A History of Justified Violence

The Crusades rank among the most controversial wars in the history of mankind, and they go up against some pretty stiff competitors (WWI, the Boer War, and every time the English have fought their Celtic neighbours to name but a few). Spanning two hundred years, the historical view of the Crusades has changed slowly at the time; at the time they were thought a holy mission from God, at a later date a noble but ultimately flawed idea, and now many historians take the view that crusaders were little more than a bunch of murdering rapists plundering their way across the holy land. In fact, throughout history only one thing has been agreed on; that they were an abject failure.

The story of how the crusades came to be is a rather twisted one. During the early years of the second millennia AD, Christianity and Islam were spoiling for a fight that has, in some respects, yet to end. Christianity had a head start and had taken firm root in Europe, but over the last few centuries Islam had been founded and spread across the world like wildfire. Zealots, often with a Qur’an in one hand and a sword in the other had spread the word of Allah and Muhammed across the Middle East, Turkey, North Africa and pretty much all of Spain & Portugal south of Barcelona. Indeed, they probably would have gone further (given their immense technological, financial and military clout), had Islam as a religion not descended into infighting with the creation of the Sunni and Shia denominations and the collapse of the unified caliphate. Nevertheless, many Islamic empires were vast and incredibly powerful, and a serious force to be reckoned with.

The rise of Islam was an interesting phenomenon, unique to the world at the time, because of the way it is backed by the principle of jihad. Nowadays, the word tends to be taken to mean ‘holy war’, which is misleading- jihad refers to a Muslim’s attempts to struggle (‘struggle’ being the literal meaning of the word) against non-Muslims, both in a spiritual and worldly capacity. This can be taken to refer to a literal physical struggle against the enemies of Islam, and it was under this guidance that Muslim armies swept across the world under the banner of their religion. This was a strange concept to Christian nations, for whilst they had certainly fought before they had never done so for religious reasons. The Bible’s main messages are, after all, of peace and love for thy neighbour, and the Ten Commandments even state explicitly that ‘You shall not kill’. War was many things, but Christian was not, up until this point, among them.

However, the success of the Islamic approach, demonstrating just how powerful war and faith could be when they went hand-in-hand, lead the Church to reconsider, and added fuel to the fire of an already heated debate regarding whether the use of violence was ever justifiable to a Christian. There was already enough material to provoke argument; particularly in the Old Testament, God is frequently seen dispensing his wrath upon sinners (including one apparent count of genocide and a systematic cleansing of pretty much the entire world, among other things) in direct contravention of his son’s teachings. Then there were the questions of how one was otherwise meant to fight back against an invading force; ‘turn the other cheek’ is all very well, but loses its attractiveness when one is faced with someone attempting to kill you. Other schools of thought held that sin could be justified if it prevented a greater evil from occurring; but others stuck to the old view, claiming that violence could never be justified and only begat, or was begotten by, other violent acts.

It should also be remembered that the medieval Church was a distinctly political entity, and knew perfectly well that to attempt to tell, say, the vastly powerful Holy Roman Empire that it couldn’t declare war was just asking for trouble. Indeed, in later years the HRE even set up its own puppet papacy of ‘antipopes’, allowing them to excommunicate whoever they wanted and thus claim their wars were righteous.

However, the real trump card for the ‘just war camp’ was Jerusalem. The city of Jesus’ Crucifixion, the capital of Israel under the rule of King David (it is worth remembering that Mary’s spouse Joseph was of the House of David, hence why he returned to Bethlehem, the city of David when the Roman census was called), thought by many to be the place of Christ’s hidden tomb, it was the holiest city in the Christian (and Jewish) world, as even the Vatican would admit. However, it was also where, according to Islamic scripture, Muhammed undertook ‘the Night Journey’, in which he travelled to Jerusalem on a winged mule, and met with several prophets before ascending to speak directly with God (apparently the main source of discussion was an argument between God and the prophet Musa concerning how many prayers per day were required, with poor Muhammed acting as a messenger between the two. I would stress, however, that I am not especially knowledgeable with regards to Muslim scripture; if anyone wants to correct me on this, feel free to do so in the comments). This made it one of the holiest cities in the Muslim world, and Islamic forces had captured it (and the rest of Palestine to boot) in 636. The city had changed hands several times since then, but it had remained Muslim. For a long time this hadn’t been too much of a problem, but come the 11th century the Muslim rulers started acting against the Christian population. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was destroyed, the Byzantine Empire (which, although Orthodox, was still technically on Catholic Europe’s side) was getting worn down by near-constant war against its Muslim neighbours, and Christian pilgrims started being harassed on their way to Jerusalem.

