Ethics Forums

The Good will... for evil

Thalia Arawi

September 11, 2001 will be remembered forever, kept in historical texts and in the minds of people as a day that made the world skip a beat. So too is October 8, 2001, another day, another beat. Both events together joined their efforts, united to take the world towards its doom on more than one level: Political, Social, Moral, and worse still, encompassing them all, Humane. Two separate events, meant to be opposite are actually conspirators against humanity and the sad thing is that they are winning while we look at the charade each from a camp, not knowing who to blame, taking sides.

Strange too is the fact that this whole thing is taking place at a time when the Nobel Peace Award is being awarded. Peace is becoming a hallow word, beautiful but empty, a word that belongs somewhere in Plato’s world of Ideals for its imitations are quite disastrous in this world.  There is nothing that justifies the killing of innocent civilians, lives in the WTC, in Afghanistan, in Palestine to mention but a few.  Even combatants are fighting a war inspite of themselves. It is always easier to sit behind a desk and give the order to fire while others are in the battlefield.

President Bush declared the attacks on the WTC an “act of war”, and that the US has the “responsibility to rid the world of evil”. However, from where I see it, the US has answered one terrorist act with another (although the term terrorism has yet to be defined) and this act of war indeed leaves a lot of questions unanswered, two of the most important of which are: who is responsible and who is to blame?

To rid the world from evil is a moral statement. The statement has within it words like right, wrong, justice and injustice.  US president Bush is arguing that he wants to restore justice, but one cannot strive for justice by being unjust, rather by removing injustice. =

For those who argue that the best way to fight injustice is by waging a just war, I ask whether there is really such a thing as a Just War.

Just war theory can be meaningfully divided into three parts:

1)      The jus ad bellum, which concerns the justice of going to war

2)      The jus in bello, which concerns the just conduct during war

3)      The  jus post bellum, which concerns the justice of peace agreements and the ending of war.

For the purpose of my argument, I shall concern myself with only the first two.


The Jus ad Bellum

A resort to armed forces, just or unjust, basically disclosed by the rules of  jus ad bellum. As far as the Just war theory is concerned, if any resort to war is ever to be justified, a political community must fulfill six criteria: it is an all or not justification of war. From where I see it, two criteria, at least, were not met in the war waged against .

    Right intention:  A war is to be fought only for the sake of a just cause. However, it is not enough to have the right reason to wage a war. The actual motivation behind the resort to war must be morally appropriate and as such, ulterior motives are ruled out including any form of revenge or discrimination or power. I am not saying that this is the reason behind the US attack of Afghanistan, but I am not saying that it is not either. In case of doubt, the reasons and the intention behind the war should be studied quite well and objectively before the war is declared just.
    Last resort: A war is a last resort in the sense that no state should wage a war unless all other peaceful alternatives have been exhausted, particularly, diplomatic negotiations. Afghanistan has stated that they will hand over Osama Bin Laden if the United States gives ample proof that he was behind the attacks. The United States has refused to do so, which again, is a very strange thing to do, for if the U.S. were to be given a analogous ultimatum from a different country, it would also indignantly refuse to hand over one of its citizens without sufficient proof. No person in a free, democratic world can be convicted of a crime without evidence. As such, the alternative given is only half an alternative and thus, does not constitute one. 

The Jus in Bello:=

The jus in bello refers primarily to justice in war, to right conduct in and during the war. This is the responsibility of the commanders and people in charge and, in case where the jus in bello was not honored, they are held responsible and may be trialed for war crimes.

