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Current Events

Just War Can be Impatient

Just War and Pacifism
(from http://www.moralinjuryandjustwar.org)

While pacifism can be accused of dangerous idealism, within Christian moral theology it provides a very important balance to the just war tradition.

Interviewed in Plough, Ron Sider says adherents of the two perspectives must dialogue in cooperative friendship.

How might Just War adherents and pacifists work together?

Pacifists and Just War Christians need to assess each situation together. With some frequency, there will be situations where applying the Just War criteria will lead us to conclude, “This war should not be fought, this invasion should not take place. An alternative must be found.” There may be, however, other situations where Just War Christians will conclude that they must go to war.

But the Just War theory requires that war is a last resort, and until you’ve tried all reasonable nonviolent alternatives, war is not a last resort. Unless Just War Christians are ready to test all reasonable nonviolent alternatives, the Just War position has no integrity.

Likewise, pacifists have no moral right to pretend their way is better unless they are willing to run the same risks in a nonviolent struggle against evil as soldiers do in battle.

The context of the interview is the phenomena of ISIS, and whether or not their savagery demonstrates the folly of nonviolence.

Sider has long been a voice for pacifism, and relates that Christian Peacemaker Teams have had some success in transforming conflicts. It would have been nice if this interview presented ideas for the nonviolent defeat of ISIS, however preliminary in form and difficult to imagine.

But his statement puts the burden of proof on those who advocate military solutions. What alternatives have you tried first? What about second, or third?

Before supporting war, ask a pacifist if he or she has any ideas to offer. And pacifist, be creative and bold. The world has many problems you can speak to. If not, many others will rush to offer that which you can only criticize, from afar.

 

 

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Current Events

MLK for Egyptian Revolutionaries

Translation: Martin Luther King; the Montgomery Story; how 5000 black men found a way to end racial discrimination
Translation: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story; how 5000 black men found a way to end racial discrimination

A day late, but in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day in the United States, here is a list of principles to which he had his fellow non-violent activists commit.

I hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

2. Remember always that the non—violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.

4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.

5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.

6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.

8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

10.Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

Let us pass on the first commandment, given the primary makeup of Egyptian revolutionaries as Muslim. Some Christians might argue that without the first, however, those following are devoid of their power and without foundation.

Whatever the merits of this argument, it certainly seems like many could be adopted by anyone. On some counts many Egyptians measure up well. On others, not so much.

The Egyptian revolution was largely peaceful. But not entirely. Many protests witnessed low-level violence such as the throwing of Molotov cocktails. This was front line action, though, and the masses of protesters remained behind.

But of #2: All were focused on justice, but some let the pursuit of victory get in the way. Few prioritized reconciliation.

#3: Love was almost never put forward as a theme. Most large protests were labeled ‘day of rage’ and themes of this sort.

#6: Courtesy was in short supply. Slogans tended to demonize the opponent, and graffiti was often insulting.

#8: Islam has a similar listing. A tradition of Muhammad states that if one sees a wrong that must be put right, he should strive to do so first with his hand, then with his tongue, and then if these are not possible, with his heart. Different schools of interpretation have allowed different levels of violence in this effort, or specified who can take this action under what circumstances. In any case, while most protestors avoided the violence of the hand, violence of the tongue and heart was plentiful.

#10: The Egyptian revolution had no leader, and certainly no commanding and inspiring figure like Martin Luther King. Many have identified this as a reason for the rapid divisions that dissipated its power after the fall of Mubarak.

The issues of the civil rights movement and the January 25 revolution were certainly different. But whereas American evils have largely (though not entirely) been put right and social peace achieved, the ills of Egyptian society and state threaten to continue.

Perhaps if Egypt’s peaceful protesters had adopted the spirit and convictions of MLK and not just his methodology, things would have been different. Then again, perhaps not. Your thoughts on the differences are welcome.

