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

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.

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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?

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?

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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.

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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)

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.

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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

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!

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?

Christian Member of the Knights Templar Interrupts Muslim Student Event

Even Ivy League Universities such as Princeton are not immune from radical anti-Muslims. A Christian man by the name of Adam Pyle interrupted a Muslim Student “welcome back dinner,” telling them that “Muslims are going to hell.”

One can only imagine the hysteria this would have caused in the anti-Muslim blogosphere if a Muslim had barged into a Christian, Jewish or any other faith’s “welcome back dinner.”

This is also noteworthy in the backdrop of the terrorist attacks in Norway. Anders Behring Breivik claimed to be a member of the Knight Templars as well. While we should not extrapolate excessively from this one incident we should keep in mind that there is a rise in the appropriation of Christian Crusader theology, symbols and rhetoric amongst the anti-Muslim movement.

One need only look at Robert Spencer’s extolling of the Crusades and reiteration of its call, “God Wills it,” and to the fascination in anti-Muslim groups of Crusader symbols, vividly brought to the fore in our piece, SIOA is an Anti-Muslim Hate Group.

Threats arise at Muslim Students Association event

by Henry Rome (DailyPrincetonian)

A local man claiming to be part of the Knights Templar was arrested on Saturday night after allegedly interrupting a Muslim Student Association welcome back dinner and telling students that “Muslims are going to hell,” according to multiple witnesses and police reports.

While the incident reflects a nationwide spike in bias crimes in the wake of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, MSA members say they are treating it as an isolated event and do not plan to scale back any of their events in response.

The man, Adam Pyle, 26, of Princeton Township, had apparently been present for part of the actual dinner at Campus Club, said Sohaib Sultan, the University’s Muslim life coordinator. Toward the conclusion of the dinner, Pyle left the dining area and allegedly started going through the backpack of Jihad Al-Jabban ’14, the MSA public relations chair.

When Al-Jabban walked over, Pyle explained that he was a Christian but still a member of the “ummah,” the global Muslim community, according to Al-Jabban. Pyle then proceeded to bow and ask MSA members if they were members of the ummah, said MSA vice president Areej Hassan ’13. He also allegedly asked a member, “Why do you hate Jews?” Hassan is a  staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.

“I immediately became a little bit nervous about what his intentions were,” Sultan said. “I realized this could be a potentially violent situation.”

Sultan then ushered the 60 to 70 students attending the dinner into a closed room away from Pyle, and an attendee called Public Safety. In the meantime, Pyle allegedly said, “Muslims are going to hell” and “Death to Muslims,” and began walking toward the students, according to Sultan.

“I stood right in front of him and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to let [you] go inside,’ ” Sultan recalled. During the night, Pyle also allegedly made references to the anti-Christ, University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said in an email.

At 8:57 p.m., Public Safety officers arrested Pyle and charged him with bias intimidation, criminal attempt, disorderly conduct, harassment and defiant trespass, Mbugua said. Pyle will face the criminal charges on Monday in the Borough Municipal Court. Public Safety ordered Pyle to stay away from campus for the next 90 days, and the department intends to ban him permanently.

A message left seeking comment at Pyle’s home phone number was not returned. Pyle is not affiliated with the University.

“You just never know the type of individual [who] might come in and do something,” Sultan said. “The Muslim community in America has seen a real rise in Islamophobia over this past year in particular, and so it shakes us up. We really did feel threatened.”

It is unclear how Pyle learned of the welcome back dinner, since the event was only advertised via email and with limited on-campus advertising, MSA board members said.

“I don’t even think it was premeditated,” said Sheeba Arif ’14, the MSA events chair. “I feel like he just stumbled in on it actually.”

It is also unknown how Pyle gained access to Campus Club, access to which was limited by prox at the time, Mbugua said.

Sultan said the incident has shaken up some Muslim students, and he is concerned that new students may get the wrong impression about the University.

“To the freshmen and first-year graduate students, please don’t worry. This was an isolated incident and you will find this campus as warm and welcoming to Muslims as anywhere in this country,” Sultan said in an email to the MSA listserv.

Sultan has invited officers from Public Safety to speak with students at Friday prayers this week to thank the officers and to discuss revising any safety protocols. Students praised the responding officers, who also offered to escort the members back to their dorm rooms after the event.

Sultan added, however, that he doesn’t anticipate any increased security as a result of the incident.

