”  This is why the Prophet of Islam later disavowed Abdullah’s actions, for he had “acted without authority.”  Also, no mention is made in Spencer’s book of the difficulty in ascertaining the day and month in which the raid took place.

Spencer’s biggest lie, however, is the following doozie:

Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

In fact, it was not merely “the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad”, but, in the words of the Quran itself, their persecution [of the Muslims that] is worse than the killing” of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami.  Here, the Islamic holy book was referring to the over decade-long period of Qurayshite persecution, during which the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some of the early believers were even killed.  This, the God of the Quran argued, was worse than what the “band of Muslims” had done.  It would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Spencer goes on to say:

In other words, the raid was justified.

No, it wasn’t.  In fact, the Quran recognized and affirmed that the Muslims had committed a grave sin: “Fighting in [the sacred] month is a great offense.”

Many Western commentators have claimed that Muhammad and the Quran, by this passage, abandoned observation of the ban on fighting during the four sacred months.  The insistence on this view is based on their blind acceptance of the traditional opinion [9], held by various Islamic exegetes in medieval times, that this was a pre-Islamic tradition that was overturned by the advent of Islam.

Yet, a neutral reading of the Quranic text–both this passage and those that follow it–reveals the exact opposite: the Prophet Muhammad affirmed and respected the sanctity of the four sacred months.  The Quranic verse starts by saying, “They ask you about fighting in the sacred month.”  Obviously, Muhammad was being accosted by all sides about the raid at Nakhla, which threatened to be a public relations disaster for the Muslims.  How much easier it would have been for the Prophet of Islam to have simply declared the four sacred months a “pagan belief” that the Muslims did not accept.

After all, in another controversy in early Islam’s history, when Muhammad received significant criticism for having married his adopted son’s ex-wife Zaynab bint Jahsh, the Quran justified the act by declaring that: firstly, unlike in the pagan custom of the time, in Islam there is no prohibition against such a thing; and secondly, it was God himself who commanded Muhammad to marry Zaynab, and therefore, “the Prophet is not at fault for what God has ordained for him” (Quran, 33:38).  (It should be noted that the Islamic permission to marry one’s adopted son’s ex-wife is no more disconcerting than Judaism’s permitting of marriage to one’s nieces.)

The point is that the Quran didn’t just take the easy way out, which would have been to reject the four sacred months altogether.  (Muhammad could have also simply declared the pagans to be “disbelievers”, licit to be attacked at any place or any time.)  Instead, the Quran affirmed that it was indeed a grave offense to fight therein, and in fact, commanded Muhammad to tell the people so:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense.’ (Quran, 2:217)

The Islamic affirmation of the four sacred months occurs throughout the Quran.  Muslims are not to fight in these months, so long as the other side respects this prohibition:

Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked therein, for a violation of sanctity is subject to the law of just retribution.  So, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you. (Quran, 2:194)

The Quran also affirms the idea of sacred spaces:

Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. (Quran, 2:191)

This topic deserves greater elaboration, but for now, suffice to say that even in the jihad passages of chapter nine of the Quran–which the Islamophobes insist are (in the words of the anti-Muslim website ReligionOfPeace.com) “the final ‘revelations’ from Allah” about jihad–the four sacred months are affirmed.  For example, in the so-called “verse of the sword” (ayat al-saif), the Quran declares:

When the sacred months are passed, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them… (Quran, 9:5)

Leaving aside for now the fact that the verse right before this one (verse 9:4) explains that this injunction refers only to those pagans who broke a treaty and waged war against the Muslims, there is another obvious point to be made here: Islamophobes insist that this passage was revealed in Muhammad’s last years and was his final, all-out call to war against non-Muslims.  (I will refute this argument in a future article.)  If we are to accept this claim, then we see that–even in this late stage of Muhammad’s decrees about jihad–the sacred months are to be respected.

In fact, the Quran goes so far to claim that it was God himself who decreed these months to be sacred.  More than this, the God of the Quran chastises the Qurayshite pagans for violating the four sacred months by “transposing them” for other months in the year, something they did out of convenience:

God decrees that there are twelve months–ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth–four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation. Do not wrong your souls in these months–though you may fight the idolaters at any time, if they first fight you–remember that God is with those who are mindful of Him.  Transposing sacred months is another act of disobedience by which those who disregard God are led astray: they will allow it one year and forbid it in another in order to outwardly conform with the number of God’s sacred months, but in doing so they permit what God has forbidden. Their evil deeds are made alluring to them: God does not guide those who disregard Him.  (Quran, 9:36-37)

In conclusion, it is not true that Muhammad justified the Nakhla raid, nor is it valid to claim that the Prophet of Islam simply made it legal when Muslims did it.  Spencer’s claim that ”if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” finds no basis.

The Quran acknowledged that the killing of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami in the sacred month was a “grave offense” and Muhammad offered restitution to the victim’s family.  This mea culpa indicates that the Prophet of Islam acknowledged that wrong had been committed and he sought to right it.  Meanwhile, the “band of Muslims” involved in the escapade were duly chastised.  After they had expressed remorse for their sin, the God of the Quran forgave them “for God is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:218), and reassured them of their salvation.  That forgiveness was necessary in the first place indicates that they had committed a sin.

What the Quran didn’t do is claim that the Muslims had done nothing wrong.  All it did was point out the hypocrisy of the Quraysh, for they had committed greater offenses against the Muslims.  Robert Spencer would quickly claim that the Quran was committing a tu quoque fallacy, but there is a difference between a valid tu quoque argument and an invalid tu quoque fallacy.  Tu quoque (“you too”) arguments are not always illegitimate.  Of significance is the fact that, following the Nakhla raid, Muhammad (1) admitted that the Muslims had committed an offense, and (2) willingly submitted to the penalty of that offense (i.e. paid blood money).

The Prophet of Islam didn’t try to make something right because the enemy did something wrong.  More importantly, he didn’t try to get out of the penalty for the offense.  Instead, he admitted that his side had done something wrong, paid the penalty for it, and then pointed out that his accusers had committed far greater offenses without making any amends for it.  He was not trying to get out of the penalty, but only highlighting the Qurayshite hypocrisy so that they would not exploit the incident to further anti-Muslim propaganda.

Islamophobes today are also guilty of hypocrisy on this front: they are among America and Israel’s most hawkish proponents of war in Muslim lands.  During Muhammad’s pre-Badr expeditions, the Muslims had killed only one person, and this was in violation of their orders.  What about the hundreds and hundreds of Muslim victims who die at the hands of the American and Israeli military, without any form of restitution given to them?  We are told then that “this is war”…But when Muhammad’s men kill one person, then it’s the greatest tragedy in all of history.

Related to our opening question (Is Islam more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity? Was Muhammad the most violent prophet or religious figure in history?) lies another question: the Biblical prophets–such as MosesJoshuaSamson,DavidSaul, etc.–engaged in genocide against the natives of Canaan.  Thousands and thousands of innocent people were slaughtered.  Are there any stories in the Bible of any of these Judeo-Christian prophets and holy figures giving restitution to the victim’s families?  One can already hear Robert Spencer crying “tu quoque, tu quoque!”, a word that he obviously does not properly understand.  Islam, identified as our enemy in the post-9/11 war, is put through a special standard, one that Spencer’s own religion could not withstand.

*  *  *  *  *

The Islamic principle of justice is to apply the law equally to all.  There are numerous verses of the Quran to this effect (i.e. 16:90: “God commands you to uphold justice and to do good to others”) and this topic would require another article to elucidate fully.  For now, however, it would suffice us to refer to the opening of sura (chapter) five, which is said to be among the final revelations of the Quran.  It was revealed after the conquest of Mecca.  In it, we see once again that the Quran affirms the idea of sacred months and sacred spaces.  More importantly, it commands Muslims to uphold justice and be fair even to their enemies:

Do not violate the sanctity of God’s rites or the Sacred Months…or the people coming to the Sacred Space…Do not let your ill-will towards a people–because they barred you from the Sacred Mosque–cause you to transgress against them.  Help one another to do what is right and good.  Do not help one another towards sin and aggression. (Quran, 5:2)

Robert Spencer traces “Islam’s only overarching moral principle” of “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” to the raid at Nakhla, but the evidence simply does not bear his argument out.  Instead, all that becomes apparent is the Islamophobic tactic: if it makes Islam and Muslims look bad, let’s run with it.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Footnotes
1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.79
2. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.287 (tr. A. Guillaume)
3. Ibid.
4. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.57
5. Ibid.
6. Ibn Ishaq, p.287
7. Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
8. Spencer, pp.5-7
9. It should be noted that the nineteenth century gave birth to the modernist movement within Islamic thought, which redefined jihad and challenged the long-held “traditional” opinion on the matter.  Today, the “traditional” opinion is held only by a few ultra-conservative Muslims, a view that should not to be conflated with that held by Radical Muslims such as Osama Bin Laden.

History’s First Jihad: Was It Justified?

Posted in Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by loonwatch

Note: The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, this article addresses the bottom of page 5 of Spencer’s book (part of the section entitled “Muhammad the raider” in the chapter “Muhammad: Prophet of War”).  Admittedly, my rebuttal makes for a lengthy read, but it would be doing an injustice to this complex topic to sacrifice thoroughness for brevity.  Those looking for an easy, children’s book sort of read (in size 16 font no less) are encouraged to refer to Spencer’s book.

When it comes to matters pertaining to Islam, there is no buzzword quite like the word jihad.  In the West, especially among anti-Muslim elements, it is firmly associated with violence, terrorism, and perpetual holy war against unbelievers.  Even many well-meaning non-Muslims think that “moderate Muslims” do not believe in jihad and that this is a doctrine espoused only by radical elements of the faith.

But, the reality is that most observant Muslims accept jihad as an integral part of Islam.  It should be understood, however, that ”there are…many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to do with warfare.” [1] Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

The semantic meaning of the Arabic term jihad has no relation to holy war or even war in general. It derives, rather from the root j.h.d., the meaning of which is to strive, exert oneself, or take extraordinary pains. Jihad is a verbal noun of the third Arabic form of the root jahada, which is defined classically as “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavors, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation.”

There are, therefore, many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to
do with warfare.Jihad of the heart,” for example, denotes struggle against one’s own sinful inclinations, while “jihad of the tongue” requires speaking on behalf of the good and forbidding evil. [2]

Of these, there is jihad al-saif (“the struggle of the sword”, which will be referred to henceforth simply as jihad).  Using Firestone’s definition of “holy war” (“holy war is defined most broadly as any religious justification for engaging in war”[3]), it is difficult to accept the claim of some Muslim preachers that the Quran does not endorse the concept of holy war at all. [4]

Nonetheless, most modern day Muslims view jihad as their equivalent of the West’s just war doctrine. [5] War is religiously justified (and approved by God, a “holy war” in this sense) if it is in response to injustice, oppression, and aggression.  Certainly, the Quran provides considerable evidence to support the idea that war ought to be waged only in self-defense. [6]

The question arises, however: does the sira (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad support such a view?  Muhammad waged history’s first jihad: he mobilized the Muslim refugees in Medina against the Quraysh of Mecca.  Naturally, the circumstances and context of this event are pivotal to Islamic theology and the doctrine of jihad.  Did Muhammad wage a war of aggression against the Quraysh simply because they were infidels?  Or, was he waging a justifiable war of self-defense?  Muhammad’s motivations in this regard are instrumental to formulating Islam’s views on matters of war and peace.

It is no surprise then that Robert Spencer, the internet’s leading anti-Muslim ideologue, has dedicated an entire chapter of his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), to the biography of the Prophet Muhammad.  Spencer depicts Islam’s holy prophet as a violent aggressor and warmonger.  Meanwhile, Muhammad’s enemies, the Qurayshite leaders, are portrayed as the hapless victims of Muhammad’s aggression.

Yet, as I pointed out in a previous article, this is a complete inversion of reality.  The truth is that Muhammad declared his prophethood in Mecca and preached his message peacefully for over ten years.  During this time period, the Qurayshite leaders persecuted him and his followers: the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some were even killed.

The persecution reached such a level that the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful were forced to flee for their lives to the African land of Abyssinia.  Soon, the condition of Muslims in Mecca had become so unbearable that there was a very real fear that the nascent religion of Islam would be snuffed out altogether.  With the death of his guardian uncle, Muhammad lost tribal protection, leaving him extremely vulnerable to his enemies.

It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the city of Yathrib (later to be renamed Medina [7]) accepted Islam and promised to protect the Prophet Muhammad.  They secretly met Muhammad while he was still in Mecca, and took two solemn oaths to protect him, known as the First and Second Pledge at al-Aqaba.  Under the cover of night, waves of Muslims began to flee Mecca to find refuge in Medina. Muhammad was one of the last ones to undertake the Flight (Hijra), a watershed event that is the Islamic equivalent of the Exodus.

For almost a decade and a half, Muhammad had advised his followers to endure their humiliation and persecution with patience.  Prof. Firestone writes:

Muhammad is invariably portrayed as steadfast in his refusal to respond to insult with violence…

The Muslims are portrayed in this early period as being regularly beaten and occasionally even tortured by their Meccan opponents, with virtually no recourse for the injurious treatment they received….

[T]hey most certainly refrained in most cases from violence in reaction to such harmful treatment. In at least one case, a person is killed simply for belonging to the new followers of Muhammad. [8]

But in Medina, the Muslim refugee community regrouped and prepared for battle against their avowed enemies, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The stage for history’s first ever jihad was set.

*  *  *  *  *

The Prophet of Islam had actually arrived in Medina to bring peace: the two major tribes of the city had been involved in a protracted civil war, and the city elders had hoped Muhammad could arbitrate between the two sides. (As peculiar as it sounds to us today, it was not unusual in the ancient world for holy men to be called in to arbitrate between warring factions.)

The newly arrived Muhammad called for an end to tribalistic rivalries, preached brotherhood, and ”fashion[ed] a united community (umma) out of disparate and contending groups: Muslim emigrants (muhajirun) from Mecca, Muslim helpers (ansar) from Medina [the Medinese that converted to Islam], Medinan Jews, and pagan Arabs.” [9]  Muhammad’s influence as an arbiter led to him to become the de facto leader of Medina.

Soon, Muhammad turned his attention to his former tormentors, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The first military expedition against them was dispatched about seven to nine months after Muhammad’s arrival in Medina in what is known as Hamza’s Expedition to the Seashore.

According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad dispatched Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib “to the seashore in the neighborhood of Al-’Is with thirty riders.” [10] There, they met Abu Jahl, one of Muhammad’s fiercest enemies, who was accompanied by “three hundred riders from Mecca.” [11] This would become the very first jihad operation in history, but how anticlimactic it turned out to be:

Majdi b. ‘Amr al-Juhani intervened between them, for he was at peace with both parties.  So the people separated from [one] another without fighting. [12]

Although there was no clash of swords on that day, the two sides did exchange enlivened battle poetry.  (Who would have thought that the very first jihad in history would have amounted to nothing more than the ancient equivalent of 1980′s battle rap?)

The Expedition of Ubayda bin al-Harith, the second such military operation [13], was equally uneventful.  Ubayda along with ”sixty or eighty riders” rode out to the valley of Rabigh, where they ”encountered a large number of Quraysh” [14] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan” [15] Ibn Ishaq writes that “no fighting took place” [16]; Haykal writes:

The Muslim forces withdrew without engaging the enemy, except for the report that Sa’d ibn Abu Waqqas shot one single arrow, later to be called, ‘the first arrow shot in the cause of Islam’. [17]

Saad ibn Waqqas led a third group “into the Hijaz, but he [too] returned without engaging the enemy.” [18]

Muhammad himself led the next four expeditions (Waddan, Buwat, Safwan, and Dhil ‘Ushairah), each of which resulted in the same uneventful outcome: the Muslims kept going out to meet the enemy, only to find them gone.  Thus it was that the Prophet of Islam and his followers ”returned to Medina without a fight.” [19]

It was only with the eighth expedition that actual military combat took place.  Muhammad dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh to scout the Qurayshite movements at a place called Nakhla.  Although Muhammad intended this expedition to be a reconnaissance mission, Abdullah took the initiative when his men happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan, which they waylaid.  In the firefight that ensued, one of the Qurayshite men was killed, two more were captured, and the caravan’s property was seized.

When the men reported back to Medina, Muhammad was less than pleased with their actions for, as Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote, Abdullah had “acted without authority.” [20] Muhammad “paid blood money” [21] for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  The confiscated goods from the caravan, however, were taken as spoils of war.  (The Nakhla raid became very controversial, and in a future article, I will deal with this particular event in more detail.)

Shortly thereafter, Muhammad decided to intercept a Qurayshite caravan led by Abu Sufyan, which was returning from Syria to Mecca.  As the Muslims advanced towards it, the Quraysh of Mecca were informed of this news and quickly organized a response.  Abu Jahl mobilized a large army who marched out from Mecca to meet Muhammad and protect Abu Sufyan’s caravan.

Abu Sufyan’s caravan successfully slinked past Muhammad’s men and into safety, which caused both the Muslims and the Qurayshite army to reconsider their objectives.   A group of the Quraysh argued that “there is no point in going to war” [22] now that Abu Sufyan’s caravan was safe.  They advised to

turn back and leave Muhammad to the rest of the Arabs. If they kill him, this is what you want. [23]

Abu Jahl, one of the powerful chiefs of Mecca, rejected this argument and declared: “No, by God, we will not turn back until God decides between us and Muhammad.” [24] With this said, most of the Qurayshite army pressed on towards Muhammad and his men, with an intent to deliver the Islamic movement a decisive blow once and for all.

Meanwhile, the early Muslims were themselves conflicted as to whether or not to retreat to Medina or to face the Qurayshite army marching toward them.  They certainly had the numbers to take on Abu Sufyan’s caravan, but they were heavily outnumbered against the larger Qurayshite force headed by Abu Jahl.  Some of Muhammad’s followers advised a hasty retreat.  But, Muhammad was of a different mind and decided to face the threat head on.  Of this, the Quran declared to the believers:

God promised you that one of the two enemy groups would fall to you: you wished the unarmed one to be yours, but it was God’s will… to cut off the root of the disbelievers, so that He may make the truth manifest and prove falsehood false, however hateful this be to the criminals. (Quran, 8:7-8)

It seems that both Abu Jahl and Muhammad saw it as a sign of weakness to retreat, one that would only embolden the other.  So it was that the two forces met at a place called Badr.  The Battle of Badr was the first (and most pivotal) battle of Islamic history.  In the words of Robert Spencer:

Above all, the battle of Badr was the first practical example of what came to known as the Islamic doctrine of jihad… [25]

Muhammad’s followers were heavily outnumbered, on a scale of three to one.  The Muslim battalion consisted of a meager 313 men, 70 camels, and 2 horses.  Meanwhile, the Qurayshite army was composed of almost a thousand men with 170 camels and 100 horses.  Spencer writes:

[T]his time the Quraysh were ready for him, coming to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men with a force nearly a thousand strong…[Muhammad] cried out to Allah in anxiety, “O God, if this band perish today Thou wilt be worshiped no more.” [26]

Whether it was better military strategy, survival instinct, or divine intervention, the Muslims were victorious on that fateful day.  They overcame the Quraysh, their former tormentors, who, after a pitched battle, eventually gave flight.  Islam had survived.

*  *  *  *

The details of the actual battle itself and the aftermath warrant further discussion (and I will write a future article on this topic).  However, the even more pertinent question arises: did the Muslims have just cause?  Or were their actions unprovoked aggression against unbelievers, as Spencer and other anti-Muslim ideologues argue?

To portray Muhammad as the aggressor, Islamophobes downplay or even deny the persecution of the early Muslims in Mecca.  (As we have seen, Robert Spencer just omits it entirely from his biography.)  Even if he had been persecuted aforetime, they argue, Muhammad was now living safely in Medina.  Indeed, Orientalists have long argued that Muhammad initiated an offensive war against the Quraysh by attacking them a year after the Flight (Hijra). (In reality, the sources indicate that it was a delay of seven-to-nine months, not a full year.)

The anti-Muslim website ReligionOfPeace.com (henceforth to be referred to as simply ROP) argues:

After his eviction by the Meccans, Muhammad and his Muslims found refuge many miles away in Medina where they were not being bothered by their former adversaries.  Despite this, Muhammad sent his men on seven unsuccessful raids against Meccan caravans…

Elsewhere, ROP argues:

The Myth:

The Muslims were under Persecution from the [Quraysh] Meccans while Living at Medina

The Truth:

…In fact, it was the Meccans who were acting in their own defense during this time.

Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad. There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such. The Meccans had no influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term as it is popularly understood today. According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them)…

There is absolutely no record of Meccan aggression against the Muslims at Medina in the first three years after their arrival in 622.

Muhammad ordered the first raids against the Meccans a year after the hijra in February of 623, which eventually proved deadly. There is no record of Meccan aggression during this time.

As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims were being threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense.  The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce.  At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.

ROP’s basic argument is that Muhammad may have been a nuisance to the Quraysh in Mecca, but once he fled the city, they could care less about him or the Muslims in general.  He was no longer their problem or concern.

But, Muslim historians depict the situation quite differently, pointing to continued aggressive behavior of the Quraysh towards the Muslims; Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum reads:

The Quraishites, mortified at the escape of the Prophet along with his devoted companions, and jealous of his growing power in Madinah, kept a stringent watch over the Muslims left behind and persecuted them in every possible way. They also initiated clandestine contacts with ‘Abdullah bin Uabi bin Salul, chief of Madinese polytheists, and president designate of the tribes ‘Aws and Khazraj [the two major tribes of Medina] before the Prophet’s emigration. They sent him a strongly-worded ultimatum ordering him to fight or expel the Prophet, otherwise they would launch a widespread military campaign that would exterminate his people and proscribe his women. [Narrated by Abu Da’ud]…

Provocative actions continued and Quraish sent the Muslims a note threatening to put them to death in their own homeland. Those were not mere words, for the Prophet received information from reliable sources attesting to real intrigues and plots being hatched by the enemies of Islam. Precautionary measures were taken and a state of alertness was called for, including the positioning of security guards around the house of the Prophet and strategic junctures. [27]

Indeed, the primary sources confirm (and Western historians accept as historic) that the Quraysh had attempted to assassinate Muhammad in Mecca right before he took flight (Hijra).  According to Ibn Ishaq, once they came to know that Muhammad was escaping the city of Mecca, the “Quraysh offered a hundred camels as a reward for whoever would seize Muhammad and bring him back.” [28]

This certainly goes against ROP’s argument that the Quraysh could care less about Muhammad once he left the city.  Even though the Quraysh knew he fled Mecca, they continued to pursue him.  In fact, this lends credence to the counter-argument: the Quraysh were very much concerned about Muhammad reestablishing a base of support in another city such as Medina.  Furthermore, they were ready to use force against him even outside the city’s limits.

Indeed, there is primary evidence to support the argument that the Qurayshite leaders exerted their influence on the leadership of Medina, especially Abdullah ibn Ubai [29], to expel Muhammad and the other Muslim refugees.  The Quraysh issued the following ultimatum:

O people of Medina, you have given safe-haven to our opponent[s].  By God, if you do not fight or expel them, we shall come out against you and kill your warriors and enslave your women. [30]

If Iran sent an official letter to the United States threatening to kill all American men and enslave their women unless the country abandons and even attacks Israel, would any reasonable person object to Israel interpreting this as an act of war?

Certainly, this threat created a sense of looming fear and insecurity in the nascent Muslim community, which was at the mercy of their hosts (the Medinese).  Muhammad himself took the threat seriously enough to sleep with a bodyguard posted outside his door.  Tafsir Ibn Kathir notes that verse 5:67 of the Quran was revealed in regard to his fear of assassination: ”The Messenger of God was vigilant one night, after he came to Medina…” [31] Then, the Quran reassured him:

God will protect you from mankind. (Quran, 5:67)

Haykal brings up a good point, noting that the Qurayshite leaders had earlier sought the official extradition of the Muslim refugees from the distant land of Abyssinia. [32] Would it not be reasonable to assume then that the Quraysh would similarly seek to pursue the Muslims when they fled to Medina?

The Quraysh feared (and one could say reasonably) Muslim hegemony spreading around the area of Medina, which lay directly in between the Quraysh and their trade routes to Syria (and the rest of the world).  But more than strategic concerns, the animosity between Muslims and the Quraysh had, after over a decade in strife, reached such a high level that it is unlikely that the Qurayshite leaders would have suddenly dropped their hostility towards the new religion.  It is therefore difficult to accept ROP’s argument that the Meccans didn’t display any hostility towards the Muslims in Medina.

ROP claims that “[t]he Meccans had no influence in this far-away town [of Medina]“, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  Mecca was the most influential city of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Quraysh attempted to use this influence to pressure the Medinese to turn out Muhammad and his followers.  The fear of Mecca had been, after all, one of the major reasons the leaders of Taif had turned Muhammad out so quickly.

The Quraysh colluded with a fifth column within the ranks of the Medinese, a group referred to pejoratively in the Quran as the Hypocrites (Munafiqun).  They were led by an influential man named Abdullah ibn Ubai who, prior to Muhammad’s arrival, had been slated to become the unified chief of the two major tribes of Medina.  Ibn Ubai’s influence was quickly eclipsed by the Prophet of God, a fact that put the two men at loggerheads with one another.  The Quraysh urged Ibn Salul to expel the Muslim refugees, although Ibn Salul countenanced himself with less crude means of countering Muhammad’s growing influence within his city.

During the Meccan Period, the Quraysh had applied pressure to the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib to rescind their protection of Muhammad so that they could kill him.  When Muhammad fled to Medina, the Quraysh did the same with the Medinese.  We can see evidence of this, for instance, in the case of Saad ibn Muadh’s visit to Mecca in order to perform a religious pilgrimage.  Saad, a Medinese convert to Islam, entered the city under the protection of his old Meccan friend, Abu Safwan.  Abu Jahl, one of early Islam’s fiercest opponents, saw Saad with Abu Safwan and threatened:

I see you wandering about safely in Mecca in spite of the fact that you have given shelter to the people who have changed their religion (to Islam) and have claimed that you will help and support them.  By God, if you were not in the (protective) company of Abu Safwan, you would not be able to go to your family safely!

Saad retorted:

By God, if you should stop me from doing this, I would certainly prevent you from something which is more valuable to you, that is, your passage through Medina. [33]

That Abu Jahl, one of the chiefs of Mecca, issued such a threat indicates that the Muslims of Medina had every reason to feel threatened by the Quraysh.  Additionally, this exchange seems to have occurred before the initiation of Muhammad’s military operations.  In it, the Medinese man threatens a retaliatory move (if you block our entry to Mecca, we will block your way through Medina).

Qurayshite hostility was not limited to threats alone: their persecution of Muslims in Mecca continued unabated.  Some of the Muslims in Mecca were too weak to make the arduous journey to Medina, whereas others were detained against their will.  The Quran itself mentions this fact in verse 4:98, calling them the “weak and oppressed–men, women, and children–who have no means in their power nor any way to escape [Mecca].”  Ibn Ishaq writes that ”[t]he emigrants [Muhajirun] followed one another to join the apostle [in Medina], and none was left in Mecca but those who had apostatized [under duress?] or been detained.” [34] Their “houses in Mecca were locked up when they migrated…and sold” by the Quraysh [35], prompting Muhammad to reassure one of his followers about the “property which [they] lost in God’s service”:

Are you not pleased that God will give you a better house in Paradise? [36]

The Emigrants [Muhajirun] were barred from their homes and families in Mecca, whom they wished to visit.  They were also barred from making the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Kaabah.

It seems then that the faucet of Qurayshite hostility was not, as ROP implies, turned off the minute Muhammad and most of his followers fled the city.  It continued in the form of threats against the Muslims and those who harbored them, and active persecution of those Muslims still under Qurayshite control.

*  *  *  *  *

More than this, there is a point that is often overlooked by both the Muslim and anti-Muslim side, something that would seem to be the crux of the matter.  On the one hand, Muslims seem to argue that Muhammad had every reason to initiate attacks on the Quraysh due to their continued aggressive behavior.  On the other hand, the Islamophobic side argues the exact opposite, as ROP writes:

The only reason that this myth arose is the need for Muslim apologists to justify the more violent passages of the Qur’an’s second chapter, which was “revealed” shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.  Passages from this chapter encourage believers to violence within the context of ending “tumult,” “oppression,” and “persecution.”

…[However, h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad.

It is true that chapter two of the Quran does include some verses justifying war (2:190-194, 216-218, and 244,), but the first passage ordaining war was in chapter twenty-two of the Quran (typo on ROP’s part?), in which the God of the Quran states:

Permission to take up arms is granted to those who are being fought, because they have been oppressed–And indeed, God has the power to help them!–those who have been unjustly driven out from their homes, only for saying “Our Lord is God.” (Quran, 22:39-40)

ROP claims that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty?] second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  By this, ROP implies that Muhammad and the Muslims were living safely in Medina–for well over a year–before this passage came down.  Was Muhammad justifying war by looking to an old infraction, just as the United States used Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in the 1980′s to justify war against him years later?

In fact, however, this passage, which permitted the Muslims to defend themselves–and constituted a declaration of war against the Quraysh–was revealed long before Muhammad’s military expeditions against the Quraysh were launched.  Ibn Ishaq places its revelation (“[w]hen God gave permission to his apostle to fight” [37]) to the Second Pledge at Al-Aqaba, which occurred right before the Prophet’s Flight (Hijra).  Ibn Ishaq writes:

The apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood before the second ‘Aqaba…[at which time God] gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly.

The first verse which was sent down on this subject…was: ‘Permission [to take up arms] is given…’ [Quran, 22:39] [38]

He writes elsewhere:

Then God sent down to [Muhammad]: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction’, i.e. until no believer is seduced [coerced] from his religion.  ’And the religion is God’s…

When God had given permission to fight and this clan of the Ansar had pledged their support to [Muhammad]…the apostle commanded his companions…to emigrate to Medina and to link up with their brethren the Ansar. [39]

Prof. F.E. Peters writes (emphasis added):

While still at Mecca, if we have the chronology right, during Muhammad’s last days there, a revelation had come to him for the first time permitting Muslims to resort to force, or rather, to meet Quraysh violence with violence (Quran 22:39-41). [40]

Other sources, such as Tabari and Wahidi, date this revelation to shortly afterward, to immediately after the Flight (Hijra).  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

According to Wahidi, sura 22:39 was revealed during the year of the Hijra immediately after Muhammad left Mecca. Abu Bakr is reported to have complained that the minute they would leave the limited protection of Mecca, they would be destroyed by their enemies.46 The verse was therefore revealed to allow them henceforth to defend themselves. Sura 22:39 is considered the first revelation allowing the Muslims to engage in fighting.47

46. P. 177. Similar words put into the mouth of Abu Bakr are also found in a number of the sources listed in note 47, following.

47. Many authoritative statements to this effect (i.e., statements attributed to specific early authorities) are collected in Tabari, book 17, pp. 172–173; Nahhas, vol. 2, pp. 233, 301, 525; Tafsir Ibn Abbas, p. 280; Tafsir Muqatil, vol. 3, p. 129; Tafsir Mujahid, p. 482. [41]

If Ibn Ishaq’s dating is to be accepted, this could explain why the Qurayshite leaders decided to finalize their plot to assassinate Muhammad.  Ibn Ishaq writes:

When the Quraysh saw that the apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the apostle might join them, since they knew he had decided to fight them.  So they assembled in their council chamber…to take counsel what they should do in regard to the aspotle, for they were now in fear of him…

The discussion [among the Qurayshite leaders] opened with the statement that now that Muhammad had gained adherents outside the tribe they were no longer safe against a sudden attack and the meeting was to determine the best course to pursue… [42]

Ibn Kathir writes:

[The] Quraysh were concerned that the Messenger of God would leave and join [the people of Medina], since they knew that he had decided to do battle with them. They therefore gathered in the Dar al-Nadwa, the house of assembly…[and] discussed there what they should do about the Messeger of God, since they now feared him….They would kill him. [43]

The state of war between the Quraysh and the Muslims thus already existed by this point in time, far before Muhammad’s military expeditions several months later.  ROP argues this exact point, saying:

Muhammad eventually made an alliance with another town, Medina, that included provisions of war against the Meccans. The parties to the treaty were asked “Do you realize to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 299). The pledge to war is further confirmed in Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 305.

