A respondent to my last column asked if I thought the Iraq War was an act of love. My answer is “No, I certainly do not.” But like almost all Americans, and like the Iraqis themselves, I was not consulted in this matter. I woke up on March 20, 2003 to find that the U.S. was at war with Iraq—our bombs were falling on Iraqi territory-- and there was nothing I could do about it.
There was no shura process in deciding to go to war with Iraq. I remember being so outraged, that I considered leaving the U.S. and living somewhere else—Costa Rica, maybe. But this would not have helped the Iraqis, or anyone else. So I stayed in the U.S., teaching at St. Thomas.
Many Muslims, I believe, think the (second) Iraq war was a “Christian” war, fought against a Muslim country, like a Crusade. I was even asked this question on a local Arab television program. After all, the reasoning goes, Bush was a Christian and the U.S. is a Christian country, and here they were invading another Muslim country.
But the war in Iraq was not a Christian war. First of all, I have never heard George Bush or anyone else claim that the reason for going to war was to spread Christianity. Rather, the stated reason was to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. (But of course, no weapons of mass destruction were found. So perhaps that reason was a pretext.)
Most of the analysts I have read think that the real motive of the war was to acquire access to Iraq’s oil (Bush was an oilman, after all). Or perhaps it was trying to spread democracy in the Middle East. (The problem is that one cannot spread democracy by force.)
Secondly, Christians in the U.S. were (and are) deeply divided about the justice of the war in Iraq. Yes, some prominent Christian spokespersons tried to justify the war. But large numbers of Christians strongly opposed the war. The Pope, and the United States Roman Catholic Bishops, opposed the war in the strongest possible language. One bishop went so far as to threaten anyone supporting the war with excommunication. Not one bishop supported the invasion. This was true of other Christian bishops as well.
George W. Bush is a member of the Methodist branch of Christianity, and the Methodist bishops also strongly opposed the war. But Bush refused to meet with the bishops of his own church. Again, there was no process of shura.
Thirdly, the war in Iraq simply cannot be justified by Christian principles. Most Christians subscribe to just war theory (though some are pacificists). But just war theory requires that there be a just cause for beginning the war (which there was not in Iraq), and that war be the last resort. Christian principles also require that a war be fought in such a way that the good produced outweighs the evil caused by the war. But the Iraq war has produced virtually no good, and has caused massive evils, thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, tens of thousands maimed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, millions displaced, and the destruction of much of Iraq’s infrastructure. There is no way such a war can be justified on Christian principles. It cannot be called a Christian war.
However, we cannot change the past. We cannot undo the Iraq war. Rather, we have to work together to improve the future. My belief is that the United States has a moral obligation to help the Iraqis rebuild their country. This does not have to be done by occupying troops; it can be done by people in the U.S. contributing their support and expertise. For example, Minneapolis, (just across the river from St. Paul, where I teach) has recently declared that Najaf, Iraq, is a sister city. The city of Minneapolis brought over a delegation of 16 Iraqis to discuss ways in which the people of Minneapolis can cooperate with the people of Najaf in rebuilding their city, for example by improving their water supply.
The larger point to be made is that war is what happens when dialogue fails. Put another way, dialogue is the alternative to war. If dialogue is a way to reach out to the other in love, then war is its opposite. It reduces the other to a thing, or a statistic, and the personal aspect of love is lost. That is why dialogue between Muslims and Christians is so important. To prevent future Iraq wars from occurring, Muslims and Christians need to reach out to one another in dialogue, common understanding, and common action.
Dr. Terence Nichols
Co-Director, Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A.