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Books

Egypt, the Army, and the Early Christian Ethic of Life

by Ron Sider
by Ron Sider

From Christianity Today, an interview with Ron Sider, who compiled every early church writing on the subject of killing:

It’s not just just-war theory versus pacifism. The book covers war, capital punishment, gladiatorial games, infanticide, abortion, and so forth. Did the early Christian writers tie those together, or did they treat them as separate ethical issues?

They definitely tied them together. A number of times different authors—like Lactantius writing at the time of the Diocletian persecution, and earlier writers—are very clear. They explicitly say we don’t kill, and that means we don’t go to gladiatorial games, we’re opposed to abortion, capital punishment is not acceptable, and we don’t kill in war.

Did the early Christians oppose capital punishment as a social institution? Or did they just say that a Christian couldn’t be an executioner or a magistrate who might give someone a death sentence?

For early church fathers, a Christian could not have a political or judicial office where he would have the authority to pronounce a judgment of capital punishment.

They clearly stated the latter. They said Christians cannot participate in capital punishment. For them, a Christian could not have a political or judicial office where he would have the authority to pronounce a judgment of capital punishment.

Similarly, in the unanimous testimony of early Christian writers, this means Christians should not join the army:

Let’s talk about the reasons early Christians abstained from bloodshed: They talked about Jesus’ command to love our enemies, about the Mosaic command not to kill, and about the prophecy of messianic peace. Is any one of those reasons foundational to the rest?

Their most frequent statement is that killing is wrong. Killing a human being is simply something that Christians don’t do, and they’ll cite the Micah passage or Jesus’ “love your enemies” to support that. But the clear statement that Christians don’t kill is the foundation.

The most frequently stated reason that Christians didn’t join the army and go to war is that they didn’t kill. But it’s also true that in Tertullian, for example, idolatry in the Roman army is a second reason for not joining the military. But it’s not true that idolatry is the primary or exclusive reason that the early Christians refused to join the military. More often they just say killing is wrong.

But here is the rub for Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church honors the early church fathers, and I have not interacted with this issue to know how they treat this testimony. I would imagine that as the Catholic Church in the Roman Empire eventually came close enough to the centers of power, the Copts also developed a just war doctrine. Certainly they have a number of ‘soldier saints’ among their martyrs.

But for modern day Copts, the fact of participation in the army is often touted by political Islamists as the chief justification why the Islamic jizia tax is no longer required.

Sharia law required ‘People of the Book’ to submit to their Muslim rulers and exempted them from participation in the military in exchange for this tax. Within this system they were given the promise of domestic protection and freedom of worship within the status of second-class citizenship.

But those wars were for the benefit of the Muslim caliphate. The modern state of Egypt has a national army for defense of the borders. Two hundred years ago jizia was abolished and Copts served alongside their Muslim neighbors in the army.

But if per Sider’s testimony that proper Biblical understanding, as evidenced by the early church fathers, forbids a Christian from killing, this ‘arrangement’ is undone. If Copts sense they should abstain from war, does this open the door for the radical Islamist argument of restored jizia?

No Copt that I know of argues for conscientious objection, which does not exist in Egypt anyway, as best I know. Of course, like most Egyptians, like most humans, Copts are very reticent to kill. But they do not forbid it in the context of national duty.

But for any Christian pacifists outside of Egypt, which would you choose? You are only a pacifist out of conviction, of course, so I suspect it is unlikely you would balk at the imposition of a special tax for your refusal to fight. But would you accept the ‘second-class citizen’ part? Would you accept to be ruled by sharia law?

Even in the early days Christians faced the pragmatic question on pacifism. Here is the less than pragmatic answer:

It’s significant that Origen in the middle of the third century, 248–250, responds to the pagan critic Celsus. Celsus said, If everybody was like you Christians, the Roman Empire would collapse. Origen responded, if everybody was like us, the Roman Empire would be safe, and we wouldn’t need to kill people. So in the middle of the third century, the most prominent Christian author writing at the time responded in a way that only makes sense if Christians by and large didn’t join the military.