“We really do hope and anticipate that this was a completely isolated incident,” he said. “We want to continue being the open community that we’ve become at Princeton.”

Other religious organizations on campus, including the Office of Religious Life, have lent their support and have offered to hold discussions and vigils in response to the incident. MSA board members said they may discuss the issue broadly at the next Religious Life Council meeting, but they want to move forward.

“It’s an isolated incident,” Arif said. “We don’t want to make a bigger deal than it is.”

While advocacy groups noticed a rise in bias crimes around the 9/11 anniversary, Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that colleges and universities are often immune.

“Colleges and universities have typically not been a major factor in our annual reporting on bias-related incidents, just because they tend to be more open, more tolerant and more knowledgeable about Islam and Muslims,” he said.

Indeed, Sultan said he couldn’t recall any similar incident occurring on campus, except for the occasional controversial speaker or offensive email. Mbugua also said this is the first incident of its nature to happen on campus.

“I think it’s still on the minds of students, but I think we recognize this was completely an isolated incident,” Sultan said. “Princeton University has been a wonderful and very welcoming home for Muslim students and faculty for many years.”

Rampant Sexual Harassment of Women…in the West

Rampant Sexual Harassment of Women…in the West

Anti-Muslim bigots such as Robert SpencerPamela GellerGeert Wilders and co. love to trot out the talking point that Muslims (due to Islam of course) are unique in harassing and oppressing women. According to them, anytime a Muslim man harasses or otherwise assaults a woman it is considered a result of Islam or somehow encouraged by “Islamic behavior.”

This belief, however, is not limited to anti-Muslim bigots but has also crept into the popular imagination and perception of the mainstream. This was evident during the Egyptian Revolution when reporters, pundits and opinion-makers latched onto the Lara Logan incident as a marker for Arab and Muslim societies, viewed as monoliths that are separately “unique” when it comes to the treatment of women.

Take for example Bill Maher, who took the incident as an opportunity to explain why “our culture” is better than “theirs” (Arabs, Muslims). We reported on Maher’s comments at the time:

On his last show Bill Maher went on a speel undermining the Democratic character of Revolutions sweeping across the Arab world. Amongst his ludicrous statements he claimed “women can’t vote in 19 of 22 Arab countries,” that “women who have dated an Arab man, the results aren’t good,” that “Arab men have a sense of “entitlement,” etc. He also went onto forward the argument that “we are better than them,” justifying it by implying he is not a “cultural relativist.”

Such statements not only defy facts and logic, not only are they racist but they serve to undermine the truth about the status of women in the world today. Maher’s all too typical tirade covers up the fact that what is at the heart of the problem is not a clash of cultures or civilizations (the familiar “us vs. them” paradigm), or a simple difference in the degree of harassment.

Reality asserts that at the end of the day, women are mistreated across the globe, across cultures, races, and religions at unfortunately high and gross levels.

The website Stopthestreetharassment.com deals with the issue of harassment, and in its category on statistics does away with the myth that somehow “harassment” and “assault” are unique to men from the Middle East or Muslim countries. The report indicates that this is a world-wide pandemic ranging from such divergent places as India, Europe, Egypt, Latin America and of course…the USA.

In its report on Statistics, stop the street harassment informs us:

In one of the first street harassment studies ever conducted, Carol Brooks Gardner, associate professor of sociology and women’s studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis, interviewed 293 women in Indianapolis, Indiana, over several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The women were from every race, age, class, and sexual orientation category of the general population in Indiana and the United States. She oversampled women of color to better represent their experiences. Gardner found that every single woman (100 percent) could cite several examples of being harassed by unknown men in public and all but nine of the women classified those experiences as “troublesome.”

Using a national sample of 12,300 Canadian women ages 18 and older from 1994, sociology professors Ross Macmillan, Annette Nierobisz, and Sandy Welsh studied the impact of street harassment on women’s perceived sense of safety in 2000. During their research, they found that over 80 percent of the women surveyed had experienced male stranger harassment in public and that those experiences had a large and detrimental impact on their perceived safety in public.

Laura Beth Nielsen, professor of sociology and the law at Northwestern University conducted a study of 100 women’s and men’s experiences with offensive speech in the California San Francisco Bay Area in the early 2000s. She found that 100 percent of the 54 women she asked had been the target of offensive or sexually-suggestive remarks at least occasionally: 19 percent said every day, 43 percent said often, and 28 percent said sometimes. Notably, they were the target of such speech significantly more often than they were of “polite” remarks about their appearance.

