Friday, September 4, 2009

Review of Kelsay's Arguing the Just War in Islam

John Kelsay's Arguing the Just War in Islam is a very interesting introduction to the contemporary thought about just war within Islam.  The book begins with a particulary good background to the history and sources of Islam.  It does not give a comprehensive history or theology, but rather explains the Muslim drive for Sharia law in the context of the origins of Islam.  Kelsay discusses sharia reasoning and outlines of some of the history and disputes in different strains of Islamic legal and political thought.  

The next part of the book continues with the some central questions about who muslims may wage war against, when is violence called for?, Is a legitimate authority needed?,  Are there standards to determining "just peace" in Islam as there are in Western just war theory?,  Who is protected and how long do they stay that way?,  Is there a requirement and standard of proportionality?, and how is booty divided?  Especially discussed is the tradition from al-Shaybani, al-Mawardi, al-Sulami, and ibn Taymmiyya.  

Next the book addresses, in historical terms, what circumstances justify revolution, and what justifications exist for  the vatious struggles against, e.g., America, Israel, . . . There is an overview of some instructive contemporary texts calling for armed resistance, especially against the West, such as The World Islamic Front's Declaration on Armed Struggle against Jews and Crusaders, Muhammed al-Faraj's The neglected Duty, the Hamas Charter, and bin Laden's Epistle.  Each is held to scrutiny in light of sharia reasining to see whether they are consistant with Islamic precedent and legal standards.  Most importantly for Kelsay, he explores how they extend the tradition of sharia reasoning about just war.  

The book then explores the quesion about who has the right to wage war on behalf of Islam.  What is the true Islamic political order. Who represents the real Islam and what are the contemporary internal debates concerning the democratization of Islam.  

Finally, the book concludes by showing that some of the more recent pronouncements to come from Islam, from Ahmadenijad in Particular, are attempts to spotlight the worst aspects of democracy in an attempt to convince a muslim audience that an Islamic order is more consistant.  Kelsay is quick to point out that this does not mean that they have the better argument, but they are making a point that will resonate with Muslims and perhaps hurt the cause of reformist Muslims.  

Kelsay's book describes how Islamist groups whose goals are to voilently establish an Islamic order justify their goals end up being taken seriously in Islamic religious circles.  The history of Islam, does not necessarily, or obviously in any case, condone the various radical incarnations of contemporary Islam, neither does it quickly advocate condemning them.  There is some consistancy and continuity between the classical tradition of Sharia law and much that goes on today. 

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