But the idea ‘if everyone was like us’ is woefully unrealistic. It is as if they say, please, join our movement and usher in the fall of our Empire.

Would an imagined pacifist Copt similarly argue to usher in the fall of our citizenship?

I am curious to know how church leaders today would interact with this issue.

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Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

The People Chose Us: Inside the Mind of the Muslim Brotherhood

Ahmed Kamal
Ahmed Kamal

From my recent article at Egypt Source:

It is a simple matter, really. No matter how many people poured into the streets on June 30 to demand early presidential elections, Mohamed Morsi had a mandate to govern for four years. “We cannot accept the loss of legitimacy because this is not our demand to compromise,” said Ahmed Kamal, youth secretary for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Helwan. “It is the will of Egyptians who chose Morsi in the democratic process.”

Fair enough. But in the mind of his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, he had a mandate for far more. “The people chose us,” he continued. “The Islamic ideology is to apply to the whole of life, and this is the view of our party.” Kamal’s words are punctuated by one of the key issues Morsi’s supporters grasp at: legitimacy. “When Egyptians chose it – and we do not wish to impose it – we cannot accept the idea of jumping over its legitimacy.”

Many commentators over the past year have criticized the Brotherhood for a majoritarian view of democracy. Kamal’s comments appear to bear this out. Morsi’s narrow win in the presidential elections, perhaps coupled with the sizeable Islamist win in parliamentary elections, was enough to confirm and empower the triumph of Islam. In their view, opposing their political project, therefore, is opposing Islam itself.

The interview continues to include Kamal’s views on Christians, martyrdom, and the Brotherhood conception of peaceful protest. Please click here to read the rest of the article at Egypt Source.

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Middle East Middle East Institute Published Articles

A Conversation with al-Gama’a al-Islamiya’s Hani Nour Eddin – Part Two, Non-Violence

Hany Nour Eddin 1

For Part One of this conversation, discussing Hani Nour Eddin’s background, please click here. For the full interview on Middle East Institute, please click here. Part Two explores Nour Eddin’s views on violence, and here is an excerpt from the published interview:

Al-Gama`a al-Islamiya is committed to nonviolence and has apologized for its past. In fact, you organized a demonstration recently to condemn political violence. 

We saw that others had taken over the streets and were now using them to express their views. People might thinkthat they are the voice of Egypt. We wanted to say that the Egyptian street is not about violence and sexual harassment. Unfortunately, beautiful Tahrir Square has lost its symbolism. So we [demonstrated in] another place to avoid any contact with them. Our demonstration invited all to come and express their opinions, whether for or against the Islamist project, but with a commitment to nonviolence.

I noticed many of the speeches and chants were very Islamic, and quite severe. Instead of “no to violence,” the demonstration became about “yes to political Islam.” 

Our demonstrations often take the color of the people who attend. Maybe this is because of our weakness in usingthe media; we use a strident voice to make our point and show we are strong. We are Islamists, and we do not accept separating religion from anything else, and the street welcomes this. And so they chant, “Egypt will remain Islamic!”

The protest also honored Khaled al-Islambouli [Sadat’s assassin].

Islambouli is considered one of the symbols of al-Gama`a al-Islamiya when it was in a period of resistance to the regime. We all saw Sadat as a dictator, especially in his last years when he used oppression and closed mosques. Islambouli has an honored place among us.

Even if you now confess that what he did was wrong.

If we could go back in history and reevaluate, perhaps we would not have chosen the path of violence. But what happened was necessary due to the situation. Unfortunately, the circumstances demanded it.

But this is the test of your principles. If nonviolence is a principle—not a means, not a strategy—you must commit to it. 

Yes, this is right. It is a principle.