Therefore, it was only after Muhammad committed himself to armed revolution against the Meccans that the town’s leaders sought to have him either killed or evicted.

The weakness in ROP’s argument lies in the fact that the Quraysh had long before considered harming or killing the Prophet of Islam.  In fact, the Quraysh had implored Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle and tribal guardian, to rescind his protection over his nephew so that they could deal with him.  Their level of seriousness can be assessed by their complete social and economic boycott of Abu Talib’s entire tribe along with the Banu Hashim.  It can also be gauged by the fact that as soon as Abu Talib died, Muhammad felt threatened enough to flee to Taif.  Therefore, all that can be said is that Muhammad’s decision to battle the Quraysh convinced the chiefs of Mecca to finalize and actualize their idea of murdering the Islamic prophet, a plan that they were already mulling over in their heads.

Another weakness in ROP’s logic becomes apparent: on one page he argues that Muhammad declared war while “safe in Medina”, but on another page he (inadvertently) “concedes” that Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh while in Mecca.  (This is of course another case of an Islamophobe trying to further as many arguments as possible against Muhammad and Islam, a strategy that often results in contradictory claims.)

In any case, it is more likely that the later dating of verse 22:39 is more accurate, and that the failed assassination attempt on Muhammad’s life may have been the casus belli for the Quranic injunction of war against the Quraysh.  In this dating scheme, Muhammad was committed to war against the Quraysh immediately after he was forced out of Mecca.

Whether one accepts the earlier or later dating of verse 22:39, the fact is that Muhammad’s declaration of war occurred much earlier than when he finally launched military expeditions against the Quraysh.  This point completely nullifies ROP’s argument that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty-]second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  In fact, Muhammad’s war declaration occurred at the zenith of Qurayshite persecution, when it had reached a tipping point and Muslims had to flee from Mecca entirely.

A state of hostility between the two sides already existed by the time the Prophet of Islam arrived safely in Medina.  It should be noted that there was no formal declaration of war because the Quraysh regarded Muhammad and his party as “renegades” and, in the words of ROP, as “armed revolution[aries]“.  They were seen as non-state actors against whom formal declaration of war was not needed.  Muhammad, on the other hand, quickly organized in Medina to establish his community not as a refugee community but as a sovereign nation onto itself.  Muhammad’s military forays were show-of-force exercises designed to convey this message to the Quraysh.  But, there were likely two other audiences in mind: firstly, these early campaigns were confidence-building measures for the benefit of the Muslims themselves.  Secondly, they were meant to send a message to the city that had granted his people refuge: the Muslims could stand their own ground against the Quraysh.

The seven-to-nine month gap of military conflict between the Quraysh and Muslims can be thought of as similar to the six-month Phony War during World War II.  The Phony War was the “name [given] for the early months of World War II, marked by no major hostilities” between the Allies and the Germans.  Military historian David Horner writes:

This period between the Anglo-French declaration of war and the fall of France is known as the ‘phoney war’ because of the very inaction of both sides.  The Germans were honing their plans for the assault on the Allies in the west, and the Allies too were busying themselves with organizing their counter-effort. [44]

Muhammad’s delay of seven-to-nine months, between when he expressed his intent to fight the Quraysh and the actual military expeditions against them, was due to the time needed to organize his community from a refugee population into a functioning state.

On the other side of the equation, the Quraysh of Mecca had not yet committed themselves to war against Medina itself.  It should be noted that Mecca was not in a state of war with the city of Medina overall, but only with the Muslim refugees (“renegades”) from Mecca (Muhajirun).  The Quraysh were not at war with the Medinese converts to Islam (the Helpers or Ansar) nor with the non-Muslim residents of Medina.  It is recorded that the Quraysh had actually initially said to the Medinese:

We have come to know that you have come here to conclude a treaty with this man (Muhammad) and evacuate him out of Mecca.  By God, we do really hold in abhorrence any sort of fight between you and us. [45]

This is also why Muhammad’s initial military campaigns against the Quraysh consisted of, in the words of Ibn Ishaq, “emigrants [from Mecca], there not being a single one of the [Medinese] Ansar among them.” [46] The war at this point in time was only between the Quraysh and the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun).

The Quraysh had not yet made the decision to attack Medina itself, a move which had the potential of uniting the city behind Muhammad.  Such an act would have also converted what the Quraysh saw as an internal conflict between a state and a renegade faction into an all-out war between two different (city-)states, an escalation that the people of Mecca may not have been ready to commit to.  Instead, they chose the less energy-intensive option of isolating the Muslims, hoping that the Medinese would, under Qurayshite pressure, expel them.  For their part, the Medinese were willing to harbor the Muslim refugees against Qurayshite wishes, but they had not yet accepted the idea of war with Mecca.

In light of our Phony War paradigm, it not only becomes apparent but also somewhat understandable why the Quraysh maintained hostilities towards the Muslims–why they tried to kill Muhammad, pressured Medina to expel or fight the Muslims, and oppressed Muslims stranded in Mecca.  As detestable as these acts may seem to Muslim historians, they are, at least to some degree, an expected part of war.

On the flip side, Muhammad cannot be accused of declaring or initiating an offensive war against the Quraysh.  All that can be said is that “Muhammad went on the offensive”, which is a much different matter.  No reasonable person would argue that the Allies had declared or initiated an offensive war when they invaded Normandy.  Instead, this was a case of the Allies going on the offense in a defensive war (against German aggression).  Likewise, Muhammad had declared a defensive war against the Quraysh at the height of Qurayshite persecution of Muslims, and it was only in Medina several months later that he went on the offensive.

This point also negates the anti-Muslim canard that Muhammad was “opportunistic” in terms of war and peace, i.e. that he called for peaceful coexistence when he was weak and war when he was in a position of strength.  (Based on this idea, Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes argue that Islam itself advocates such opportunism, i.e. Muslims calling for peace when they are weak and war when they are in a position of strength.)  In fact, Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh when, from a military standpoint, he was very, very weak.  According to Ibn Ishaq’s dating, the Prophet of Islam declared war against the Quraysh while still in Mecca.  He was not the leader of a powerful city but rather a hunted down rogue prophet who feared for his life.

Even if we accept the later dating, Muhammad conveyed his intent to battle the Quraysh as he fled the city.  He was a refugee leader at this time, nothing more.  His emerging leadership role in Medina was only just developing and far from determined.  Either way, Muhammad’s intent to square off with the far more powerful Quraysh can be seen as something courageous and not opportunistic at all.  The “peace when weak and war when strong” paradigm cannot be accepted; the Muslims, from a military standpoint, were quite weak.

Neither could it be said that Muhammad was now in a position of power because he had the Medinese to aid him.  The various factions of Medina had only committed to defending the city of Medina from attack.  Unless the Quraysh attacked Medina directly, Muhammad could not count on their support.  In the initial military campaigns, only the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun) took part, not the Medinese.  Muhammad had at his disposal a ragtag group of refugees, nothing more.  How then can we accept the claim that Muhammad was “opportunistic” and called for peace in times of weakness and war in times of strength?

*  *  *  *  *

That there was a financial component to such warring cannot be denied.  The Muslims of Mecca had been forced to escape the city under cover of darkness, with their life possessions reduced to what they could carry on their backs.  The Quraysh seized their remaining property in Mecca, aside from what they could sneak out. [47] Thus it was that the Muslim Emigrants arrived in Medina in an impoverished (and homeless) state.  The generosity of the Muslim Helpers sustained the refugees for some time, but faith and brotherhood could only be expected to go so far.

Military historian Richard A. Gabriel writes:

As the leader of this new community Muhammad was responsible for ensuring that it survived.  He and his people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty.  During the early days in Medina they survived on dates and water, having no money to purchase much else…There was, in any case, little new land to be cultivated by the newcomers in the already developed agricultural community of Medina. [48]

(And yet we are expected to believe that Muhammad, whose “people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty…surviv[ing] on dates and water”, was now in a “position of strength”!)

Raiding Qurayshite caravans was a solution to this financial dilemma.  Frances O’Connor writes in the History of Islam:

The Muslim community in Medina faced many challenges.  In particular, when the Meccan Muslims migrated there, they had no way to make money because they were not farmers like the Medinans, and most of their belongings left behind in Mecca had been confiscated by the Meccan tribes.  Muhammad sent a party of his followers to raid the Meccan trade caravans that were coming through the area.  This was a way for their followers to get supplies of food and other goods, as well as to demonstrate to the Meccans that the Muslims were not weak.  The Arabs of this time were accustomed to this type of warfare and competition as a means of survival, and the Muslims felt justified in harming Meccan economic interests. [49]

Robert Spencer writes:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent… [50]

Spencer entitles this section of his book “Muhammad the raider“, clearly using the term “raider” in a pejorative manner.  I have myself opted to use the more neutral term “military expedition” to refer to Muhammad’s early operations against the Quraysh.  But, is “raid” an appropriate term to use?  What about “raider“?

From a purely technical standpoint, the word “raid” seems to be appropriate.  The dictionary definition of raid is: “[a] rapid surprise attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces in warfare.”  The United States military routinely engages in raids, such as the infamous “night raids” in Afghanistan.  For some reason, however, the word has a positive or at least neutral connotation when used for our own military or our allies.  Meanwhile, when the term is used for our enemies or The Other, it has a very negative meaning.

More problematic is the Spencerian epithet of “Muhammad the raider.”  If Muhammad is to be given this name for having ordered military raids, then should George W. Bush or Barack Obama be called “raiders” for their role in ordering raids against the nation’s enemies?  Should it be “Bush the raider” or “Obama the raider”?

Spencer’s tactic of wordplay can also be seen with the following misleading statement of his:

In 622, [Muhammad] fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina, where a band of tribal warriors had accepted him as a prophet and pledged loyalty to him. [51]

In fact, “the Medinese were agriculturists.” [52] The “tribal warriors” of the day were the desert Bedouins, not the urban and agricultural folks of Medina.  For the most part, the people of Medina were not wise to the ways of war.  In fact, as Richard Gabriel writes, “most Muslims were urban or agricultural folks, not bedouins, and knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [53] The city of Medina, had been from time to time involved in this or that battle or war, but how is this different from every other city and nation in history?  Should we call the United States a nation of “tribal warriors” simply because it is involved in war?

Richard Gabriel himself, whose book is nothing more than post 9/11 anti-Muslim polemic encased in a pseudo-scholarly shell [54], refers to Muhammad as a “marauder.”  Likening the vast desert to the open seas, ROP calls Muhammad and his followers “pirates.”  This is a consistent theme in Islamophobic literature.

Much has been written by Western commentators about the ghazu (raid) and how it was a “peculiar” pre-Islamic Arabian custom that Muhammad adopted.  For instance, Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes of it:

It is historically apparent that raiding was commonplace among Arabs in the pre-Islamic era. Also, raiding was not considered immoral unless it entailed stealing from kinsmen…[It was] a pre-Islamic Arab practice later adopted by Muslims. [55]

Voices sympathetic to Islam argue that the early Muslims were operating in a completely acceptable way for that time.  Meanwhile, anti-Muslim elements argue that Muhammad should be condemned for accepting such a “barbaric” Arabian custom.

These discussions, however, seem to miss the crux of the matter: Muhammad and the early Muslims did not raid caravans belonging to random tribes or peoples.  Instead, their attacks were very specific and limited to caravans belonging to the powerful Quraysh, their arch-enemy, with whom they were already in a state of conflict with.

Had Muhammad simply been a marauder or pirate wishing to enrich himself, he would most certainly have chosen to attack caravans belonging to far less powerful peoples.  The Quran did not, however, legitimate raids against all non-Muslim peoples, but only against those who persecuted the Muslims, i.e. the Quraysh.  The Quran declared: “Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190) (This is of course important from a theological point of view.)

Having understood this, Muhammad’s decision to raid Qurayshite caravans need not be rationalized by citing some ancient Arabian custom.  Rather, one can actually look much closer to home.  The tactic employed by the early Muslims was identical to that used by the United States from its very inception.  Using the same “open seas” analogy, we see that the Prophet of Islam engaged not in “piracy” but in “commerce raiding”, which has been an accepted form of warfare throughout history and across all cultural lines.

The distinction between the act of piracy and commerce raiding is an important one to make.  There are two major reasons why piracy is considered illegitimate as compared to commerce raiding: firstly, pirates do not possess proper authority; secondly, “pirates attack merchants without distinction.”  Conversely, commerce raiding is vested in proper authority, and commerce raiders only attack commercial ships belonging to enemy nations.  Clearly, Muhammad’s expeditions fall into the latter category: he was the leader of a community, and he only targeted enemy caravans.

Commerce raiding is known in French as guerre de course (“war of the chase”) and in German as handelskrieg (“trade war”).  Both France and Germany have a long history of using this tactic, which is considered respectable and even celebrated.  This tactic also has a venerated position in American history, being used against the British during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).  The Continental Congress formed the Continental Navy, which

was not expected to contest British control of the seas, but rather to wage a traditional guerre de course against British trade, in conjunction with scores of privateers outfitting in American ports.  The Continental navy’s ships were to raid commerce and attack the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To carry out this mission, the Continental Congress began to build up, through purchase, conversion, and new construction, a cruiser navy of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners.

…[The Continental Navy’s] cruisers ranged far and wide and demonstrated that British commerce was nowhere safe, not even in British home waters.

Retired navy officer and military author Joe B. Havens writes:

During that war, the Continental navy, privateers, and commerce raiding squadrons chartered by individual American states, and the navy of our French ally all played vital roles in our fight against the British.

The Continental navy’s squadrons and individual ships attacked British sea lines of communication and seized transports laden with munitions, privisions and troops. Continental and state Navy ships and privateers also struck at enemy commerce, taking nearly 200 British ships as prizes, forcing them to divert warships to protect convoys and trade routes. [56]

In fact, commerce raiding was used to boost American morale against the British and were instrumental in winning the war against such a powerful naval power.  Military historian James C. Bradford writes in the Atlas of American Military History:

The Continental Congress and the state governments issued letters of marque to ship owners, who then attacked enemy commerce. Captured and condemned vessels became prizes and the property of the owner, captain, and crew, among whom the spoils were divided according to the proportion of investment and crew rank.

Privateering proved to be both an effective weapon against the enemy as well as a profitable source of income for those in the business. For the British, the American privateers proved to be a major source of trouble, as their efforts, combined with later naval activity by the French, Spanish, and Dutch, led to the seizure of approximately 3,300 ships of the total 6,000 British vessels involved in overseas trade during the war…

Commerce raiding also made for good propaganda, as the exploits of individual captains made news both in America and in Europe. In March 1776, a squadron of eight Continental Navy vessels unders Commodore Esek Hopkins raided New Providence in the Bahamas and captured the British governor…The most distinguished American captain, however, was John Paul Jones, a native of Scotland who joined the Continental Navy and made an early name for himself capturing prizes off the coast of Canada…

[Jones] proceeded to raid British shipping off the coast of the British Isles, crowning this achievement by raiding the Lake District port of Whitehaven…underscoring the harassing role the American navy would play…In 1779, he captured a French merchant hulk and converted it into a forty-two-gun sloop…. [57]

The United States would use commerce raiding once again during the War of 1812 (“the second American revolution”), and continued to employ it throughout its history all the way to World War II (when it was used against Imperial Japan).  (In the post WWII world, the United States has the most powerful navy in the world and can now rely on blockades.  Commerce raiding is the tactic used by navies too weak to enforce blockades.)

In fact, since the very beginning of her birth, America has incorporated commerce raiding into its main strategy at sea.  Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan, Professor of Strategy and War at the US Naval War College, writes:

American submarine warfare against Japanese cargo vessels and oil tankers during World War II constitutes history’s outstanding example of successful guerre de course, or commerce raiding…[I]ts impact on the Japanese war machine and on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s sea-keeping potential was staggering. Of the 8.1 million tons of Japanese merchant marine shipping sunk in World War II, American submarines accounted for 4.8 million tons…

Guerre de course, or commerce raiding, is as old as naval warfare. It consists of an attack by an armed vessel–a privateer or warship–on an unarmed merchant vessel with the intent of capturing the victim and its cargo for the profit of the attacker. It is the favored tactic of a weaker naval power fighting a stronger one; for example, continental European powers have often employed it against England…

[G]uerre de course offered the only viable strategy for American naval policy makers from the moment independence was decided upon in 1776. The Americans were a lilliputian naval power compared with the British, and at best they could only sting Britain’s oceanic commerce while dodging the punitive might of the Royal Navy’s ubiquitous warships….[T]he U.S. Navy’s favorite weapon…[was the] hit-and-run mission…[C]ommerce raiding remained the preferred American way of fighting at sea until very late in the nineteenth century…

The pattern was set: American warships would not fight British warships, of which there were far too many to overcome, but they would capture British merchant vessels in order to acquire scarce capital and to sap mercantile Britain’s morale…Guerre de course could not defeat the Royal Navy, but by inclining London to negotiate a peace, it “made an enormous impact on the success of the war effort.”

George Washington understood the virtues of this strategy, as did a majority in Congress. [58]

Commerce raiding was accepted by the United States and the world as a valid form of warfare, and it was only with the advent of submarines that things began to change.  The Oxford Companion to American Military History explains:

The term GUERRE DE COURSE describes a form of maritime warfare aimed at disrupting seaborne commerce…[I]t is usually rendered as “commerce raiding” in English. Operationally, guerre de course resembles blockades in that it is primarily a form of economic warfare, in which combat with enemy ships is at best a secondary consideration…

Guerre de course, in contrast, is usually adopted by countries too weak to attempt such continuous, large-scale operations [such as blockades]; or unwilling to risk the kind of fleet action that may be necessary to impose or break a blockade. It is conducted by individual ships (naval warships or privately owned ships armed with guns and authorized by government letters of marque to engage in legal privateering) or small squadrons. These operate in hit-and-run fashion along oceanic shipping lanes…Strategically, guerre de course respresents an alternative to operations directed against the main naval forces of the enemy. Guerre de course in the form of privateering was widely employed by Americans in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

…[G]uerre de course aims to…undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses and depriving the population of necessary or familiar goods…

[I]n the twentieth century…the advent of torpedo-armed submarines, which brought to the guerre de course a ferocity and decisiveness it had not previously possessed. A surface cruiser operating under the rules of engagement accepted by nineteenth century navies was expected to board a prospective target, determine if the nationality and cargo made it a legal prize, and see the safety of the crew before taking further action.

However, the early months of World War I revealed that similar conduct by German submarines exposed them to enormous risks, and reduced their tactical effectiveness far below what was possible if such scruples were set aside. Guerre de course accordingly lost its traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic sort of peripheral operation, and became a desperate and murderous struggle capable of deciding a major war.

This trend culminated in the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines (and to a lesser extent by carrier-based aircraft) during World War II–a rare example of guerre de course waged by the stronger side… [59]

Muhammad’s military expeditions were commerce raids, not only completely acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also by American and international standards throughout history.  Just as commerce raiding had a ”traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic, so too was the ghazu (caravan raid) seen as a “relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic of the desert: only those merchants/caravans that resisted were fought and/or killed.

The question arises: are Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes in this country impugning the tactic relied upon by our nation’s Founding Fathers to gain independence from Britain and which America used to win World War II?  From every conceivable angle, Muhammad’s tactic of commerce raiding is similar to that employed by the Continental Navy, and by the U.S. Navy throughout its history.  It is only Orientalist hubris that allows one to talk of the early Muslim raids as part of some peculiar and “barbaric” Arabian custom, especially when the ghazu–unlike the submarine attacks by the United States during World War II–minimized innocent casualties.

Indeed, in the eight or so military expeditions preceding the Battle of Badr, only one Qurayshite died at the hands of the Muslims.  Even this action was carried out without Muhammad’s permission, and the Prophet of Islam expressed disapproval of it.  More importantly, Muhammad paid blood-money as a result of it, which, as discussed above, was an Arabian form of restitution given to a victim’s family.  The Muslim raids were certainly “bloodless” compared to “the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines”, which left countless Japanese dead.

Muhammad’s treatment of the incident at Nakhla reinforces the view that “commerce raiding”, not wanton bloodletting, was his intent.  He gave blood money to the family of the slain Qurayshite and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  But, Muhammad held onto and distributed the confiscated goods from the Qurayshite caravan.  The purpose of the attacks was to strangle the Quraysh economically.

It should be noted, however, that Muhammad did not succeed in this effort.  All of the initial military expeditions were failures, with the lone exception of the unintentional “success” at Nakhla.  Richard Gabriel notes, correctly, that the early Muslims “knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [60] From an economic standpoint then, one must question Robert Spencer’s claim that “[t]hese raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent.” [61] How did a series of unsuccessful caravan raids keep the “nascent Muslim movement solvent”?

Gabriel is also correct in thinking that there must have been something more than economic benefit that enticed Muhammad.  From a purely risk-benefit standpoint, raiding Qurayshite caravans was a bad idea: the raids were largely unsuccessful, and only ”succeeded” in earning the wrath of the vastly more powerful city of Mecca.  Writes Gabriel:

Muhammad must have known that any attack on the Meccan caravans would have been but the opening skirmish in a long campaign in which the Meccans would try to exterminate him and his followers…[T]he Meccan chiefs could raise significant military forces on their own, including cavalry, and had the money to hire mercenaries and bedouin warriors. Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.

Muhammad was too good a strategic thinker not to have been aware of these realities. And yet, he went ahead with his plans to challenge the Meccans. [62]

Gabriel goes on to argue that Muhammad’s ”attacks on the Meccan caravans were but the first strike in a larger strategy of conquest and destruction of his enemies.” [63] Indeed, Orientalist commentators have long argued that Muhammad’s intention–when divine permission was granted to him to fight, when he fled Mecca, and when he launched raids against the Quraysh–was the conquest of Mecca.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy for us now to think that the early Muslims would one day return to their city of origin as victorious conquerors.  Yet, this idea would have seemed far-fetched at the time: Muhammad and his handful of followers were driven out of the city of Mecca by the Quraysh, and were living as an impoverished and meek refugee community in the city of Medina.  Richard Gabriel himself argues that “Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.” The Islamic community was at that time fearful of being wiped off the face of the earth entirely, and so it seems quite fantastic for Gabriel (or anyone else) to then turn around and argue that Muhammad’s intention by raiding the Qurayshite caravans was to start the process of conquering them.

There is another much more likely possibility, which can be understood by looking back to other examples in history of commerce raiding.  The Americans relied on commerce raiding in order to “undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses” [65] by which they hoped to “inclin[e] London to negotiate a peace.” [66] It seems far more likely that Muhammad raided Qurayshite caravans with the intention of inflicting heavy economic losses on his enemy, so that the mercantile Meccans would come to believe it too costly to carry on the conflict with the Muslims.  Muhammad’s goal then was not conquest but a favorable peace.

One could reasonably argue that Muhammad’s actions did the exact opposite and just infuriated the Quraysh, who then organized a force to meet the Muslims at Badr.  However, it is equally reasonable to assume that Muhammad, as the leader of an emerging nation, was not satisfied with the Phony War situation that existed in place of a real peace.  At any moment, the Quraysh could have switched from indirect hostility towards the Muslims to more direct military action against them.  Muhammad wanted a peace treaty between his community and the city of Mecca, one which recognized the early Muslims as a sovereign nation (with the respect and rights of one) instead of as a hunted down renegade movement.  In order to “earn” this position in Qurayshite eyes, Muhammad had to show that the Muslims could stand their own against them, which is what the initial military expeditions were expected to do.

Muhammad must have known that such provocative action could, in the short term, exacerbate the conflict and draw the two forces into all-out war.  But, in the long run, the plan was successful and culminated in a treaty between the two sides.  Just as the British came to regard the Americans as a sovereign nation instead of a rebel movement, the Quraysh, by signing the treaty, had come to recognize the Muslims as a sovereign nation.

Muhammad’s intention can be gleaned from the primary sources themselves.  During this phase of the conflict, no Quranic passage calls on the believers to make way for the conquest and subjugation of Mecca.  Instead, the Islamic holy book commands the believers to “prepare whatever forces you can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off God’s enemies and yours…but if they incline towards peace, you must also incline towards it” (Quran, 8:60-61).  This is repeated elsewhere in the Quran: “If they desist [in their hostilities], then there should be no hostility [towards them] except against the oppressors” (2:193).  The Quran was letting the Quraysh know that the Muslims were willing to pursue a peaceful resolution of the conflict, if they (the Quraysh) would but just stop their hostility.

It should also be noted that Muhammad had another audience in mind: his own Muslim followers and the people of Medina.  By securing small wins against the Quraysh, Muhammad was boosting the morale of the early Muslims, proving to their own selves that they could stand up to the Quraysh and that God was with them.  This message was also directed to the people of Medina: just as the Americans had to prove to the French that they were a viable force against the British, so too did the Muslims need to prove their viability to the people of Medina who otherwise might succumb to Meccan threats to expel the refugee population.

There is another piece of evidence that indicates that on Muhammad’s mind was not conquest but the peaceful recognition of his new nation.  On his very first military expedition, Muhammad set out to meet the Quraysh at Waddan.  He missed the Qurayshite force and prepared to go back home, but before he did, he signed a non-aggression pact with the people of the area, the Bani Damra.  Shortly thereafter, he also signed non-aggression pacts with other neighboring tribes, such as the Bani Madlij.  It is likely that Muhammad would have signed such a pact with the Quraysh, the greatest threat to his peoples’ existence, had they been so willing.  Indeed, when the Quraysh finally did offer terms of peace to Muhammad, he accepted them, much to the chagrin of some of his most ardent followers.

As noted above, commerce raiding has generally been a tool used by the weaker force against the stronger one.  Historically, the Americans, French, and Germans used this tactic against the powerful British navy.  The British, on the other hand, did not need to rely on it, and instead used the much more effective tactic of blockading their opponents.  Muhammad simply did not have the resources to blockade the Meccans, which would have brought the Quraysh to their knees (economically speaking).  That he could not even set up a blockade of Mecca means that he certainly couldn’t imagine, at this point in time, to conquer it.  It is much more realistic that commerce raiding was meant to force the Quraysh to recognize the Muslim nation and make peace with it, just as the Americans wished recognition, independence, and peace with the British.

The early Muslims were not pirates or marauders.  They, like the revolutionary Americans, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the oppressive party, the Quraysh.  Just as the American exploits against British shipping have been celebrated for their valor, so too were the Muslim military expeditions against the Quraysh courageous.  The Muslims were facing off against heavily armored caravans.  In the very first such campaign, for instance, Muhammad dispatched Hamza “with thirty riders” against a Qurayshite caravan armed with “three hundred riders from Mecca” led by Abu Jahl. [66] The second such operation involved “sixty or eighty riders” from the Muslims, who “encountered a large number of Quraysh” [67] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan.” [68] Even in these military raids, the Muslims were heavily outnumbered.  Using our World War II comparison, it would be like the U.S. navy engaging in operations against enemy merchant marines that were flanked by battleships and aircraft carriers.

The perceptive reader also ought notice that these caravans were led by early Islam’s arch-enemies, such as Abu Jahl, Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima, Abu Sufyan, etc.  These raids were not opportunistic acts of piracy against random persons, but rather, were legitimate military operations against a far superior foe.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer claims that the Prophet Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Yet, when similar acts of violence are highlighted in his own faith tradition, suddenly he cries foul and chants “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  In reality, his own religion cannot withstand the same standards he so mirthfully applies to Islam.

It is just barely an exaggeration to say that Muhammad’s raids look like girl scout outings compared to the early military exploits of the Biblical prophets and respected religious figures, i.e. the brutal conquest and annihilation of the people of Canaan by MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc.  But, there is a specific comparison that I think necessitates closer attention: the raids led by King David.

It is beyond dispute that David (of David vs. Goliath fame) is considered highly regarded in the Jewish and Christian tradition.  When the king wanted to kill him, “David found refuge in [a place called] Ziklag…and raided other [nearby] cities to stay financially afloat”  (as opposed to Muhammad who signed non-aggression pacts with them).  The Bible says of this:

1 Samuel 

27:8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites…

27:9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

27:10 When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.”

27:11 He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.

David raided with such frequency that the question had to be asked of him, “[w]here did you go raiding today?”  During these raids, the great David annihilated every single man, woman, and child.  He then ran off with “much booty”:

From Ziklag David made an attack upon the Geshurites, Gerzites, and Amalekites, smote them without leaving a man alive, and returned with much booty.

If Robert Spencer would like to use Muhammad’s raids against the Quraysh as a blunt weapon to bludgeon the heads of Muslims with, then let us hit him back with David’s “plundering incursions”, which culminated in mass death and were part of a broader genocidal campaign.  Spencer won’t be able to respond, aside from his familiar cries of “tu quoque, tu quoque!”

Of course, I am not committing a tu quoque fallacy, first and foremost because it was Robert Spencer himself who posited the thesis that Islam is more violent than any other religion–and that Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Spencer has even penned a book with the title Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  In it, he intones that Islam is more violent than both Judaism [70] and Christianity.  It is Spencer’s central thesis, and yet when I chop off both legs of it [see footnote 70], he yells “tu quoque, tu quoque!” like the intellectual huckster he is.

In any case, this article of mine is part of the Understanding Jihad Series, which is answering the question: is Islam more violent than other religions (specifically Judaism and Christianity)?  This is the fundamental question I sought ought to answer, and therefore, it is of central relevance.

*  *  *  *  *

We can summarize our argument as follows:

* The Quraysh initiated the conflict with the Muslims by persecuting them.

* For over a decade, Muhammad preached peaceful resistance against such persecution.

* Finally, the God of the Quran permitted Muhammad and his followers to defend themselves against their Qurayshite persecutors.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad was opportunistic, calling for peace and tolerance while in Mecca, but war and violence when he was in a position of power in Medina.  But really, Muhammad declared his intention to fight the Quraysh while still in Mecca or just immediately after fleeing from it, at a time when he and the Muslims were still very weak.

* Following Muhammad’s declaration of intent to war against the Quraysh, a period similar to the Phony War of World War II came into effect.  Although no major or direct military combat took place during this period, the hostilities continued in other ways: the Quraysh threatened the life of Muhammad, as well as the safety and security of the Muslim refugees and those who harbored them.  The Quraysh were attempting to use their influence to coerce the people of Medina to expel or fight the Muslims.  The Quraysh also confiscated Muslim property left in Mecca, and continued to persecute those Muslims who had not been able to make the journey to Medina.  The Quraysh threatened to block the Muslims from returning to their homes or making religious pilgrimage, whereas the Muslims, for their part, threatened to harass Qurashite trade routes.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad initiated a war of aggression by targeting Qurayshite caravans.  However, a state of war had already existed long before Muhammad led his military expeditions.  Muhammad went on the offensive, which is not the same as initiating a war of aggression.  

* Muhammad and the early Muslims used the same tactic that the American revolutionaries used against the British navy: commerce raiding.  This has been a completely acceptable practice throughout history and differs from piracy in substantial ways.

* Muhammad’s intent was to compel the Quraysh to recognize the sovereignty of his new nation and make peace with it.

* Muhammad’s raids were far more morally acceptable than the early military expeditions of the Biblical prophets and religious figures, such as MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc., who committed genocide against the native population of Canaan.  David in specific led raids to plunder the local populations and then slaughtered them down to the last man, woman, and child.  This completely negates Robert Spencer’s central thesis, i.e. that Muhammad was the most violent prophet in history.

Most importantly, what is crystal clear is that the first military jihad in history was not waged against the Quraysh simply because they were non-Muslims.  (Instead, Muhammad signed non-aggression pacts with neighboring non-Muslim tribes.)  Jihad was not declared to fight infidels simply because they were infidels, nor was it to convert them to the faith of Islam.