During the summer of 2003, members of the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team in Chicago surveyed 168 neighborhood girls and young women (most of whom were African American or Latina) ages 10 to 19 about street harassment and interviewed 34 more in focus groups. They published their findings in a report titled “Hey Cutie, Can I Get Your Digits?” Of their respondents, 86 percent had been catcalled on the street, 36 percent said men harassed them daily, and 60 percent said they felt unsafe walking in their neighborhoods.

In 2007, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office conducted an online questionnaire about sexual harassment on the New York City subway system with a total of 1,790 participants. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents identified as women. Of the respondents, 63 percent reported being sexually harassed and one-tenth had been sexually assaulted on the subway or at a subway station. Due to collection methods used, the report “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sexual Harassment and Assault in the New York City Subway System” is not statistically significant, but it suggests that a large number of women experience problems on the subway system.

The author’s own studies support the pervasive and widespread nature of the problem of harassment that exists in the USA,

Nearly every woman I have talked to about this issue has been harassed by men in public. Further, every woman can cite strategies, such as avoiding going in public alone at night, which she uses to avoid harassment and assault. To learn more about women’s harassment experiences I conducted two informal, anonymous online surveys about street harassment: one in 2007 for my master’s thesis at George Washington University and one in 2008 as preliminary research for a book. Between both surveys, there were 1,141 respondents. Similar to the other studies conducted on street harassment, nearly every female respondent had experienced street harassment at least once.

In my first online survey, conducted during the spring of 2007, I asked the 225 respondents: “Have you ever been harassed (such as verbal comments, honking, whistling, kissing noises, leering/staring, groping, stalking, attempted or achieved assault, etc) while in a public place like the street, on public transportation, or in a store?” Ninety-nine percent of the respondents, which included some men, said they had been harassed at least a few times. Over 65 percent said they were harassed on at least a monthly basis.

Over 99 percent of the 811 female respondents (916 respondents total) of the second informal survey I conducted in 2008 said they had experienced some form of street harassment (only three women said they had not). In one question they could indicate the types of interactions they have had with strangers in public, here is a sampling of their responses.

  • Leering
    Ninety-five percent of female respondents were the target of leering or excessive staring at least once, and more than 68 percent reported being a target 26 times or more in their life.
  • Honking and whistling
    Nearly 95 percent of female respondents were honked at one or more times and 40 percent said they are honked at as frequently as monthly. Nearly 94 percent of female respondents were the target of whistling at least once and nearly 38 percent said it occurred at least monthly.
  • Kissing noises
    Just over 77 percent of women said they were the target of kissing noises from men and 48 percent said they’ve been the target at least 25 times in their life.
  • Making vulgar gestures
    Nearly 82 percent of female respondents were the target of a vulgar gesture at least once. About twenty percent said they had been a target at least 51 times.
  • Sexist comment
    Over 87 percent of women said they were the target of a sexist comment, and about 45 percent said they’ve been a target of a sexist comment in public at least 25 times in their life.
  • Saying sexually explicit comments
    Nearly 81 percent of female respondents were the target of sexually explicit comments from an unknown man at least once. More than 41 percent have been the target at least 26 times in their lives.
  • Blocking path
    About 62 percent of women say a man has purposely blocked their path at least once and 23 percent said this has happened at least six times.
  • Following
    Seventy-five percent of female respondents have been followed by an unknown stranger in public. More than 27 percent have been followed at least six times.
  • Masturbating
    More than 37 percent of female respondents have had a stranger masturbate at or in front of them at least once in public.
  • Sexual touching or grabbing
    Nearly 57 percent of women reported being touched or grabbed in a sexual way by a stranger in public. About 18 percent said they have been touched sexually at least six times.
  • Assaulting
    About 27 percent of women report being assaulted at least once in public by a stranger.

These jarring statistics of abuse, harassment and assault upon women in the “enlightened, culturally superior” West should give us pause and a heavy dose of perspective on the meaning of that age old adage, men are pigs.

Once and for all let us quit the holier-than-thou hypocritical obfuscation of the facts and realities on the ground when it comes to women and harassment. Women do not feel safe on Western streets, not because of the “evil Mooslims” but because too many men are unable or unwilling to control themselves.

To rectify this pandemic we must not divert the truth but face it head on. Instead of resorting to racist diatribes, innuendo, hate speech and efforts to destroy a race, religion and culture, organize to stop the harassment and aid in creating a safe space for women in our societies as opposed to the present status quo on our streets.