Unfortunately, for space issues Middle East Institute had to cut the conclusion, which seeks to test their commitment to non-violence through recent domestic and international examples. This part is posted here:

A few weeks earlier than your ‘No to Political Violence’ protest, Mohamed al-Zawahiri demonstrated at the French Embassy in Cairo against their military intervention in Mali. There, Ezzet al-Salamony, a leader in GI, spoke saying, “Why are they fighting us in our lands? It is we who should be fighting them in our lands!”

There are two issues here: One, Islamist support for the rebels in Mali, and two, the statement of Salamony itself. Do these violate your non-violent commitment?

I see what you’re saying. From what I know GI has abandoned violence and we will not return to it. We also agree we will not interfere in the politics of other nations. But as for that statement, he is the one responsible for it, and must justify himself.

Ok, but tell us about Mali, especially before the French intervention. Do you support the rebels from the north?

To a degree, but we do not have complete information about the nature of the Mali jihadists. Their primary slogan is the application of sharia law and building an Islamic state on the basis of it. Their situation is different; to what extent is there democracy or other means of change? We don’t know.

But we support the idea of an Islamic entity if it is true they are committed to Islam. At times some people will raise the banner of Islam but transgress it in how they behave. But yes, if they live as Muslims and seek to apply the sharia, yes, we support them.

But for the real situation between them and the Malian government, we don’t know.

But should you not condemn their jihad, as it is violent? Even if it is true the political system has not opened up the way it has in Egypt?

Again, we can’t evaluate their experience in jihad because we don’t know enough.

But you don’t know? It is clear to the world their rebellion is armed. They were marching on the Malian capital.

In the beginning it was not like this. They were a number of jihadi groups that gathered together and the government confronted them, but they began expanding their territory and announced themselves as a political entity.

But even this, expanding their territory in the north was at the expense of the legitimacy of the government. What gave them the right to seek autonomy or declare independence?

Yes, but their situation is different from that of Egypt.

But this is the point, we’re talking about a principle. In Egypt there is no necessity for violence – you have won by votes. But there the Islamist is in a position of weakness. Perhaps he is even suffering pressure. Is he allowed to resist violently?

(Laughing) I cannot condemn them before I know the circumstances which drove them to violence. Maybe it is violence in response to a greater violence upon them. What if my life or existence is threatened and there is no other way? But rebelling against a leader by forming militias? No, we must expend all peaceful and preaching means first, before resorting to violence.

Before? But your ‘Revisions’ were a complete condemnation.

The issue of jihad in Islam is legitimate, but it is not something to begin with. In our ‘Revisions’ we defined that jihad has stipulations that prevent it from resulting in even greater harm upon the people, the sharia, and the country. The jurisprudence in measuring jihad in Mali is different than the measure in Egypt.

But how can their situation be seen as worse than what you experienced here? There was a tyrant in Egypt, he oppressed you, he put you in prison, he killed you. He distorted the sharia and laughed about it. And even under all this pressure you condemned your own violent confrontation.

Because it did not result in any fruit.

So forgive me if this isn’t the right word, but does this show your condemnation of violence was opportunistic? You made a deduction violence is not working, so you give it up. You still believe in violence as a possible means of change.  

No, in the reality in which we live it is not a means of change.

But maybe it is in Mali?

It depends on their circumstances; we cannot judge them.

So your commitment to violence…

We commit ourselves. We cannot compel others to be so committed.

So it is not a general interpretation of Islam. It is just your situation?

Jihad is legitimate in Islam; no one can deny this. The question is if you are engaged in it legitimately according to its stipulations.

So what are the domestic stipulations for jihad? The one in Mali is against the ruler.

Will our scholars permit their action? I don’t know. It depends on the type of ruler; it depends on the struggle between him and the various Islamic groups. I don’t have enough information to say.

Ok. Sudan.

Our party sent a delegation to Sudan shortly after it was created, to establish relations. We consider Sudan to be deeply important to Egypt, economically, socially.

