Is It Just War? The Violence and Security Politics of

The Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies
Working Paper Series
Is It Just War?
The violence and security politics of
Taliban in Pakistan
Mona Kanwal Sheikh
Department of Political Science - University of Copenhagen
Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies
721 Social Science Tower
University of California
Irvine, CA 92697-5200
Artwork: Prismes Électriques, by Sonia Terk Delaunay. © Kathleen Cohen
Is it just war?
The violence and security politics of Taliban in Pakistan
Mona Kanwal Sheikh
Department of Political Science - University of Copenhagen
This paper deals with the security narratives of Taliban activists and sympathizers in
Pakistan by focusing on their threat perceptions and their arguments justifying
militant jihad. Conceptualizing the religion-violence link through securitization
theory, it appears that the activists’ framings of jihad counterpoint justifications
behind conventional warfare expressed in just war theory. The findings of this
approach in turn challenges dominant intellectual and political concepts of war and
terrorism and provide a new perspective on religion as a competitive provider of
order, justice, security and legitimate violence vis-à-vis the state. In conclusion, the
present paper argues that moral distinctions between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’
violence are grounded in flux security political framings about the ‘wrong’
motivations of the ‘terrorists’ more than consistent ethical standards evaluating the
conduct of war.
Keywords: security studies * terrorism * Pakistan * just war * Taliban * securitization theory *
religion * militant Islamism
The famous statement published in al-Quds al-Arabi in 1998, signed by Usama Bin Ladin,
Ayman al-Zawahiri and three other leaders of Islamic movements in Egypt, Pakistan and
Bangladesh, seemingly voiced a more widely shared image of Islam under siege and a world at
war. In this, American military behavior in Muslim countries was interpreted as “a clear
declaration of war on God, his messengers and Muslims,” and the duty of every capable Muslim
to “resist” and “liberate” by fighting the Americans and their allies was named jihad. Already
before the publication of this message to fellow Muslims, comparative research on the topic of
violent religious activism established that common factors linking violence to religion are exactly
the image of war and the perception of being under attack.
In the present paper this dimension of the religion-violence link is elaborated by looking
into the constitution of defensive jihad in the speech-acts of contemporary religio-political
activists in Pakistan; their threat perceptions and the conditions under which armed force is made
mandatory upon Muslims. The analytical perspective applied to approach the religion-violence
link is guided by securitization theory developed by the Copenhagen School of security studies,
providing a conceptual entry for studying this security political dimension of actively violent, or
ideologically violence-embracing, religio-political activism. Surely, as already noted in existing
research on religio-political violence, there are also more offensive dimensions of the religionviolence link, not least reflected in recurrent narratives about the rectification of order or justice.
However, the purpose of this paper is not to provide a comprehensive diagnosis of the religiopolitical activism of Taliban actors, but to deal with this one important dynamic linking religion
to violence.
My focus on the ‘defensive’ dimension of narratives throughout this paper rests on the
discursive level, and should not be read as a justification of the framing. The analytical
framework applied here does not recognize that the enemy referred to in the security political
narratives of Taliban activists constitutes a ‘real’ threat in objective terms, nor does it approve of
the right to take extraordinary/security political measures to avert the ‘danger’ as it is expressed
in the narratives.
For policymakers in Europe and the US attentiveness to this particular dimension of the
religion-violence link and the pronounced grievances of the ‘other side’ of the conflict can
enhance a much-needed understanding of the dialectics of the conflict, and ‘our own’ role in
keeping the conflict alive. The application of narrow concepts of security politics and war can
result in the production of very simple notions of the motivations of those portrayed as
‘terrorists,’ leading to ineffective political solutions for actually de-escalating religio-political
The attention to the defensive framings is also important in explaining why and how
certain violent measures are made possible and can open up for comparisons to the arguments
inherent in just war theory. As will be elaborated below, this can raise important ethical questions
regarding hegemonic intellectual and political categorizations of different genres of violence.
In the first part of this paper, I shortly illuminate the analytical perspective offered by the
securitization framework. In the second part, I investigate the constitution of jihad among
influential religio-political activists in Pakistan who are affiliated or sympathetic to the Taliban
movement. The material presented here is based on recent interviews with a spokesman of
Tehrike Taliban Pakistan, students and patrons of the now demolished madrassa [religious
seminary] Jamia Hafsa affiliated to the Lal Masjid [Red Mosque] and the madrassa Darul Uloom
Haqqania where most of the Afghani Taliban leadership received education. The cases chosen are
illustrative for the trend in a larger number of interviews recently conducted among Talibanaffiliated activists in Pakistan and would in the present paper not provide a basis for a systematic
comparative analysis of the different groupings.
Third, and finally, I point at the implications of such analysis for concepts of security
politics, war and terrorism. Since the securitizing acts of militant religio-political activists appear
to resemble the dynamics of conventional security politics, analyzing these cases from a
performative perspective challenges the singular relationship between security politics and the
state. Important ethical, conceptual and methodological questions appear, such as when is war
war, when is resistance security politics, and when is violence and the use of force morally
legitimate? This final section draws on just war theory and points at inconsistencies in common
distinctions between secular and religious violence.
What options do we have if we want to take religion seriously and still avoid staking a position in
the debate on what ‘really’ motivates ‘them’? And how is it possible to connect the factor
(religion) we are interested in with the phenomenon we want to explain (violence) avoiding
definitive claims about motivations yet remaining open to the option that religion can have an
important impact?
Securitization theory represents a distinctive type of causal analysis, which does not deal
with ‘underlying’ motives but observable political statements. Since it focuses on the relationship
between speech acts and the conditions of possibilities for ‘emergency’ (radical) behavior,
religion as an utterance is always ‘real’ (and not a reflection of something ‘more real’) and has
‘real’ effects such as legitimized violence and mobilization behind a cause. Due to the level of
analysis securitization theory moves at it both abstains from minimizing the role of religion to the
strategic interests of the actor or maximizing the role of religion by treating it in terms of
motivation. This interest in performativity and the effects of statements derives from a rejection
of language as a mean to reach an objective reality detached from language.