I encourage everyone to visit StoptheHarassment.com and check out how to End It.,,

Kevin Harpham, White Supremacist Left “Sophistacted Bomb” at MLK Parade

Kevin Harpham, White Supremacist Left “Sophistacted Bomb” at MLK Parade

Kevin Harpham is suspected of leaving a sophisticated bomb at an MLK Parade in Washington. We didn’t hear much about this individual but if he were Muslim we might be holding Congressional hearings on the Radicalization of American Muslims…oh wait we are.

MLK Day Parade Bomber Suspect Arrested

SPOKANE, Wash. — A man accused of leaving a sophisticated bomb along a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route in Spokane is known to an organization that tracks hate groups.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center tells The Associated Press that Kevin Harpham was a member of the white supremacist National Alliance in 2004. But Potok says his organization doesn’t know when he joined or if he has left the group.

The 36-year-old Harpham is from the Colville area in northeastern Washington. He was arrested Wednesday and is expected to appear in federal court at 3:30 p.m. on charges of trying to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device.

It wasn’t clear if Harpham has a lawyer.

The bomb was discovered before it went off and no one was injured.

Terrorism in Europe, What if they were Muslim?

The anarchists seem to be on a tear across Europe.

Terrorism is a serious issue in Europe, but contrary to popular misperception it isn’t the Mooslims you should be worried about:

‘Wave of terrorism’: Blasts hit Rome embassies

ROME — An Italian anarchist group claimed responsibility for parcel bombs on Thursday that wounded two people at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome, a reminder of home-grown threats at a time of political instability in Europe.

A Swiss man was seriously wounded and was rushed to hospital. The employee at the Chilean embassy was less seriously hurt. A note was found stuck to his clothing, claiming responsibility for the attack on behalf of the FAI, or Informal Anarchist Federation.

“We have decided to make our voice heard with words and with facts, we will destroy the system of dominance, long live the FAI, long-live Anarchy,” said the note, written in Italian, which was released in the evening by the police.

Churches involved in Torture, Murder of Thousands of African Children Denounced as Witches

This Aug. 18, 2009 photo shows children accused of witchcraft waiting for food at the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network in Eket, Nigeria. The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) (SUNDAY ALAMBA, AP / August 18, 2009)

This Aug. 18, 2009 photo shows children accused of witchcraft waiting for food at the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network in Eket, Nigeria.

In a grisly article, the LA Times reports via the AP that thousands of African children have been tortured and murdered in the name of Christianity because they were thought to be witches. The burning and murdering of “witches” is something that was thought to have died out in the 17th century with the Salem Witch Trials but it is all too real in some places around the world, especially in Africa where Evangelicalism has been on the rise.

Rest assured Robert Spencer won’t be reporting on this any time soon, nor will the mainstream media say (rightly so) “Christianity” is to blame for this because it is not; human beings are the cause. This highlights a double standard, the continuing saga of “what if they were Muslim?” If we replaced the word Christian here with Muslim and the word Churches with Mosques, we know very well that this would be plastered all over the internet in a second. The anti-Muslim blogosphere would be erupting in delirium and pundits would be pontificating on how Islam is the cause, Islam is barbaric, Islam is irreconcilable to modernity and must be stopped, etc.

Churches Involved in Torture, Murder of Thousands of African Children

by, Katharine Hourfeld

EKET, Nigeria (AP) — The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

“It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity,” said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.

For their part, the families are often extremely poor, and sometimes even relieved to have one less mouth to feed. Poverty, conflict and poor education lay the foundation for accusations, which are then triggered by the death of a relative, the loss of a job or the denunciation of a pastor on the make, said Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund.

“When communities come under pressure, they look for scapegoats,” he said. “It plays into traditional beliefs that someone is responsible for a negative change … and children are defenseless.”

____

The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.

Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse, but hardly the only one: the United Nations Children’s Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.

Church signs sprout around every twist of the road snaking through the jungle between Uyo, the capital of the southern Akwa Ibom state where Nwanaokwo lay, and Eket, home to many more rejected “witch children.” Churches outnumber schools, clinics and banks put together. Many promise to solve parishioner’s material worries as well as spiritual ones — eight out of ten Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day.

“Poverty must catch fire,” insists the Born 2 Rule Crusade on one of Uyo’s main streets.

“Where little shots become big shots in a short time,” promises the Winner’s Chapel down the road.