The similarity between the early Muslims and the Americans during the Revolutionary War does not stop at tactics.  Rather, the overarching theme is the same: the Patriots were fighting to declare their independence from the powerful British.  If the American colonists were justified in waging war with the British due to high taxation and lack of representation, then how much greater right did Islam’s founding fathers have to fight off those who oppressed them for their religious beliefs, who drove them “out from their homes, only for saying ‘Our Lord is God’”?  Jihad was waged by the Muslims to defend against injustice, oppression, and aggression.  It is no wonder then that the nation responsible for inflicting the most injustice and oppression of Muslims today–for waging wars of aggression in their lands–would come to hate jihad so much.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Footnotes
1. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.17
2. Ibid., pp.16-17
3. Ibid., p.15
4. Having said that, I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “holy war”, with Prof. Firestone’s being the broadest possible.
5. Similar, but not identical.
6. For example, ”Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190)
7. From Medinat al-Nabi (the Prophet’s city).
8. Firestone, p.107
9. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, p.755
10. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.283 (tr. A. Guillaume)
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibn Ishaq briefly discusses the “debate” over the exact order of the initial military campaigns. However, it seems that the first was most likely Hamza’s expedition, followed by Ubayda’s.
14. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
15. Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, p.217. Ibn Ishaq states that the contingent was led by Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima.
16. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
17. Haykal, p.217
18. Ibid.
19. Ibn Ishaq, p.285
20. Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
21. Ibid.
22. Ibn Ishaq, p.296
23. Ibid., p.298
24. Ibid.
25. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.10
26. Ibid.
27. Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.125
28. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, p.390
29. Abdullah ibn Ubai had been slated to become the king of the united tribes of Medina prior to Muhammad’s arrival.
30. Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.2, p.495
31. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 5:67
32. Haykal, p.223
33. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, Book 59, #286
34. Ibn Ishaq, p.230
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid., p.208
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid., p.213
40. F.E. Peters, The Monotheists, p.104
41. Firestone, p.54
42. Ibn Ishaq, p.221
43. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, pp.151-152
44. David Horner, The Second World War: Europe, 1939-1943, p.34
45. Ibn Hisham 1/448, taken from Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum
46. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
47. Refer to Ibn Ishaq, p.230
48. Richard Gabriel, Muhammad: Islam’s First Great General, p.73
49. Frances O’Connor, History of Islam, p.16
50. Spencer, p.5
51. Ibid.
52. Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam, p.16
53. Gabriel, p.73. Having said that, it should be pointed out that the caravan raids were led by Muslim Emigrants, not the Medinese.
54. Richard Gabriel is a military historian, not a scholar of Islamic history. His ideological bent can be gleaned from his previous positions in the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, which The Idiot’s Guide to the CIA describes as “[t]he CIA’s publishing division”, from which “the CIA produces its propaganda” (p.25). He was also an “expert” for the Brooking’s Institution, which (in the words of Glenn Greenwald) “[w]hen it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties” serves three functions: (1) justify war in the Muslim world, (2) provide the ideological defense for Israel’s right-wing policies, and (3) legitimize indefinite detention of Muslim suspects. Quite unsurprisingly, Gabriel’s works reveal himself to be an apologist for Israel and its war crimes, for which he was approvingly cited by the Islamophobic Daniel Pipes. What a magnificent coincidence that such a person would write a biased book against the founder of Islam.  In any case, most damning of all is Gabriel’s book itself, which makes his agenda self-evident. Many anti-Islamic websites refer to his pseudo-scholarly work.
55. Joseph Morrison Skelly, Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, p.41
56. Joe B. Havens, Chief, p.21
57. James C. Bradford, Atlas of American Military History, pp.25-26
58. Article by Kenneth J. Hagan in Walter L. Hixson, The American Experience in World War II, Vol. I, p.269-272
59. John Whiteclay Chambers, The Oxford Companion to American Military History, pp.305-306
60. Gabriel, p.73
61. Spencer, p.5
62. Gabriel, pp.73-74
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid.
65. Chambers, pp.305-306
66. Hagan, p.269-272
67. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
68. Ibid.
69. Haykal, p.217
70. It’s interesting that Christian Islamophobes, including Robert Spencer himself, will quickly throw Judaism and Jews under the bus whenever the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) comes up or whenever the violence of Jewish prophets or Jewish law is  mentioned. Yet, Spencer himself writes in his book, quoting another Islamophobe: “We cannot defend Western civilization without defending its Jewish component, without which modern Western culture would have been unthinkable. The religious identity of the West has two legs: The Christian and the Jewish ones. It needs both to stand upright. Sacrificing one to save the other is like fighting a battle by chopping off one of your legs, throwing it at the feet of the enemies, and shouting: ‘You won’t get the other one!’” (Robert Spencer, Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, p.10)

When They Almost Killed Muhammad: The Persecution of Islam’s Earliest Followers

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2012 by loonwatch

Robert Spencer has summarized the key arguments raised by Islamophobes in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Chapter one of his book is entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War”, in which he recounts the life story of the Prophet Muhammad.  In it, he portrays Muhammad as the aggressor and his Quraysh enemies as the victims.  Spencer writes:

After receiving revelations from Allah through the angel Gabriel in 610, [Muhammad] began by just preaching to his tribe the worship of One God and his own position as a prophet.  But he was not well received by his Quraysh brethren in Mecca, who reacted disdainfully to his prophetic call and refused to give up their gods.  Muhammad’s frustration and rage became evident.  When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish!  May he himself perish!  Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him.  He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.”  (Qur’an 111:1-5)

Ultimately, Muhammad would turn from violent words to violent deeds.  In 622, he finally fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina… [1]

Muhammad’s message of monotheism does not adequately explain why the leaders of the Quraysh rejected his message so forcefully.  Indeed, Muhammad preached a lot more than this: he called for a top-to-bottom reform of Meccan society, advocating for the rights of the poor and weak.  While it is also true that Muhammad’s renouncement of the pagan gods was unbearable to many followers of the old religion, so too did his powerful critique of the rich and powerful set him on a collision course against them.

Spencer not only fails to properly explain why the Quraysh leaders opposed Muhammad, but he also omits entirely how they opposed him.  In Spencer’s version of events, (1) Muhammad preached to them about God and his prophetood; (2) the Quraysh didn’t accept this message; and then (3) Muhammad reacted with rage and violence.  Spencer’s biography is curiously missing the almost decade and a half-long persecution of Muhammad and his early followers in Mecca, which preceded their Flight (Hijra) to Medina.  This willful omission is designed to mislead the reader, and Spencer succeeds in inverting reality, portraying Muhammad as the aggressor and the Quraysh leaders as the victims.

*  *  *  *  *

Muhammad was born and raised in seventh-century Mecca, a city of the Arabian Peninsula.  At the time, the majority of Meccans, led by the powerful Quraysh, were polytheistic in religion.  Then, in 610 A.D., when he was around forty years old, Muhammad declared his prophethood and called his people to a new, monotheistic religion.

Initially, Muhammad preached in private, and his early followers congregated in secret.  When Muhammad eventually declared his message publicly, he and his early followers were met with increasing hostility.  The Quraysh leaders instigated a sustained campaign of violence against what they saw as a rival faith.  Consequently, the early Muslims suffered persecution; they endured beatings, torture, and even imprisonment.

This entire period is omitted entirely from Robert Spencer’s chapter: Spencer portrays Muhammad as the violent aggressor and the Quraysh as his peaceful victims.  Yet, it is well-established that it was in fact Muhammad who began preaching his message peacefully, and it was the Quraysh leaders who responded violently.  Prof. Spencer C. Tucker writes:

As Muhammad’s group of followers grew, the leadership of Mecca, including Muhammad’s own tribe, perceived them as a threat. Some of the early converts to Islam came from the disaffected and disadvantaged segments of society. Most important, the Muslims’ new set of beliefs implicitly challenged the Meccans’ and the Quraysh tribe’s guardianship over the Kaaba, the holy site dedicated to the gods and goddesses of the area, which hosted an annual pilgrimage. The city’s leading merchants attempted to persuade Muhammad to cease his preaching, but he refused. In response, the city leadership persecuted Muhammad’s followers, and many fled the city. One group of his followers immigrated to Abyssinia. In 619 Muhammad endured the loss of both [his wife] Khadija and [his uncle] Abu Talib, while the mistreatment of his followers increased. [2]

Not surprisingly, the meanest persecution was meted out to the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful.  Prof. Daniel C. Peterson writes:

There are many stories of imprisonment, beating, starvation, and thirst, and perhaps worst of all, of believers staked out on the ground under the scorching heat of the Arabian sun until they could be induced to repudiate their faith.

Slaves were particularly vulnerable, for they had no one to protect them against their masters. One of them, a black Abyssinian named Bilal, was pinned to the ground by his master, with a large rock on his chest, and told that that he would remain there until he either died or recanted–whichever came first. He was spared only because Abu Bakr, passing by, was horrified at this maltreatment of a fellow believer and bought Bilal’s freedom…Some, it is said, died under torture. And others did indeed renounce their faith. [3]

The extent of the persecution can be gauged by the fact that some of the early Muslims were forced to flee with their lives from the Arabian Peninsula altogether, an event known as the First Flight to Abyssinia.  Under the cover of night, these Muslims fled Mecca and boarded ships headed for the African country of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia).  There was a second such emigration, known as the Second Flight to Abyssinia.  The Quraysh leaders dispatched envoys to the Abyssinian king, requesting that these Muslim refugees be returned to Mecca.  This request for extradition was rejected and these Muslim refugees stayed in Abyssinia for the remainder of what is known as the Meccan Period of Muhammad’s prophethood.

The Quraysh leaders harassed Muhammad himself, who endured both verbal and physical abuse.  Initially, however, his tormentors stopped short of killing Muhammad because he was still under the tribal protection granted to him by his aging uncle, Abu Talib.  Islam’s early enemies earnestly beseeched Abu Talib to permit the killing of Muhammad, but Abu Talib adamantly refused.

To pressure Abu Talib’s clan, the Banu Mutalib, to rescind their protection of Muhammad, the Quraysh leaders signed a pact resulting in the complete social and economic boycott of the early Muslims along with the two clans associated with them (the Banu Mutalib and the Banu Hashim, the latter of which was the tribe Muhammad was born to).  The early Muslims and members of the two clans were forced by circumstance to leave their homes and resettle in the outskirts of Mecca.  Confined to the harsh and barren desert valley (Mecca’s “ghetto”), they struggled to survive for three years, with even food and medicine being barred to them by the Quraysh leaders, who intended to starve them into submission:

Abu Jahl now tried to starve Muhammad into submission and imposed a boycott on the clans of Hashim and al-Muttalib, managing to get all other clans to sign a treaty to unite against the Muslim threat. Nobody could intermarry or trade with anybody in the two outlawed clans and this meant that nobody was supposed to sell them any food. For the sake of security, all members of Hashim and al-Muttalib, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, moved into Abu Talib’s street, which became a little ghetto. [4]

During what is known as the Year of Grief, both Muhammad’s wife Khadija and uncle Abu Talib passed away.  Abu Lahab, early Islam’s arch-enemy and Muhammad’s bitterest foe, replaced Abu Talib as the chief of the clan.  Muhammad thus lost his tribal protection and was forced to flee with his life to the neighboring city of Taif.  He preached his message to the leaders of Taif, who rejected him and refused to give him asylum for fear of earning Mecca’s wrath.  Muhammad was stoned by the street urchins of Taif and told to never return.  Bloody and battered, Muhammad had no place to go but to return to Mecca.

The persecution of the early Muslim community in Mecca intensified to the point that there was a very real fear that the religion of Islam would be snuffed out entirely.  It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the nearby city of Yathrib (henceforth to be referred to as Medina) accepted Islam and promised to grant Muhammad refuge.  Thus began The Flight (Al-Hijra), as the Muslim community in Mecca migrated in waves to Medina.  The Quraysh authorities, fearful that Islam would spread to other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, tried (but failed) to prevent this exodus.

By this time, the Quraysh leaders had already formulated a plot to assassinate Muhammad in his sleep.  They delegated this task to eleven men, chosen from all different tribes so as to make retaliation against any one of them untenable.  The assassins gathered around Muhammad’s house, broke into it, and advanced towards his bed.  In fact, however, they had just missed Muhammad, who had slipped away and begun the arduous journey to Medina.  Prof. Juan Eduardo Campo writes:

[P]ersecution of Muhammad and his followers in Mecca by the Quraysh intensified; the weaker ones were physically tortured or imprisoned. Muhammad ordered his followers to emigrate to Yathrib [Medina] in small groups, while he remained in Mecca with his friend Abu Bakr and his loyal cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib. The Quraysh plotted to murder Muhammad and invaded his house only to find Ali sleeping in his bed. Muhammad had secretly escaped with Abu Bakr, and the two of them hid in a cave for three days before making their way to Yathrib [Medina]. [5]

The Quraysh leaders were by this time wild-eyed with fury, and placed a bounty on Muhammad’s head.  Whoever could intercept Muhammad before he reached Medina would be handsomely rewarded.  Search parties went out to apprehend or kill the prophet of Islam.

But, destiny had another plan altogether for Muhammad.  He arrived safely in Medina in the year 622 A.D., what became year one of the Islamic calendar.  There, the early Muslim community would regroup, and eventually, flourish.

*  *  *  *  *

In Robert Spencer’s biography of the Islamic prophet, the persecution of Muslims in Mecca is completely passed over.  Muhammad is wrongfully portrayed as the aggressor and the initiator of violence.  Context is completely lost–in fact, it is purposefully distorted.  Without understanding the background of the conflict (i.e. Muslims being persecuted in Mecca for almost a decade and a half), the reader will view Muhammad’s actions in Medina as nothing short of unprovoked aggression.

Not only does such a deception distort the reader’s view of the Prophet Muhammad, it also has huge implications with regard to Islamic theology.  Jihad is wrongfully equated with terroristic violence and unprovoked aggression, instead of what is actually called for in the Quran: a defensive responding to unprovoked aggression.

If the concept of jihad was first formulated during Muhammad’s lifetime–and if Muslims look to Muhammad’s example to understand the embodiment of this concept–then it makes a very big difference whether or not Muslims see Muhammad as initiating violence or merely defensively responding to it.

Spencer well understands this concept and himself argues it intensely in his book.  His deception, however, lies in his flipping of reality on its head, portraying Muhammad and the early Muslims as the aggressors and their tormentors as the victims.

*  *  *  *  *

Having thus understood the importance of this discussion, let us then delve into Muhammad’s response to the violence, persecution, and injustice directed at him (and his religious community).  Did he preach “love your enemies” or ruthless vengeance?

Muhammad’s reaction to his enemies can be summarized as follows: it was better to forgive the average foot soldier, and only the top level leaders of injustice (“the chiefs of disbelief”) were to be punished.  This dynamic can be seen with Muhammad’s eventual triumphal return to and conquest of Mecca eight years after he fled from it.  Even though the people of Mecca in general had engaged in the persecution of the early Muslims, Muhammad issued a blanket immunity and “mercy” to all of them aside from nine individuals (other sources say seventeen), who were “his most inveterate [of] enemies.” [6] However, even of these, most were pardoned, and in the end “only four Meccans were killed. ” [7]

These were the same people who had humiliated, harassed, tortured, and persecuted Muhammad and his followers.  In fact, at one point in time Muhammad was attacked by them and left with a bloodied face, a busted lip, a broken tooth, and a split-open forehead.  Muhammad had then asked rhetorically:

How can a people cut the face of their prophet and break his tooth while he is calling them to God?  How can such a people prosper?

He exclaimed:

God’s Wrath is great on those who besmear the face of His Messenger!

The following Quranic verse reprimanded Muhammad:

Not for you (O Muhammad) is the decision whether [God] turns in mercy to them to pardon them or if He punishes them (for indeed, they are wrongdoers).  To God belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth.  He forgives whom He pleases and punishes whom He pleases; but God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.  (Quran, 3:128-129)

Muhammad retracted his earlier comment and then prayed for not only forgiveness of the attackers but forgiveness for the Meccans overall:

O God, forgive my people for they do not know. [8]

Later that day, Muhammad came across his uncle, Hamza ibn Abdul Mutallib, who had been killed by the Quraysh.  Worse, Hamza’s corpse had been mutilated: his nose was burnt off and his ears cut off; his stomach was gutted and his intestines were hanging out of his body.  When Muhammad saw his uncle in such a state, he angrily took the following oath:

I shall kill seventy of their men in revenge!

To this, God is said to have replied in the Quran:

(O Muhammad), invite them to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and dispute with them only in the most politest manner–for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His Path and who is rightly guided.  And if you wish to retaliate, retaliate only in a way that is proportionate to the injury done to you.  But if you endure patiently (instead of retaliating), it is better to do so.  (O Muhammad), endure with patience.  Truly, your patience is only possible with the help of God.  Do not be grieved by them or distressed because of their schemes–for God is with those who are mindful of Him and who do good.

Therein then do we have the Quranic axiom: if you wish to retaliate, then the punishment must be proportionate to the crime.  (This rule is clarified in verses 2:190-194 with the stipulation that the punishment must be against the guilty party only.)  Although the Quran permits one to demand justice, it strongly urges the believer, especially Muhammad, to instead “endure with patience” and forgive.  Following this admonition,  ”the Prophet refrained (from taking revenge) and atoned for his oath.” [9]

Indeed, when the early Muslims triumphed over and conquered Mecca, Muhammad issued a blanket pardon to everyone, aside from four “arch-criminals”. [10] Muhammad could have taken vengeance against all those who had persecuted him and his people for so many years, but instead he forgave them all, reciting the following verse of the Quran:

There is no censure on you on this day.  May God forgive you, for He is the Most Merciful of the merciful. (Quran, 12:92) [11]

Muhammad would even forgive those who killed and mutilated his uncle, praying: ”[M]ay God forgive them, for God is Forgiving, Merciful.” [12] He also forgave those who had tried to kill him.

There is much food for thought here: Islamophobes like Robert Spencer argue that Muhammad’s violence cannot be compared to that of the Biblical prophets, since Muhammad in Islam is considered perfect whereas Jews and Christians don’t think the same of Moses, Joshua, David, etc.  This is a huge oversimplification and mischaracterization of Islamic textual sources and dogma (a topic that I will analyze in further detail in a later article).  But for now, suffice to say, this is but one example of Muhammad being corrected in the Quran–and that too with regard to war, peace, vengeance, and mercy towards non-Muslims.

The Islamophobes claim that Muhammad only preached patience, forgiveness, and tolerance during the Meccan Period.  They argue further that the “opportunistic” Muhammad opted towards militarism, violence, and war as soon as he came to power in Medina.  And yet, the events surrounding this Quranic revelation (i.e. the killing/mutilating of Muhammad’s uncle, and the command for Muhammad to endure it with patience and forgiveness) occurred well into the Medinan Period.  In fact, it occurred at the height of the military conflict with the Meccan pagans.

What is even more telling is the fact that once Muhammad and the early Muslims conquered Mecca, Muhammad granted the Meccans pardon and mercy.  If the critics of Islam attribute Muhammad’s peaceful attitude during the early Meccan Period to his lack of power to do otherwise, then what of Muhammad’s triumphal return to Mecca whereupon he had all the power in the world to take limitless vengeance upon them?  Muhammad’s tolerant nature towards his Quraysh enemies cannot be explained by the meekness of his position, because he maintained that attitude when he had the power to crush them as they had tried to do to him aforetime.

Similarly, Muhammad had prayed for the forgiveness of the people of Taif, who had stoned him out:

Mohammed traveled to Ta’if, a mountainside town in Arabia about seventy miles southeast of the holy city of Mecca, to invite its people to become Muslims. Instead of welcoming him, the farmers stoned him and drove him, bleeding, out of town…Wiping blood from his face, the Prophet refused, saying, “Lord, forgive thy people, they do not know.” [13]

After the Conquest of Mecca, the pagans regrouped at Taif to launch a massive counter-offensive;  Prof. Ella Landau-Tasseron writes:

Shortly after[ the Conquest of Mecca,] the Thaqif, the ruling tribe of the nearby town al-Ta’if, organized a bedouin army [against Muhammad], which was defeated by Muhammad at a place called Hunayn.  Muhammad then laid siege to al-Ta’if but had to withdraw without achieving any result.  Shortly afterward, however, the Thaqif joined Islam of their own volition. [14]

No retribution was taken against the people of Taif, who thus entered the folds of Islam; Prof. Michael Dumper writes:

[The Muslims] laid unsuccessful siege to Taif for almost a month.  In 631 the head of the tribe embraced Islam, which resulted in his assassination by his own people.  Quickly, however, the city changed its mind and sent a delegation to the Prophet and indicated their willingness to embrace Islam.  The Prophet, stressing the diplomatic immunity of ambassadors, did not hold their earlier antagonism against them and welcomed them into the [Islamic] community. [15]

Upon his triumphal return to Mecca and Taif, the two cities that had earlier driven him out, Muhammad took no revenge and forgave his former tormentors, thus embodying the Quranic principles of patience and forgiveness.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer argues that Jesus preached “love your enemies”, contrasting this with Muhammad’s teachings.  Certainly, many Westerners associate such peaceable beliefs to Christianity’s central figure.  Yet, this comparison suffers from an inherent flaw: it is simply not accurate.

If we wanted to maintain an apples-to-apples comparison, the Meccan Period can be analogized to Jesus’s First Coming: like Jesus, Muhammad was a persecuted prophet during this period and was in fact almost killed.  Meanwhile, the Medinan Period can be likened to Jesus’s Second Coming.  Just as Muhammad triumphantly marched into Mecca, so does Jesus triumphantly return with his army as a “conquering king.”

Once Muhammad conquered Mecca and held absolute power over them, he forgave all of them (save for four “arch-enemies”).  Muhammad’s march into Mecca was virtually bloodless,; on the other hand, “Jesus’ second coming will be exceedingly violent…It’s going to be bloody (v. 13) and gory.”  Whereas on the day of Mecca’s conquest, Muhammad bestowed mercy on his enemies (he called it the “Day of Mercy”), Jesus will have “no compassion upon His enemies” and “will take vengeance” on them (the Bible calls it “the day of vengeance”).  Indeed, the Biblical Jesus will kill all his enemies.

When one considers other Biblical prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the contrast becomes even more glaring.  Compare the Conquest of Mecca to the conquest of Canaan by Moses, Joshua, Samson, David, Saul, etc.  Muhammad granted immunity to the Meccan population whereas the Judeo-Christian prophets “completely destroyed every living thing in the city, leaving no survivors” (Joshua 11:11).  In fact, this was done to city after city in what can only be called wholesale genocide.

How then can one support Robert Spencer’s dubious argument that the Prophet Muhammad was somehow more violent than all other prophets and religious founders, especially when we have such violent figures in Spencer’s own faith tradition?

*  *  *  *  *

A word ought to be said specifically about what Robert Spencer writes here:

When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish!  May he himself perish!  Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him.  He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.”  (Qur’an 111:1-5) [16]

Abu Lahab was the only one of Muhammad’s foes to be taken by name in the Quran.  Even though numerous Quraysh influentials persecuted Muhammad, Abu Lahab was singled out in the Islamic holy book because he and Abu Jahl were the staunchest and most mean-spirited of early Islam’s adversaries.  He was assisted in his hatred by his wife, Umm Jamil, who joined in the persecution of Muhammad and his followers.  Abu Lahab led and orchestrated the harassment, beatings, torture, persecution, and crippling boycott of the early Muslim community.  He would later be one of the eleven assassins who attempted to kill Muhammad in his sleep.

The Quranic verse against Abu Lahab was revealed when he had picked up a stone in his hand to throw at Muhammad and yelled “may you perish” (reflected in the Quranic phrasing “may the hands of Abu Lahab perish“).  As for the statement against Abu Lahab’s wife, it can be understood using a less arcane translation: “…and his wife, the bearer of wood (translated in Spencer’s book with the difficult to understand ‘laden with faggots’), shall have a rope of fiber around her neck.”  She was dubbed “the bearer of wood” because she used to routinely lay splinters of wood on the ground where Muhammad would walk so as to cause his feet to bleed.  Additionally, Umm Jamil used to wear a very expensive necklace, of which she vowed: “By Lat and Uzza, I will sell away this necklace and expend the price to satisfy my enmity against Muhammad.”  [17]  This is said to explain the Quran’s choice of punishment for her: a rope of fiber around her neck.

Harsh as these punishments are against Abu Lahab and his wife, two points need to be borne in mind: firstly, Abu Lahab and his wife represent the Quran’s chief villains, equivalent to the Bible’s Pharaoh and Jezebel.  The Bible promised that Pharoah and “all who trust in him” will be slaughtered (Jeremiah 46:25), and that Jezebel will be punished–”her children” will be killed (Revelation 2:23).  The punishment promised to Abu Lahab and his wife are certainly no harsher than this.  More importantly, the Quran only promised punishment of the guilty party, not “all who trust in him” or “her children.”

The second point is that both Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil died of natural causes.  Muhammad was never violent with them.  The verses in the Quran condemning this couple were meant to be understood in a supernatural sense, unlike the very real violence committed by Abu Lahab and his wife against Muhammad and the early Muslims.

On a somewhat related note, it should be added that one of the major reasons that Abu Lahab opposed the message of Islam so violently was that it threatened his status and position.  He was extremely wealthy and powerful–among Arabia’s top one percent.  Muhammad, on the other hand, preached equality among believers.  To this, Abu Lahab would exclaim:

May this religion perish in which I and all other people should be equal and alike! [18]

This is reflected in the Quran’s response to Abu Lahab:

Neither his wealth nor his earnings will benefit him. (Quran, 111:2)

Indeed, Muhammad’s support for the 99% explains why he faced the wrath of the 1%, of which Abu Lahab belonged to.

*  *  *  *  *

There are of course events in Muhammad’s life between his escape from Mecca and his subsequent return that merit further investigation and critical analysis.  Readers are certainly well-aware of the numerous charges levied against the Prophet of Islam in this regard.  Future parts of this Series will look into these matters with an attempt to be impartial and fair.  For now, however, we have achieved our purpose: Robert Spencer’s dishonest rendering of Muhammad’s time in Mecca, known as the Meccan Period, has been laid to waste.

Muhammad and his early followers experienced persecution at the hands of their enemies, a basic fact that must be understood in order to understand early Islamic history, as well as Islamic texts and theology.  An at least rudimentary knowledge of these events is needed to negate the propaganda of those who seek to demonize the faith of over a billion adherents around the world.  More than that, it offers peace-loving, moderate Muslims the ammunition they need to counter the intolerant interpretations of their religion espoused by their fundamentalist coreligionists, people who often act more like the Quraysh leaders than Muhammad.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

Footnotes:
[1] Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.5
[2] Spencer C. Tucker, The Encyclopedia of Middle East Wars, p.849
[3] Daniel C. Peterson, Muhammad, Prophet of God, p.72
[4] Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, p.129
[5] Juan Eduardo Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam, p.299
[6] Simon Ockley, The History of the Saracens, p.55
[7] Jonathan E. Brockopp, The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, p.10
[8] Ar-Raheeq al-Makthum, p.318; Original source for “O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know” is Fath al- Bari 7/373; Alternately narrated as “My Lord, forgive my people for they have no knowledge” in Sahih Muslim 2/108.
[9] Tafsir al-Jalalayn, 16:126
[10] Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.254
[11]  Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Vol.2, p.142
[12] Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.432
[13] Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, p.23
[14] Ella Landau-Tasseron, Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors, p.11
[15] Michael Dumper, Cities of the Middle East and North Africa, p.634
[16] Spencer, p.5
[17]  Tafheem ul Quran, 111:5
[18]  Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 111

More Proof Why You REALLY Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s “Scholarship”

Posted in Feature, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2012 by loonwatch
Robert Spencer, pseudo-scholar, once again gets Arabic 101 lessons from LoonWatch

A few days ago, I published an article entitled Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I).

I took issue with Robert Spencer’s opening sentences of his biography of Muhammad (p.5 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam), in which he wrote:

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of the prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

I wrote a response as follows:

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–“Muhammad already had experience as warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager. The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud. Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested. This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed. On the one hand, some Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all. Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars. He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield. At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over. Muhammad later recounted: “I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Spencer replied:

In 2006 I wrote the book on the right, The Truth About Muhammad, a biography of the prophet of Islam based on the earliest Muslim accounts of his life, in order to illustrate what Muslims generally believe that Muhammad said and did. In my forthcoming book, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins, which will be published April 23 by ISI, I examine the historical value of those early Muslim accounts. It is an attempt to determine whether what Muslims believe Muhammad said and did, as recounted in The Truth About Muhammad, actually corresponds to historical reality.

There are numerous reasons to question the historicity of the early Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life. Take, for example, an incident I refer to briefly in yet another book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet. He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

That he participated in these wars, known collectively as the Fijar War, or Sacrilegious War, is generally agreed upon, but there is no agreement about what he thought later about his role in them. The Egyptian writer Muhammad Hussein Haykal, in his 1933 biography, Hayat Muhammad (translated into English as The Life of Muhammad), quotes Muhammad expressing regret for his participation in this war:

“I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” (Pp. 52-3)

However, the ninth-century Muslim historian Ibn Sa’d, in one of the earliest and most important sources for biographical information on Muhammad, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, directly contradicts Haykal by quoting Muhammad saying this about the Fijar War:

I attended it with my uncles and shot arrows there and I do not repent it. (I.143)So which is it?

Is Haykal right that he really did express regret, or is Ibn Sa’d right that he explicitly ruled out doing so? Haykal doesn’t give his source, but it is possible that he had access to a hadith or some Islamic tradition that flatly contradicted the one Ibn Sa’d recorded eleven centuries earlier — although this is unlikely, since Ibn Sa’d often records variant and contradictory reports and discusses how they can be harmonized, or why one should be accepted and the other rejected. In this case Ibn Sa’d gives no hint of any variants. Haykal may simply have altered this tradition for apologetic purposes. Those who cite him as their source on this, or try to build an argument upon his quotation, do so at their own risk.

Nonetheless, such contradictions abound in the hadith reports. Muhammad can quite often be found saying contradictory things, as I show in Did Muhammad Exist?. In that book also I discuss how this odd situation came about: opposing factions both invoked Muhammad as an authority, and invented traditions to support their point of view.

Spencer is hawking his new book, which he is pushing as a “scholarly work” about how Muhammad didn’t exist.  His home page boasts that Robert Spencer is “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam”, “[a] serious scholar”, and “a brilliant scholar.”

I have pointed out in the past that Spencer is not a scholar of any sort–especially not on anything related to Islam.  He simply does not have the academic qualifications to claim this.  What other “scholar” do you know of that doesn’t even have a master’s or PhD degree on the subject he claims to be a “scholar” of?  He only has a one-year master’s degree in “the field of early Christianity”.  How does that make him an “acclaimed scholar of Islam”?

Another major problem with Spencer’s claim to scholarship is that he simply does not speak or understand Arabic.  This much has been apparent in the past, and it becomes painstakingly obvious in his latest response to me (as I shall show below).  I don’t think Spencer needs to know Arabic to criticize Islam (as some Muslim apologists insist), but I do think he needs to know it in order to be considered a “scholar of Islam” (a title he claims)–let alone “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam.”

Combine (1) not having any academic qualifications whatsoever with (2) not knowing Arabic and you have a situation like this: imagine some random blogger claiming to be “a world renowned physician” without ever having (1) gone to medical school and (2) without ever having studied or learned anatomy.  Such a blogger might be able to bring up good points about the field of medicine, but nobody in their right mind would consider him a “world renowned physician”–and if he claimed any such thing, his credibility would be shattered.

The need to understand Arabic in order to be a “scholar of Islam” cannot become more apparent than it is now with Spencer’s latest reply.  And here’s why:  Spencer argues (see quote above) that the hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad) found in Haykal’s Hayat Muhammad contradicts the one in Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir.  He argues that Haykal may have reproduced another hadith that contradicts the one found in Ibn Sa’d’s book, or even that Haykal may have engaged in academic deceit (i.e. “altered this tradition for apologetic purposes”).  That’s a serious and bold claim to make against Haykal.

Yet, had Spencer simply been able to read Arabic, he would have realized that the hadith in Haykal’s Hayat Muhammad and Ibn Sa’d’s Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir are the exact same!  They are word-for-word identical.  In other words, Haykal took the hadith from Ibn Sa’d’s book.  That Spencer couldn’t see this speaks volumes about his “scholarship.”  So, Spencer’s blathering on about Haykal finding another contradictory hadith or of manipulating the text is indicative of his sophomoric “scholarship.”

