Responding to the Call: Just War and Jihad in the War Against Al Qaeda
Zehr, Nahed Artoul (author)
Kelsay, John (professor directing dissertation)
Hawkes, Lois (university representative)
Gaiser, Adam (committee member)
Kalbian, Aline (committee member)
Twiss, Sumner B. (committee member)
Department of Religion (degree granting department)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
This project is an examination of the War against al-Qaeda from the field of religious ethics. In response to September Eleventh, the United States has spent the last decade fighting a war against a diffuse and elusive network of militant Islamists. These events have not been neglected by the scholarly community, and a range of material on al-Qaeda and the War on Terror have been produced. However, I argue that the majority of available research does not take sufficient account of the theological foundation that serves to give al-Qaeda meaning, legitimacy, and direction in its war against the West. As a work of religious ethics, this project begins from inquiries that seek to understand how individuals and groups are motivated, and action is legitimated, by way of religious and moral commitments. I argue that such inquiries carry particular relevance in the War against al-Qaeda, as it stands by way of clear observation that al-Qaeda is a religious, and hence, theologically driven organization. Understanding al-Qaeda's "grand strategy" – a key component in any effort to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat" the al-Qaeda network – requires an investigation into its theological underpinnings. In order to perceive the full spectrum of al-Qaeda's aims, as well as the manner in which these aims have affected its particular tactical model of war, it is necessary to examine the religious narratives and symbols that lend them both meaning and consequence. Through such an approach, this dissertation demonstrates that al-Qaeda has intentionally put forward a strategic and tactical model that is diffuse in geographical reach, decentralized in authority, and virtually indiscriminate in its application of force. Understanding Al-Qaeda's war model carries important implications for an American military response. From the inception of hostilities, major military and policy decision makers determined that this was a "different kind of war"; one necessitating a decisive shift from a focus on conventional combat to the realm of irregular warfare As a consequence the relevant decision makers have made a concerted effort to categorize al-Qaeda's structure and strategy. As discussed above, two conceptual and military models have been put forward in the attempt to both understand, and to combat, the al-Qaeda network: "counterinsurgency" and "counterterrorism." The former construes al-Qaeda as a world-wide militant Islamist insurgency that has penetrated into Iraq and Afghanistan. Relying on the classic principles of military counterinsurgency, policy and military decision makers have determined that both "fronts" must be "secured" to ensure an overall al-Qaeda defeat. The latter, and in many ways much less dominant stream, understands al-Qaeda as a network of terrorists violating both domestic and international law. An al-Qaeda defeat, under this second line of thinking, requires apprehending, detaining, or killing high-level leaders, in the hope that their absence will lead to an overall infrastructure collapse. However, once al-Qaeda's diffuse and decentralized model is illustrated, I argue that a reevaluation of both models is in order. The highly irregular nature of the al-Qaeda network requires that both military frameworks are assessed as they apply specifically to al-Qaeda. Through the application of the moral and ethical guidelines of the just war tradition, I argue that neither framework is able to provide an application of military force that is effectual and proportionate - in other words, that is just. Furthermore, noting the importance of the interpretive narratives that drive al-Qaeda, I argue that in addition to the use of military force, the Long War must take note of the theological alternatives that are presented by a variety of figures within the Muslim community. As this entity is organized and motivated by a set of theological interpretive narratives encompassing the historical and textual tradition of Islam, combating al-Qaeda requires the presence, and perhaps the engagement, of an alternative set of narratives.
Islam, Jihad, Al-Qaeda, Just War, Religious Ethics
June 3, 2011.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
John Kelsay, Professor Directing Dissertation; Lois Hawkes, University Representative; Adam Gaiser, Committee Member; Aline Kalbian, Committee Member; Sumner B. Twiss, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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