“Pray your way to riches,” advises Embassy of Christ a few blocks away.

It’s hard for churches to carve out a congregation with so much competition. So some pastors establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft.

Nwanaokwo said he knew the pastor who accused him only as Pastor King. Mount Zion Lighthouse in Nigeria at first confirmed that a Pastor King worked for them, then denied that they knew any such person.

Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children.

“We pray over that problem (of witchcraft) very powerfully,” he said. “But we can never hurt a child.”

The Nigerian church is a branch of a Californian church by the same name. But the California church says it lost touch with its Nigerian offshoots several years ago.

“I had no idea,” said church elder Carrie King by phone from Tracy, Calif. “I knew people believed in witchcraft over there but we believe in the power of prayer, not physically harming people.”

The Mount Zion Lighthouse — also named by three other families as the accuser of their children — is part of the powerful Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. The Fellowship’s president, Ayo Oritsejafor, said the Fellowship was the fastest-growing religious group in Nigeria, with more than 30 million members.

“We have grown so much in the past few years we cannot keep an eye on everybody,” he explained.

But Foxcroft, the head of Stepping Stones, said if the organization was able to collect membership fees, it could also police its members better. He had already written to the organization twice to alert it to the abuse, he said. He suggested the fellowship ask members to sign forms denouncing abuse or hold meetings to educate pastors about the new child rights law in the state of Akwa Ibom, which makes it illegal to denounce children as witches. Similar laws and education were needed in other states, he said.

Sam Itauma of the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network said it is the most vulnerable children — the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor — who are most often denounced. In Nwanaokwo’s case, his poor father and dead mother made him an easy target.

“Even churches who didn’t use to ‘find’ child witches are being forced into it by the competition,” said Itauma. “They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism.”

That’s what Margaret Eyekang did when her 8-year-old daughter Abigail was accused by a “prophet” from the Apostolic Church, because the girl liked to sleep outside on hot nights — interpreted as meaning she might be flying off to join a coven. A series of exorcisms cost Eyekang eight months’ wages, or US$270. The payments bankrupted her.

Neighbors also attacked her daughter.

“They beat her with sticks and asked me why I was bringing them a witch child,” she said. A relative offered Eyekang floor space but Abigail was not welcome and had to sleep in the streets.

Members of two other families said pastors from the Apostolic Church had accused their children of witchcraft, but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Nigeria Apostolic Church refused repeated requests made by phone, e-mail and in person for comment.

___

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about the laughing, grubby kids playing hopscotch or reading from a tattered Dick and Jane book by the graffiti-scrawled cinderblock house. But this is where children like Abigail end up after being labeled witches by churches and abandoned or tortured by their families.

There’s a scar above Jane’s shy smile: her mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of $60 didn’t cure her of witchcraft. Mary, 15, is just beginning to think about boys and how they will look at the scar tissue on her face caused when her mother doused her in caustic soda. Twelve-year-old Rachel dreamed of being a banker but instead was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly; her uncle paid him $60 for the exorcism.

Israel’s cousin tried to bury him alive, Nwaekwa’s father drove a nail through her head, and sweet-tempered Jerry — all knees, elbows and toothy grin — was beaten by his pastor, starved, made to eat cement and then set on fire by his father as his pastor’s wife cheered it on.

The children at the home run by Itauma’s organization have been mutilated as casually as the praying mantises they play with. Home officials asked for the children’s last names not to be used to protect them from retaliation.

The home was founded in 2003 with seven children; it now has 120 to 200 at any given time as children are reconciled with their families and new victims arrive.

Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar, where Nwanaokwo used to live. Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man’s eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft.

In an interview with the AP, Ukpabio is accompanied by her lawyer, church officials and personal film crew.

“Witchcraft is real,” Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ukpabio says she performs non-abusive exorcisms for free and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials.

“I don’t know about that,” she declared.

However, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl’s jaw during an exorcism. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.

After activists publicly identified Liberty Gospel as denouncing “child witches,” armed police arrived at Itauma’s home accompanied by a church lawyer. Three children were injured in the fracas. Itauma asked that other churches identified by children not be named to protect their victims.

“We cannot afford to make enemies of all the churches around here,” he said. “But we know the vast majority of them are involved in the abuse even if their headquarters aren’t aware.”

Just mentioning the name of a church is enough to frighten a group of bubbly children at the home.

“Please stop the pastors who hurt us,” said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. “I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch.”