How could Haykal have reproduced another hadith or have manipulated the text when in fact the wording in both Haykal’s book and Ibn Sa’d’s is the exact same?  Here is what is found in Haykal’s book:

Source: Haykal, Muhammad Husayn, Hayat Muhammad [The Life of Muhammad], 14th ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Ma’arif, n.d.): 134

And here’s the exact same found in Ibn Sa’d’s book, which Spencer quoted to “trump” Haykal’s hadith (stupidly not realizing they are the exact same!):

Source: Ibn Sa’d,  Tabaqat al-Kabir, edited by Ali Muhammad Umar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khaniji, 2001) 1:106

To Robert Spencer, who doesn’t read or understand Arabic, that looks like a whole lot of jibberish.  One can imagine Spencer saying: “That’s Greek Arabic to me!”  But, if we help Spencer out by underlining as we did above, even he should be able to verify that they are the exact same–word-for-word.

So, if the two quotes are the exact same, why does Spencer’s quote seem to say the exact opposite as what I quoted?  Why did I translate it as such:

I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!

Whereas Spencer used the following:

I attended it with my uncles and shot arrows there and I do not repent it.

Why the difference?

Being the “acclaimed scholar of Islam” that he is, Spencer relied on Google search to find this English translation of Ibn Sa’d’s book and/or was forced to rely on an English translation of the book (due to his inability to read the source text).  In doing so, Spencer didn’t realize that the sentence he reproduced was a faulty translation.

In Arabic, the underlined part is:

وما أحب أني لم أكن فعلت

In transliteration (for Spencer’s sake), it would be:

wa ma uhibb anni lam akun fa’alt

It translates to:

and what I wish is that I had not done it!

Breaking it down, we have:

وما (wa ma) – and what

أحب (uhibb) – I love/wish (See Hans Wehr for the meaning of this verb)

 أني (anni) – is that I

لم أكن (lam akun) – had not

فعلت (fa’alt) – done [it]

The translator Spencer used made a mistake with the word ما (ma), which is a participle in Arabic that is modified by the words surrounding it.  Hans Wehr lists nine different uses of the word ما (ma), one of which is indeed negation.  However, from a linguistic standpoint, the “negative ma” cannot be used in this particular sentence.  Indeed, it would render the sentence into a nonsensical “double negative”:

And I do not love that I had not done it.

Huh?  If you translated it like so, that would actually mean that Muhammad did not participate in the war.  So, even still, this would actually be proof against Spencer’s claim that Muhammad took part in it.

The translator Spencer relied upon saw two negatives and just tried to “simplify” the text to read: “and I do not repent it.”  This, even though the word “repent” does not appear anywhere in the text.  It is completely imagined.  It should be noted that the translator’s native language was neither Arabic nor English. He didn’t know what to do with the nonsensical double-negative–a sentence that would actually mean that Muhammad did not love the fact that he did not participate in the war.

In reality, the word  ما (ma) was being used as a “relative ma“:

Source: Ryding, Karin C., A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 326

The translator can be forgiven for making a mistake, but Robert Spencer, being “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam” should have known better.  The only correct translation of this text would support the translation I used, namely that Muhammad regretted his participation in the war, which was the point of my article.  It was this fact that Spencer failed to include in his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Instead, he tried to give the exact opposite (and false) impression, i.e. that Muhammad was already a “warrior” before he became a prophet.

Watch how this hadith from Ibn Sa’d’s book–which Spencer is currently using as his strongest proof–will be quickly tossed away by Spencer now that it doesn’t support his argument any more.  This is, after all, his methodology for “finding the historical Muhammad”: any hadiths that paint Muhammad in a positive light are jettisoned, whereas those that do the opposite are trumpeted and used as a club to hit Muslims over the head with.  With such a biased “methodology”, do you really want to trust Robert Spencer as a source for Muhammad’s biography or for anything related to Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

The bottom line is that Spencer relied on an incorrect translation to write a response to my article.  This has two implications:

1)  Our entire discussion underscores how important it is for a “scholar of Islam” to read, understand and have mastery of the Arabic language.  This is what is expected of a scholar at any credible university, and this is what must be expected of Robert Spencer if he wishes to don the mantle of a scholar of Islam.  It is exactly because of situations like these where knowing how to read Arabic can make or break the argument.

2) Specifically with the Prophet Muhammad, Spencer’s biography is misleading because it portrays Muhammad as “already [having] had experience as a warrior”, which is meant to purposefully mislead the reader.  It is intended to paint a portrait of Muhammad as a fierce warrior–hence, Spencer’s choice of title, “Muhammad: Prophet of War”.

What Spencer leaves out is the fact that, at most, Muhammad’s involvement in the war was menial–mostly just in a support capacity.  This is a far cry from the “fierce warrior” image that Spencer is trying to portray.

Muhammad not only expressed regret for participation in the war, but more importantly, after hostilities ceased he supported the League of the Virtuous (Hilf al-Fudul), which was similar to the League of Nations formed after World War I.  The goal of the League of the Virtuous was to bring an end to bloodshed, violence, and war.  Muhammad’s participation in this–and his ringing endorsement of the League even in his later years of life–tells us a lot about how he viewed the war (and warfare in general).  Under the entry of Hilf al-Fudul, Thomas Patrick Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam says:

A confederacy formed…for the suppression of violence and injustice at the restoration of peace after the Sacrilegious war. Muhammad was then a youth, and Sir William Muir says this confederacy ”aroused an enthusiasm in the mind of Mahomet [Muhammad], which the exploits of the Sacrilegious war failed to kindle.”

The war Muhammad was not too keen of.  But, the body designed to bring peace on earth was something he was deeply inspired by.

These are facts that Spencer wouldn’t have the reader know.  Yet, whereas there was disagreement among biographers about Muhammad’s participation in the war, there was–as far as I know–no difference of opinion about his participation in and support for the League of the Virtuous.  Why is it that Spencer’s biography focuses on contested facts but stays clear from a more accepted occurrence? It is only because one event helps build his case against Muhammad, and the other does the opposite.  So, he includes what helps and ignores what doesn’t.  Should you really trust Spencer’s biography then?

*  *  *  *  *

Spencer also writes in the same article:

Nonetheless, such contradictions abound in the hadith reports. Muhammad can quite often be found saying contradictory things, as I show in Did Muhammad Exist?. In that book also I discuss how this odd situation came about: opposing factions both invoked Muhammad as an authority, and invented traditions to support their point of view.

Robert Spencer has recently argued that Muhammad didn’t in fact exist.  The desire to negate Muhammad’s existence altogether is born out of his strongly pro-Catholic, anti-Muslim views.

Yet, Spencer should know that historians have doubted the historicity of Moses and Jesus as well.  Almost all of the arguments used against the historicity of Muhammad can be applied to Moses and Jesus.  Some scholars have doubted Moses and Jesus’ existences altogether, just as Spencer doubts the existence of Muhammad.  Once again, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, but try arguing this point and Spencer will cry “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  How dare you apply the same standards to Spencer’s religion and beliefs that he does on a routine basis to others!

However, most scholars don’t believe Muhammad didn’t exist, just as most don’t deny the existence of Jesus.  But, the details of Muhammad’s life are far more controversial and up for debate, just as is the case with Jesus.  Finding the historical Muhammad is, like finding the historical Moses or Jesus, an important endeavor.

Yes, contradictory hadiths abound, but that’s no different than is the case in Christianity: Bible scholars argue that the Gospels, for example, are highly contradictory to each other, especially with regard to Jesus.  I can hear it now already: tu quoque, tu quoque!

The fact that contradictory reports exist just means that scholars need to exert energy to determine what’s more reliable and what’s not–and there will always be a level of guesswork and doubt about it.  But the correct way to find the historical Muhammad is not the way Spencer does it: agree with whatever casts Muhammad in a bad light, and dump everything that doesn’t.

Finding the historical Muhammad is an important endeavor that modern scholarship will need to undertake, and you won’t find me disagreeing with that.  Yes, it might call into question stories that many Muslims take for granted, but it will also cast doubt on events that Islamophobes like Robert Spencer rely on to bash Muslims over the head with.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  For the writing of this article, Dawood (guest contributor) was consulted.

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I)

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2012 by loonwatch

This article is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.

I recently agreed to debate the following thesis with Robert Spencer of JihadWatch:

Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.

This is the main theme in Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  It is even the title of one of his books: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  More than this, it reflects the fundamental difference between he and I: whereas I accept the violent and intolerant aspect inherent in all religious traditions, Spencer specifically targets Islam.

Under this heading, I was willing to debate the following sub-thesis:

The Islamic prophet was more violent and warlike than Jewish and Christian prophets.

This was the argument Spencer brought forth in chapter 1 of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.” On p.3, Spencer writes:

[F]or the religious man or woman on the streets of Chicago, Rome, Jerusalem, Damascus, Calcutta, and Bangkok, the words of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha mean something far greater than any individual’s reading of them.  And even to the less-than-devout reader, the words of these great religious teachers are clearly not equal in their meaning.

On p.4, Spencer promises to compare Muhammad to prophets and founders of other religious traditions in order “to emphasize the fallacy of those who claim that Islam and Christianity–and all other religious traditions, for that matter–are basically equal in their ability to inspire good or evil.”  In other words: Muhammad was the most violent of them all, and thus inspires greater evil.

But, is it true?

I’ve already written multiple articles related to this topic, but now I will directly refute chapter 1 of Robert Spencer’s book (“Muhammad: Prophet of War”), which is Spencer’s biography of Muhammad.  I will present a balanced, neutral, and academic picture of Muhammad–in between the Islamophobic narrative of Spencer on the one hand and the understandably biased Muslim apologist view on the other.

Once Muhammad’s life is understood thus, I will compare it to the lives of other prophets–MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, Jesus, etc.–to see if Muhammad was truly the most violent of them all.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer’s biography of Muhammad is extremely misleading.  This becomes apparent from the get-go. The very first section of Spencer’s biography of Muhammad begins on p.5, entitled “Muhammad the raider.”  Spencer’s opening words are:

Muhammad the raider

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–”Muhammad already had experience as  warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager.  The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud.  Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested.  This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed.  On the one hand, some Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all.  Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars.  He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield.  At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over.  Muhammad later recounted: “I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Like World War I, the Sacrilegious War was sparked over a murder and resulted in great turmoil due to “entangling alliances.”  Once hostilities ceased, many of the tribes decided to convene a sort of “League of Nations” to prevent future wars.  The Arabian tribes assembled at the house of a man named Abdullah bin Judan and “forged the League of the Virtuous [Hilf al-Fudul].  The major aims of the League were to prevent wars from breaking out and to protect the weak and the defenseless from their enemies.” [2] Members would “henceforth and forever stand on the side of the victim of injustice,” instead of simply siding based on tribal loyalty. [3] It was hoped that such an arrangement would prevent the blood feuds that were common in that time.

Muhammad took part in the signing of the League of the Virtuous, and it left its indelible mark on him.  He would later say: “I witnessed in the house of Abdullah bin Judan a pact made that I wouldn’t have exchanged for the choicest of herds; and if it had been suggested after Islam, I would have responded positively to it.” [4] (“The choicest herd” is the ancient equivalent of saying: “I wouldn’t trade it in even for a Ferrari.”) Muhammad said further: “If further such pacts be made for the cause of the oppressed and I be called, I would certainly respond.” [5]

The ideals of the League of the Virtuous–of standing for justice regardless of family or tribal loyalty–finds its way into the Quran:

O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, witnesses before God, even if it be against your own selves, your parents or relatives, or whether it be against rich or poor. (4:135)

Throughout his career, Muhammad opposed tribal warfare and blood feuds.  Meanwhile, the Quran instructed the believers to defend the oppressed by fighting the oppressors:

What reason could you have for not fighting in God’s cause–for those men, women and children who are oppressed and cry out, “Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors!  By Your Grace, give us a protector and a savior!” (4:75)

The Sacrilegious War and the League of the Virtuous played a pivotal role in Muhammad’s views on matters of war and peace–but not in the way that Spencer implies it to (i.e. “he was born a warrior!”).  Instead, Muhammad became a “veteran against the war” and greatly supported the idea of a League of the Virtuous, a body intended to bring peace on earth–one that would end violence, bloodshed, and war.

By omitting key details, Spencer willfully misleads the reader.  This is just within the first three lines of his biography of Muhammad.  As we shall see, the deception just gets worse.

To be continued…

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Footnotes:
[1] Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Hayat Muhammad, p.62
[2] S. Ali Asgher Razwy, A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims, p.24.
Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes on p.39 of Political Islam: “Hilf al-Fudul was an agreement among several pre-Islamic Arab tribes in the seventh century to prevent injustice and to aid those who had been wronged.”
[3] Haykal, p.62
[4] Ibn Kathir, Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.188
[5] A.H. Qasmi, International Encyclopaedia of Islam, p.113

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2012 by loonwatch

(image from an Islamophobic website)

DISCLAIMER: LoonWatch has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States.  This article should not be seen as such.

Islamophobes absolutely hate Ron Paul.  Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs–the King and Queen of Islamophobia on the internet–dedicate page after page on their hate blogs lambasting the Congressman and presidential hopeful.

Why do they hate Ron Paul so much?

There are three major reasons why they detest him:

(1) Ron Paul stands up for American Muslims against Islamophobia.  For example, he defended the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” arguing that the entire controversy was “all about hate and Islamophobia.”

(2) He has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Bush-Obama curtailments of civil liberties that specifically target Muslims.

(3) Paul is the only major presidential candidate to oppose America’s wars in the Muslim world.  Even more importantly, Ron Paul links reason #1 above (the Lesser Islamophobia) to reason #3 (the Greater Islamophobia), arguing that “in order to perpetuate this foreign policy…they have to perpetuate this hate toward Islam.”

This third reason is also why mainstream politicians and the mainstream media dislike Ron Paul and have tried their utmost to destroy him.  Fox political pundit Bill O’Reilly argued that Paul’s views on foreign policy “disqualifies him” as a candidate for president.  Here is exactly what O’Reilly said:

His foreign policy disqualifies him in my eyes as an American…

Bill O’Reilly has inadvertently touched upon something very deep and meaningful:  ”As an American,” foreign policy must include waging war.  To do without war would simply be un-American.

One recalls the words of H. Rap Brown, the chairman of the civil rights group Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who famously declared in 1967:

Violence is as American as cherry pie.

Brown uttered this statement during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.  While blacks were being beaten up and hosed down in the streets of America, the United States was raining death down upon the Vietnamese population halfway across the earth.

H. Rap Brown was not the only one in the civil rights movement who linked the struggle of blacks in America to the struggle of the darker skinned peoples of the world.  For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” for its war-making:

The Soviet Union brought attention to America’s “Negro problem.”  Michael L. Krenn writes on pp.89-90 of Race and U.S. Foreign Policy During the Cold War:

By 1949, according to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, “the ‘Negro question’ [was] [o]ne of the principal Soviet propaganda themes regarding the United States.” “[T]he Soviet press hammers away unceasingly on such things as ‘lynch law,’ segregation, racial discrimination, deprivation of political rights, etc., seeking to build up a picture of an America in which the Negroes are brutally downtrodden with no hope of improving their status under the existing form of government.”  An [American] Embassy official believed that “this attention to the Negro problem serves political ends desired by the Soviet Union and has nothing whatsoever to do with any desire to better the Negro’s position.”

Apparently, only the United States is allowed to saber rattle and invade countries on the grounds that the “existing form of government” is discriminatory or unjust to part of its population.

With the world’s spotlight on America’s treatment of its darker-skinned citizens–and those same citizens linking their struggle to America’s foreign wars against darker-skinned peoples–the United States moved in the direction of racial integration in the 1970′s.  America’s longest war was also grudgingly brought to an end.

But today, despite the fact that we have been waging wars for two decades in the Muslim world and in just the last couple years bombed over half a dozen Muslim countries, the anti-war movement is, at least compared to the 1960′s and 70′s, all but dead.

Ron Paul is one of the only major political figures–and the only major presidential candidate–to oppose America’s wars.

And that is why he is in the cross-hairs of anti-Muslim bigots, who see the world in apocalyptic holy war terms: the jihad will bring an end to Western civilization as we know it so we must destroy them first!  This is their fundamental world view, which is why sustaining and protracting the wars against the Muslim world is their greatest desire.

Ron Paul threatens that paradigm.  He dares to cogitate that it is our military interventions in the Muslim world that result in Islamic terrorism against the United States and her allies.  He had the chutzpah to include 9/11 in this: “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.”

In the American national discourse, this is next to blasphemy.  But, in the rest of the world (especially in Muslim countries), this is not just common knowledge, it’s common sense.  In fact, nothing could be more obvious.

It’s precisely because this idea is so obvious and self-evident that it must simply never be uttered in the United States.  Anyone who does so must be condemned as unpatriotic and, worse, as Unserious.  Such a person’s character must be viciously attacked.

That’s exactly what is happening to Ron Paul.  Unfortunately, Paul deserves much of the blame for making himself such an easy target.  The racist newsletters are a gold-mine for his opponents.  Pamela Geller gleefully called them a “bombshell,” arguing that his presidential bid is now “unrecoverable” and that “[h]e is done.”

The evidence against Ron Paul, that he wrote those vile things against black people, is certainly very strong.  The only saving grace for Paul is the fact that those racist screeds do not sound anything like him.  Whether or not this alone can outweigh the proof against him, I do not know.  Whatever the case, Paul’s delay in disassociating himself from the letters, his ever-changing excuses, and his questionable associations are enough to condemn him.  (A balanced article on Ron Paul was written by the indefatigable Glenn Greenwald.)

Under normal circumstances, I’d have nothing but absolute contempt for Ron Paul.  In fact, even if he didn’t have such racism-related baggage,  a progressive like myself would have nothing to do with a man who wants to get rid of social welfare programs, the Department of Education, etc. etc.  When it comes to domestic issues, there is probably very little Ron Paul and I would see eye-to-eye on.  Worse yet, I find many of his views on such matters to be outside the realms of reasonableness–I’d go so far as to call them loony.

Yet, many progressives like myself are finding themselves inexorably drawn to Ron Paul.  That is because he is the only major presidential candidate to oppose America’s wars.  Stated another way: the rest of the candidates–including the incumbent president (who expanded the War on Terror)–are war-makers.  Ron Paul is the only peace candidate.

This says a lot about the state of our union more than it does about Ron Paul.  War-making has become such a staple of American life that the only man who stands a chance (and a slim one at that) of bringing an end to Endless War is a loony, fringe candidate with a questionable and possibly racist past.

I have been criticized by some Islamophobes for daring to say anything positive about Ron Paul.  But, the fact that a person of my views (a progressive peacenik) is forced to consider Ron Paul is indicative of how truly violent and warlike our country has become (or, rather, has always been).  This underscores my main counter-argument to the Supreme Islamophobic Myth: we, as part of the Judeo-Christian West, have been and are still, just as, if not more, violent and warlike than the Muslim world.

This fact is underscored even more by the fact that the reason why Ron Paul has been “disqualified” as a realistic candidate is because, in the words of Bill O’Reilly, of his peace-loving foreign policy.  Imagine, for instance, if an Iranian candidate for the Iranian presidency could never realistically win unless he advocated for war against other countries.  What would it say about Iranians if they, by convention and consensus, refused to elect someone who advocated peaceful relations with the rest of the world?

One would expect that progressive peaceniks like myself would have more options to choose from than just one candidate.  But because warmongering is an essential component of being president of the United States (and serving in the military is almost a prerequisite to getting elected–imagine if Iranians would demand that their leaders must have sometime in their lives fought jihad), there is virtually nobody to vote for.

In an earlier article, I wrote of how war has been a part of the American psyche since the very beginning, from 1776 all the way to the present.  We’ve never gone a decade without a major war, and no president in our history can truly be considered a peacetime president.  Yet, somehow even after waging wars for more than 91% of our existence, we look at ourselves as peace-makers and “those Moozlums over there” as violent and warlike.

A verse from the Quran is most fitting here: “When it is said to them: ‘Do not make mischief on earth,’ they say: ‘We are but peace-makers.’  In fact, they are the mischief-makers, but they realize it not.” (2:11-12)

*  *  *  *  *

Something else that reinforces my argument is the fact that even Ron Paul, the single peace proponent in the presidential race, does not seem to oppose war based on peacenik principles.  He usually raises financial and political arguments against the wars, instead of humanitarian ones: We’re bankrupting ourselves.  Or: These wars result in terrorism (against us).

Our moral compass should not be dictated by money or self-interest.  We should oppose these wars because killing innocent civilians is morally atrocious.  This is what should be the main argument:

Not this:

Let me clarify: there is nothing wrong with raising financial and political arguments as secondary reasons to end the wars.  In fact, I would encourage doing so.  But, the primary motivation behind opposing wars should be less self-centered (the war is costing us too much money, they may retaliate with terrorism against us, too many of our young soldiers are risking their lives over there), but more humanitarian towards the victims of our aggression: we are killing innocent civilians.

Ron Paul’s emphasis on financial and political reasons, as opposed to humanitarian concerns, seems to be consistent with his ideology.  (After all, he supported Israel’s bombing of Iraq in 1981 and seems unconcerned if Israel bombs Iran on its own accord.  This indicates to me that it is not the dead in Iraq or Iran that bothers him so much, but only that it would cost us money to kill them or would risk retaliation against us for doing so.)  What does it say about America if even the one and only supposed peace candidate is against wars not out of humanitarian reasons but financial and political concerns?

Even if I am being too harsh on Ron Paul and it’s just a political consideration to focus on financial and political reasons, what does it say about us Americans that we can only be convinced based on our wallets and not on our consciences?

*  *  *  *  *

I don’t say this very often, but Pamela Geller was absolutely right when she said  about Ron Paul that “[h]e is done.”  He most certainly is.  And so dies the only candidate who could have ended America’s Endless Wars.

One should point out, however, that just because the Islamophobes have found the Kryptonite that will kill Ron Paul (the racist newsletters) this doesn’t change the fact that Paul’s foreign policy views were correct.

Let this be a lesson to groupies and fan boys of Ron Paul, a lesson that groupies and fan boys of Barack Obama should also heed: do not put your hopes in a man, because if you do, that man will often, if not always, disappoint you. Put your faith in a conviction instead.  If you hold on tightly enough to the conviction and not the man, it will persevere.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

DISCLAIMER: LoonWatch has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States.  This article should not be seen as such.

“We’re at War!” — And We Have Been Since 1776: 214 Years of American War-Making

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2011 by loonwatch

“I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” -President Theodore Roosevelt, at the turn of the century [1]

Islam is inherently more violent than other religions.  This is the Supreme Islamophobic Myth.  Yes, there are other core beliefs of Islamophobia (Islam is sexist, oppressive, discriminatory, the list goes on…), but nothing is more critical to anti-Muslim bigots than associating Islam with violence, war, and terrorism.  This, in turn, is used to justify bombing, invading, and occupying Muslim countries–what I call the Supreme Islamophobic Crime.

We see this quite clearly in the jingoistic rhetoric against Iran, a Muslim country that is portrayed as being inherently violent and warlike.  This is then flipped around, using the argument that we must attack them before they attack us.

Yet, this is a Myth–the Mother of all Myths.  It is the United States that has been waging wars of aggression, not Iran.  Ahmed Rehab challenged Bill O’Reilly on this point by asking him: “How many countries has Iran attacked in the past 50 years?”  The answer is, of course, zero. Meanwhile, the United States and her “stalwart ally” Israel have attacked numerous Muslim countries, as I recently portrayed in this graphic:

The U.S., in the name of fighting terror, is waging seemingly Endless War in the Muslim world.   The “We are at War” mentality defines a generation of Americans, with many young adults having lived their entire lives while the country has been “at war.”  For them, war is the norm.

But if the future of America promises Endless War, be rest assured that this is no different than her past.  Below, I have reproduced a year-by-year timeline of America’s wars, which reveals something quite interesting: since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 214 out of her 235 calendar years of existence.  In other words, there were only 21 calendar years in which the U.S. did not wage any wars.

To put this in perspective:

* Pick any year since 1776 and there is about a 91% chance that America was involved in some war during that calendar year.

* No U.S. president truly qualifies as a peacetime president.  Instead, all U.S. presidents can technically be considered “war presidents.”

* The U.S. has never gone a decade without war.

* The only time the U.S. went five years without war (1935-40) was during the isolationist period of the Great Depression.

When we look at the present situation (see map above) and our violent past (see timeline below), is it not a bit hypocritical of us to point the finger at Muslims?  Whenever I hear “good Judeo-Christian American patriots” telling me how violent Muslims are and how Islam supposedly endorses Perpetual War–I cannot help but think of how their own “Judeo-Christian nation” has been locked in perpetual warfare since its inception.

The U.S. was born out of ethnic cleansing, a violent process that had started long before 1776 and would not be complete until 1900.  In other words, more than half of America’s existence (about 53%) has been marked by the active process of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, which was ultimately all but destroyed.

If the Islamophobes insist that the Armenian Genocide, which took place in the span of eight years, defines the Ottoman Empire (which existed for over 600 years, meaning the Armenian Genocide lasted only 1% of its existence), then would they be consistent and use this logic to argue that the ethnic cleansing of the American Indians (which spanned more than a century and a quarter, or 53% of America’s existence) defines the United States?  Or would they use it to demean Christianity overall as they do Islam? (Note: Benjamin Taghov has made this comparison on our website before; see here.)

By looking at America’s many wars throughout history, it becomes apparent that it is not radical Islam that propels the country to war.  Rather, it is America’s trajectory of war and conquest, which has always been in the direction of expanding hegemony.  In the start, the country expanded by occupying American Indian lands, portraying its indigenous population as inherently violent and warlike.  In 1823, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall wrote: “The tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war…” [2]

The American Indians were thought to be an existential threat to the United States (a classic case of projection or role inversion): John Quincy Adams, for example, wrote that “the savage Indians” were out to “wage an exterminating war” against the “peaceful inhabitants” of the United States [3].  It was the same message then as it is now: we must attack them before they attack us.

As Indian land was gobbled up by the use of force and fraud, the U.S. border expanded to the periphery of Mexico (which at that time consisted of most of the West Coast and Southwest of the modern United States).  Hungry for this land too, the U.S. invaded Mexico, and “Mexicans were portrayed as violent and treacherous bandits who terrorized” the people [4].  American belligerence towards Mexico heated up in the 1800′s, culminated in the U.S. annexation of half of Mexico’s land (leaving right-wingers today to wonder “why so many Mexicans are in our country?”), and seamlessly transitioned into the Banana Wars of the early 1900′s.

Once the Americans had successfully implemented Manifest Destiny by conquering the land from sea to shining sea, the Monroe Doctrine was used to expand American influence in the Caribbean and Central America.  Thus began the Banana Wars, a series of military interventions from 1898 all the way to 1934, which attempted to expand American hegemony to the south of its borders.  America’s brutality in this part of the world is not well-known to most Americans, but it is well-documented.

During this time period, Hispanics were portrayed as “cunningly dangerous bandits” [5].  The Banana Wars came to an end in 1934 with the adoption of the “Good Neighbor Policy,” a policy that was adopted because “World War II was looming in Europe and Asia” and the U.S. wanted “to secure Latin American allegiances and hemispheric unity as a protection against foreign invasion” [6].

For a brief period, from 1935-1940, America rested from war, thanks to the emergence of isolationism during the Great Depression.  But, with the start of World War II, the U.S. emerged as a super-power, ever hungry for more conflict.  Thus began the Cold War period from 1945 all the way to 1991, with the U.S. fighting “the (exaggerated) menace of Communism” all over the world, even when it meant bombing, invading, and occupying countries that had done no harm to the U.S.

The Cold War had not even ended before the U.S. found its new target: the Middle East and the Muslim world.  By 1990, the U.S. was already bombing Iraq in the First Gulf War–a country that the U.S. would go on to bomb for over two decades.  Needing another boogieman now that the Soviet Union was dead, the U.S. turned to “radical Islam” as the enemy.  And that’s why you have the map as it is above.

It should be noted that American plans to dominate the Middle East date back to at least the end of World War II, when it was decided that the region was of critical strategic value.  Now that the U.S. has followed through on this plan, do you think “radical Islam” is really “an existential threat” just as American Indians were “fierce savages” waging “an exterminating war” against the “peaceful inhabitants” of the United States; or how Mexicans were “violent” and “terrorized” people; or how Central Americans were “dangerous bandits”?  The rampant Islamophobia that abounds today is part of a long tradition of vilifying, Other-izing, and dehumanizing the indigenous populations of lands that need to controlled.

The objects of American aggression have certainly changed with time, but the primary motivating factor behind U.S. wars of aggression have always been the same: expansion of U.S. hegemony.  The Muslim world is being bombed, invaded, and occupied by the United States not because of radical Islam or any inherent flaw in themselves.  Rather, it is being so attacked because it is in the path of the American juggernaut, which is always in need of war.

*  *  *  *  *

Here is a graphic depiction of U.S. wars:

And here is the year-by-year timeline of America’s major wars:

[Note: This is a non-exhaustive list, and I purposefully excluded all sorts of military interventions so as to be very conservative; the list excludes, for example, “peaceful means” used to ethnically cleanse the land of American Indians, i.e. fraudulent treaties and other coercive means; it excludes many outright massacres of American Indians; it further excludes several instances of the U.S. landing troops in various countries to “protect American interests”; it also excludes virtually all CIA interventions and other covert wars; lastly, I may have omitted wars due to my own ignorance of them, although I am sure that readers will give their input so we can add to the list as needed.]