Even though the theory developed by the Copenhagen School of security studies
originally was a response to debates on conventional security politics, the concept of
securitization is a good entry-point for studying the radicalization of religio-political activists
through their security political narratives, which like ordinary security political declarations
involve the identification of a serious threat and a call to deviate from ‘normal’ behavior. To
make securitizing moves involve the claim that the referent object (in this case; religion) is
existentially threatened and that action according to normal procedures (in this case; religious
orthodoxy) will not be able to address the threat in time or efficiently enough, and that therefore
extraordinary measures are both needed and justified. A successful speech act that manages to
transform an issue into a security issue must be accepted by a relevant audience to the degree that
extraordinary countermeasures that would otherwise be ruled out in non-security situations are
justified. Thus if an actor successfully manages to lift an issue above ordinary politics (the field
of negotiation and conversation), he has made a securitizing move. The concept of securitization
thus denotes the dynamics by which certain issues adopt the characteristics of security politics,
namely urgency, necessity and the legitimacy to take on extraordinary measures to avert the
danger and the threat. This focus on speech acts precludes the identification of objective threats in
order to stress that security is about naming, silencing and closing alternative patterns of action –
and in that regard, not something ethically desirable.
Securitization theory also offers a framework of analysis that divides issues of security
into different sectors of security (such as the military, societal, and environmental sector), and
different referent objects (that which is said to be threatened) within these sectors. The division
reflects the argument that the character of the referent object within each sector is important,
since that decides both its inclination towards securitization and what it takes to make a succesful
securitization move. Before the appearance of an article in 2000, securitization theory dealt with
religion as a part of the societal sector, as a source of identity or community. In that year,
Laustsen and Wæver introduced religion as an independent sector making faith its ultimate
referent object, by arguing that the treatment of religion within the societal sector was only able
to cover the community-aspect of religion and not religion as religion. By this, the authors
concluded that the distinct trait of the religion sector of security is that it defends not identity or
community, but rather the true faith.
However making faith the ultimate referent object in the religion sector does not capture
the other dimensions of religion that are claimed by religio-political activists in different parts of
the world when they securitize religion. Since the securitization theory is acknowledged for its
broad scope of application, this limitation constitutes a problem for the applicability of the theory.
Ninian Smart discerns some general patterns and structures of the world’s religions and subtraditions leading him to outline seven dimensions of religion (the ritual, narrative, doctrinal,
experiential, legal, social, and material dimensions), which both constitute a broader account of
religious discourse and can be helpful in schematizing and making explicit what securitizing
actors more precisely are defending when they claim to defend religion. In studying the narratives
of religio-political activists it is interesting to trace which dimension of religion are securitized, if
there are any patterns and what effects these have in justifying violence: Is it for instance
mosques or the madrassa (the ritual dimension), the Quran or hadith (the narrative dimension),
the sovereignity or unity of God (the doctrinal dimension), spiritual and moral values (the
experiental dimension), sharia (the legal dimension), the ummah (the social dimension) or holy
lands (the material dimension). This focus can be helpful to illuminate what exactly is defended
when religion is securitized as the referent object and thus provide a clearer picture of the
particular logic and arguments drawn up on by religio-political activists.
Since 2001, when the Afghan Taliban escaped over the border of Pakistan, the Taliban’s agenda
of implementing their version of rule, law and public morals in Pakistan has been successful in a
significant number of cities in both the tribal areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province
(NWFP). In 2007, when the major umbrella movement of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrike Taliban
Pakistan) was formed, it rallied the slogan of resistance against the armed occupation forces in the
neighboring country. In 2007 the Pakistan army operation against the Lal Masjid in Islamabad
provided yet another justification for the activities of the militant factions of Taliban in Pakistan.
The heavily armed deployment ordered by ex-president Musharraf completely demolished Jamia
Hafsa, a madrassa for girls affiliated to the mosque that was accused of being ‘terror-minded.’
Those who are sympathetic to the Taliban often stress the movement’s sense of justice by
generating heroic narratives about the low crime rate or the socio-economic justice during the
Taliban rule in Afghanistan. These narratives are used by Taliban supporters as religious
references to an idealized and morally superior society on par with the ideals traditionally derived
from the Quran and hadith [narratives about the Prophet Muhammad’s life and words]. With the
spread of stories like this among religio-political activists in Pakistan, the Taliban has come to be
seen as a kind of Robin Hood’s band, synonymous with vigilantism and high religious morals. In
the summer of 2008, when the newspaper Daily Times Pakistan first brought a story about the
charges of terrorism against Aafia Siddiqui, who reportedly had lost her mind after being heavily
mistreated during five years in US custody, Taliban was immediately used as the counterexample to immoral US war acts in Pakistani news broadcasts. Pakistani analysts repeatedly
brought forward the incident from 2001 when the Afghan Taliban captured the British journalist
Yvonne Ridley, because she - impressed by the behavior of her captors - converted to Islam after
her release.
These incidents illustrate that the oft-repeated explanations that the Taliban’s and alQaida activists’ increasingly strong hold in Pakistan is due to the Pashtu code of honor, protection
and hospitality (towards foreign fighters), the double loyalties of the Pakistani army and
Intelligence Service, or Pakistan’s economic dependency on US aid alone leaves an important
component out of the picture, namely the power of resistance narratives in providing justifications
for their violent activism. Today, the Taliban is becoming the symbol of resistance against foreign
forces, enjoying success with their claim of fighting a defensive war.