It was this that really tipped the Catholic Church’s ‘just war’ debate over the edge, and the Church eventually adopted the stance that war could be justified in the eyes of God if it was pursued in His name (a concept similar in nature to the jihad principle of justified warfare in fighting against the enemies of one’s religion). This was a decision made with one thing in mind; to win back the Holy Land from the Saracen infidels (Saracen being the coverall name given by Catholics to the Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem). To do that, the church needed an army. To get an army, they called a crusade…

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Kony 2012 in hindsight

Yesterday, April 20th, marked two at least reasonably significant events. The first of these was it being 4/20, which is to cannabis smokers what Easter is to Christians- the major festival of the year, where everyone gathers together to smoke, relax and make their collective will felt (this is, I feel I should point out, speaking only from what I can pick up online- I don’t actually smoke pot). This is an annual tradition, and has grown into something of a political event for pro-legalisation groups.

The other event is specific to this year (probably, anyway), and just about marks the conclusion of one of the 21st century’s most startling (and tumultuous) events- the Kony 2012 campaign’s ‘cover the night’ event.

Since going from an almost unknown organisation to the creators of the fastest-spreading viral video of all time, Kony 2012’s founders Invisible Children have found their organisation changed forever. For most of the last decade the charity has existed, but only now has it gone from being a medium-sized organisation relying on brute zealotry for support to a internationally known about group. Similarly, the target of their campaign, warlord and wanted human rights criminal Joseph Kony, has gone from a man known only in the local area and by politicians nobody’s ever heard of, to a worldwide hate figure inspiring discussion in the world’s governments (albeit one with more than his fair share of lighthearted memes- in fact he is increasingly reminding me of Osama Bin Laden in terms of status).

Invisible Children’s meteoric rise has not been without backlash- they have come under intense scrutiny for both their less-than-transparent finances, and the fact that only around a third of their turnover goes to supporting their African projects. Then there was the now-infamous ‘Bony 2012’ incident, where co-founder Jason Russell was found making a public nuisance of himself, and masturbating in public, after a week of constant stress and exhaustion, and rather too much to drink.

Not only that, but the campaign’s supporters have come under attack. This is partly because the internet always loves to have a go at committed Christians, as Russell and many of his followers are, but there are several recurring issues people appear to have with the campaign in general. One of the most common is the idea that ‘rich white kids’ sticking up posters and watching a video, and then claiming that they’ve helped change something is both ridiculous and wrong. Another concerns the current situation in the Uganda/CAR/South Sudan/Congo area- this is one of hideously bloody political strife, and Joseph Kony is not the only one with a poor human rights record. Eastern Congo is still recovering from a major civil war that officially ended in 2003 but still exists in some local, and extremely bloody, conflicts, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world with a history of political strife, South Sudan has only just emerged as independent from a constant civil war and the bloody, oppressive dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, and Uganda has an incredibly poor record for war and corruption, and has even been accused of using child soldiers in much the same way as Kony’s organisation, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Then there have been the accusations that Invisible Children have overexaggerated and oversimplified the issue, misleading the general public, and the argument that, with the LRA numbering less than a thousand, Kony isn’t too much of an issue anyway- certainly not when compared to the thousands of children who die every day from malnourishment and disease in the area.  Finally, some take issue with the aim of the Kony 2012 campaign- to get governments to listen and to step up the level of involvement in their attempts to capture Kony, which is an aim disliked by those who feel that the USA doesn’t need any more encouragement to invade somewhere, and disliked even more by those who claim Kony died 5 years ago.

All of these are completely valid, true and important arguments to consider (well, apart from the one about him being dead, which is probably not true). And I have one answer to every single one of them:

IT. DOESN’T. MATTER.

Put it this way- what slogan does the Kony 2012 video say is it’s aim? Answer- to make Kony famous, and in that regard Invisible Children have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Most  of the world (well, most of it with an internet connection at least), now knows about one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violators in the world, and a major humanitarian issue is now being forced upon governments worldwide.  It doesn’t matter that Invisible Children has some dodgy finances, it doesn’t matter that Kony is by no means the biggest problem in the area, and it certainly doesn’t matter that Jason Russell managed to give the world’s media a field day. All that matters is that people know about a serious issue, because if nobody knows about it nobody cares, and if nobody cares then nothing can be done about it.

There is, in fact, one criticism levelled at Invisible Children supporters that I take major issue with, and that is the idea that its efforts at spreading awareness do not matter. This could not be more untrue. There is only one force on this earth that will ever have the power to potentially find and bring to justice Joseph Kony, and that is the effort of the world’s governments- armies, advisors, police, whatever. But governments simply do not get involved in stuff if it doesn’t matter to them, and the only way to get something (that doesn’t concern oil, power or money) to matter to a government is to make sure people know and care about it. In modern politics, awareness is absolutely everything- without that, nothing matters.

Anyone can stand and level criticisms at the Kony campaign all day if they wanted to. I myself have not given Invisible Children any money, and don’t agree with a lot of the charity’s activities. But I am still able to admire what they have done, and realise what a great service they have done to the world at large. In the grand scheme of things, their flaws don’t really matter one jot. Because everyone will agree that Kony is most definitely a bad guy, and most definitely needs to be brought to justice- until now, the chances of that happening were minimal. Until Kony 2012.

 

 

 

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