Year-by-year Timeline of America’s Major Wars (1776-2011)

1776 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamagua Wars, Second Cherokee War, Pennamite-Yankee War

1777 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Second Cherokee War, Pennamite-Yankee War

1778 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1779 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1780 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1781 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1782 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1783 – American Revolutionary War, Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War

1784 – Chickamauga Wars, Pennamite-Yankee War, Oconee War

1785 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1786 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1787 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1788 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1789 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1790 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1791 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1792 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1793 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1794 – Chickamauga Wars, Northwest Indian War

1795 – Northwest Indian War

1796 – No major war

1797 – No major war

1798 – Quasi-War

1799 – Quasi-War

1800 – Quasi-War

1801 – First Barbary War

1802 – First Barbary War

1803 – First Barbary War

1804 – First Barbary War

1805 – First Barbary War

1806 – Sabine Expedition

1807 – No major war

1808 – No major war

1809 – No major war

1810 – U.S. occupies Spanish-held West Florida

1811 – Tecumseh’s War

1812 – War of 1812, Tecumseh’s War, Seminole Wars, U.S. occupies Spanish-held Amelia Island and other parts of East Florida

1813 – War of 1812, Tecumseh’s War, Peoria War, Creek War, U.S. expands its territory in West Florida

1814 – War of 1812, Creek War, U.S. expands its territory in Florida, Anti-piracy war

1815 – War of 1812, Second Barbary War, Anti-piracy war

1816 – First Seminole War, Anti-piracy war

1817 – First Seminole War, Anti-piracy war

1818 – First Seminole War, Anti-piracy war

1819 – Yellowstone Expedition, Anti-piracy war

1820 – Yellowstone Expedition, Anti-piracy war

1821 – Anti-piracy war (see note above)

1822 – Anti-piracy war (see note above)

1823 – Anti-piracy war, Arikara War

1824 – Anti-piracy war

1825 – Yellowstone Expedition, Anti-piracy war

1826 – No major war

1827 – Winnebago War

1828 – No major war

1829 – No major war

1830 – No major war 

1831 – Sac and Fox Indian War

1832 – Black Hawk War

1833 – Cherokee Indian War

1834 – Cherokee Indian War, Pawnee Indian Territory Campaign

1835 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Second Creek War

1836 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Second Creek War, Missouri-Iowa Border War

1837 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Second Creek War, Osage Indian War, Buckshot War

1838 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars, Buckshot War, Heatherly Indian War

1839 – Cherokee Indian War, Seminole Wars

1840 – Seminole Wars, U.S. naval forces invade Fiji Islands

1841 – Seminole Wars, U.S. naval forces invade McKean Island, Gilbert Islands, and Samoa

1842 – Seminole Wars

1843 – U.S. forces clash with Chinese, U.S. troops invade African coast

1844 – Texas-Indian Wars

1845 – Texas-Indian Wars

1846 – Mexican-American War, Texas-Indian Wars

1847 – Mexican-American War, Texas-Indian Wars

1848 – Mexican-American War, Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War

1849 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians

1850 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Yuma War, California Indian Wars, Pitt River Expedition

1851 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, Yuma War, Utah Indian Wars, California Indian Wars

1852 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Yuma War, Utah Indian Wars, California Indian Wars

1853 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Yuma War, Utah Indian Wars, Walker War, California Indian Wars

1854 – Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians

1855 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Cayuse War, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Yakima War, Winnas Expedition, Klickitat War, Puget Sound War, Rogue River Wars, U.S. forces invade Fiji Islands and Uruguay

1856 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, California Indian Wars, Puget Sound War, Rogue River Wars, Tintic War

1857 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, California Indian Wars, Utah War, Conflict in Nicaragua

1858 – Seminole Wars, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Mohave War, California Indian Wars, Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-Paloos War, Utah War, U.S. forces invade Fiji Islands and Uruguay

1859 Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, California Indian Wars, Pecos Expedition, Antelope Hills Expedition, Bear River Expedition, John Brown’s raid, U.S. forces launch attack against Paraguay, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1860 – Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Paiute War, Kiowa-Comanche War

1861 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign

1862 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign, Dakota War of 1862,

1863 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Southwest Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign, Colorado War, Goshute War

1864 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Cheyenne Campaign, Colorado War, Snake War

1865 – American Civil War, Texas-Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Colorado War, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War

1866 – Texas-Indian Wars, Navajo Wars, Apache Wars, California Indian Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Red Cloud’s War, Franklin County War, U.S. invades Mexico, Conflict with China

1867 – Texas-Indian Wars, Long Walk of the Navajo, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Red Cloud’s War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War, U.S. troops occupy Nicaragua and attack Taiwan

1868 – Texas-Indian Wars, Long Walk of the Navajo, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Snake War, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Red Cloud’s War, Comanche Wars, Battle of Washita River, Franklin County War

1869 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War

1870 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War

1871 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Franklin County War, Kingsley Cave Massacre, U.S. forces invade Korea

1872 – Texas-Indian Wars, Apache Wars, Utah’s Black Hawk War, Comanche Wars, Modoc War, Franklin County War

1873 – Texas-Indian Wars, Comanche Wars, Modoc War, Apache Wars, Cypress Hills Massacre, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1874 – Texas-Indian Wars, Comanche Wars, Red River War, Mason County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1875 – Conflict in Mexico, Texas-Indian Wars, Comanche Wars, Eastern Nevada, Mason County War, Colfax County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1876 – Texas-Indian Wars, Black Hills War, Mason County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1877 – Texas-Indian Wars, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Black Hills War, Nez Perce War, Mason County War, Lincoln County War, San Elizario Salt War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1878 – Paiute Indian conflict, Bannock War, Cheyenne War, Lincoln County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1879 – Cheyenne War, Sheepeater Indian War, White River War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1880 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1881 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1882 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1883 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1884 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1885 – Apache Wars, Eastern Nevada Expedition, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1886 – Apache Wars, Pleasant Valley War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1887 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1888 – U.S. show of force against Haiti, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1889 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1890 – Sioux Indian War, Skirmish between 1st Cavalry and Indians, Ghost Dance War, Wounded Knee, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1891 – Sioux Indian War, Ghost Dance War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1892 – Johnson County War, U.S. forces invade Mexico

1893 – U.S. forces invade Mexico and Hawaii

1894 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1895 – U.S. forces invade Mexico, Bannock Indian Disturbances

1896 – U.S. forces invade Mexico

1897 – No major war

1898 – Spanish-American War, Battle of Leech Lake, Chippewa Indian Disturbances

1899 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1900 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1901 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1902 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1903 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1904 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1905 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1906 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1907 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1908 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1909 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1910 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1911 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1912 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars

1913 – Philippine-American War, Banana Wars, New Mexico Navajo War

1914 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico

1915 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico, Colorado Paiute War

1916 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico

1917 – Banana Wars, World War I, U.S. invades Mexico

1918 – Banana Wars, World War I, U.S invades Mexico

1919 – Banana Wars, U.S. invades Mexico

1920 – Banana Wars

1921 – Banana Wars

1922 – Banana Wars

1923 – Banana Wars, Posey War

1924 – Banana Wars

1925 – Banana Wars

1926 – Banana Wars

1927 – Banana Wars

1928 – Banana Wars

1930 – Banana Wars

1931 – Banana Wars

1932 – Banana Wars

1933 – Banana Wars

1934 – Banana Wars

1935 – No major war

1936 – No major war

1937 – No major war

1938 – No major war

1939 – No major war

1940 – No major war

1941 – World War II

1942 – World War II

1943 – Wold War II

1944 – World War II

1945 – World War II

1946 – Cold War (U.S. occupies the Philippines and South Korea)

1947 – Cold War (U.S. occupies South Korea, U.S. forces land in Greece to fight Communists)

1948 – Cold War (U.S. forces aid Chinese Nationalist Party against Communists)

1949 – Cold War (U.S. forces aid Chinese Nationalist Party against Communists)

1950 – Korean War, Jayuga Uprising

1951 – Korean War

1952 – Korean War

1953 – Korean War

1954 – Covert War in Guatemala

1955 – Vietnam War

1956 – Vietnam War

1957 – Vietnam War

1958 – Vietnam War

1959 – Vietnam War, Conflict in Haiti

1960 – Vietam War

1961 – Vietnam War

1962 – Vietnam War, Cold War (Cuban Missile Crisis; U.S. marines fight Communists in Thailand)

1963 – Vietnam War

1964 – Vietnam War

1965 – Vietnam War, U.S. occupation of Dominican Republic

1966 – Vietnam War, U.S. occupation of Dominican Republic

1967 – Vietnam War

1968 – Vietnam War

1969 – Vietnam War

1970 – Vietnam War

1971 – Vietnam War

1972 – Vietnam War

1973 – Vietnam War, U.S. aids Israel in Yom Kippur War

1974 – Vietnam War

1975 – Vietnam War

1976 – No major war

1977 – No major war

1978 – No major war

1979 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan)

1980 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan)

1981 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), First Gulf of Sidra Incident

1982 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), Conflict in Lebanon

1983 – Cold War (Invasion of Grenada, CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), Conflict in Lebanon

1984 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua), Conflict in Persian Gulf

1985 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua)

1986 – Cold War (CIA proxy war in Afghanistan and Nicaragua)

1987 – Conflict in Persian Gulf

1988 – Conflict in Persian Gulf, U.S. occupation of Panama

1989 – Second Gulf of Sidra Incident, U.S. occupation of Panama, Conflict in Philippines

1990 – First Gulf War, U.S. occupation of Panama

1991 – First Gulf War

1992 – Conflict in Iraq

1993 – Conflict in Iraq

1994 – Conflict in Iraq, U.S. invades Haiti

1995 – Conflict in Iraq, U.S. invades Haiti, NATO bombing of Bosnia and Herzegovina

1996 – Conflict in Iraq

1997 – No major war

1998 – Bombing of Iraq, Missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan

1999 – Kosovo War

2000 – No major war

2001 – War on Terror in Afghanistan

2002 – War on Terror in Afghanistan and Yemen

2003 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, and Iraq

2004 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2005 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2006 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2007 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen

2008 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2009 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2010 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen

2011 – War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen; Conflict in Libya (Libyan Civil War)

President Barack Obama repeated the now infamous words of George W. Bush, declaring: “We are at war…”  Yes, and we have been, ever since 1776.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

Update I:

It goes without saying that I am not arguing that all of America’s wars listed above were wars of aggression and therefore unjustified–but arguably the vast majority of them were.

Update II:

To put this into greater perspective, Iran has not invaded a country since 1795, which was 216 years ago. (h/t LW’s Ilisha)

Footnotes:

[1] Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States, p.297

[2] Steuter, Erin. At War with Metaphor, p.43

[3] Chomsky, Noam. Deterring Democracy, p.34

[4] Mraz, John. Looking for Mexico, p.60

[5] Ching, Erik. Reframing Latin America, p.228

[6] Ibid.

Reply to Prof. Juan Cole

Posted in Anti-Loons, Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2011 by loonwatch

Prof. Juan Cole was kind enough to link to my article Eye-Opening Graphic: Map of Muslim Countries that the U.S. and Israel Have Bombed.

He reproduced this image I created:

(Note: Image quality has improved, thanks to a reader named Mohamed S.)

However, he wrote:

(I generally agree, but there are a couple of problems here, see below)

Prof. Cole’s first problem with my article was with regard to shading Iran red (red = countries the U.S. or Israel have bombed):

I may be having a senior moment, but I actually don’t think the US has bombed Iran. It shot down an Iranian civilian air liner in 1988 and has backed the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) or People’s Jihadis to blow things up in Iran. It also gave tactical support to Saddam Hussein’s military in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, and so bombed Iran by proxy. But I can’t remember any direct US military strike on the country.

In my article, I explained why I shaded Iran red.  I wrote:

Under Barack Obama, the U.S. is currently bombing AfghanistanIraqPakistanYemenSomalia, and Libya.  According to some reports (see here and here), we can add Iran to this ever-expanding list.

There have been a series of explosions in Iran which many believe to be linked to America and/or Israel.  For example:

Iranian nuclear scientist killed in bomb attack

Bomb attacks have killed a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist and wounded another in Tehran, state TV reported today.

To me, a bomb is a bomb is a bomb–no matter how it is delivered.

Just today Haaretz is reporting:

Seven killed in explosion at Iranian steel mill linked with nuclear program

Explosion follows two blasts that occurred in Iran in recent weeks at sites linked to Tehran’s nuclear program.

At least seven people were killed Sunday night in an explosion at a steel mill in the Iranian city of Yazd. Foreign nationals, possibly North Korean nuclear arms experts, are believed to be among the dead.

The explosion follows two blasts that occurred in Iran in recent weeks at sites linked to Tehran’s nuclear program…

The explosions in the past few months join a series of assassination attempts on Iranian nuclear scientists over the past two years…

The Los Angeles Times writes:

Mysterious blasts, slayings suggest covert efforts in Iran

Attacks targeting nuclear scientists and sites lead some observers to believe that the U.S. and Israel are trying to derail Iran’s programs…

However, many former U.S. intelligence officials and Iran experts believe that the explosion — the most destructive of at least two dozen unexplained blasts in the last two years — was part of a covert effort by the U.S., Israel and others to disable Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The goal, the experts say, is to derail what those nations fear is Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability and to stave off an Israeli or U.S. airstrike to eliminate or lessen the threat.

Therefore, I did not feel it unreasonable to include Iran in countries that America/Israel have bombed, although I did preface it with “[a]ccording to some experts…”

Then, Prof. Cole wrote:

Also, the US has had no base in Uzbekistan since 2005.

In my article, I hyperlinked to this BBC News article:

US troops returning to Uzbek base

Uzbekistan is once again allowing the US to use a base in the south of the country for operations in Afghanistan…

US troops were evicted from Uzbekistan in 2005 after the US condemned it for shooting protesters in Andijan city.

However, Prof. Cole is correct: these U.S. troops are using an Uzbek, not American, base.  This is something I should have pointed out and is an error on my part for which I thank Prof. Cole for pointing out.

Nonetheless, this error makes little substantive difference: there is still a U.S. military presence in that country, regardless of if they are stationed on a U.S. base, an Uzbek one, a farm house, or a dog house.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have entitled the image “Countries the U.S. and Israel Have Bombed and Have Troops Stationed in,” (which doesn’t flow from the tongue as easily).

Then, Prof. Cole wrote:

I also questioned Turkmenistan but found this.

In my article, I linked to this.

Lastly, Prof. Cole said:

Finally, there is a logical fallacy because having a US base in a country is the result of a bilateral agreement and it isn’t always unpopular, even at the level of the person on the street. In the Cold War, Turks were very happy to have the US presence to deter the Soviets.

I humbly disagree that this was “a logical fallacy” on my part.  I never denied that there was a substantial difference between a military base resulting from “a bilateral agreement” and one resulting from a military occupation.

However, there is also a difference between (say) “a bilateral agreement” with the U.K. on the one hand and Pakistan on the other.  The former is treated as an ally, whereas the latter is treated as a vassal state.  The U.S. strong-armed the Pakistani leadership into acquiescing to American demands (do what we want or else “we will bomb you back to the Stone Age”) even though it was clearly not in their national interest to do so (well, not being bombed back to the Stone Age made it their national interest).

This leads to the second issue: these “bilateral agreements” are often highly unpopular among the people of such countries.  As a democratic country, shouldn’t we care about the will of the people?  Or do we follow a long tradition of colonialism and make deals with the elite crony leadership that has ingratiated itself to us at the expense of their people?

Prof. Cole goes on to argue that U.S. military bases arranged through bilateral agreements aren’t “always unpopular, even at the level of the person on the street.”  He gives the example of Turkey in the Cold War.  However, there is a greater issue at stake here: even if a U.S. military base is popular in one particular country, we must consider its popularity in neighboring countries and the region overall.  If the Soviet Union had created a military base in Cuba (which the Cubans may have very much liked), would we have liked it?  Or would we have (rightfully) considered it threatening?

So, even if a U.S. base in (say) Saudi Arabia was arranged through “bilateral agreement” and was (let’s pretend) popular with the Saudi people, this would still be problematic since its presence is threatening to other countries in the region, whose people view the United States and Israel as the two greatest threats to their safety.

The bottom line is that the overwhelming military presence of the United States in the Greater Middle East is responsible for creating resentment in those people who are either living in lands we occupy, station our troops in, or whom we surround.

*  *  *  *  *

I should mention that I hold Prof. Juan Cole in very high regard.  He is a respected expert in the field, and I issue my response only very timidly.  Furthermore, I welcome the very real possibility that I am mistaken.

Update I:

Prof. Cole just added:

Still, that there are a lot of resentments because of knee-jerk US backing (since the late 1960s) for Israeli hawks and because of the way the US and its ally have sought hegemony in the region, so the mapmaker has a point.

I agree, but would just add that it adds resentment not just in people who live in Turkey but those who live in the region in general.

Lastly, I should point out that I doubt Turks still view the U.S. bases in their country positively, based on the fact that a plurality of Turks view America as the greatest threat to their national security (not surprisingly, Israel comes in at number 2).

Update II:

An Informed Comment reader named Shannon pointed out that in fact the United States bombed Iran in 1988 during Operating Praying Mantis, an act that “cannot be justified” according to the International Court of Justice.

Eye-Opening Graphic: Map of Muslim Countries that the U.S. and Israel Have Bombed

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2011 by loonwatch

(updated – see below)

Pro-Israel propagandist Jeffrey Goldberg made an inadvertent but profound admission the other day when he said: “[T]he U.S. have been waging a three-decade war for domination of the Middle East.”

This “three-decade war for domination of the Middle East” becomes apparent when we consider how many Muslim countries the peace-loving United States and her “stalwart ally” Israel have bombed:

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, the U.S. bombed Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

In the time of George Bush, the U.S. bombed Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia.

Under Barack Obama, the U.S. is currently bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.  According to some reports (see here and here), we can add Iran to this ever-expanding list. [Update: An Informed Comment reader named Shannon pointed out that in fact the United States bombed Iran in 1988 during Operating Praying Mantis, an act that “cannot be justified” according to the International Court of Justice.]

Thanks to American arms and funding, our “stalwart ally” Israel has bombed every single one of its neighbors, including Palestine, LebanonSyria, Jordan, and Egypt.  Israel has also bombed Tunisia and Iraq (how many times can Americans and Israelis bomb this country?).

The total number of Muslim countries that America and Israel have bombed comes to fourteen: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Tunisia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has military bases in several countries in the Greater Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, UAE, Yemen, Iraq,  AfghanistanDjiboutiKyrgyzstan, SomaliaEthiopiaTurkmenistanUzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Chad. The U.S. also used to have a base in Eritrea and demanded another one in 2010. [Update: There is a minor error here pointed out to me by Prof. Juan Cole: the U.S. troops stationed in Uzbekistan are using an Uzbek, not American, base.  However, this makes little substantive difference: there is still a U.S. military presence in that country, which was my point.]

Here’s what that looks like on a map of the Greater Middle East:

(Note: Image quality improved thanks to a reader named Mohamed S.)

I wonder where those silly Muslims come up with the conspiratorial, absolutely irrational idea that the U.S. is waging war against the Muslim world?

If you haven’t already seen this video, I strongly suggest you watch it:

With seven active wars in seven different Muslim countries, it is quite an amazing thing that Americans can have the audacity to ask: “why are Muslims so violent and warlike?”

But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama “widened” the war, which is now being waged across “two continents” in “roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics,” using “robotic drones and commando teams” as well as “contractors” and “local operatives.”

Even more worrisome, the Washington Post reports that America’s “secret wars” are waged by “Special Operations forces” in “75 countries” (and “that number will likely reach 120″); in other words, the United States will have engaged in military acts in over 60% of the world’s nation-states.  After all of this, Americans will turn around and ask: “why are Muslims so violent and warlike?”

Could it possibly be more obvious that the War on Terror is just a pretext for global domination?

*  *  *  *  *

Every four years, Americans get the illusion of choice: the choice between Democrat and Republican.  In terms of foreign policy, the difference is like the difference between Coke and Pepsi.  In the last election, John McCain sang a variation of the famous Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann,” changing the lyrics to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!”; meanwhile, Barack Obama hinted at expanding the war to Pakistan.  The American voter was given the choice not between war and peace, but between war against Iran or war against Pakistan.

In the national discourse, there exists a bipartisan consensus on the need for perpetual war: both candidates agreed on the need to expand the War on of Terror and attack more Muslim countries.  There was no confusion about whether or not to bomb, invade, and occupy–the question was only where to do this.  If the Muslim world were imagined to be a turkey, the question was then only whether to begin munching on the leg first or to start with the breast.

President Barack Obama may have disagreed with his predecessor’s tactics, but he agreed with the Bush/Cheney world view.  Obama may have thought we could move around troops here and there–let’s move some of these troops from Iraq to Afghanistan–but he did not disagree with the basic premise, overall methods, and goals of the Bush/Cheney War on of Terror.

Interestingly, Obama was considered to be “the peace candidate”; even more absurd of course was that he ended up winning the Noble Peace Prize.  While it is true that the Democratic Obama has tended to use less hawkish language, in terms of actions Obama has a worse record than Bush: Obama has expanded the War on of Terror, both in terms of covert and overt wars.

Why did a “liberal” Democrat (Barack Obama) end up being more warlike than a “hawkish” Republican (George Bush)?  There is of course the obvious explanation of war inertia.  But aside from this, there must be something deeper, which is apparent if we look at the situation between what were historically the two large parties in Israel.

Western media (see Time Magazine, for example), portrays the Labor Party as “dovish” and Likud as “hawkish”.  Certainly, in terms of rhetoric this is true.  But, is it really true?  According to experts in the field–such as Prof. Noam Chomsky and Dr. Norman Finkelstein–Labor has had a far worse track record toward Palestinians than the Likud.  Labor and Likud play good cop, bad cop toward Palestinians–or rather bad cop, badder cop.  But while the two parties disagree on rhetoric and tactics, they share similar overall goals.

The same is the case with Democrats and Republicans.  The Democrats use softer rhetoric, whereas the Republicans continually push the national discourse (the “center”) rightward.  But, because a Democratic president must counter the accusation that he is “weak” on matters of “defense” (Orwell: offense is defense), he must be Strong and Tough against Terrorism.  Effectively this means that his war policy becomes virtually indistinguishable from that of the political right.

Furthermore, President Barack Obama has done something that no Republican could do: he has brought bipartisan consensus to the state of perpetual and global war.  During the reign of George Bush, prominent liberal progressives criticized his warlike policies.  In fact, this was one of the motivating factors behind electing Obama, who would bring “Change.”  Yet, when Obama brought more of the same, most liberal progressives fell silent, a hypocrisy that did not go unnoticed by conservatives.

It took a “liberal” Democrat to expand the War on of Terror and give it bipartisan consensus, just as it took a conservative Republican (Richard Nixon) to make peace with Communist China.

Under the two-party system, it really does not matter which side wins.  A Republican candidate might sound more warlike than a Democrat, but once in office, he softens his position somewhat due to Democratic opposition (even though most of the Democrats won’t vote against war resolutions).  Meanwhile, a Democrat president must prove that he is Strong and Tough against Terrorism, so he hardens his position.  In the end, Democratic and Republican presidents are moved to the political “center” (which keeps getting pushed ever more to the right), so that the two are virtually indistinguishable from each other.  Perhaps Barack Obama was onto something when he said:

There’s not a liberal America or a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.

It is true: America’s politicians are united in their endorsement of perpetual and global war.

The United States has a long history of bipartisan consensus when it comes to waging wars of aggression.  In 1846, the country was divided between the hawkish Democratic party led by President James K. Polk and the supposedly dovish Whig party.  Polk’s administration saber-rattled against Mexico in order to justify invading and occupying their land.  Meanwhile, “[t]he Whig party was presumably against the war,” but “they were not so powerfully against the military action that they would stop it by denying men and money for the operation” (p.153 of Prof. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States). In fact, the “Whigs joined Democrats in voting overwhelmingly for the war resolution, 174 to 14.”  They did so, because “[t]hey did not want to risk the accusation that they were putting American soldiers in peril by depriving them of the materials necessary to fight.”  The only dissenters were “a small group of antislavery Whigs, or a ‘little knot of ultraists,’ as one Massachusetts Congressman who voted for the war measure put it.”  Perhaps among them was Ron Paul’s great grandfather.

The measure passed the Congress (174 to 14) and the Senate (40 to 2), “Whigs joining Democrats.”  The Whigs “could only harry the administration with a barrage of verbiage while voting for every appropriation which the military campaigns required.”  In any case, “the United States would be giving the blessings of liberty and democracy” to the Mexicans.  Any of this sound familiar?

Flash forward to today and we see the establishment left consistently supporting America’s wars of aggression.  Even while these avowed liberals criticize right-wingers for warmongering against Iran, they themselves often saber-rattle against Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia.  The right thinks we’re doing something great in Iraq and wants to expand the war to Iran (which we may already have done).  Meanwhile, the left thinks we were right to bomb Afghanistan and that we should expand the war to Pakistan (which we’ve already done).  Neither left or right opposes foreign wars altogether.  The difference is only with regard to the names of the countries we bomb, which doesn’t really matter since the truth is that we are bombing all of them now.

This is because both left and right agree with the Supreme Islamophobic Myth: that Islam (or radical Islam) is the greatest threat to world peace.  This inevitably leads to the central tenet of Islamophobia, which is to endorse the Supreme Islamophobic Crime: bombing, invading, and occupying Muslim lands.

Peace can only be attained when one is disabused of this mother of nationalistic myths.  This can only be done by realizing that it is the United States that is the greatest threat to peace in the region (look at the map!).  Consider that the U.S. has bombed at least a dozen Muslim countries in recent history, whereas zero Muslim countries have bombed the U.S.  If “wars of aggression” constitute “the supreme international crime”–as decided during the Nuremberg Trials–then what does it say about the situation when America has initiated multiple wars of aggression against the Muslim world whereas no single Muslim country has done so against the United States?

No Muslim country has attacked us because the risks of doing so are far too great; it would mean almost certain destruction.  This is why, even though the map of the Middle East in the image above looks like it does, no Muslim country has the audacity to retaliate.  Meanwhile, the U.S.–as the world’s only superpower–can attack multiple smaller countries without fear of significant retaliation to the American heartland.  Therefore, it only makes sense for people of conscience, especially Americans, to be highly critical of U.S. foreign policy.

*  *  *  *  *

Something else troubling I’ve noticed about the national discourse is how even those opposed to war (or at least one set of wars) will frame their opposition in financial terms.  The primary argument to convince Americans against war seems not to be the fact that war is immoral, that bombing countries and killing so many countless civilians is morally repugnant, but rather that it’s just too costly to do so.  It’s our wallets, not our soul, that is at stake.

Another argument that takes precedence over the moral argument includes the idea that too many of our troops are dying (victim inversion); alternatively, it is argued (rightfully) that such wars increase the likelihood of terrorism against us (another example of victim inversion).

During the Nuremberg Trials, it was decided that initiating a war of aggression constituted “the supreme international crime”:

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Of what moral character would you consider a Nazi official if he argued against Hitler’s wars on the basis of “it will cost too much German tax payer money” or “it will kill too many German soldiers” or “it may result in retaliation against Germany?” (Refer to Glenn Greenwald’s article on Godwin’s law.)

Would it not be better to use as one’s central argument against America’s wars that it is morally repugnant to bomb and kill people?

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

Update I:

Prof. Juan Cole was kind enough to reproduce the image and link to our article.  He had some minor issues with the map, to which I responded here.

Pamela Geller Turns Hollywood Shooting Tragedy Into an Islamophobic Hate Fest

Posted in Loon Blogs, Loon Politics, Loon Sites with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2011 by loonwatch
Pamela Geller
Pamela Geller

Pamela Geller Turns Hollywood Shooting Tragedy Into an Islamophobic Hate Fest

by Sheila Musaji

On Friday, there was a tragic incident in Hollywood, California.  A man began shooting people randomly near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, and injured two men, one critically, before he was finally shot and killed by police.

Pamela Geller had an article online right away titled HOLLYWOOD JIHAD: SHOOTOUT, GUNMAN CALMLY TARGETED DRIVERS AND PEOPLE WHILE SHOUTING ALLAHU AKBAR!  She said in her lede “What is most disturbing about this story, apart from the obvious horror, is that not one news account reported what one witness said the shooter was screaming: “allahu akbar.” Not one news account. The media is the enemy.”

The initial local news video about the incident did include one witness saying that the shooter shouted “Allahu Akbar!” but at this point no other witness has confirmed that.  Whether or not that one witness was accurate about what he thought he heard, no one yet knows, and none of the cell phone videos of the incident as it happened at this point confirm this allegatioin.  Other witnesses said that they heard the shooter shout “Is this the end?”  and “kill me” and “I’m gonna die” during the rampage.  Witnesses also identified the shooter variously as “white” and as “hispanic”.

Of course, as soon as Geller posted her story, the Islamophobic echo chamber reposted her story with their own sensational headlines.  Geller’s partner Robert Spencer posted his own article referring to Geller.  Sheikh Yermami called it “Hollywood Jihad”,  Bare Naked Islam called it “Sudden Jihad Syndrome”.  Debbie Schlussel called it a “terrorist attack”.  Free Republic re-posted,  Creeping Sharia re-posted.  Even the Grant County Tea Party site re-posted Geller’s article.  Gateway Pundit said“Once again the media hid the truth from the American public.”  The Muslims are Terrorists site posted the headline Muslim goes on shooting spree in Hollywood! Shouts allah akbar, media omits that detail to protect jihadists! with the lede “Thankfully one less muslim is wandering the streets tonight!”

More often than not, Geller is the first to churn out some anti-Muslim meme, and then her willing accomplices echo her message and pass it on.  It takes on a life of its own.  Geller is one of the key players and in our Who’s Who of Islamophobes and it is almost impossible to keep up with her rantings and update our backgrounder on her as fast as she can churn out her hateful messages.

On Saturday the identity of the shooter was released by the authorities.  According to KTLA News“The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has identified the man police shot and killed Friday after he opened fire on unsuspecting cars in the middle of a busy Hollywood intersection.  The 26-year-old man was Tyler Brehm.  Few details about the man are available but a Facebook page belonging to a man bearing the same name reveals that man ended a relationship four days ago. It has not yet been confirmed that the Tyler Brehm depicted on the Facebook page is the same Tyler Brehm involved in Friday’s shooting, but the Facebook page indicated its owner lives in Hollywood and was originally from Carlisle, Penn.  The Baltimore Sun reports that Brehm’s ex-girlfriend, Alicia Alligood, told KTLA 5 she and Brehm dated for four years before breaking up this month.  The end of their relationship may have acted as a trigger that led to Friday’s fatal events, she said in a phone interview with KTLA 5’s David Begnaud. …  She said Brehm was “really stressed out lately.” He met a woman he thought was a pharmaceutical saleswoman, who had given him some kind of pills, Alliegood said. He began taking the pills, which was alarming because he never took drugs before.  One of Brehm’s neighbors described him as unstable.

The actual story as far as what anyone knows to date is that a young man named Tyler Brehm went on a shooting spree.  Witness reports are varied.  The police are investigating.  Little is known about the shooter beyond his name, the fact that he is from Pennsylvania, is unemployed, and recently broke up with his girlfriend.  He may have been emotionally distressed.  He may have been taking drugs.  The Hollywood Reporter has the most recent information and an interview with one of the victims..

Outside of law enforcement, only Pamela Geller and her echo chamber “know” more than this.  Publishing such baseless speculation is irresponsible, and only proves that the only motivation is pure hatred.

This sort of behavior on the part of Geller and her cohorts in the Islamophobia echo chamber is not new, and we even have a collection of some of Geller’s previous false claims here and of the attempts by Geller and friends to cover up evidence of their false claims here.  Here is just one example of this pattern of jumping to false conclusions

In July of 2011, Pamela Geller published a post titled Vehicular Jihad in Arizona which was Geller’s take on a simple story about a terrible car accident in Arizona in which the driver of a vehicle crashed into 3 parked vehicles in a parking lot and was killed.  The man was a physician named Ajaz Rahaman.  As soon as the man’s name was released, Geller posted her article.  This was before there were any autopsy findings released,  before police investigations were completed – before anyone knew what happened.  The name of this man sounded as if he might be a Muslim.  However the name Walid Shoebat might also be identified as a Muslim name.  That’s all the proof Geller needed to call this “vehicular jihad”.  I published an article giving the facts titled “Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer Discover Muslim Vehicular Jihad Plot” and within a day Geller pulled the original article from her site but that the article still exists on google cache.  Why did they try to cover this up.  Because the doctor simply had a heart attack and died at the wheel which is why the car crashed.

This gleeful rush on the part of the Islamophobes to connect any violence to Muslims is also a pattern, as happened with the Virginia Tech shootings.  Pamela Geller, the Queen of the Islamophobes promoted the non-existent Muslim connection in the Virginia Tech massacre, in an article Ismail Ax and the Prophet Moe with the lede “Release the damn transcripts. Enough with the cover up. Don’t the dead and America, a country at war, deserve to know was is really happening? As I wrote here previously, we know Ismail Ax was written in red (color of blood) on his arm, we know he signed his suicide note Ismail Ax and sent an overnight package to NBC from A Ishmail, he made sure he had no other ID on his person after he martyred himself so you can be sure he wanted to be remembered as Ismail Ax. This is in and of itself very telling. Shaving his head and from what I can see in his pictures and martyr video- his body (that’s what they do – remember the 9/11 hijackers?) , must have added to law enforcement’s suspicions, which is why it so damning that they would say so early on that horrible day that “it was not tied to terrorism.”  And, she comments The tie-in is carefully explained at Prophet of Doom here. It’s lengthy – read it. I’ve excerpted here. “Every aspect of Cho’s rage, every nuance of his twisted and inverted morality, was lifted from the pages of Islam.”   Geller never did post an apology or a correction.

The only effect that all of this propaganda has is to stir up the readers of these sites into a frenzy of anti-Muslim hatred.  And, it works.

Here are a few of the readers comments on this Hollywood shooting incident from Gateway Pundit –The “sudden” jihad syndrome began months or years ago with the satanic infestation of this man’s soul by islam.  – Unless you want US cities to look like Kandahar…the Muslim cancer in the US must be dealt with swiftely and forcefully. Allowing these morons to bring their terror onto our soil should not be tolerated.  Here are a few comments from Geller’s site – Muslims don’t need a motive..they are born as murderous scum!  –  This is just the beginning. This will most likely be the false prophet of Rev 13. Watch out, it will be coming to your town sooner than you think. Resist now or forever hold your peace.  Here are a few comments from Creeping Sharia – Now we are seeing these MUSLIM THUGS going after any AMERICAN here in the U S A yelling ALLAHU AKBAR so why not retaliate with ALLAUH AKBAR with there MOSQUES OF HATE and NEUTRALIZE THEM AND THERE IMAM’S!!!! Lock AND LOAD. – Who do we have to blame for the growth, and infiltration of these terrorist? I would prefer to classify them as Muslim dirt bags. .The filth and actions connected with this group are beyond human comprehension. God help us to destroy the filth that is invading our country.Lord expose the plan behind the intent and people involved in the overall desire to introduce this religion. What would America have to gain by acceptance of these people? We must determine who, why. and what. – Joke what God has a name like Allah. You insult God with that handle.Your god has made a pact with the devil to destroy those he fears the most.Christians and Jews are the friends of GOD . Your so called Allah is a prophet that is dead and burning in hell with the rest of his Muslim buddies.Thank God that many Muslims are being visited by the Son of God Jesus in dreams and visions, and are bending their knees, and being set free. Protect them Lord, and allow them protection from the crazies.