In the three cases presented below I will draw forward the structure of securitizing
narratives that enables such success. In my presentation I focus mainly on the narratives of
influential key level activists within each movement. The analysis will provide the basis for a
broader discussion of the implications of the analytical perspective undertaken here. All
interviews quoted below were conducted in Urdu during the summer of 2008. As mentioned in
the introduction the case findings presented here are illustrative of a larger trend detected in my
data material covering interviews with key level activists affiliated to 10 different cases of
Pakistani religio-political movements, approximately half of them self-declared militant.
Case A: Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa
In the summer of 2008, a suicide operation took place in the heart of Islamabad aimed at
Pakistani security forces. It occurred immediately after a protest demonstration took place exactly
one year after Jamia Hafsa was demolished by Pakistani security forces under Operation Silence a deployment ordered by ex-president Pervez Musharraf and presented to the world as an active
effort in the War on Terrorism. Jamia Hafsa, which used to be situated just beside the Lal Masjid
in Islamabad, was Pakistan’s largest madrassa for girls with more than 6000 registered students.
In the case of Jamia Hafsa and the Red Mosque, it is remarkable that the call for militant
jihad arises most vociferously among young girls and women between the age of sixteen and
thirty. Umm Hasaan the principal of Jamia Hafsa and wife of the present imam of the Red
Mosque still has powerful authority over the female students. Today she travels around Pakistan
giving speeches in front of large masses of women and girls who, when a speech is over, want to
touch her in order to absorb some of the divinely blessed aura that they think she possesses.
Under the slogan, ‘You can kill the body, but you can’t kill the passion’, the Red Mosque and
Jamia Hafsa is now in the process of recovering and reorganizing after the military operation,
which killed hundreds of its affiliates.
During a meeting with Umm Hasaan in her home, I also met many of the passionate
Jamia Hafsa students; all arguing that the elimination of Jamia Hafsa and the dead bodies of their
fellow students confirmed them in their belief that it is now time to engage in militant jihad.
When I asked Umm Hasaan about the meaning of jihad, she argued that jihad first and foremost
means to invite non-Muslims to Islam, then to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam,
and in the third instance, “to take up the sword in defense of oneself or to convince others.” Even
though she argues that Islam does allow for offensive jihad (“to convince” non-Muslims) she
stresses that the flourishing of militant “jihadi culture” in Pakistan is due to the defensive
character of the contemporary jihad. As she explained: “in a situation where there is no peace, no
justice, massive unemployment and criminality and where Islam and sharia are being ridiculed, it
is natural to take up arms. In Pakistan the situation is like that and Islam has been criticized and
ridiculed for many years. Films are produced that make fun of Islam’s beard, turban, burka, all of
its rules, and even jihad.”
According to Umm Hasaan, militant Muslims – not only in Pakistan but all over the
world – are fighting a “defensive” war. Thus she argues that “Muslims are killed wherever you
look. Just look at Kashmir, Iraq, Bosnia or Burma. What options do the Muslims have left? Only
one. Kill the one who is coming to kill you. It is tit for tat. The more heavy-handed the
government in trying to crush Islam, the more heavy-handed the reaction should be.” Thus, Umm
Hasaan’s logic behind the necessity of violent means is inscribed in an overall defensive
discourse resembling the logic behind preventive attacks in conventional warfare, and is justified
by reference to danger and desperation. A criterion of sufficiency - using the sufficient means to
face the threat - also enters the picture when evaluating the conditions for militant jihad.
The prelude to Operation Silence, culminating in the elimination of Jamia Hafsa, was a
series of activist events in which the young girls had been involved. Their activism started when
the girls occupied a public building in protest against the Musharraf government’s modernization
plan entailing the demolition of 81 mosques in the capital. In a mass rally following the
destruction of the historical Amir Hamza mosque, the young female activist Hamna Abdullah, in
addressing the crowd, spoke of the mosque as “shaheed” (martyred). Inciting the large crowd of
thousands of female activists, she states, “Our bodies will fall, but mosques will stand. Rivers of
blood will flow, but [we] will not let them harm the greatness of Islam.” Throughout her speech,
Hamna Abdullah portrays mosques and madaris [pl. madrassa] as the “forts of Islam,” thus
equating the defense of these structures with the defense of religion in a broader, ideological
Through their blunt activism the girls have drawn attention towards themselves on
several occasions. One of their most publicized activities in Pakistan took place when the girls
took the law into their own hands and kidnapped a brothel-keeper. The girls had reported her
illegal activities to the Pakistani police, and since they didn’t respond, the girls saw it as their
religious duty to act. After several days in captivity the girls released the brothel-keeper after she
swore by God that she would close her business.
In reflecting upon this event and the concept of freedom during my interview with her,
Umm Hasaan compared the function of religion with the role of the police in enforcing law and
order. Arguing that “freedom always has its limitations, otherwise there would be chaos,” she
continues to maintain that the state has erected its institutions based on this realization. And since
the police in this case did not do their job, she argues that the girls had to step in. As framed by
Umm Hasaan “religion has the same function [as the police]. It adds discipline to the society so
that order can be maintained.”
Even though the female activists believe in centralized leadership and look upon
Afghanistan during the era of Taliban rule as an ideal government, the state of emergency, which
they see themselves living in necessitates an individualization of militant jihad. “Under normal
conditions,” explains ‘Mubeen,’ one of the anonymous female activists, “it is a Muslim ruler who
has to declare jihad. But today there is no such ruler.” It is the particular framing of an emergency
situation, which explains her conception of jihad as an individual duty (fard al-ayn), whose
performance is seen as being mandatory for every Muslim.
