Christianity, Islam, & Just War

All of this brings us to the present day.  The United States is currently occupying two Muslim countries, and has bases in many others.  While this is happening, extremist Muslims are planning attacks on the West.  If one thing is obvious, it should be that neither Christian nor Islamic Just War doctrine is to blame for the current death and chaos.  Christian teachings promote peace and allow violence only in order to restore that peace. Jihad is defensive to the vast majority of Muslims.  The terrorists that call for an offensive jihad violate their religion not only with the results of their deeds, but also by the means to their ends.  There is no imam; therefore, there can be no offensive jihad. Certainly, there has been little differentiation between “legitimate” government targets and civilians.

Some leaders recognize this and attempt to paint the Christian West as the aggressor.  James Turner Johnson, professor of religion at Rutgers University, sees this as the main tactic of Osama bin Laden’s fatwas, which it should be noted; he has no authority to issue.  If he can convince the Muslim world that America is the aggressor, he can set aside the extensive rules governing offensive jihad in favor of defensive warfare based on the use of terror (Johnson, 14).

Cross-cultural differences in Just War Theory are not to blame for today’s conflict between America and extremist Muslim organizations.  An obvious lack of empathy is. Neither side makes any effort to see themselves through the eyes of their opponents. Islamic terrorist organizations fail to understand that America is trying to make the world a better place, just as America fails to understand that its efforts are unwelcome in many parts of the world.

As a result, both sides see themselves as the aggrieved party, allowing them to use whatever means are necessary to defeat the “aggressors.” Perhaps those means include hijacking aircraft to kill civilians. Perhaps those means are using torture to stop said attacks. Either way, both sides take action that gives the other side fodder for recruitment. The cycle of violence rolls on.

Sadly, this has the effect of focusing our attention on what drives our cultures apart rather than what could bring our cultures together.  If there is a war between the West and the Islamic world, there will be only losers until we focus on our similarities, such as those of our Just War doctrines.

Works Cited:

Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1994.


Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. Ed. Wuthnow, Robert. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998, 425-426.

The Holy Bible. New American Version. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1970

The Holy Qur’an. Trans. Shakir, M.H. Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 1983

Johnson, James Turner. “Jihad and Just War.” First Things. June/July 2002: 12-14.

Sutter, Reverend Jim. Protestant Just War Theology. < justwar.html>.

US Army. Timeline of Terrorism. Revised 8 Sept, 2004 <>.

Zwick, Lousie and Zwick, Mark. “Pope John Paul II calls War a Defeat for Humanity:     Neoconservative Iraq Just War Theories Rejected.” Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, July-August 2003: no page # (online).

2 thoughts on “Christianity, Islam, & Just War

  1. As a muslim, I found this post (and references) highly informative and well-reasoned. All I see in the world today is one group yelling “they want to destroy Islam” and the other, “they hate freedom”. Both these premises are equally idiotic. It was never about different peoples hating each other – but about different nations competing in a global rat-race.

    Thank you for the clarity you brought into the discussion.

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