And, here is an email that I received from one of these folks who takes this sort of hateful anti-Muslim propaganda as “real journalism”:  We dont want your kind here..we dont need your radical opinions..we want you out of our beautiful country and back to your camels and women beating and hostile islamic bullshit..you arent part of the human race as far as we’re concerned..you belong on another planet where you can blow shit up…LEAVE!!!!  I hope and pray that all you radical assholes are buried in hell…you are not welcome or wanted in U.S. soil, unless its 6 feet under..go back and wash your fucking camels and beat your women..die motherfuckers, die!!!!

This is the effect the sort of hate spewed by the Islamophobia echo chamber has on the “minds” of their readers.  I have by the way saved this email along with lots of others provoked by previous Islamophobic rants.

There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)  are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”.  There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that they published Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle by Robert Steinback in their Summer 2011 Intelligence Report.  There is a reason that Geller and Spencer are featured prominently in the Center for American Progress “Fear Inc.” report on the Islamophobia network in America.  There is a reason that Geller is featured in the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.  There is a reason that Geller is featured in the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack:  The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State.  There is a reason that Geller is featured in the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security.  There is a reason that Geller is featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.

And, no matter what the actual facts turn out to be, it won’t make any difference for most of these folks who so desperately need someone to look down on.  After all, they and only they know the “truth”.  I would hope to see some of these folks stop for a moment and really think about what sort of effect their words have on others, and perhaps reconsider or even feel some shame.  But, I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.

The Stealth Halal Jihadist Turkey: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Muslim Trojan Horse

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2011 by loonwatch

Guest Article by: Wajahat Ali 

American Muslim communities celebrating Thanksgiving with a traditional Turkey feast represents an encouraging sign of integration with American values and rituals.

But, of course, we Muslims fooled you.

Yet again.

You should have known that our baked, brined, and deep-fried masala turkeys were simply veiling our nefarious, anti-American plots to replace McDonald’s arches with minarets and convert the White House to the United Colors of Benetton House.

Pam Geller, our anti-Muslim Paul Revere

However, not all patriotic Americans were gullible and naïve! Nay, some America-holic crusaders, like bloggers Pam Geller and her fearless co-horts, called out our “stealth jihadist turkey plot!” Like modern-day Paul Reveres, they blogged, tweeted and mass mailed our ingenious plot “to submit unassuming Americans to Islam by feeding them halal Turkey” this holiday season. (Halal meat is slaughtered according to Islamic custom, similar to Jewish Kosher laws.)

Our nation’s Cassandra, Pam Geller – the preeminent anti-Muslim blogger and conspiracy theorist aficionado –  believes President Obama is a Muslim, illegitimate son of Malcolm X who once went to Pakistan for drugs and jihad. She also uncovered Arabic is not just a language, but actually a spearhead for anti-Americanism. Thanks to her, we discovered radical Islam has infiltrated our government, which is secretly being run by Islamic supremacists. She also accused Muslims of engaging in stealth cultural jihad by wearing their headscarves at Disneyland.

Truth be told, we’ve already converted Goofy. Donald Duck was always our Manchurian candidate. Mickey was the first to turn Benedict Arnold.  As for Porky Pig, he better watch out; we’re coming for him next…with our scimitars.

Damn you, Pamela Geller, your anti-Muslim, detective nose is too evolved and sophisticated in sniffing out our dastardly plots!

I guess the feathered, red wattled bird is out of the proverbial bag. There’s no reason to hide the secret any longer.

It’s true. The turkey is our new Trojan Horse.

After spending decades learning to cook and enjoy the famously-dry turkey, we Muslims decided to use the bird to launch our turkey jihad after successfully conquering it in our respective kitchens.  We’ve evolved from creeping sharia into states to creeping cholesterol and obesity into American diets. After taking over all the street meat vendors in New York, the Islamization of the turkey bird was inevitable.

Turkey: The Greatest Weapon of Mass Distraction

The Turkey is our greatest weapon of distraction. Even more so than hummus, biryani, shwarmas, kebobs, naans, and Lupe Fiasco.

The fatty bird’s high levels of tryptophan act like a paralyzing agent, causing intense drowsiness and lethargy when Americans overeat on Thanksgiving Day. The ensuing food coma paves the way for The Muslim Agenda to stealthily accomplish its ambitious goal of radically transforming America into a radical Caliphate guided by Sharia law.

Pam Geller, the 21st century’s Velma, uncovers The Great Halal Turkey Conspiracy:

Across this great country, on Thanksgiving tables nationwide, infidel Americans are unwittingly going to be serving halal turkeys to their families this Thursday. Turkeys that are halal certified… [this] is just the opposite of what Thanksgiving represents: freedom and inclusiveness, neither of which are allowed for under that same Islamic law.

Blast her foresight and remarkable sleuthing skills!

In this land of religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism, it is utterly unacceptable – downright un-American, I say – to allow a diversity of slaughtering options for mass consumers! And allowing Turkeys to be slaughtered according to a religious custom similar to Jewish Kosher laws? Shudder the thought!

Indeed, it is more patriotic to consume a steroid-pumped, undernourished, traumatized turkey hurled onto a mechanical conveyor belt – along with thousands of its gobbling brethren – awaiting its rapture under the guillotine of economic efficiency and other profit-maximizing instruments of death.

That, my friends, is truly the American way!

Muslims, we’re like the Green Bay Packers

But, even American superheroes like Pamela Geller can’t stop our momentum. Muslims are like the current Green Bay Packers of fifth-column, culinary stealth jihadists– we’re on a hot streak!

First, we infiltrated America by creating a hot, Lebanese American beauty pageant named Rima Fakih who won Miss USA and stole the tiara from the infidels. Then, we installed a biracial man with Kenyan roots in the Oval Office, who happens to be a practicing Christian that celebrates Easter, accepts Christ as his savior, and has yet to step foot in a mosque during his three years as President. Moreover, he drinks alcohol and publicly eats bacon. Indeed, the hallmark traits of a Muslim President.

Most recently, we have invaded mainstream American television sets with our very own reality TV show, TLC’s All American Muslim. Move over Kim, Paris and Snookie, Arab-American Muslim Shadia is creeping to take over your botox and photoshopped US Weekly covers. According to Pamela Geller’s Justice League of Islamophobes, TLC’s real intention in creating the show is to force “submission to Islam through the hijab.” (Our clandestine plots foiled yet again!)

Halal Turkey Victory: The Icing on the Cake

But this latest victory is the icing on the cake, or I should say, the honey on the kanafeh. Ha!

Who was our mighty warrior leading us to victory, you ask? Our Alexander? Our Achilles? Our Obama? Our Aaron Rogers? The Trojan horse of our stealth victory was none other than the Thanksgiving turkey.

In fact, we’ve been so successful at integrating, we’ve inspired the mega corporation Butterball to become our preeminent stealth jihadist and unleash stealth halal turkeys on unsuspecting Americans and citizens abroad.

After all, what’s more anti-American than introducing a uniquely American bird, Turkey, to new global consumer markets thereby promoting American products, advertising brand names, and stimulating the national economy? That’s downright Communistic!

But, even this is too much for Geller, who is asking for Butterball to be held accountable for allegedly serving Americans unlabeled halal meat. She has created the “Boycott Butterball Turkey” Facebook page.

Even fellow American Muslims are upset! All this time they could’ve purchased turkey at affordable prices from their local supermarkets instead of shelling out extra money for halal-certified birds from their community butchers! How come no one told the rest of them about Butterball’s ingenious stealth halal turkey jihadist plan?

(We have to keep them in the dark. We can’t afford to activate all of our of culinary stealth jihadists at once. Most of them have to live as if they are actually moderate, peaceful, loyal, normal Americans going about their day to day lives dealing with real problems and concerns that are shared by their neighbors, friends and co-workers. Lateral thinking.)

The Muslim Agenda Fortune Cookie

If you’re lucky, you’ll find The Protocols of the Elders of Mecca (or, “The Muslim Agenda”) stuffed in your Butterball turkey this holiday season. It outlines the plans for our next American cultural takeovers.  If you look closely, deep inside your Butterball turkeys, there will be leaked cell phone photos of a circumcised Easter Bunny praying towards Mecca right before he hands out Kosher eggs and crescent-shaped chocolates to kids from his Easter basket, which we imported from China.

Apparently he’s also developed an insatiable sexual urge for white female rabbits and has started his own “Hare’s Harem.” Rumor has it he’s been fasting during Ramadan and partying like it was Mardi Gras during Lent.

And, wait until you see what we have in store for Christmas! Red-nosed camels and a Santa Claus named Abu Qhlaws: a hairy, overweight Moroccan man with a bushy beard giving chicken tagine to school kids in the malls.

There’s a rumor that American Muslim families will be giving snickers and tandoori chicken pieces for Halloween. Trick or Treat?

We’ve successfully brainwashed the Tooth Fairy as well. She now wears a burqa and was forced to marry Imam Rumpelstiltskin (Come on, that wasn’t a shocker, right?).  Instead of replacing children’s teeth with coins, she now places small Qurans published in Saudi Arabia under their bedroom pillows. She also sprinkles fairy dust on the children, consisting of turmeric and zaatar.

The battle of the absurd, paranoid, and demented is thankfully yearlong and not contained to seasonal limitations. This Thanksgiving, however, please do enjoy your Turkey, whether it be kosher, halal, vegan, vegetarian, American or even foreign.

To appease Pamela Geller and company, just please make sure your dead, cooked bird is tasty, America-holic and not a radical, stealth agent of jihad.  Just to be safe, stab the bird a few times Pulp Fiction-style with the baster. Because, after all, you can never really know and you can never really be too sure.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, attorney, journalist and humorist.  He blogs at Goatmilk and is the author of the award-winning Domestic Crusaders.  He will be basting his halal turkey in America-holic juices this Thanksgiving.

What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (III): Saint Ambrose’s Holy War Against Infidels

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2011 by loonwatch

Note: This article is page III of a series on the Christian just war tradition.  If you haven’t already, might I suggest that you first read page I (the introduction) and page II (about the early Church).  

Saint Ambrose (Fourth Century)

The relationship between Christianity and imperialism traces itself all the way back to the early Church fathers who enlisted themselves as “prayer warriors” for the Roman armies (read page II: Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?).  However, even though they prayed for the success and preservation of the Pax Romana, the early Christians felt uncomfortable serving as soldiers in a largely pagan military.

This changed with the conversion to Christianity of Rome’s emperor, Constantine the Great (272-337 AD).  Wim Smit writes on p.108 of Just War and Terrorism:

With the reign of Constantine (306-337) and the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion, the attitude of most Christians towards military service changed. The question no longer was: can service to God be reconciled with service to the emperor, but what kind of conditions and rules should be satisfied during battle? This revolution in Christian thought started with Ambrose…and was later systematised by his pupil Augustine (354), who can be seen as the founder of the just war tradition.

Saint Ambrose (340-397 AD) served as a Roman imperial officer and sought to justify the Empire’s wars.  Prof. Christopher Tyerman writes on p.33 of God’s War:

The conversion of Constantine and the final recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire in 381 prompted the emergence of a set of limited principles of Christian just war which, by virtue of being fought by the Faithful, could be regarded as holy. The identification of the Roman empire with the church of God allowed Christians to see in the secular state their protector, the pax Romana being synonymous with Christian Peace. For the state, to its temporal hostes were added enemies of the Faith, pagan barbarians and, more immediately dangerous, religious heretics within the empire. Eusebius of Caesarea, historian of Constantine’s conversion, in the early fourth century reconciled traditional Christian pacifism with the new duties of the Christian citizen by pointing to the distinction between the clergy, immune from military service, and the laity, now fully encouraged to wage the just wars for the Christian empire. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), as befitted a former imperial official, consolidated this symbiosis of the Graeco-Roman and Christian: Rome and Christianity were indissolubly united, their fates inextricably linked. Thus the war of one was that of the other, all Rome’s wars were just in the same way that those of the Old Testament Israelites have been; even heresy could be depicted as treason. Ambrose’s version of the Christian empire and the wars to protect it which constituted perhaps the earliest formulation of Christian warfare was, therefore, based on the union of church and state; hatred of foreigners in the shape of barbarians and other external foes; and a sharp intolerance towards dissent and internal debate, religious and political.

The term “barbarian” comes from the Greek word barbaros, meaning “anyone who is not Greek.”  The Romans expanded the word to refer to anyone outside of the Greco-Roman world.  It was thought that the “civilized world” referred to the Roman Empire, which was surrounded by “barbarians.”  Prof. Glen Warren Bowersock writes on p.334 of Late Antiquity:

The term barbarian[ was] derived from Greek ideals of cultural “otherness”…The image of barbaricum began at the frontiers…There was the idea of a wall around the empire, separating Rome from the other gentes [nations]…Every “good” emperor set up inscriptions of himself as domitor gentium barbararum [conqueror of the barbarian nations]…Barbarians were contemptible, unworthy enemies…Many stereotypes were simply ethnocentric [racist]…Barbarians were natural slaves, animals, faithless, dishonest, treasonable, arrogant, drunken sots…

Christians were not detached from the construction of these images…Some, like Ambrose, projected barbarians as drunks and faithless savages…

The pax Romana had to be “defended” against these “barbarians,” something which was done by conquering their lands.  This imperial mentality was, from the very start, accepted by Christianity.  The early Church fathers, for example, believed that “God ordained the imperial powers” to “advanc[e] the gospel;” they appreciated “the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.”  The “barbarians” surrounding the Roman Empire threatened not just the state, but also the Church; their paganism and heresy was a threat against true belief.  Therefore, war against them had to be justified.  Who better to justify this than the former imperial officer Ambrose of Milan?  Prof. Frederick H. Russell writes on p.13 of The Just War in the Middle Ages:

The fuller development of a Christian just war theory was futhered in the writings of Ambrose, a new kind of Christian. Trained in imperial administration and the former prefect in Milan, Ambrose brought a Roman political orientation to his ministry…The courage of soldiers who defended the Empire against barbarians…was full of justice, and Ambrose prayed for the success of imperial armies.

Prof. Russell writes further:

To the Roman animosity toward the barbarian was added the element of religious animosity between believer and unbeliever, thus rendering the internal and external threats to the Pax Romana more politically explosive. To point the way out of this crisis Ambrose about 378 the De Fide Christiana for the Emperor Gratian, who was at the time attempting to consolidate Roman authority on the Danube after the defeat of the Arian Valens by the Visigoths. Ambrose assured Gratian of victory, for it had been foretold in the prophecies of Ezekiel and confirmed by Gratian’s faith. Ambrose even identified Gog, the wicked enemy of Ezekiel’s prophecies, with the contemporary Goths, who were thereby destined to destruction.

The just war theory was thus generated as a way “to point the way out of this crisis,” the crisis being the need “to consolidate Roman authority.”  More specifically, civil wars and rebellions within the Empire were to be forbidden, whereas Rome’s foreign wars to be justified.  Indeed, the emerging doctrine was to be applied to fellow Christians in order to prevent themselves from fighting each other when they could be fighting the infidel instead.  Prof. Alex J. Bellamy writes on p.24 of Just Wars:

Ambrose was the first thinker systematically to blend Christian teachings with Roman law and philosophy (Johnson 1987:54). He followed Cicero in acknowledging the possibility of justifiable wars and recognizing the difference between abhorrent civil wars and wars fought against barbarians (Swift 1970:533-4). Wars against barbarians, Ambrose argued, were legitimate because they protected both the empire and the Christian orthodoxy.

Ambrose, the first thinker behind the just war theory, justified his belief in two ways: (1) He was inspired by the wars in the Old Testament, and (2) He argued that Jesus’s non-violent teachings in the New Testament applied only to individuals but not to states.  Prof. Bellamy writes:

Ambrose argued that there were two grounds for justifying war. First, he found evidence in the Old Testament to support the view that not only was violence sometimes justified in order to protect others from harm, it was sometimes required on moral grounds or even directly commanded by God (Swift 1970:535). Second, Ambrose agreed dthat Jesus’ teaching forbade an individual from killing another in self-defence…Nevertheless he argued that whilst an individual may not kill to save himself, he must act in the defense of others…

Ambrose argued that “wars could only be fought in self-defense (broadly understood, as in the Roman tradition), when directly commanded by God, or in defence of religious orthodoxy”(Ibid.).  He ”demanded that the state should not tolerate any religion other than Christianity” (p.112 of Ralph Blumenau’s Philosophy and Living).  Heretics and pagans should be fought, both within and outside the Empire.

Ambrose melded the Church to the state’s powerful military.  ”Ambrose proposed that the incorporation of nails from the Cross into the imperial helmet and bridle symbolised Christianity’s support for enduring secular military authority” (p.77-78 of Prof. Michael Witby’s Rome at War).  He ”used Christianity to uphold imperial power” (Ibid.), but also used the imperial power to uphold Christianity.  The Church provided the state with the religious justification for war.  The Church, in return, benefited from these wars by using the state to enforce the faith and punish “barbarians” (pagans and heretics). Prof. Mary L. Foster writes on p.156 of Peace and War:

Ambrose, former praetorian prefect and then bishop of Milan (339-397)[ was] the first to formulate a “Christian ethic of war.” He drew upon the Stoics, particularly Cicero (106-43 B.C.), and legitimized the view by referring to holy wars spoken of in the Old Testament from Abraham and Moses to Maccaebus. Ambrose further justified the view by arguing that Christianity was, and must be, protected against the barbarians by the armed force of the Roman Empire. Both Augustine and Ambrose saw the Christian Empire as empowered to resist paganism and heresy.

For Ambrose, wars fought against pagans and heretics were, by definition, just: “if a Christian general fought a pagan army, he had a just cause” (Prof. Joseph F. Kelly on p.164 of The World of the Early Christians).  In fact, the machinery of the state should be used to conquer the world under the banner of Christianity.  Prof. Reinhard Bendix writes on p.244 of Embattled Reason:

Ambrose justified war against those who do not belong to the community of the faithful [pagans and heretics]…Warlike actions are justified [against the non-believer]…The goal of Ambrose was to establish a universal faith. All people should be brothers in the common, Christian faith, even if wars against non-believers were needed to accomplish this ideal…

Discrimination against pagans was justified in the eyes of Christian Fathers like Ambrose by the absolute belief in Christ as the only road to salvation. Accordingly, it is man’s religious duty to proclaim, and fight for, this truth in the whole world. Ambrose wrote his commentary decades after Christianity had become the dominant religion of the Roman world, recognized and supported publicly. With this support, Ambrose could presuppose a universal ethic based on a shared belief in [the Christian] God and on that basis fight in the name of the church against the heathens who were still the great majority [outside of the Roman Empire].

Ambrose declared an all-out war against paganism, and recruited the Roman emperors to do so.  ”No one was more determined to destroy paganism than Ambrose,” who was “a major influence upon both [Emperors] Gratian and Valentinian II” (Ted Byfield on p.92 of Darkness Descends).  In a letter addressed to the Roman emperor, Ambrose wrote:

Just as all men who live under Roman rule serve in the armies under you, the emperors and princes fo the world, so too do you serve as soldiers of almighty God and of our holy faith. For there is no sureness of salvation unless everyone worships in truth the true God, that is, the God of the Christians, under whose sway are all things. For he alone is the true God, who is to be worshiped from the bottom of the heart, ‘for the gods of the heathen,’ as Scripture says, ‘are devils.’ (Ibid., p.93)

Here, we see a reciprocal relationship emerging between the Church and Roman state.  The Church legitimated Roman wars to expand the Empire and protect its hegemony, so long as the state enforced the Christian religion by fighting against heretics and pagans.

Jews, for example, were infidels worthy of death.  James Carroll writes on p.104 of Jerusalem, Jerusalem that Ambrose “wanted to kill Jews (since, after all, Christian heretics were being killed for denying details of orthodoxy, while Jews rejected the whole of it).”

Prof. Madeleine P. Cosman writes on pp.262-263 of the Handbook to Life in the Medieval World (Vol.3):

The church’s attitude toward war would indelibly be changed by Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the so-called Edict of Milan (313), which recognized Christianity as a religion that could be practiced openly; church and state could now be conjoined in the same cause. A momentous meeting in the year 397 of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan (d. 397), and the emperor Gratian resulted in the declaration of Christianity as the official state religion and the concomitant outlawing of other “pagan superstitions.” Church leaders began to encourage rulers to wage a holy war on pagans for the sake of God and the church to defend the empire from heretical “traitors.”

There is much discussion, even in some scholarly circles, about “just war” vs. “holy war.”  I have read countless books where Western authors write of how it “was only during the Crusades that the Christians developed the concept of ‘holy war’ like the Islamic concept of jihad.”  These are all bogus discussions.  Quite clearly, the Christian just war tradition was the legitimization of “a holy war on pagans” from its very inception.  This is the case starting with the originator of the doctrine itself, Saint Ambrose, who harnessed imperial power to promote the Christian faith, a partnership that would outlast the Roman Empire itself.

*  *  *  *  *

Disclaimer:

None of this is meant to characterize Christianity as inherently violent.  Rather, it is meant to disabuse people of the notion that Christianity’s just war tradition has been any less troublesome than Islam’s jihad tradition.  This article is part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which answers the question (answered incorrectly by most Americans): Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (II): Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2011 by loonwatch

Note: This article is page II of a series on the Christian just war tradition.  If you haven’t already, might I suggest that you first read page I (the introduction): What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (I) 

The First Three Centuries (0-313 A.D.)

It is often argued that Jesus Christ (7–2 BC to 30–36 AD) preached pacifism and that this was the stance of the early Church.  According to this standard narrative, the Church “fell from Grace” with the conversion of Constantine and it was only then that pacifism was abandoned.   Such conventional wisdom, however, is not very accurate.

As for Jesus of the Bible, a closer analysis shows that he was not opposed to violence (see: Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All).  He was (basically) non-violent during his lifetime, all the way up until he was nailed to the cross.  At that time, Jesus was not in a position of authority, power, or capacity to do otherwise.  He was at the mercy of his enemies.

However, in the Bible itself Jesus promises to kill all his enemies when he returns.  At that point in time, he would no longer be a persecuted preacher but a “Warrior King” commanding large armies of both heavenly and earthly beings.  How can it then be said that Jesus of the Bible believed in pacifism?  His use of non-violent means was temporal and tactical, not principled and value-based.

It hardly matters what people do when they are not in a position to do otherwise.  It is once they are in a position of power and authority that what they do really matters.  Imagine, for instance, if the Dalai Lama practiced non-violence while his people were still under Chinese authority but at the same time he issued proclamations that he would wage war against the Chinese and kill all their leaders once his country is liberated.  Would anyone think of him as pacifist if this were the case?

As for the early Church, the characterization of it as pacifist is also problematic.  Modern scholarship has moved away from this outdated conception.  For example, Prof. James Turner Johnson, considered “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today,” notes that the “evidence presents a picture not of a single doctrine [within the early Church], but of plurality; not of universal rejection of war and military service, but of a mixture of acceptance and rejection of these phenomena in different sectors of the Christian world” (p.17 of Johnson’s The Quest for Peace).

There was no one view among early Church fathers with regard to war and military service.  Instead, the evidence suggests that there existed a multitude of views on this issue, a fact that “challenges the conventional view of the early church [as uniformly pacifist]” (Prof. J. Daryl Charles on p.108 of War, Peace, and Christianity).  Prof. James Turner Johnson, Prof. J. Daryl Charles, and many others have argued the point that even those Church fathers who were opposed to military service were so not because of a principled belief in pacifism but (1) because they believed the return of Jesus to be imminent and (2) because being a part of the pagan Roman military would involve idolatry.

Prof.  J. Daryl Charles notes that the early Church’s abstention from military service was due to “the predominance of a conspicuously otherworldly expectation–the expectation of the coming of Christ’s kingdom” and the “rejection of idolatrous practices within the Roman army” (Ibid., pp.109-110).  Neither reason could be used to support a principled belief in pacifism.  As for the first reason, this implies that the early Church was not opposed to the use of violence, only that they were waiting to use it upon Christ’s return (an event they believed would occur imminently, even in their own lifetimes).  If, for example, the Tamil Tigers abstained from violence until their leader was released from jail, would anyone believe this to be support for pacifism?

Furthermore, this “otherworldly” attitude applied not just to military service but to all “worldly matters.”  They were in a state of “praying continually, watching and fasting, preaching to all they could reach, paying no heed to worldly matters, as things with which they had nothing to do, only accepting from those whom they taught as much as was absolutely necessary for life” (p.86 of Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones’ The Church of England, Vol. 1).  They did not involve themselves in matters of state at all, including but not limited to military service.  One cannot equate this to a belief in pacifism any more than it would mean a rejection of governance.

In other words, just because early Christians did not believe that they themselves should not participate in such functions did not mean they thought it was wrong for others to do so.  For example, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel enroll in religious schools and are thus exempted from military service.  As religious students and rabbis, they believe that their lives should be dedicated to Jewish studies and many expect the rest of society to support them.  But even though they themselves refuse to serve in the military, many of them strongly support the Israeli military and indiscriminate violence against Palestinians.  When other Israelis criticize them as chickenhawks for refusing to serve in the military (even as they push Israel to perpetual war), the standard response by these Ultra-Orthodox Jews is that they serve the IDF in a religious capacity: they pray for the military’s success.  No rational person would have the temerity to say that these Ultra-Orthodox Jews are pacifist.  They might not want to go to war themselves, but they are certainly not opposed to it.

Likewise, the early Church was not opposed to war or the Roman military itself; they just didn’t want any “worldly” function in it themselves.  The Church fathers actually prayed for the success of the Roman military in its imperial wars against “barbarians.”  Here, we see the emergence of a theme that emerged with the early Church and sustained itself throughout Christian history:  the support for European imperialism.  Prof. Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez writes on p.78 of The Encyclopedia of Religion and War:

In fact, numerous Christian writers in the first three centuries already affirmed that God ordained the existing imperial powers, including their coercive functions, for maintaining order, restraining sin, and advancing the gospel. The injunction of Paul to “be subject to the governing authorities” whose authority has been “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1-7 NRSV; cf. 1 Peter 2:13-17) was echoed in the writings of Justin, Tertullian, and Origen (185?-254?). Each author acknowledged the benefits of Roman order as part of God’s plan and assured the authorities of Christian support and prayers.

Prof. Palmer-Fernandez goes on to say that “these early writers were also expressing appreciation for the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.”

The Church fathers saw themselves very much in the same way that Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel see themselves, and as pagan Roman priests in that time also did.  Prof. Darrell Cole writes in a section entitled “Fighting Through Prayer” in his book When God Says War is Right:

The Christian pacifism movement claims Origen (A.D. 185-254) as a hero, but it’s hard to decide whether the term “pacifist” can truly and fairly be applied to him, at least in the way we think of it today. To modern ears, pacifism means the complete rejection of warfare as an inherently immoral practice. This was not Origen’s view, though he was certainly opposed to Christians becoming soldiers.

The only work where Origen was concerned with Christian participation in warfare is the polemical Contra Celsum written in response to a Roman philosopher named Celsus…[He argued] that all Christians should be give the same considerations as those in the pagan priesthood who were not required to give physical service in the military, but instead served the cause by praying for the emperor and the soldiers to triumph in battle.

[Origen wrote:] And, of course, in war time you do not enlist your priests. If this is a resonable procedure, how much more so is it for Christians to fight as priests and worshipers of God while others fight as soldiers. Though they keep their right hands clean, the Christians fight through their prayers to God on behalf of those doing battle in a just cause and on behalf of an emperor who is ruling justly in order that all opposition and hostility toward those who are acting rightly may be eliminated. (VIII.73)

Moreover, Origen added, Christians supplied an irreplaceable aid to the emperor. By overcoming in prayer the very demons that cause wars, Christians actually help more than soldiers.  So even though Christians did not go on campaign with the emperor, they did go to battle for him “by raising a special army of piety through our petitions to God” (VIII.73).

This support and prayer for Rome’s military was at a time when the imperial armies were ever expanding the Empire’s borders.  During this time, the Roman Empire was involved in many wars: in the first three centuries A.D., Roman legions conquered lands in modern day Germany, Britain, Wales, Scotland, Romania, etc.   Also included in these conquests (and prayed for by the Church) was the conquest of parts of the Middle East.

The early Christians remained passive participants in the military effort not for long.  In fact, the “evidence…is fairly strong that from A.D. 170 onward there were significant members of Christians in the [Roman] army, and ‘the numbers of these Chrisitans began to grow, despite occassional efforts to purge Christians from the army [by the Romans], through the second and third centuries into the age of Constantine. We may estimate the number of Christian soldiers at the beginning of the fourth century in the tens of thousands’” (p.112 of Prof. J. Daryl Charles’ War, Peace, and Christianity; he is quoting Johnson’s The Quest for Peace).

Once Constantine converted to Christianity, the early Christians no longer faced the barrier to military service they once had: they no longer needed to fear indulging in the pagan practices of the military.  Furthermore, by this time, the Church had realized that Jesus Christ may not be coming back as soon as they thought.  As such, it is no surprise that soon afterward Christian theologians would formally tackle the issue of war.  Is this not a strong indication that it was the issue of paganism, not a principled adherence to pacifism, that compelled the early Church to be so uneasy with military participation?

*  *  *  *  *

According to the “fall from Grace” theory, the Church suddenly changed its views about pacifism with the conversion of Constantine.  If this were really the case, then the question arises: of what relevance is early Christianity’s supposed pacifism during a time when it was not in a position of power?  What does it say about such a belief if, the moment Christianity assumed power, this “pacifism” was suddenly abandoned for a policy of imperialism?

The truth is that there wasn’t a sudden reversal of opinion, but rather a gradual development of an idea that had already taken root with the early Church.  With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the West’s imperial power and Christianity would formally fuse together.  It would be, as we shall see, a bond that would endure the test of time.

*  *  *  *  *

Disclaimer:

As I mentioned in the introduction, my intention is not to demonize the entire faith of Christianity.  There exists no shortage of Christians today who endorse pacifism and oppose America’s unjust wars in the Muslim world.  Such people have my utmost respect.  If some of them base their pacifism in their belief that the early Church was pacifist, I don’t see any reason to expend energy trying to set the record straight.  I only chose to address this issue since some anti-Muslim Christians forced my hand by continually arguing this point (the early Church was pacifist, look how peaceful our religion is compared to Islam, etc.).

Having said that, I don’t think pacifist Christians should think any of this should stand in the way of their pacifist beliefs.  As I mentioned earlier, the early Church fathers seemed to differ among themselves.  Anti-military views certainly existed, and even if one cannot find clearly principled pacifism, this is still a starting point that the modern-day Christian can draw on.

Furthermore, I think people of all religions–Jews, Christians, and Muslims–would be a whole lot better off if they didn’t feel the need to validate their beliefs by looking at how their religion was practiced in a mythical “golden age” of the past.  This very much limits freedom of thought and religious interpretation.  What is needed are new, more merciful and compassionate readings of the text.

By knowing the reality of one’s tradition, reformist believers will be better equipped to deal with the arguments raised by right-wing followers who will bring up a lot of the same points I brought up to justify their beliefs.  See, for instance, this article by none other than “Dr.” Robert Morey.  Reformist, liberal adherents of religion will be in a stronger theological position if they base their views in fact instead of myth.  Instead of always needing to validate your beliefs by citing some guy who lived hundreds of years ago, why not just use a much simpler line of argumentation like the following:

The early Church had a mixed view with regard to war, with a portion of them rejecting military service.  After reflecting on the issue myself, I tend to be on the pacifist side.  My own reasons might not be the exact same as those held by earlier Christians, but there is much overlap.  Furthermore, I don’t need to be 100% beholden to their views.