In explaining the urgency and individualization of jihad, Asia Abdul Muhammad,
another former student at Jamia Hafsa, told me that in the beginning the activists only wanted to
defend the mosques. But today – facing what they describe as “anti-Islamic forces” - they see that
there is need for more: “We need sharia, and jihad has become mandatory when nobody is
listening to us [Muslims] and the religious leaders have failed to show leadership.”
Still, a Taliban-like system seems to be a distant goal for the girls. Their jihad is
primarily about saving Islam from the attacks, coming from the “Pakistani government,” the
“infidels” or “Jews.” Analyzing the motives of Islam’s enemies, Hamna Abdullah is convinced
that ”their religion is to wipe out Muslims by removing jihad from our minds.” Thus the enemy is
seen as being driven by anti-Islamic doctrines. The female activists from Jamia Hafsa are all
convinced that Islam is under systematic attack, and they question why they qualify for being
labeled terrorists when “US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are not seen as terrorism” (Hamna
Abdullah). Umm Hasaan is confident and ready to take up the battle: “When governments try to
demolish Islam, God gives his adherents an inner strength that makes them stand up against
injustices.” For them, there is no doubt that their war is just and necessitated by what they see as a
coordinated doctrinal campaign against Islam.
Case B: Darul Uloom Haqqania
Placed in the NWFP, Darul Uloom Haqqania, the largest and most popular religious seminary in
Pakistan and Afghanistan, is run by Sami ul Haq, who is also the head of one faction of the
political party Jamiate Ulamae Islam and has been active in the parliamentary system for many
years, both as member of the parliament and as a senator. He is well known because his father
and he were acquainted with both Usama Bin Ladin and Mullah Omar, and even though former
President Pervez Musharraf put him in jail in 2001 for leading the Pak-Afghan Defense Force, he
is still one of the most outspoken proponents of the lawfulness of engaging in militant jihad. As
Sami ul Haq told me, when I met him in Akora Khattak in the NWFP, the jihad necessary today
is for defensive purposes, since “Islam gives people a right to ensure their security.”
The defensive constitution of militant jihad is evident in Sami ul Haq’s narrative about
the present situation in Pakistan even though other forms of non-violent jihad (e.g.
“demonstrations, education, invitation, and reconciliation”) are not denied. It is especially US
foreign policy against “the Muslim world” which is seen as the cause to the jihadi uprising, since
it is interpreted as a wish to bring chaos and destruction to the Muslims. Thus Sami ul Haq argues
that “one should look at history. America’s attitude towards the Muslim world has always been
ignorant due to their imperialist policies. Look at their position in Kashmir, in Palestine, Kosovo,
and Bosnia. It all started then, not with 9/11. A hundred years of their history is about crushing
Muslims. Nobody yet proved who was behind 9/11. I believe they did it themselves in order to
crush Islam… And if this was not the case, if Muslims did it, then the perpetrators had 100 years
of history to justify what was done. They were tired of it… If Muslims did it, it was in defense.
To make the US stop.” In line with Umm Hasaan’s interpretation, Sami ul Haq is convinced
about the ideological and doctrinal dimension of American aggression. And like many of the
other religio-political activists I spoke with, he pointed to the one speech by President Bush in
which he equated the war on terrorism with a crusade.
While Sami ul Haq explains the jihadi resistance with reference to the overall security of
Muslims, the madaris are also defended in his narrative. In our discussion about the Jamia Hafsa,
he stated: “Madaris are the symbols of Islam, the crib of Islam, and the only keepers of Islam.
Today they [secular officials] have removed Islam from the universities. That is why they are
coming after the madaris now.” Ultimately the enemies of Islam are the Americans, who, in their
political pursuit to become a superpower after their Cold War victory, have turned against the
Muslim World and are spreading a secular ideology. For Sami ul Haq there is no doubt that the
US is an aggressor and has turned against Muslims with the intention of staying a unipolar power,
and imposing its worldview on the Muslim world. In his discourse, jihad means fighting for the
cause of justice and resisting the acts of aggression performed by foreign powers. He states that
“jihad’s most important meaning is to stop the hand of those who do injustice. To help the
oppressed. To save people from the hands of terrorists… When the prophet [Muhammad] came,
people were also squeezed between the two powers of Qaiser and Qisra [Caesar of Rome and
Chosroes of Persia], like the US and the Soviet Union today. He came to save people from
terrorism. Jihad’s meaning is precisely that, to save people from terrorism. To secure rights,
honor, and sovereignty - that is jihad.”
Even though Sami ul Haq does not believe that Islam has given “an Islamic system a final
form” he still supports the Taliban ”resistance” to foreign occupation forces and their right to
create a system in accordance with their own principles. For him it is a matter of selfdetermination, and his sympathy towards those engaged in jihad is due to their struggle for the
“sovereignty” and “rights” that the US is insulting.
Like the female activists of Jamia Hafsa, Sami ul Haq also provides arguments of
sufficiency to determine the legitimate means of jihad. By referring to stories of innocent people
whose lives are ruined by the American wars, he argues that resistance is driven by desperation
rather than religion or ideology. Still, he wouldn’t define suicide bombings as illegal according to
Islamic principles. Instead he refers to ”the many rules and conditions” that should be present in
the case of legitimate jihad: “[a] suicide bombing requires a really desperate situation… I don’t
want to give a fatwa [religio-juridical ruling] against suicide bombings. It depends on each case
and the situation of the individual. They won’t follow my fatwa anyway. If they are convinced
they can reach their real target then I believe suicide tactics are legitimate. If innocents are at risk
of being killed then it is wrong. But this is war, right? And in war anything can happen.” Thus,
having the right intention - that is, being convinced about hitting the real target - and the situation
of desperation, of having no other means, condition the legitimacy of suicide bombings in this
Case C: Tehrike Taliban Pakistan
When I interviewed members of the actual Taliban factions in Pakistan, it was clear that they too
were convinced that their war is defensive. As Muslim Khan, who is part of the leadership and
spokesman of the TTP group in Swat, claimed: “We have never attacked anyone unprovoked.