What about the status of President Bashir as an international criminal?

No, there are other factors at play in these accusations. We don’t believe the government is complicated in any criminality.

So in a sentence, how do you understand what is happening in Darfur?

It began as a local tribal conflict, and then the government intervened. After that it became somewhat of a separatist movement. It was necessary for the state to preserve its authority.

As in Mali?

(Laughing) For example.

Please click here to read the whole article at Middle East Institute.

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Personal

Nonviolence and Christianity

From the Peace Fountain and Biblical Garden, New York City

I would honestly say that if I could choose a religion, I would choose Christianity and its ideal of universal acceptance, love, and forgiveness. It is all so beautiful. It is just so unfortunate that the history of Christianity has nothing to do with these ideas.

  • Eyad Sarraj, head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights

This quote comes from a book I have been reading, entitled ‘The Body and the Blood’, which I referenced once before in this post, concerning Palestinian refugees and the ‘right of return’. The book is a journalistic account of the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, focusing on Palestine. When I finish I hope to write a short book review, but for now, I will only highly recommend it.

One of the author’s themes highlights that the Middle East has witnessed violence upon violence, in the form of Israeli occupation, Muslim resistance, and terrorism. Yet while Christians have also at times joined in the violence, their religion’s focus on nonviolence could potentially equip this minority to assume a role of peace, either in highlighting the injustice of occupation, or in rebuking the assault upon it through stones, suicide bombers, and rocket fire. Yet the Christian exodus from the area not only removes this voice from the equation, it also allows for popular Western definition of the struggle as between Muslims and Jews, in which both get dismissed as the problem then appears both foreign and intractable.

The above quote means to put the issue of nonviolence before the Western Christian audience. Not for Palestine per se, but for world history and current Christian attitudes. Eyad Sarraj is introduced as a secular Muslim from a deeply religious family. Conversion is not an issue as the entrenched religious lines of Palestine do not allow for movement between faiths, certainly not toward Christianity, and in any case as a secular individual he might not see religion as an important personal matter. The issue is his perception. Within his Islamic heritage and Palestinian politics he speaks boldly about the beauty of the Christian message. Unfortunately, he does not see its historic reality.

May the question be asked: What would have to change in order to change his perception?

Without pretending that Western governments represent Christian values, should Christians better pressure their governments according to nonviolent principles? What might this do to world affairs? What might it do for the Christian message? What kind of nonviolence is intended? What are its limits? Does nonviolence as a principle apply to groups as opposed to individuals? Does it apply to nations?

The author highlights that Jesus’ principle of ‘turn the other cheek’ is often misunderstood. Rather than passive acceptance of violence, it is an assertion of equality. To strike the right cheek, as the gospel emphasizes, requires a backhand slap from the aggressor’s right hand. In the culture of the time, this was a great insult. It was punishable by law if administered to an equal, but legally permissible if targeting an inferior. Jesus’ teaching says to turn to him the left cheek, in order to receive a proper blow. The invitation is to be struck as an equal, yet all the while not returning the violence.

If this interpretation is correct, it forces reevaluation of Jesus’ teaching of nonviolence, but also removes the popular notion that is it ethereal and hopelessly pious. It may yet be foolish, but it becomes foolishness with a purpose. It is a foolishness from utter strength, no matter how much it forsakes the worldly use of strength.

Yet what does this interpretation say to the one who possesses strength in the worldly sense? This is the position of most Western nations, and many Western Christians. Perhaps it is only to note that Jesus does not address these, at least in this passage. His interests lie elsewhere. They lie with the suffering and oppressed. Interestingly, his message is not to rebel, but it is to resist the status quo of their position. It is to stand strong.

Certainly Jesus would care for all, the strong and the mighty among them. Yet may the contemplation of these questions, regardless of where the answers lie, help Christians evaluate with whom they stand. Where Christians exist among the strong, may they exercise this strength on behalf of those not yet standing.