Simple.

To be continued…

What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (I)

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2011 by loonwatch

This article is part 11 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

It is common to hear comparisons between  the so-called “just war tradition” in Christianity and the jihad of Islam.  We are told that Jesus of the New Testament was non-violent and that the early Church was pacifist.  According to this standard narrative, it was only with Constantine that the Church “fell from Grace” and accepted a very limited concept of defensive war, one that sought to limit, restrain, and constrain war.  We are told that the violent acts committed by Christians throughout history were done in contradiction to this doctrine.

Many Westerners seem to be under the impression that we can draw a straight line from the ancient Greeks to St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Hugo Grotius to modern international law.  This very selective, cursory, and incomplete understanding of history creates a very “generous” depiction of Christian tradition.  Once this mythical and fabricated history is created, it is compared to the jihad tradition of Islam.  No such “generous” depictions of Islamic tradition are harbored; if anything, the most cynical view possible is taken.

Such an unfair comparison–coupled with a completely Western perspective on contemporary world affairs–begs the question: why is Islam so violent?  Why is the Islamic tradition so much more warlike than the Christian one?

Many right-wing Christians and even secular people of the “Judeo-Christian tradition” exhibit a great deal of religious arrogance, especially when it comes to this subject.  Repeatedly, we are told to compare the supposedly peaceful Christian just war tradition with the allegedly brutal Islamic jihad tradition.

Occasionally, Christian polemicists have some level of shame and recognize that the history of Christianity has been marred by war and violence: the Crusades, the ethnic cleansing of the Americas, and the colonial enterprise come to mind.  We are assured, however, that these occurrences were “in direct contradiction” to official church doctrine.  This is what career Islamophobe Robert Spencer argues, for instance, in his book Islam Unveiled.  This is, we are told, completely unlike the Islamic offenses throughout history, which were supposedly in line with traditional Islamic thought.

In this article series, I will prove that this understanding of the Christian just war tradition is mythical, fanciful, and misleading.  Throughout history, there were serious shortcomings to the Christian understanding of just war–both in matters of jus ad bellum (the right to wage war) and jus in bello (right conduct during war).  Specifically, just war doctrine was restricted to Christians and Europeans.  Its constraints simply did not apply to “infidels”, “pagans”, “heathens”, “barbarians”, and “primitives”.  The Christian just war tradition was not just exclusivist but through-and-through racist.

One could reasonably argue that such a critique suffers from a modern bias: using contemporary standards to evaluate pre-modern societies is not something I generally encourage.  Yet, if we insist on critiquing historical Islam based on such standards, then surely we should be willing to apply the same to Christianity.

Additionally, this shortcoming–the lack of application of the just war principles to infidels–is hardly a tertiary issue.  Instead, it lies at the very heart of the comparison that is continually invoked between Christianity and Islam.  One could only imagine, for instance, the reaction of anti-Muslim critics if the dictates of war ethic in Islam were applicable to fellow Muslims only.  Had this been the case, such a thing would not be seen as a mere “shortcoming” but indicative of the “Islamic supremacist attitude.”  This wouldn’t be understood as something that could be relegated to a footnote or a few sentences buried somewhere deep in a huge text (which is the case with books talking about the Christian just war tradition).  Instead, pages and pages would be written about the injustices of the Islamic principles of war.

This double standard between believer and infidel, were it to exist in the Islamic tradition (and it does, to an extent), would become the focus of discussion.  But when it comes to the Judeo-Christian tradition, such things are relegated to “by the way” points that are minimized, ignored, or simply forgotten.  Western understandings of the Christian just war tradition create a narrative by cherry-picking views here and there to create a moral trajectory that is extremely generous to that tradition.  Meanwhile, Islamic and Eastern traditions are viewed with Orientalist lenses, focusing on the injustices and flaws (particularly with regard to religious minorities).  This of course may be a result of a primarily Eurocentric view of history: how did their war ethic affect people that were like me?

Yet, if we wanted to extrapolate an overarching theme of the Christian just war tradition, it would have to be this: the Christian just war tradition did not limit war (as is commonly argued) but instead, for the most part, served to justify the conquest and dispossession of indigenous populations.  This was not merely a case of misapplying or exploiting doctrines.  Rather, the doctrines were themselves expounded in a way so as to facilitate such applications.  Many of history’s famous just war theorists were generating such theories to provide the moral arguments to justify colonial conquest.  The tradition was more about justifying wars than about limiting violence to just wars.  The Christian acts of violence throughout history were not in spite of Church doctrine; they were more often than not because of it.

Why is it that, even in some scholarly books, the Christian just war tradition towards fellow believers is compared to the Islamic attitudes towards war with unbelievers?  Either the Christian treatment of Christians should be compared to the Islamic treatment of Muslims, or alternatively the Christian treatment of infidels should be compared to the Islamic treatment of the same.  It is the unfair comparison between apples and oranges that serves to reinforce this warped understanding of the matter.

*  *  *  *  *

An error we must avoid is conflating the modern-day just war doctrine with the historical Christian just war tradition.  Although St. Augustine laid down some principles that, through a long process of evolution, found themselves in today’s doctrine, it should be noted that Augustine’s views of just war were, by today’s standards, extremely unjust.  One must compare this proto-doctrine with what was practiced in traditional Islam, instead of retroactively superimposing the modern concept of just war onto Augustine.

Indeed, “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today, James Turner Johnson, goes so far as to say that to all intents and purposes, ‘there is no just war doctrine, in the classic form as we know it today, in either Augustine or the theologians or canonists of the high Middle Ages. This doctrine in its classic form [as we know it today], including both a jus ad bellum…and a jus in bello…does not exist before the end of the middle ages. Conservatively, it is incorrect to speak of classic just war doctrine existing before about 1500″ (Prof. Nicholas Rengger on p.34 of War: Essays in Political Philosophy).

In other words, for 1500 years–roughly seventy-five percent of Christian history–there was no real just war doctrine. Shouldn’t this fact be stated when comparing Christian and Islamic traditions?  The just war doctrine–as we know it today–arose during a time when the Christian Church’s power was waning, hardly something for Christians to boast about.

And even after that–lest our opponents be tempted to use this fact to their advantage (that the Christian world distanced itself from the Church unlike in the Islamic world)–the just war doctrine that was established continued to be applied, from both a doctrinal standpoint and on-the-ground, to only Christians/Europeans.  This continued to be the case in the sixteenth century and all the way through the nineteenth century.

It was only for a fleeting moment in the twentieth century that just war doctrine became universal.  It is an irony that in no other century was just war theory so horrifically violated, and this by the Western world (with the United States dropping two atomic bombs on civilian populations).

This brings us to the situation today: Jewish and Christian neocons and extreme Zionists in the United States and Israel are leading the charge against the just war doctrine, trying to use legal means to change it to accommodate the War on of Terror.  Many of our opponents are the most vociferous proponents of doing away with such quaint principles as just war, at least when it comes to dealing with Muslims.

Is it this fleeting moment in Christian history, in which for a fraction of a second the just war doctrine really existed, that our opponents use to bash Muslims over the head with?

*  *  *  *  *

The standard meme among Islamophobes–and wrongfully accepted by the majority of Americans–has been that Islam is exceptionally violent–certainly more violent than Judaism and Christianity.  When we look at the scriptural sources, however, this does not bear out: the Bible is far more violent than the Quran (see parts 123456-i6-ii6-iii6-iv789-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)

Among the many other “fall back” arguments used by our opponents, we are reassured that Judaism and Christianity have “interpretive traditions” that have moved away from literal, violent understandings of Biblical passages–altogether unlike Islam (so we are told).  Robert Spencer writes on p.31 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

The Islamophobes then temporarily move away from quoting the scriptural sources but instead focus on comparing (1) the traditional interpretations of the canonical texts, and (2) the modern-day understandings of said texts.  In both respects, we are told, the Judeo-Christian tradition is more peaceful than the Islamic one.

In the previous article series (entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?), I addressed the Jewish side of “the Judeo-Christian tradition.”  [Note: That article series is being modified before the last couple pages will be published.  I have decided to take reader input and mellow it out quite a bit, i.e. remove the images, change the title, etc.]  I proved that both traditional and contemporary Jewish understandings of the scriptural sources could hardly be used to justify the argument against Islam.

But when it comes to such matters, it might be more important to address the Christian side of the coin.  Considering that Christians are in the majority in this country, it is more common to hear right-wing Christians invoke bellicose comparisons between their faith and Islam.  Robert Spencer, an anti-Muslim Catholic polemicist, relies on this comparison routinely.

In order to shield himself from possible “counter-attack,” Spencer uses an interesting argument.  In a section entitled “Theological Equivalence” in his book Islam Unveiled, Spencer writes:

When confronted with this kind of evidence [about Islam’s violence], many Western commentators practice a theological version of “moral equivalence,” analogous to the geopolitical form which held that the Soviet Union and the United States were essentially equally free and equally oppressive.  ”Christians,” these commentators say, “have behaved the same way, and have used the Bible to justify violence.  Islam is no different: people can use it to wage war or to wage peace.”

I am one of these “Western commentators.”  Spencer cites ”the humanist Samuel Bradley” who noted that “Central America was savaged” because of “this country’s God.”  Bradley quoted “Spanish conquistador Pizarro” who slaughtered the indigenous population, by his own admission, only “by the grace of God.”

But, Spencer rejects such “theological equivalence,” arguing that Pizarro violated “the Just War principles of his own Roman Catholic Church.”  Spencer is not just arguing that the modern-day just war theory would prohibit the European conquest and dispossession of the Native Americans, but that even in the time of the conquest and dispossession itself the Church’s just war doctrine did.  He is arguing that the Christian acts of violence throughout history were “fundamentally different” than those committed by Muslims, since–according to him–the former were done against the just war doctrine of the Church, whereas the latter were endorsed by the Islamic religious establishment.

But, as I have argued above, this is patently false. The Christian just war tradition was used to justify the conquest and dispossession of the Native Americans, one of the greatest crimes in all of history.  In fact, these doctrines were formulated for that exact purpose in mind.

*  *  *  *  *

Disclaimer:

Naturally, as was the case with the article series on Jewish law, there is the chance of offending well-meaning and good-hearted Christians.  Let it be known, again, that nowhere am I trying to paint the entire Christian faith or community with a broad brush.  There exists no shortage of Christians who oppose war (especially America’s current wars in the Muslim world) and who advocate peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Critically evaluating religious traditions can be uncomfortable, but the problems therein should not be ignored nor should we pretend they don’t exist.  Honest evaluations of the past can be the key to coming up with more tolerant answers for the present and future.

I have already discussed some of the problems with the Jewish tradition.  This article series deals with the Christian tradition.  Rest assured, however, that a future article series of mine will take a critical look at the Islamic tradition as well.  However, because Islamophobia has become so rampant and pervasive in our culture, I do not think that this should be done before we first look at the problems inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition that our society is based on.  Once that is done, we can then look at the Islamic tradition from a more nuanced, balanced, and helpful perspective.  This is the purpose of this somewhat controversial article series.

To be continued…

Update I:  A reader pointed out that I made many claims above but did not back them up with proof.  I should clarify that this page is just the introductory piece to the article series and simply states what I will prove.  It is just a statement of my thesis; the proof to back the thesis up is still to come–hence, the “to be continued…

Jewish Law*: One Israeli Soldier Worth More Than 1,000 Palestinians

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem wherein I clarify that “Jewish law” here is not meant to be understood in a blanket way.  Certainly, there exist alternative, more compassionate understandings of Halakha.  I understand that many readers are deeply uncomfortable with characterizing “Jewish law” in such a sweeping manner as we have done in this “thought exercise”–but that’s the point of the article series: if you refuse to generalize Halakha, then why do you do it to Sharia?

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #4 TERRORISM!

Israel recently agreed to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 1 captive Israeli soldier.  The soldier’s name is Gilad Shalit: he is neither a high-ranking military official or anyone of national importance.  Then, why did Israel agree to ransom him with over a thousand men?  Why is he worth so much?

CNN ran with the headline “Shalit swap based on ‘ultimate value of human life,’ rabbis say”:

“Judaism places ultimate value on human life. Therefore in the Jewish tradition, in Jewish law, redeeming captives trumps just about everything else,” said Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights. “It takes priority over anything else you can possibly do.”

So, it is just that Israelis value life so much?  Are they just that superbly moral?  I have seen such discussion on the internet and in the media, with pro-Israeli apologists comparing this “ultimate value of human life” with the “culture of death” that Palestinians (and Arabs/Muslims) supposedly have.

Yet, the CNN article is misleading, as it implies that Judaism* values human life, when in fact Jewish law* places the ultimate value on Jewish life only.   The mitzvah (religious obligation) to redeem prisoners is limited to fellow Jews.  It does not apply to Gentiles.  Had the prisoner been Christian or Muslim (ha!), Israel would never have made such a trade.

There is a deeply racial underpinning here: according to Jewish law*, Jews and Jewish life are always considered superior to Gentiles and Gentile life.  Prof. Israel Shahak, an Israeli human rights activist, documented the background for this racist religious dogma in his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.  For example, he quotes Rabbi Abraham Kook, largely considered “the ultimate father figure” of Religious Zionism, who stated that “the difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews…is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

Admittedly, such beliefs are not unfamiliar to Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims, who argue that “the worst Muslim is better than the best non-Muslim.”  Similar statements can be heard from fundamentalist Christians.  Yet, Religious Zionists take this bigoted idea much further, using it to justify the killing of civilians: to save one Jewish life, killing any number of Gentiles is acceptable.  Not only can one exchange 1,000 Gentile prisoners for 1 Jewish prisoner, but one can also kill 1,000 Gentiles to save 1 Jewish prisoner (or as revenge and deterrence in the case of a Jewish soldier who was killed).

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde asks rhetorically on p.4 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition (a book written under the auspices of the world’s leading Orthodox Jewish minds):

If the government can rescue a soldier only by killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp, may it do that?

Broyde argues in the affirmative, noting that “enemy civilians” are “less sacred than one’s own soldiers.”  Even if it were otherwise, Broyde argues, Jewish law* allows for a “presumptive hora’at sha’ah (temporary edict/suspension of law) that would permit such[.]”  He goes on to say:

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, for example, permits the sacrifice of oneself as a form of hora’at sha’ah [temporary edict/suspension of law] that is allowed by Jewish law to save the community.  While the voluntary act of heroic self-sacrifice and the killing of an unwilling victim are not parallel, I think that one who would permit a Jewish soldier to kill himself to save the community, would permit the killing of “less innocent” enemy soldiers or even civilians in such situations as well.  In grave times of national war, every battle and every encounter raises to such a level, I suspect.

In “every battle and every encounter,” it is permitted to kill “even civilians.”

Broyde raises a very odd argument, rhetorically asking:

If a government can choose as a matter of policy to engage in retaliatory military action that risks the lives of its own soldiers and civilians in a time of war, does it not follow that it may do so with enemy soldiers and civilians as well?

Rabbi Norman Lamm asks on p.238:

To use the Talmudic phraseology, is the blood of Israeli soldiers any less red than that of enemy Arab civilians?

The bottom line is that the Jewish military can kill enemy civilians to “save its soldiers.”  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xix of the introduction to War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

It would be morally acceptable, and perhaps even required, to cause civilian deaths in order to save your own combatants.

How many civilian deaths?  Certainly, “killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp” to save 1 Jewish soldier is not unreasonable.  The 1-to-1,000 ratio is also acceptable.  Mordechai Eliyahu, the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, bellowed:

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

He went on to say:

The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi called for carpet bombing the Palestinians instead of “risk[ing] the lives of Jews.”  The Jerusalem Post reported in an article entitled “Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza: Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews“:

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza.

Similarly did Rabbi Yaakov Perin famously state that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

One of Israel’s justifications for the 2006 Lebanon War, which killed over a thousand Lebanese (mostly civilians), was to recover two IDF soldiers.  Does it seem reasonable to kill over a thousand people to recapture two soldiers?

During the conflict in Gaza, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, former Rabbi of the Beit She’an Valley in Northern Israel, opined that “the Halacha (Jewish law) countenances the killing of non-combatants in times of war,” and that “there is no excuse for endangering our own citizens or soldiers to protect the lives of civilians on the other side.”  This is an argument for Israel relying on carpet bombing against a civilian population instead of sending in ground troops to fight in “hand-to-hand combat.”

Far from being the views of some radical, fringe element in Israel, these are the mainstream beliefs of Religious Zionism.  These attitudes are reflected in Israeli society as a whole, with “more than 70 per cent support for bombing Gaza–but just 20 per cent support for a ground invasion.”  It is no surprise then that indiscriminate killing–accepted by international law as “equally” criminal compared to targeting civilians–is thus the norm of Israeli war policy.

Surely, a dozen or a thousand Palestinian infants (who will grow up to be terrorists anyways) are not worth the life of one brave Israeli soldier.

*  *  *  *  *

This racist line of thinking reaches its logical conclusion by encouraging the slaughter of civilians to “protect” Jewish soldiers.  A Jewish soldier’s life is so much more precious than the lives of enemy civilians that this trade-off is acceptable.  On pp.65-67 of Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Prof. Israeli Shahak documents a Q&A between an Israeli soldier and Rabbi Shim’on Weiser (a conversation originally published in the yearbook of one of Israel’s prestigious religious institutions, Midrashiyyat No’am).  In it, the soldier asks the rabbi:

[Am I] permitted to put myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been cases when women threw hand grenades.

Rabbi Weiser responds by saying:

The rule “Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first” applies to a Jew…[but] it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he is coming to kill you.  But a Gentile [non-Jew] during wartime is usually presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent.

In other words, Jews are considered innocent by default, whereas Arabs are guilty until proven innocent.  If there is any doubt as to the innocence of the Arab civilian, such a person should be killed just to be on the safe side.  The Israeli soldier responds by restating the Rabbi’s position:

As for [your] letter [to me], I have understood it as follows:

In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to kill every Arab man and woman I chance upon, if there is a reason to fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly.

In the current climate, there is such a high level of paranoia in Israeli society that almost every Palestinian is seen as a threat, constituting “a reason to fear.”

*  *  *  *  *

Similar arguments are raised by many of Israel’s ardent defenders to justify killing civilians.  Former IDF soldier and full-time Israeli propagandist Cori Chascione of Jewcy opines:

Individual [Israeli] soldiers are not permitted to risk their own lives in order to avoid collateral damage or to save civilians…a soldier’s life comes before a civilian in enemy territory

Ted Belman of Israpundit.com writes:

As a numbers game, is it moral to cause one of your own to be killed to avoid killing ten of them? What about one hundred of them. In the last few days we killed 100 of them and lost 2 of ours. To my mind that is moral.

How similar is this rhetorical questioning; we saw it in the sober, serious, and scholarly book written by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries of the world (see above).

With views such as these emanating from mainstream Orthodox Judaism, it is only natural that others would take this paranoid worldview even further, such as Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira who declared that it would be licit to kill [Palestinian] children if there was a fear that they would “grow up to become enemies of the Jewish people.”

*  *  *  *  *

As I have repeated over and over again, I am not trying to categorize all of Judaism, all interpretations of Jewish law, or all Jews as one way or another.  I am simply establishing that extremist views such as these exist in no short supply.  So why this overwhelming focus on Islam, Islamic law, and Muslims?

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #4: TERRORISM!

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (II)

Israeli professor and human rights activist Israel Shahak wrote in the preface of his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (co-authored with Norton Mezvinsky):

Virtually identified with Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism is anathema throughout the non-Muslim world.  Virtually identified with ignorance, superstition, intolerance and racism, Christian fundamentalism is anathema to the cultural and intellectual elite in the United States.  The recent significant increase in its number of adherents, combined with its widening political influence, nevertheless, make Christian fundamentalism a real threat to democracy in the United States.  Although possessing all the important social scientific properties of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism is practically unknown outside of Israel and certain sections of a few other places.  When its existence is acknowledged, its significance is minimized or limited to arcane religious practices and quaint middle European dress, most often by those same non-Israeli elite commentators who see so uncompromisingly the evils inherent in Jewish fundamentalism’s Islamic and/or Christian cousins.

As students of contemporary society and as Jews, one Israeli, one American, with personal commitments and attachments to the Middle East, we cannot help seeing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel as a major obstacle to peace in the region.  Nor can we help being dismayed by the dismissal of the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace and its victims by those who are otherwise knowledgeable and astute and so quick to point out the violence inherent in other fundamentalist approaches to existence.

Pro-Israeli apologists are certainly “quick to point out the violence inherent in” Radical Islam while simultaneously dismissing “the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace.”  MEMRI is one such group: this Israeli propaganda machine churns out cherry-picked translations from Arabic texts, in an attempt to magnify the threat of Radical Islam.  Meanwhile, these same sorts of pro-Israeli elements levy the charge of “Self-Hating Jew” and “Anti-Semitism” against all who would point out similar radicalism in the Israeli/Jewish community.  Prof. Shahak was himself the victim of such slurs (and now I have been accused of this as well).

We are constantly barraged by screeds warning us how inherently violent Sharia is–and how Islam supposedly compels its adherents to commit acts of terrorism–yet few would be comfortable with holding Judaism to the same standard we do Islam.  Certainly, Halakha (Jewish law)–as understood by Orthodox Judaism in Israel (the only form of Judaism recognized by the Jewish state)–permits targeting and killing civilians, collective punishment, and ethnic cleansing.  It also permits terrorism against civilian populations.  Rabbi Michael J. Broyde writes on pp.23-24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

Air warfare greatly expands the “kill zone” of combat and (at least in our current state of technology) tends to inevitably result in the death of civilians.  The tactical aims of air warfare appear to be fourfold: [1] to destroy specific enemy military targets, [2] to destroy the economic base of the enemy’s war-making capacity, [3] to randomly terrorize civilian populations, and [4] to retaliate for other atrocities by the enemy to one’s own home base and thus deter such conduct in the future by the enemy.

The first of these goals…is permissible…The same would appear would be true about the second…It would appear that the third goal is not legitimate absent the designation of “Compulsory” or “Obligatory” war.  The final goal…could perhaps provide some sort of justification for certain types of conduct in combat that would otherwise be prohibited.

In a future article, I will explain the different types of wars as understood in the Jewish tradition: for now, however, the reader ought to know that on p.14 Broyde quotes Maimonides that “a war to deliver Israel from an enemy who has attacked them” would constitute a Compulsory/Obligatory war.  This is nearly a unanimous opinion.  Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:

[The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo] Goren[,] stated frequently in his writings that the contemporary wars of Israel meet the criterion of obligatory wars because their goal is to save Israel from the hands of an oppressor, and he categorized the Peace for Galilee War [1982 Lebanon War] as such a war.

Therefore, it is permitted under Halakha for Israel to “randomly terrorize [Arab] civilian populations.”  Notice also that the fourth “tactical aim,” permitted under Jewish law, also fits under terrorism: “to retaliate for other atrocities by the enemy to one’s own home base and thus deter such conduct in the future by the enemy.”  This is manifested in Israel’s policy of “massive retaliation,” which is a euphemism for state terrorism: the goal is to inflict so many Palestinian civilian casualties that it would serve as a deterrent to future terrorist attacks.

Professor Herbert Leventer of Yeshiva University legitimizes “terror bombing,” writing on p.75 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

If, in an emergency, you engage in the occasional assassination, terror (rather than mere strategic) bombing, killing of civilian shields–you do no wrong, and have no reason even to feel regret.

Adam Aptowitzer of B’nai Brith opined:

Terror is a tool, terror is a means to an end … When Israel uses terror to … destroy a home and convince people to be terrified of what the possible consequences are, I’d say that’s acceptable use to terrify someone.

The truth is that terror is an option to be used by states in order to prevent deaths of their own citizens and others. Acts that take place in Gaza and [the] West Bank, you might want to classify them as terrorists sponsored by the state. But when that is being done to prevent deaths, are we going to say that is wrong

(Note: To give credit where credit is due, I first came across this quote in Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah.)

Throughout its short history, Israel has terrorized the Palestinian population.  From 1948 when “the Hagana and other Jewish paramilitaries were terrorizing Palestinian civilians” (quote taken from p.56 of Prof. Sean F. McMahon’s The Discourse of Palestinian-Israeli Relations) to the recent 2008-2009 Israeli war on Gaza–described by the United Nations as an operation “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population”–state terrorism has been used by the Israelis very consistently.  (In the future, I will write a more detailed article documenting the systematic terrorism conducted by the state of Israel.)

Today, nearly half of Israeli Jews (46%) support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians.  Price tag terrorism refers to “acts carried out against Palestinians in revenge of government actions harming the settler enterprise.”  These are characterized as “pogroms meted out by fanatical settlers against defenseless Palestinians,” and involves violence against civilians.  Price tag terror is conducted by “Israeli soldiers and settlers” who”rampag[e] through” Palestinian villages, meting out “retributive violence.”

These terror attacks include blowing up cars, vandalizing homes, beatings, and stabbings.  Just a few hours prior to writing this article, an article was published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Palestinian cars were set aflame.  [Editor’s Note: This article was written a few weeks before it was published.  A few days before the article was published, however, a mosque in Northern Israel was burned down by Jewish extremists.] Mosques are a favorite target for “price tag terror,” which have been burned down.  All of this goes on “under the watch of the army and with the encouragement of state-funded religious nationalist rabbis.”  Not only do nearly half of Israeli Jews support price tag terrorism but “most traditional, national-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews believe these actions are justified (55%, 70% and 71%, respectively).”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a terrorist himself, declared that “neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.” (hat tip: NassirH)

*  *  *  *  *

In addition to specifically allowing “terror bombings” that target civilians, Jewish law permits “indiscriminate violence” against civilians during milhemet mitzvah (Obligatory war), which all of Israel’s current wars are considered.  As Mordechai Eliyahu, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, stated, “[there is] absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians.”

According to international law, there is no difference between intentionally targeting civilians and indiscriminately killing them.  Dr. Norman Finkelstein writes in the preface to Beyond Chutzpah:

One often hears that Hamas’s deliberate targeting of civilians cannot be compared to Israel’s “unintended” killing of them.  However human rights organizations report that Israel’s use of live ammunition is “indiscriminate” (HRW) and “on many occasions… deliberately targeted” civilians (Amnesty International), and accordingly conclude that the purported distinction between Hamas and Israeli violence “makes no difference” (B’Tselem). If Hamas were to declare after blowing up a crowded civilian bus that it had only meant to kill a military officer in the vehicle and not the other passengers, it would rightly be ridiculed. Yet how different is it when Israel drops a one-ton bomb on a densely populated Gaza neighborhood in order to liquidate a Hamas military commander and then declares that the fourteen civilian deaths were unintentional? In his authoritative study on the laws of war, Israeli legal scholar Yoram Dinstein observes:

…From the standpoint of LOIAC [Law of International Armed Conflict], there is no genuine difference between a premeditated attack against civilians (or civilian objects) and a reckless disregard of the principle of distinction: they are equally forbidden.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we assume that Israel’s attacks on civilians are unintentional and accordingly that the worst it can be accused of is “reckless disregard of the principle of distinction,” it is still the rankest hypocrisy to require of Hamas that it cease violent attacks yet not put a comparable requirement on Israel to cease what is “equally forbidden.”

I would argue, however, that a case could be made that Israel’s indiscriminate use of violence against civilian populations is actually worse, because far more civilians die in such attacks than from Hamas’s terrorist bombings.  To put it simply: a terrorist attack against a civilian bus limits the death and destruction to one bus, whereas “drop[ping] a one ton bomb on a densely populated neighborhood” results in the death and destruction of many buses in that neighborhood.

Yet, Israel’s defenders seek to justify and normalize indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.  Ted Belman, editor of Israpundit.com, argues:

Israel is free to employ ALL munitions, tactics, equipment and personnel in her arsenal to defend herself against the outlaw Hamas terrorist organization. Short of the intentional targeting and murder of truly uninvolved and innocent civilians, Israel can (and should) operate as freely as she desires to protect her territorial sovereignty and the lives of her citizens.

What could be clearer.

What could be clearer, indeed.  Belman argues that there is a “non-existent duty to avoid killing enemy civilians.”  So long as Israel does not “intentionally kill civilians,” it can use indiscriminate violence to kill as many civilians as it needs, “even in disproportionate numbers” on the order of “100 of them…[to] 2 of ours.”  Belman says: “To my mind that is moral.”  This is Israeli and Zionist morality.

The actual ratio is very similar: during the Gaza conflict, conservative estimates from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have it that 1,387 Palestinians were killed (of which at least 773 did not take part in the hostilities at all), whereas only 9 Israelis were killed (of which only 3 were civilians).  This is a ratio of more than 250 to 1.  Three civilians were killed by deadly Qassam and Grad rockets, and in response 773 civilians–who took no part in hostilities at all–were slaughtered.  This, according to the mind of Ted Belman, is “moral.”

To conclude, Jewish law permits–and Israel routinely commits–acts of violence specifically targeting civilians, which is in addition to the licence granted to wreak indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.  Why is it then that all we ever talk about all day long is how Islamic law is this and that?  Why do we constantly hear serious pundits pontificating about “what’s wrong with Islam” and how Islam needs to go through a reformation, and yet we never hear a peep out of anyone about Jewish law?  Why the skewed discourse?  What gives?

The Top Five Ways “Jewish Law” Justifies Killing Civilians; #3: Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (II)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)

On the previous page, we saw how Halakha obligates Jewish armies to “leave one side open” when they attack a Gentile city; this is to allow civilians the opportunity to flee the city.  The corollary to this is that any civilians who don’t flee are automatically considered “combatants” and “human shields” who can be licitly targeted and killed.  Not only has this concept been used by Israel to promote the ethnic cleansing of Palestine but it is also used to absolve Israel of any blame for indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.

For example, during the Gaza War in 2008-2009, Israel supposedly dropped “hundreds of thousands of leaflets” and used “telephone calls” to warn residents of Gaza to evacuate the area before Israel dropped bombs on their heads (quotes from Alan Dershowitz).  Here Dershowitz is mimicking the line by the Israeli state itself; the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed ”the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) makes strenuous efforts to give advance notice to the civilian population” of impending Israeli attacks “so that they have an opportunity to leave the area.”

Dershowitz calls these “unprecedented efforts to avoid civilian casualties,” with Israeli-friendly Richard Kemp arguing that “during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”  Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF Code of Conduct, argues that the Israel Defense Forces are “the most moral army in the world” (The Most Moral Army in the World™) because “[w]ho tries harder than we do to warn the neighbors [to leave a conflict zone]?”  Kasher then engages in typical Israeli self-congratulatory praise.  Israel’s America’s pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC shielded Israel from all criticism by noting that “Israel dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets and made 250,000 phone calls to targeted areas to warn citizens they were in danger.”

But only if Israel dropped not “hundreds of thousands” of leaflets but two hundred million leaflets!  If only 500,000 phone calls were made instead of “250,000!”  Then only a crass Anti-Semite could take umbrage at the IDF’s sojourn in Gaza that killed scores of civilians.  After all, doesn’t dropping a certain number of leaflets and making so many phone calls absolve oneself from all responsibility?

What utter nonsense.  Under international law–and using one’s own common sense–it is not permissible to carpet bomb an area with impunity just because warning leaflets were dropped beforehand–no matter if four billion leaflets and ten trillion phone calls are made in advance.  These “advanced warnings” are clearly meant to absolve Israel of all guilt for killing civilians, and have nothing to do with actually saving civilian lives.

What’s more is that the leaflets or phone calls do not give any information as to where the civilians are supposed to flee from or to.  In fact, the leaflets and phone calls can be seen as nothing more than threats designed to instill terror in the civilian population.  They are part of Israel’s psychological operations, not an ethical consideration.  Electronic Intifada reproduced one such leaflet:

To the residents of the northern Gaza Strip:

The terrorist actions originating from your areas are forcing the Israel Defense Forces to respond harshly to those who are subjecting the citizens of the State of Israel to danger.

We call on the Palestinian Authority to shoulder its responsibility to prevent these criminal acts.

We warn you of the danger of remaining in the areas which are being used to launch terrorist actions and we advise you to leave your homes.

We are not responsible for the consequences if you ignore our warning.