They [the US] come and impose war on us.” When I asked him about how to stop the growing
violence, the Taliban activist replied: “The solution to this war is that the European countries and
the US forces take their armies out of here and return to the regions of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Then I will give the world a hundred percent guarantee that all these mujahideen will go to sleep
in peace and live peacefully.”
According to Muslim Khan, Muslims cannot be Muslims without an Islamic system, and
he sees it as mandatory for every Muslim to establish a system like the one Taliban established in
Afghanistan, because as he argues, “to believe in other systems is equivalent to tagrut [idolatry].”
From his perspective, the reason why the US attacked Afghanistan was that it was the only
Islamic system in the world. Thus, as Muslim Khan explains, the US is on a mission to “prevent
every Islamic system from existing in the world.” Even though the Pakistani Taliban activist
holds the view that militant jihad does not necessarily need to be of the defensive kind, he does
not categorize the jihad going on as anything other than defensive, even though he argues that the
ultimate outcome of jihad is to “bring God’s law on earth.” Thus, he states that “history is witness
that Muslims have always fought defensive wars.”
Like the case with the Jamia Hafsa activists, Muslim Khan individualizes the duty of
jihad and explains this with reference to the emergency situation that surrounds Muslims. The
argument is that when there is no country in the world with a “real Islamic” system, the
possibility of a proper authority to declare jihad vanishes. This kind of jihad without a proper
religio-political authority can therefore only be defensive, and “in a defensive war every Muslim
is obliged to participate, both men and women,” Muslim Khan stresses. His call for militant jihad
(jihad bil qitaal) is thus not framed the same way as the one having to do with establishing an
Islamic system. Thus while he argues for “offensive” or system transforming jihad as one
meaning of the term, he maintains that using force to create the Islamic system is allowed only at
the instigation of a just imam. It is also a collective duty (fard al-kifaya) that is not obligatory on
every Muslim so long as a sufficient number of the community (the army) fulfills this duty.
However the present jihad is interpreted as a different case, since the emergency state requires
individual qitaal for the defense of life, property and territorial boundaries.
Despite the fact that TTP has had several violent clashes with the local Pakistani
authorities and security forces, Muslim Khan repeatedly returns to what he sees as the main
problem: Foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is also
convinced that ex-president George Bush launched the war for ideological reasons, because
otherwise it would not make sense that “the CIA-sponsored mujahidun of yesterday suddenly are
the terrorists of today.” As Muslim Khan stresses “there is after all no difference. Back then we
were chasing out foreign occupation forces and today we are chasing out foreign occupation
forces.” Muslim Khan has no doubt that suicide tactics are legitimate means, not only in this
situation of desperation, but also generally in non-defensive instances of jihad so long as the
intention is right. In his discourse, it is not only the situation of desperation or last resortargument that conditions the permissibility of suicide attacks, but having the right intention—
namely, to fight along the path of God and pave the way for His system. Muslim Khan
distinguishes between suicide and self-sacrifice, and argues for the permissibility of volunteer
death in the fight against “the enemies of Islam.”
For Muslim Khan, there is a fundamental difference between the system of Islam and
other political systems - this difference is interpreted as the reason why the enemies of Islam want
to prevent any Islamic system from prevailing in the world. The securitization of the doctrinal
dimension of Islam is clear in his framing of what the motivations behind US military behavior in
Afghanistan are, namely, religious in terms of a crusade war.
In explaining the internal rivalry and violence among the various Pakistani Taliban
factions, the main narrative is that those killing fellow Muslims are supported by “the enemies of
Islam” to create fragmentation among Muslims. Evaluating the character of what he sees as the
main conflict, Muslim Khan states that: “It is in reality a war between religions that Bush has
started. All of the media is against Muslims, doing jihad against Muslims. It is a pity that no one
is speaking the word of justice.”
The security dynamics of defending religion
While there are some differences in the referent objects being defended, a general trend in the
narratives is that they portray the enemy as being driven by an anti-Islamic agenda. However, as
the summarizing table below shows, the doctrinal dimension of Islam is defended in all three
cases. This is also illustrative for a larger trend in the data material and seems to suggest that
narratives on behalf of the doctrinal dimension of religion are a central trait of the securitization
moves made by Taliban activists.
Even though all of the activists that I interviewed argue for the existence of an offensive
(system-transforming or sharia-imposing) concept of jihad, they do not place their contemporary
call for militant jihad within this concept. Rather - in the absence of a legitimate religio-political
ruler who is considered just by his followers and who is given the authority to declare official
jihad - they portray their jihad as an emergency jihad, where it becomes mandatory for every
Muslim to engage in the defense of Islam. The individualization of jihad indicates that the
activists are arguing for the necessity of unconventional measures/interpretations of jihad by
reference to the emergency situation that they see themselves in.
Given an emergency situation, they also argue that efficient and sufficient measures, such
as suicide attacks, are lawful so far they are carried out with the right intention. Arguments of last
resort and reciprocity are also recurrent in the religio-political activists’ justification of violent
measures - more even than religio-textual references, which appear to be marginal in measuring
out the appropriate means and tactics in jihad.
The emergency situation is portrayed as a situation where Islam is under systematic
attack, being “crushed,” or “wiped out,” through references to either aggressive US policies or
public discourses ridiculing Islam. The motivations of the enemy pointed out in the narratives are
in all instances interpreted as unjust and aggressively destructive. This situation is made
equivalent to a state of chaos, injustice and insecurity, while Islam - an Islamic system or sharia -
is presented as the complete opposite. Even though the discourse of security and emergency
pervades and frames all their narratives, discourses on the creation of order and justice through
the implementation of a true Islamic system are present, too.