There are basically three rules of jus in bello, namely, 1) Discrimination, 2) (Micro- Proportionality (which, very briefly, says that soldiers may only use a force that is relative to the goal they want to achieve), and 3) No Means Mala in Se (which is to say that soldiers may not use any weapons or means which are evil by definition such as ethnic cleansing, torturing captive enemy soldiers; rape, and using arms the effects of which are uncontrollable such as chemical or biological supplies). Although some might wish to argue that number 3), namely No Means Mala in Se, has entered the so-called current war, yet, I shall limit myself to number 1) which is Discrimination since the source of the former has not yet clearly, or at least overtly, been established.=

1.      Discrimination. Soldiers are only entitled to target those who are involved in war and injustice and as such, they should differentiate between civilians who should be safeguarded from direct and intentional attack as a matter of principle and military political targets.   It is morally wrong and reprehensible and indeed inexcusable to aim at civilian targets like residential areas. Attacking and the civilians of is a terrible injustice and however hard I try I cannot find an argument valid enough to justify the killing of people who are underprivileged and cannot even escape, people who are practically living on the margin of life. The small plastic packages of food dropped alongside bombs are a travesty, more so when the legitimate food support on which so many Afghani families depended for survival has been halted by the war, when the ICRC quarters have been bombarded “by accident” just like when “families” have been killed “by accident” and hospitals have been shelled “by accident”. I find this a sorry excuse, particularly when such “mistakes” are becoming quite recurrent.

From the quick overview presented above, it is clear that the notion of a just war theory is one that offers guidelines and rules that are to guide those who are in charge of making crucial decisions on the correctness of their conduct when resorting to war and during war (the  jus post bellum regulating conduct after war); and that this notion of a “just war” that is universally accepted, was not really honored in what is currently being referred to as the “war against terrorism” or the war to “restore justice”.

Emmanuel Kant is known to have said that “politics should pay homage to morality”. It is a fact that the philosopher of Koenisberg has been accused of a far-fetched idealism and perhaps even an absurd optimism and that history is proving him wrong. The world is becoming more Machiavellian by the day, and the thirst for power more vivid than ever before. If it is all about power, national self-interest and winning, the question is: Does that make it acceptable to start mass destruction, terror and deaths? What I find worrisome is that this thirst for power is accompanied with a naďve underestimation of the minds of the masses. Talks of waging wars in the name of justice and morality defeat their purposes when they are going about their aim in an unjust way.  Justice is a moral concept and Machiavelli was a realist. Socrates was an idealist whose thirst for justice could not coincide with Thrasymachus’ thirst for power.  So maybe we should call a spade a spade. Be it Bush or Bin Laden, who equally talks of justice in his war against America, it does not matter who’s who. The world is gasping and somewhere between harsh realism and rare idealism history is repeating itself.

September 11 was a turning point in the history of the US. Many countries have experienced violence such as Chechnya, Bosnia, Lebanon, Palestine, Macedonia, East Timor, to mention but a few. But the people the US was mostly protected so to speak from what it really felt like. Then all of a sudden, the world changed.

Instead of waging another war against terrorism by waging a terrorist war against innocent civilians who are beyond blame, I think it is about time for the to wage a war on war and for a change to really work for Peace, not simply by paying lip service to it.  What is “terrorism”? The reason why I think there is not one single clear cut definition for this term is that because it is interpreted in different ways to suit different interests, and each definition, even if it seems fitting in its own standpoint, lacks some important feature of terrorism.  However, one thing is certain, one cannot fight a shadow, or a symptom without first treating the disease that caused it. Terrorism is the symptom of a spreading disease called injustice. There is always an alternative and the guiding questions are: what is it that we truly want? In what direction do we want out world to go? What world do we want for our children and their children? But, at least for once, let us dare to be true to ourselves and to others and dare to say the Truth. Is it Peace? Or is it Power? If it is the latter, then I will choose to keep Kant’s Perpetual Peace on the highest shelve, forget about it for a long while and I despair. I will brush aside my optimism for a while, the recent events of September 11 and October 8 have forced me to do so, but what I refuse to brush aside is my strong belief in the International Humanitarian Law not only as presented in the Geneva Convention but as a matter of principle, it is wrong to make people suffer (there is enough suffering as is) and we are committed to a set of basic rules of ethics in times of war just as in times of peace. I think this is the basic definition of a Civilization and any country that does otherwise is far from being civilized but is “nasty and brutish”. So perhaps, finally we should all be guided by a vision, a realistic utopian vision. After all, Utopianism is the best form of Realism.