Israel Defense Forces

I could not “independently corroborate” this report, but The Guardian documents something very similar, reporting that Gazans would be called by Israelis, saying: “You and your family are requested to leave home because the IDF intends to attack it.”  The article says further that “the pre-recorded message department of the Israeli military has been gearing up again, threatening people apparently selected at random…”  What can this be other than terror by telephone?

The Guardian reported further:

The Israeli air force today dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it plans to escalate its military offensive, now in its second week.

The army said it had dropped the flyers throughout Gaza and that the notices are meant as a “general warning”.

These “general warnings” do nothing but instill panic and terror in the Palestinian population.  They don’t know when or where the attacks are coming, and where they are supposed to flee to.  Considering that all the infrastructure, including highways and major roads, were destroyed, one wonders where and how the Gazans can flee?  Certainly, they cannot flee Gaza entirely, which is blocked off on all four sides; interestingly, the “fourth side” is not left open.

In addition to aiding Israel’s psychological operations against the Palestinians, these terror leaflets and phone calls absolve Israel of all blame when it then unleashes its fury against civilian populations. They were warned, and therefore they had it coming.  Israel then carpet bombs the area with impunity, its conscious clear from all guilt.  Then, Israelis pat themselves on the back, fascinated by their superior sense of morality and how they continue to have the The Most Moral Army in the World™.

Human Rights Watch had this to say about Israel’s terror leaflets and phone calls [Note: I broke this into paragraphs to make it more readable]:

In public statements, Israeli officials have countered allegations of unlawful civilian deaths by claiming that the IDF had warned Gaza’s civilian population in advance by dropping leaflets, making telephone calls, and breaking into local radio and television broadcasts. International humanitarian law encourages armed forces to provide advance warnings of an attack when circumstances permit, but the warnings must be “effective.”

In Gaza, the IDF’s warnings were too vague, often addressed generally to the “inhabitants of the area.” Leaflets were dropped from high altitudes and scattered over wide areas; many Gaza residents told Human Rights Watch that they disregarded the leaflets because they were so common and widely dispersed.

In addition, the warnings often did not instruct civilians on what steps to take or where to find safety after fleeing their homes. With the beginning of the ground offensive on January 3, the IDF warned residents to “move to city centers,” but then some city centers, such as in Gaza City, Beit Layiha, and Jabalya, came under attack, as two of the incidents documented in this report show.  Ultimately, Gaza residents had no safe place to flee, given the closure of Gaza’s borders, enforced mostly by Israel but also by Egypt in the south.

Finally, even after warnings have been issued, international humanitarian law requires attacking forces to take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian life and property. Just because an attacking force has issued an effective warning does not mean it can disregard its obligations to civilians; attacking forces may not assume that all persons remaining in an area after a warning has been issued are legitimate targets for attack.

Clearly, Jewish law (as understood by Religious Zionists) and Israeli conduct seems to think otherwise: if you warn them, you can kill them.  And then, even as you wipe your blade clean of the blood just spilt, you can revel at your own greatness, your high level of morality.

How different are these leaflets and phone calls from the warnings issued by Zionist forces during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948?  Israeli historian Benny Morris writes on p.191 of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem:

Throughout, the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans.  Haganah Radio announced that ‘the day of judgment had arrived’ and called on the inhabitants to ‘kick out the foreign criminals’ and to ‘move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood, occupied by the foreign ciminals’.  The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to ‘evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe heaven’.  The vans announced that the Haganah had gained control of all the approaches to the city…

Morris calls these “psychological warfare broadcasts” designed to “stun” and cause “demoralization” of the enemy population.  The tactic worked, with terror-stricken Palestinians fleeing from their homes and villages en masse.

There is thus a continuity in Israel’s terror tactics, hardly something for pro-Israeli apologists to boast about.  The thing that makes Israelis somewhat unique is that they don’t stick to justifying their tactics, but go so far as to make outlandish claims such as being The Most Moral Army in the World™.  This is a sort of jingle that Israel’s propagandists hope will stick in our heads if they just keep repeating it often enough.  A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

*  *  *  *  *

Zionists seem to think that they can bomb a city with impunity once they’ve warned its inhabitants beforehand.  Certainly, this is the dominant theme in Religious Zionist circles.  In an entitled Purity of Arms, the Jerusalem Post documents the views of the “the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” who think that “the IDF bears no moral responsibility” for civilian deaths in Gaza:

Most of the rabbis cited Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the most important halachic authorities in Jewish history, as proof that collateral damage, including civilian deaths, is permitted. Maimonides pointed out the obligation of a Jewish army to leave an enemy force an open route to retreat, even in an obligatory war like the one waged in the North. “Whoever wishes to escape must be allowed to escape… whoever wishes to make peace can make peace… whoever wishes to fight… is attacked until conquest is achieved,” writes Maimonides in his Laws of Kings.  Maimonides’ ruling fits the IDF’s policy of forewarning civilian populations of air attacks, thus giving them the chance to escape. However, once noncombatants have been warned, the IDF bears no moral responsibility for their lives if they are unintentionally killed along with terrorists, arms and ammunition stockpiles, according to Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitz, head of the Birkat Moshe Hesder Yeshiva and an expert on Maimonides. This is true, says Rabinovitz, even when the civilians are held against their will by Hizbullah, as was the case in many incidents, especially in predominantly Christian Lebanese neighborhoods. “It is Hizbullah’s fault if these people are killed, not ours,” says Rabinovitz, echoing the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis.

Previously, we saw how such views were espoused in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, written by the leading Orthodox Jewish minds around the world.  Here, we see that this views are “echo[ed] by the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” in Israel.

* * * * *

As I stated previously:

To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

Prof. Alan Dershwoitz justifies ethnic cleansing in his book Chutzpah.  Norman Finkelstein writes on p.47 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Dershowitz explicitly lends support to….collective punishment such as the “automatic destruction” of a Palestinian village after each terrorist attack (“home destruction is entirely moral…among the most moral and calibrated responses”); torture such as a “needle being shoved under the fingernails” (“I want maximal pain…the most excruciating, intense, immediate pain”); and ethnic cleansing (“Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary…[I]t is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal”).

Did Finkelstein take the statement out of context, as Dershowitz later claimed?  In fact, when we look at the entire passage, it is more damning against Dershowitz.  The self-professed “civil libertarian and human rights activist” Alan Dershowitz writes on p.215 of Chutzpah:

Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary.  Making Arab families move–intact–from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation.  But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues–especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940s–it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people.

As can be seen, Finkelstein faithfully reproduced Dershowitz’s words.  Dershowitz responded by whining:

Another made-up quotation by Finkelstein is his claim that in my book Chutzpah I analogized “ethnic cleansings” to “urban renewal.”  I say nothing of the kind in Chutzpah.  I never even mention “ethnic cleansing.”

Dershowitz’s only response amounts to: But, I didn’t use the word ”ethnic cleansing!”  It would be like someone endorsing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers, only to protest when someone else “accused” him of supporting the Holocaust.  But I never used the word ”Holocaust.”

Is the esteemed Harvard law professor ignorant of the meaning of the word “ethnic cleansing?”  The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a body established by the United Nations, states: “ethnic cleansing alone—that is, the forcible expulsion of the members of a protected group…”

Therefore, when Alan Dershowitz says that it wouldn’t be a big deal to “make Arab families move–intact–from one village or town to another” (which he clarifies would “not always [be] voluntary”), this is the justification of ethnic cleansing.  Dershowitz focusing on the words “ethnic cleansing” instead of the concept shows how hollow his response against Finkelstein is.

That Dershowitz is referring to nothing short of ethnic cleansing can be ascertained without a shadow of doubt from his next few paragraphs, in which he not only references other acts of ethnic cleansing, but tries to justify them (in order that he can then justify the ethnic cleansing ”forced transfer” of Palestinians); writes Dershowitz on p.216:

For example, following the end of World War II, approximately fifteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes in Poland, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and other Central and Eastern European areas where their families had lived for centuries.  Two million died during this forced expulsion. Czechoslovakia alone expelled nearly three million Sudeten Germans, turning them into displaced persons. The United States, Great Britain, and the international  community in general approved these expulsions, as necessary to secure a more lasting peace. The presence of “disloyal minorities,” or so-called fifth columns, had helped to destabilize Europe on the eve of World War II.  It would be a source of increased stability if “population transfers” could produce a new Europe where Germans lived only in the two Germanies and other nations had populations that reflected their own ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.  President Franklin Roosevelt’s assistant Harry Hopkins memorialized his boss’s view that although transfer of ethnic Germans “is a hard procedure,” it is the only way to maintain peace.”

The words in bold are the quintessential reasoning behind ethnic cleansing: using “population transfers” to purify the land of ethnic minorities would increase Europe’s stability and get rid of “fifth columns.”  Dershowitz goes on, justifying the “forced transfer” of “fifteen million ethnic Germans” (one wonders how the pro-Israel community would react if a German justified the ethnic cleansing of “fifteen million ethnic Jews”–do you think that such a person would still be the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University?).  Writes Dershowitz:

The ethnic German populations of these European countries had included individual traitors, saboteurs, and fifth columnists.  But they had also included significant numbers of simple farmers, factory workers, and apolitical people who just happened to speak German and live in German enclaves. But since ”their people” had started the war and then lost, it was deemed appropriate for entire ethnic German communities to bear the burden of relocation in order to reduce the likelihood of future wars. On the scale of human rights violations, forced transfer of minority ethnic populations in order to enhance the stability of the region did not weigh heavily in the postwar era.

After justifying the forced expulsion of fifteen million ethnic Germans because “their people” had started the war, Dershowitz writes:

Similarly, many Arab residents of the new Jewish nation of Israel were encouraged to emigrate to Islamic countries by a combination of factors, including fear, a desire to live under Islamic rule, and political considerations.*

The exchange of populations in the Middle East served some of the same goals as the far more extensive, lethal, and systematic one that was taking place in Europe. It would remove potential fifth columns, stabilize the region, and enhance the prospects for peace.

* In assessing the morality of these transfers, it must be recalled that many Palestinian leaders supported Hitler during World War II. They also actively and successfully opposed opening the doors of Palestine to Jewish immigration during the Holocaust.  They were not–as is sometimes claimed–entirely innocent bystanders to the Holocaust. They bear some moral responsibility.

There are too many lies above to refute, but for now, let us lay to rest the issue of whether or not Alan Dershowitz is justifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.  But I didn’t use the word ”ethnic cleansing!”  

*  *  *  *  *

The support for ethnic cleansing runs very high among Zionist Jews, especially among Religious Zionists but also voiced by “liberal, secular” elements of the Zionist community (such as Alan Dershowitz).  Indeed, according to a survey conducted by Haifa University’s Center for the Study of National Security a majority of Israeli Jews support a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, with a quarter saying they would consider voting for the Kahanist party Kach, known for its vocal support of ethnic cleansing as a resolution to the conflict.

As we have seen, Jewish law and war ethics permit shedding the blood of civilians who directly and indirectly “support and encourage” the war effort (even if just by “mere words”), as well as those civilians–women, children, and babies included–who passively support hostilities.  ”Passive” support refers to the mere act of living in the same city as a terrorist or militant.  ”Even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed” (these are the words of Rabbi Michael J. Broyde who was quoting, and agreeing with, Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel on p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).  This is the Zionist Jewish justification for collective punishment.

Collective punishment is taken to its logical conclusion, with the endorsement of ethnic cleansing.  Besieged civilians who “refuse” to leave the city (such as the stubborn “babes in their mothers’ arms”) are licit to kill.  It seems then that, under Jewish law, the only type of civilian that is protected from harm or death–and this too is something debatable–is the one who flees his homeland.  Everyone else can be slaughtered.  In other words, Halakha offers the enemy civilian population two options: flee or die.  The choice is between ethnic cleansing and massacre.  Pick your poison.

Note: The next part of this series will be published shortly.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #3: Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher, pages I, II, III, and IV

We have seen previously (see pages IIIIII, and IV) how Halakha permits collective punishment.  It is perhaps no surprise then that ethnic cleansing, the logical conclusion of collective punishment, is also facilitated.

When a Jewish army is about to attack a Gentile city, it must issue an ultimatum offering the besieged population three options: (1) flee, (2) subservience and tribute, or (3) war and death.  To this effect, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde cites the great Maimonides on p.20 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition in a section entitled “The Civilian, the Siege, and the Standard of Conduct:”

Mamoinides states:

Joshua, before he entered the land of Israel, sent three letters to its inhabitants. The first one said that those that wish to flee [the oncoming army] should flee.  The second one said that those that wish to make peace should make peace.  The third letter said that those that want to fight a war should prepare to fight a war should prepare to fight a war.

As for the second option of “peace,” this is clarified on p.212:

Before undertaking the siege of a hostile city, offers of peace must be undertaken.  The terms are subservience and tribute.

Here, we come to understand an interesting Jewish war ethic: the prohibition to surround a city on all four sides.  Writes Broyde on pp.20-21:

Maimonides codifies a number of specific rules of military ethics, all based on Talmudic sources:

When one surrounds a city to lay siege to it, it is prohibited to surround it from four sides; only three sides are permissible.  One must leave a place for inhabitants to flee for all those who wish to abscond to save their life.

Broyde clarifies:

I would add, however, that I do not understand Maimonides’ words literally.  It is not surrounding the city on all four sides that is prohibited–rather, it is the preventing of the outflow of civilians or soldiers who are seeking to flee.  Of course, Jewish law would allow one to stop the inflow of supplies to a besieged city through this fourth side.

Sounds pretty ethical, right?  But here’s the rub: because Halakha commands the Jewish military to always allow civilians to flee the city, those civilians who fail to do so automatically forfeit their civilian status and are classified as combatants.  Writes R. Broyde on p.22:

This approach [allowing civilians to flee] solves another difficult problem according to Jewish law: the role of the “innocent” civilian in combat.  Since the Jewish tradition accepts that civilians (and soldiers who are surrendering) are always entitled to flee from the scene of the battle, it would logically follow that all who remain voluntarily are classified as combatants, since the opportunity to leave is continuously present.  Particularly in combination with Joshua’s practice of sending letters of warning in advance of combat, this legal approach limits greatly the role of the doctrine of “innocent civilian” in the Jewish tradition.  Essentially, the Jewish tradition feels that innocent civilians should do their very best to remove themselves from the battlefield, and those who remain are not so innocent.  If one voluntarily stays in a city that is under siege, one assumes the mantle of combatant. [90]

In footnote 90, Broyde says that “I would apply this rule in modern day combat situations to all civilians who remain voluntarily in the locale of the war in a way which facilitates combat.”  Translation: these Arab civilians who don’t flee for their lives when Israel invades them are “not so innocent” and “assume[] the mantle of combatant.”

This disturbing Jewish war ethic finds itself in the introduction of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, on p.xvii-xviii:

Of course, Jewish law sometimes demands overtures prior to declaring war to afford all who wish the opportunity to depart (known in Halakhah as the duty to surround on only three sides).  Those who remain, however–including sympathetic civilians–are no longer innocents, and their death, when militarily necessary, is according to Broyde unfortunate but halakhically proper.

The phrase “including sympathetic civilians” implies quite clearly that also included in this are those other than sympathetic civilians–anyone who “voluntarily” stays behind.  One wonders: do Israeli rockets stop before they detonate on Palestinian heads, and ask them: “Are you voluntarily staying behind or not?”  In reality, there is no way to know how who stays behind voluntarily or not–they are all licit to slaughter.  Of course, any civilian deaths are of course “unfortunate,” something that Palestinians take great solace in knowing.

Israel routinely launches massive operations against Palestinians, often warning the civilians beforehand with leaflets and telephone calls.  By so warning, the Israelis absolve themselves of all culpability: the civilians who refuse to flee their homes are no longer innocent in Israeli eyes and become licit to kill.  Scores of Palestinians subsequently die and then the Israelis pat themselves on the back for being so moral: look at how moral and ethical we are that we actually warn civilians ahead of time that we are going to bomb them.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Broyde and other Jewish religious authorities indulge themselves in self-congratulatory awe about how immensely moral and ethical Halakha is in this regard: Jewish law has such a great emphasis on protecting civilians that we have an obligation to leave a fourth side open for them; we are so great and ethical.  Yet,  Nahmanides elaborates on this obligation in a way that clearly explains the moral rationale behind “leaving a fourth side open,” saying (as quoted on p.21 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition):

God commanded us that when we lay siege to a city that we leave one of the sides without a siege so as to give them a place to flee to.  It is from this commandment that we learn to deal with compassion even with our enemies at a time of war; in addition, by giving our enemies a place to flee to, they will not charge at us with as much force.

Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered  “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought” and author of the influential monograph on civilians in the Jewish war ethic, noted that Maimonides [alternately known as Rambam] came to the same conclusion as Nahmanides did: the obligation to leave a fourth side open is of military benefit to the Jewish army.  Rabbi Gil Student writes:

[Rabbi Shaul Israeli] explains that according to the Rambam this rule is a military tactic, i.e. the best way to create a siege is to leave a side open so the fighters have an escape route and do not need to fight to the end.

This seems to be the real rationale for the rule obligating “a fourth side” open: it facilitates the speedy and efficient removal of a native population, the necessary component of ethnic cleansing.  ”Humanitarian” concern seems to have very little to do with this, since the rule was derived from the Biblical Joshua, who slaughtered the inhabitants of a city when he conquered it.

It is true that Joshua offered some civilian populations the opportunity to flee before he invaded them (which he did by leaving open one side of the city).  But if this was done out of compassion for them, then why did Joshua kill the civilians within the city once he conquered it?  Therefore, it seems that this rule is a tactical maneuver to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

That this has very little to do with “humanitarian concern” can be gleaned from the fact that the rule to leave a side open is only to be enforced when it is beneficial from a tactical standpoint to do so.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli notes that “Rambam [said] this rule is a military tactic” but that also “this is a humanitarian law.” R. Israeli reconciles these two statements by saying: “Therefore, according to the Rambam this rule only applies when the tactic is [militarily] appropriate,” in which case it is understood to be humanitarian too.  How very convenient.

One sees this convenience in modern day Israel: during the illegal siege of Beirut (in Lebanon) by Israeli forces, a heated discussion took place about its legality from a Halakhic perspective.  The overwhelming opinion was that the action was permitted under Jewish law.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli argued that not only was the rule to leave a side open applicable only when it was tactically useful to do so, but also that the rule simply did not apply to “Obligatory wars,” a special class of war under Jewish law.  (There is widespread consensus that Israel’s wars today are considered Obligatory wars.)

Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:

The message inherent in Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s argument is clear: the law to leave the fourth side open is not applicable today.

By linking the rule to tactical benefit, Jewish law is pliable enough to permit facilitation of “forced transfer of Palestinians” (Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing) when convenient–and massacre when desired.

Of note is that, for all their self-congratulatory awe at how immensely moral Jewish law is for demanding leaving a side of the city open for civilians, Religious Zionist rabbis are in the lead calling for more regressive methods against Palestinians.  It is certainly the rare exception that any of them would call the Israeli siege of Palestinians sinful or blameworthy.

Even Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who voiced the opposing view that it is imperative to leave a fourth side open in Obligatory wars, believed that “the Israeli army fulfilled this commandment in the siege of Beirut.”  Similarly, the vast majority of Israeli religious leaders gave their blessing to the Gaza blockade.

*  *  *  *  *

From its birth to the present day, Israel has used this warped mentality to facilitate ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of civilians.  During the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948-1949, Zionist forces efficiently emptied over four-hundred Palestinian villages and cities.  Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes on p.101 of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine that Jewish forces “tried to force a swift departure” of the indigenous Palestinian population “by issuing an ultimatum to the people to leave their homes.”  On p.133, Prof. Pappe writes:

The [Jewish] brigade usually closed in on villages from three flanks, tactically creating an ‘open gate’ on the fourth flank through which they could drive the people out.

This rule (of “leaving the fourth side open”) and its important corollary (whoever refuses to leave “assumes the mantle of combatant”) continue to be exploited by Israel today.  Palestinians who refuse to flee are accused of willingly converting themselves into “human shields.”

Such views are articulated by leading Israeli intellectuals, such as Prof. Asa Kasher (author of the much touted Code of Conduct of the Israel Defense Forces).  Nadene Goldfoot summarizes Prof. Asa Kasher’s views: “If people don’t leave the combat zone they become a human shield for the terrorists and thus becomes part of the war.”  Kasher’s quote can be found in the Jewish Post, in which he accuses a civilian who “doesn’t want to leave” of “turn[ing] into the human shield of the terrorist.”

What could possibly be more morbid than placing the blame on the victim?  But this is exactly what Israel’s apologists do.  To add another layer to the absurdity, they then revel at their own magnificence, at how morally superior they are–how they have The Most Moral Army in the World™.

Is it really any surprise that the Jewish tradition promotes ethnic cleansing, considering that this is an overwhelmingly prevalent theme throughout the Bible?   (See parts 123456-i6-ii6-iii6-iv789-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)  But always remember: Islam is uniquely violent.

Note: The next page of “Promoting Ethnic Cleansing” will be published shortly.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

We have just seen how the mainstream, Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership in Israel justifies collective punishment.  However, as I noted previously, it is important to remember that

Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

In a 2002 article in the Jerusalem Post, Prof. Alan Dershowitz argued that the Israeli government should not only destroy Palestinian homes but entire villages, arguing that Israel should

announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.

The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The soldiers would simply be acting as the means for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target.

Further acts of terrorism would trigger further destruction of specifically named locations. The “waiting list” targets would be made public and circulated throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas. If this automatic policy of destroying targets announced in advance is carried out with the full support of the entire government, including those who are committed to a resumption of the peace process, a clear message will be sent to the Palestinian people: Every time terrorists blow themselves up and kill civilians, they are also blowing up one of their own villages.

In other words, whenever a Palestinian suicide bomber kills a few Israeli civilians, Israel will respond by decimating an entire village.  This is not too different from Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s call to incur Palestinian civilian deaths–”whatever it takes to make them stop.”

Norman Finkelstein writes on pp.175-176 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Indeed, [Alan Dershowitz] advocates not only individual house demolitions, but also “the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations” after each Palestinian attack.  ”The response will be automatic.”  Such massive destruction, he concludes, will further “the noble causes” of reducing terrorism and promoting peace…It is hard to make out any difference between the policy Dershowitz advocates and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, for which he expresses abhorrence–except that Jews, not Germans, would be implementing it.

Lidice was a village destroyed by Nazi forces in retaliation for the murder of a Nazi official.  One finds it difficult not to see the similarity between the policy of retaliating against Palestinians by destroying their villages and what happened to Lidice.  Indeed, this comparison was first invoked by the Israelis themselves.  Finkelstein writes:

The association of destroying villages with Lidice occasionally crops up in the history of Zionism. In his study of the first Arab-Israeli war, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Benny Morris reports: “As Jewish losses mounted [in December 1947], the policy-makers’ and, in some localities, local Haganah commanders’ hearts grew steadily harder… Binyamin Mintz, the leader of the orthodox Po’alei Agudat Yisrael Party, said with respect to a certain village in the Negev: ‘If the possibility arises of evicting all its inhabitants and destroying it, this must be done.’ (But Sapir, the mayor of Petah Tikva and a major orange-grove owner, argued against destroying whole villages, ‘even small [ones]… This recalls Lidice – [and] here is food for thought.’)” (pp. 73-4)

One thing pro-Israeli apologists cannot tolerate whatsoever is Nazi comparisons (only they are allowed to compare this and that Arab/Muslim leader to Adolf Hitler).  Therefore, it was no surprise that Alan Dershowitz defended himself from these “outrageous” charges, saying: “In Finkelstein’s world, ‘destroying empty houses’ in order to deter terrorism is the equivalent of genocide.”

Of course, Norman Finkelstein never equated this to “genocide.”  Alan Dershowitz’s policy would constitute a war crime, a massacre, and an act of ethnic cleansing (running an entire village out of their homes is ethnic cleansing)–but not genocide.  That Dersowitz supports ethnic cleansing but not genocide is hardly reassuring.  It is the difference of being a supporter of rape but not murder.  Furthermore, Alan Dershowitz’s defense is misleading.  His initial statement clearly stated that “there will be no distinction.”  The obvious and apparent reading of Dershowitz’s words in the Jerusalem Post article clearly indicates that civilians will be killed if they do not vacate their homes–and that these deaths will be blamed on Palestinian terrorists.

One can gauge Alan Dershowitz’s level of morality by noting that he defends himself from accusations of supporting Israeli massacres by clarifying his position as only supporting the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages.  Pick your poison, Prof. Dershowitz; either way, you are a promoter of war crimes.  Both options constitute collective punishment.

*  *  *  *  *

That the “liberal, secular” Dershowitz and the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Eliyahu endorse collective punishment is hardly surprising when we consider that a majority of Israeli Jews support using methods of collective punishment against Palestinians.  On p.345 of Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein cites a 2003 study (by the Israel pollster Asher Arian) that found 88% of Israelis supporting house demolitions (in the words of Alan Dershowitz on p.xxxv of The Case for Israel ”home destruction is entirely moral”).  It seems that an even greater percentage of Israelis support carpet bombing of civilian populations, evidenced by the overwhelming support for the Gaza Massacre; in this regard, the Jerusalem Post notes one such poll which

found that 92% of Israeli Jews justify the air force’s attacks in Gaza despite the suffering of the civilian population in the Strip and the damage they cause to infrastructure

Support for using nuclear strikes is also high, with an astronomical 72% of Israelis endorsing such tactics; meanwhile, Israel had the “lowest public support for destroying nuclear arms” out of the countries polled.  Compare this to those warlike, militant Iranians: a majority of Iranians (58%) opposed acquiring nuclear weaponry, citing nuclear warfare as “un-Islamic,” with “nearly three out of four (72%) say[ing] they support the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons as stated in the NPT.”

*  *  *  *  *

With such warlike attitudes dominating in Israeli religious and political discourse, it is hardly surprising to find the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely circulated paper in Israel, running an op-ed from its then editor-in-chief calling “to erase villages,” imploring God: “may their innocents die instead of ours.” Included in this death plea were “[Hizbullah’s] helpers, their collaborators, the ones who turn a blind eye, and all those in contact with Hizbullah.”  They are all guilty.

Such views, widely expressed in Israeli society, are perfectly aligned with the rabbinical tradition.  In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein quotes the influential fifteenth-century Talmudic scholar, the Maharal of Prague, who argued:

Even though there are many who did not do [anything], this makes no difference.  As they belong to the same nation which did them harm, [it is] allowed to wage war against them.

The Maharal noted that “thus it is in all wars.”  Blidstein then quotes Rabbi Shaul Israeli who says:

The halakhah allows war with Gentiles, and then this prohibition against causing harm to life is necessary nullified.  Nor have we found in war that there is any obligation to be careful and to discriminate between blood and blood [combatants vs. civilians].

Yet, discriminating “between blood and blood” is the essence of morality in war.  Yoram Dinstein, a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war, opines: “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare” (as quoted on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah).  Collective punishment is not just morally bankrupt–it is pure barbarism.

Could it then be argued that Sharia jihad Quran Halakha, as understood by Modern Orthodoxy, is barbaric?  Or that it is incompatible with the just war theory?  The Yesha Rabbinical Council of Israel (which oversees the Jewish communities in “Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip”) certainly thinks so, issuing the following statement:

According to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as ‘innocents’ of the enemy.

All of the discussions on Christian morality are weakening the spirit of the army and the nation and are costing us in the blood of our soldiers and civilians.

But always remember: it is Islam that is so uniquely violent.

Note:  The next part of this series will be published within 24-72 hours.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

Far from teaching an ethos of forgiveness, Jewish law–as understood by Orthodox Judaism in Israel–encourages revenge and retaliation.  In this vein did Chief Rabbi of Safed in Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, call for “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:

The chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is calling on the government to carry out “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs in order to, in his words, restore Israel’s deterrence.

Rabbi Eliyahu bellowed:

It’s time to call the child by its name: Revenge, revenge, revenge. We mustn’t forget. We have to take horrible revenge for the terrorist attack at Mercaz Harav yeshiva.

He said this was necessary because the Arabs “understand very well the language of revenge.”  It is, of course, a widely held (racist) belief in Israel that Arabs understand only one language: violence.

Once again, the urge of pro-Israeli apologists in the United States is to claim that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is some fringe, radical element.  And once again, this would be misleading.  Not only does Eliyahu hold the position of Chief Rabbi in Safed, a city in the Northern District of Israel, but he is widely recognized as one of the leaders of Religious Zionism.  Israel National News, part of Arutz Sheva (an Israeli media network aligned with Religious Zionism), refers to Eliyahu as one of the “top rabbis in the religious-Zionist camp.”  Ynetnews, the English website of Israel’s most-read newspaper, calls him “a prominent religious Zionism leader.”  Haaretz refers to R. Eliyahu as one of a group of “prominent rabbis.”  And TorahMusings.com finds him prominent enough to reference for religious guidance.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu argued for a policy of ”hanging the children of the terrorist who carried out the attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree.”  (How much different is this than official Israeli policy of destroying the homes of (alleged) terrorists, with their children in it?)

R. Eliyahu went further and called for carpet bombing against civilian populations, saying:

And if they do not stop after 1,000 [deaths] then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s father, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, voiced similar views, arguing in a letter that “all civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty.”  He further argued that “there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza…” R. Mordechai Eliyahu opined:

According to Jewish war ethics, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.  In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The late Mordechai Eliyahu (1929-2010) was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.  He was the religious head of the entire Sephardic Jewish population in the country.  Would our opponents claim that he too was a marginal fringe, radical character?

This highly-esteemed Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel had this to say about “revenge:”

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs. The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

An article in the Jerusalem Post summarizes these abhorrent views [formatting note: I have broken up the article into paragraphs to make it more readable and less of an eyesore]:

Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza
Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews.

All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.

The letter, published in Olam Katan [Small World], a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide this Friday, cited the biblical story of the Shechem massacre (Genesis 34) and Maimonides’ commentary (Laws of Kings 9, 14) on the story as proof texts for his legal decision.

According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.  In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza. Eliyahu could not be reached for an interview.

However, Eliyahu’s son, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.

“If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said Shmuel Eliyahu. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

In the letter, Eliyahu quoted from Psalms. “I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them.” Eliyahu wrote that “This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses.”

As we have seen, these views are held by mainstream Modern Orthodox Judaism, enshrined in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, that notable work produced by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from all over the world.  Controversy surrounded Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s statements only because of the way he expressed them: too directly and too bluntly; more importantly, he was unfortunate enough to catch media attention in a time Israel was on the receiving end of international criticism.

R. Eliyahu clarified his position, saying:

I’m not talking about individual people in particular [to take revenge], I’m talking about the state.

This clarification makes it clear that Eliyahu’s stance lines up properly with Jewish orthodoxy.  Prof. Gerald J. Blidstein writes in The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel:

The killing of civilians is acceptable, provided it is initiated by sovereign authority [the Israeli government], not by individuals taking the law (quite literally) into their own hands.

Mainstream Orthodoxy does not differ with the “Jewish Underground” in principle over the killing of Arab civilians.  Instead, the difference is only in that the latter permits the individual to carry out these acts, whereas the former restricts that “right” to the government.

Certainly, revenge in war is something accepted by Religious Zionism.  Rabbi Moshe Zemer writes in Evolving Halakhah:

Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s summary leaves no room for doubt: It follows that there is a place for reprisal actions and revenge against the enemies of Israel and that such action falls into the category of an Obligatory War.

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, like Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, justifies collective punishment by invoking Biblical narratives.  In one particular story, seven innocents are killed in retaliation for an injustice. Writes Broyde on pp.5-6 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

The Talmud makes no mention of the fact that the underlying act [of retaliation]–the murder of seven absolutely innocent people as an act of retaliation–violates the Jewish rules of murder.  The reason that is so is clear.  This retaliatory conduct in wartime does not violate any such prohibition.

Broyde concludes that “retaliation when done to teach a lesson is not a general violation of Jewish law.”  Rabbi Norman Lamm adds helpfully (on p.235):

In contemporary society, vengeance is considered morally objectionable.  Recently, however, scientists have discovered revenge can be quite “normal” and often plays a positive role in human relations.

This “positive role” includes the merciless slaughter of innocent civilians.

Next: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)