Nevertheless, the security political measures - the violence - are justified in each case by
reference to the aggression of the enemy. Thus militant jihad is primarily justified against the
background of being under attack. Extraordinary measures are only seen as legitimate insofar as
the individual mujahid has the right intentions - to fight in the cause of God [equivalent to justice]
and target the enemies of God. The force employed and measures taken are justified through the
evaluation of what measures the enemy takes and what injustices they claim the opponents are
inflicting upon them.
Case A
Case B
Case C
Threatened dimension
of Islam
Motivation of the enemy
The ritual dimension
The ritual dimension
The legal dimension
The social dimension
The doctrinal
The doctrinal
Degrade and humiliate
To become a
superpower and control
the world
To prevent every
Islamc system in the
Imposing a non-Muslim
worldview on Muslims
crusade war
Wipe out Muslims
Demolish Islam
Anti-Islamic doctrines
The legal dimension
The doctrinal
Wish to bring chaos
and destruction to the
Muslim world
Doctrinal crusade
Justifications of
Defense of Islam
Preemptive action
Security of
Muslims/existence of
Defense of Islamic
system/ sovereignty of
Ideals of justice
Fight foreign
To secure rights, honor,
Claiming justice
Foreign occupation
Defense of life,
property and territorial
Danger and desperation
State of emergency
Desperation/last resort
Right intention (to
secure the sovereignty
of God/ Islamic system)
Lack of order
Discrimination/ right
The focus on the security political claims of religio-political activists through a performative
perspective questions the one-dimensional link between the state on one side and security, justice
and order on the other side, which was constituted at the same moment the Westphalian system of
sovereign states appeared in the 17th century. One of the privileges that came with the constitution
of the state was, as Max Weber has defined it, the monopoly over the use of legitimate violence.
Especially in Europe the memory of the devastating sectarian wars between Christian groups,
deprived religion of such role and eventually marginalized and degraded the public importance of
During the past decade many observers have noted the remarkable resurgence of religion,
and among these Mark Juergensmeyer has explained this as religion reclaiming some of the
authoritative functions now controlled by the state - thus challenging the state’s hegemonic
position as provider of order, justice, and security. Even though such authority is legally
attributed to the state alone, religion, as advocated by religio-political activists the world over,
may just as forcefully claim the legitimacy to act as this kind of authority.
The assumption behind approaching state-driven wars and security politics as something
completely different from the war and security politics of ‘terrorists’ is that, as Talal Asad has
recently noted, there is a moral distinction between secular warfare (defined as a state function)
and religious terrorism (defined as disruptive activity forcing chaos upon order). In his recent
book, Asad examines some of the inconsistent arguments produced to distinguish between the
moral constraints to which state war is subjected, on one hand, and the absolute evil of terrorism,
especially suicide terrorism, on the other. Since the evil of terrorism is often described in terms of
the killing of innocent people, the intrusion of fear into everyday life, the deliberate violation of
private purposes, the insecurity of public spaces, and the endless coerciveness of precaution, then
it must be admitted, argues Asad, that secular state war does the same.
The just war theories developed in Western academia seem to provide many of the
images that underlie the distinction between state war being justifiable and contemporary
‘religious’ terrorism – seen as ‘unjustified’ violence - being acts without further motivation than
the production of fear and evildoing. The core proposition of just war theory is that sometimes
states can have moral justification for resorting to armed force. The way of evaluating the just
causes of war is commonly done by evaluating such criteria as whether going to war is the last
resort (necessity); whether the state possess the right motive (intentionality); whether it has a
reasonable chance of success (sufficiency); whether the decision is made and announced by
proper authorities (legitimacy); and whether the end is proportional to the means used
Having a just cause has conventionally been linked to questions of sovereignty, thus
embracing principles of strong sovereign immunity from foreign aggression and intervention. Just
wars have originally been seen as wars of self-defense waged for the cause of resisting
aggression. Today the types of war that fall under the just war category have expanded to include
the deployment of military forces beyond mere self-defense (and ‘revenge’ as Cicero put it), such
as a humanitarian right to override the conventional immunities of state sovereignty, a preventive
right to wage wars against ‘rogue states’ that might support hostile sub-state groups, and a liberal
cosmopolitan right to engage in interstate wars of forced democratic regime change.
Given the way that security issues are always narrated into the status of extreme urgency,
necessity is – also according to securitization theory - one of the main justifications for launching
war and explaining the transposition of issues from the realm of politics and negotiation to the
realm of military action. In security matters the nature of the aim often decides what is necessary
for its achievement. Terrorism, on the other hand, is always and in principle regarded as evil even though activists considered as ‘terrorists’ in public debates in the US and Europe also claim
that the atrocities they commit are driven by necessity, with suicide attacks framed as acts of
desperation and the last resort (as my analysis also has shown).
A problem that becomes visible from the securitization analysis is an inconsistency and
asymmetry in the way post-Westphalian concepts of the international order allow us to evaluate
just wars from the perspective of the state only. This asymmetry is due to the insufficient
recognition of religion as a forceful and competing provider of key functions we otherwise relate
solely to the state (order, security and justice) and a lack of attentiveness towards the viewpoints
of religio-political activists. As was evident from the narratives presented above, their war (or
jihad) is also defined by similar criteria of just cause like those identified in just war theory.
However, one can argue that the weight in the Taliban narratives is on justifying the state of
exception rather than stressing the rules of war - both elements being important parts of the just
war tradition.
...and with what means?
The rules of just conduct (jus in bello) fall under the two broad principles of discrimination and
proportionality. The principle of discrimination concerns debates about who are legitimate targets
in war and who is to be viewed as a combatant in war (and thus also who is guilty/innocent,
responsible/non-responsible). The principle of proportionality concerns debates about how much
force is morally appropriate.
The distinction between civil and military targets has been at the center of jus in bello
concerns, and evolved around issues concerning the foreseeable breaches of immunities. One of
the questions raised by just war scholars is whether there is a real difference, in terms of effects,
between the unintended but predictable indiscriminate killing involved in conventional warfare
and deliberate attacks on innocent non-combatants. One can of course intuitively claim an ethical
difference between predicted civilian losses and intentional attacks on civilians like those
committed by some militant Taliban factions. But this presupposes that we know or have access
to the ‘real’ intentions and motivations of a military commander vis-à-vis the ‘terrorist’ warrior.
In a practical sense, it is also questionable whether the state armies engaged in Afghanistan are
able to make this distinction when hunting Taliban and al-Qaida warriors in the border areas of
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Qaida or Taliban activists are not identifiable by uniforms, nor do
they have a system of military installations. They do have training camps, but these have never
been the sole targets of U.S./NATO attacks in the border area. At the same time, these fighters are
hard to differentiate from the indigenous clan leaders in the autonomous tribal areas, who have a
tradition for providing for their own security and keeping arms. Conversely, Virginia Held has
argued, it is difficult to discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate targets when the enemy
is a democratic polity where citizens elect their leaders and are ultimately responsible for their
government’s policies. This is not to justify indiscriminate violence, but to add complexity to neat
differentiations between the character of secular state violence and ‘religious terrorism’ on the
basis of motivation analysis and the principle of discrimination, which is open for flexible
interpretations. The principle of proportionality is also dependent on how the enemy is perceived
or portrayed publicly and politically. If the enemy is portrayed as the incarnation of evil, it easily
legitimizes elimination ‘by any means necessary.’ As the securitization analysis has shown it
depends on how much suffering and danger the opponent is claimed to have inflicted upon the
referent object.
Adding to this, the question of war ethics has on several occasions haunted the US in
media coverage about the treatments of war prisoners especially during the last Bush-era. Thus
the problem of a normative gap between just war ideals and war on the ground is evident. The
paradox of the matter is that the public and academic reflections on just war represent clear
standards, even though they are and can easily be compromised and bent when the character of
the enemy is represented as being morally inferior. This standard differentiation has been justified
by Walzer, describing it as “emergency ethics.” With this he argues that unethical behavior by
morally strong leaders can be justified against an unjust enemy as long as there is an
accompanying moral realization that both “the evil we oppose and the evil we do” are essentially
wrong. This means that in facing serious threats, even extraordinary war acts and the suspending
of normal ethical standards - including, mass surveillance, torture, preemptive strikes and targeted
assassinations - can be justified.
Even though investigating the motives of warriors is a methodological grey-zone it
nevertheless remains central to arguments about the distinction between the conduct of state
armies and that of non-state activists fighting a state. However as the securitization analysis has
shown ‘terrorist’ acts, rather than constituting acts of evil aggression, can also be categorized as
acts of self-defense and security politics on par with ‘our own’ if we analyze this on a
discursive/performative level. This opens up for more complicated questions such as why are just
causes behind state war sometimes important enough in themselves so we do not have to take too
seriously just conduct on ‘our’ side? If states can invoke emergency ethics in situations of war,
why can religio-political activists not be expected to do the same? This points towards the
necessity of shifting the center of gravity of ethical concern toward the evaluation of conduct,
applied equally to institutionalized and non-institutionalized acts of violence.
In the end our judgments about motivations will always be based on whose security
narratives we believe in and who we give the authority to have legitimate security political
concerns in the first place. As long as there is no symmetry in our views on the qualities and
attributes of state and religion, there will be no consistency in our judgments either. With the rise
of religious activists declaring war on states, there is a danger that political scientists will miss the
boat if they do not take seriously the competing force of religious authority vis-à-vis state
authority regarding claims to the monopoly over the legitimate use of force.
Looking into the security political justifications behind Taliban-affiliated violence opens up a
new field for scholarly reflection within international relations, namely on how to deal with
competing discourses on the right to self-defense and security, and how to deal with competing
authorities who - with increasing success - can claim this right. By providing justifications for
fighting and dying in defense and attracting adherents willing to serve in the name of God and the
cause, religion appear not only as a forceful mobilizing source of resistance, but a fundamental
challenge to the legitimacy of the state and its monopoly over legitimate violence.
By using the theory of securitization on the speech acts of religio-political activist in
Pakistan, their security narratives are taken seriously vis-à-vis conventional security policy
declarations issued by state representatives. The securitization analysis has revealed important
perceptions of symmetries in relation to the just war theory. The implication of this ‘equalizing’
approach is that neither war nor ‘religious terrorism’ can claim moral supremacy on the level of
universally-acceptable justifications. Comparisons between state war and ‘religious terrorism’ are
better off if they are not built on questionable claims of morality-driven action. Rather, any
comparison would be much more illuminating if it were done on the level of practice, of actions
actually carried out. This not only provides a basis for comparison that is measurable, but can also
create a better empirical ground for ethical judgments - letting them play a role after analysis,
rather than a priori.
A second implication of this ‘equalizing’ approach to ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ violence is
that the dynamic of a conflict becomes more evident. Since both the War on Terrorism launched
in 2001 and the Taliban affiliated jihad analyzed in this paper are based on claims of resistance
and defense and two-way accusations about the role of the others’ religiousity, there are no oneway answers to the questions of who is right, who is morally superior, whose use of violence is
legitimate, who the violator is and who is the violated. Since the disagreement about who
originally initiated the spiral of violence seems to be unsolvable and one-eyed portrayals of the
enemy do little good, the big question remains how to solve a conflict where both parties claim to
fight a defensive war. An important step towards breaking the cycle of violence is to start looking
at why our own policies and military behavior still keep on inspiring new generations of Taliban.
- PAGE 2 -
The statement was titled the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders (Nass Bayan alJabbah al-Islamiyah al-Alamiyah li-Jihad al-Yahud wa-al-Salibiyin. It was brought in (Al-Quds al-Arabi
on the 23 the February 1998.
Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds. Fundamentalisms Comprehended. Volume 5 of “The
Fundamentalism Project” sponsored by The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1995).
E.g. Mark Juergensmeyer, Global Rebellion. Religious Challenges to the Secular State, From Christian
Militias to Al Qaeda (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008).
Arguably, the defensive security discourses justifying violent means in the cases dealt with in this paper
have primacy over discourses on the resurrection of order and justice, since security deals with existential
issues while the creation of order and justice depends on the primary state of being.
The interviews did not follow a questionnaire, but were organized loosely around 6 analytical themes: 1.
Definitions of jihad 2. Justifications for militant activism 3. The legitimate conditions of militant jihad 4.
Legitimate means in militant jihad, including suicide bombings 5. Legitimate targets/definitions of the
enemy 6. Demarcation of the Muslim. The themes did not follow the same order in every interview but
grew out of each conversation according to the answers of the respondents. The quotations presented in
this paper are my own translations.
Applying securitization theory in this case requires emancipation from the state context. A religio-political
activist is not necessarily representing a state or even a people that has chosen him to lead or speak on
behalf of them. If the securitizing actor does not have a democratic mandate, which makes him responsible
to those who elected him, the actor does not need to persuade a democratic audience about his cause in
order to stay in power. By securitizing faith, the actor can easily argue for his own legitimacy using the
logic that a divine green light is better than human sanction. Still, the activist must explain or justify his
action directions in order to mobilize support around the issue at stake, and bring attention to his case.
Ole Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization,’ in Ronnie D. Lipschutz, ed., On Security (New York
NY: Columbia University Press, 1995), Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New
Framework for Analysis (Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998) and Carsten Bagge Laustsen and Ole Wæver,
‘In Defence of Religion: Sacred Referent Objects for Securitization’, Millennium: Journal of International
Studies 29:3, 2000, pp. 705-739.
Historically, security arguments put forward by government representatives have legitimized not only the
use of violent military machinery but also secrecy, torture, violations of constitutional state principles, etc.
Laustsen & Wæver, ‘In Defence of Religion’.
Ninia Smart, Dimensions of the Sacred an Anatomy of the World's Beliefs (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1969, 1996).
Even though there is no proved connection between the madrassa education as such and the terror attacks
committed by militant Islamists from September 11, 2001 until today, reforming the religious seminaries is
still a top priority in American efforts against terrorism. See Peter L. Bergen and Swati Pandey, ‘The
Madrassa Scapegoat’, The Washington Quarterly 29:2, spring 2006, pp. 117-125. A madrassa typically
resembles a boarding school, offering its students traditional religious competences in rules of recitation,
Islamic law, and the hadith collections. Many children are sent to the madaris so they can learn to
memorize the Quran by heart. In Pakistan the religious seminaries also play a charitable role offering free
education, shelter, and food, which is why the poor segment of Pakistani society is overrepresented among
the students.
A June 2008 poll found that in spite of increasing terrorist attacks within Pakistan, around three quarters of
Pakistanis opposed U.S. military action against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and 44 percent of Pakistanis
pointed at the United States as the greatest threat to their personal safety (India, the conventional enemy of
Pakistan, is next with 14 percent), while by contrast, only 6 percent identified Al-Qaeda, 4 percent
identified the Afghan Taliban, and 8 percent identified the Pakistani Taliban as the biggest threat. National
poll in Pakistan, ”Terror Free Tomorrow,” Center for Public Opinion, New America Foundation, June
2008. HYPERLINK ""
These movements include Jamia Hafsa, Jamaate Ulama-e Islam (F + M factions), Darul Uloom
Haqqaniyya, Tehrik Nifaz-i-Sharia-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), Tehreeke Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Sipah-eSihaba, Hizb ul Mujahiddin, Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan, Jamaat-e Islami, Jammat ud dawa
Pakistan/Lashkare Tayba and United Jihad Council (the most influential affiliated movements being
Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Al-Badar and Tehrik-i-Jihad).
The Red Mosque was built in 1965 and has thousands of regular visitors on weekly basis. The first imam
of the mosque – the father of the present imam – was well-known for his fierce speeches on jihad against
the Red Army, and later, for his friendly relations with Usama Bin Ladin and the leadership of Taliban,
when the call for militant jihad was seen as a legitimate (and CIA backed) vocabulary of resistance in
western countries too.
The slogan was on their website ( HYPERLINK ""
until it was suspended by the Pakistani government after the summer of 2008.
The same kind of reasoning is also put forward by the 18-year old female activists, Hamna Abdullah, who
stated: “The more injustice committed against you, the more injustice you should return.” From this
perspective, she argues that Usama Bin Ladin did right if he was indeed behind the attacks on the Twin
Towers and the Pentagon in 2001 (which she ultimately doubts).
Most of the mosques that were categorized as illegal constructions by the Pakistani government are built
on the main road connecting the airport with the rest of Islamabad. Many Pakistani critics have noted that
the plan reflected Musharraf’s need to signal modernity as an ally in the War on Terrorism by demolishing
mosques and at the same time secure the route against hostile attacks in case foreign diplomats and
politicians visited Pakistan. The Pakistani central administration took action after intelligence agencies
reported that certain mosques were situated along routes used for VIP movement, and that these points
could be used to carry out terrorist attacks.
My translation. The speech and rally are available on the Web at
Prostitution is illegal according to Pakistani law. Some journalists covering the case tried to reveal that the
reason the police did not react to the complaint was the fact that many high-ranking politicians and
bureaucrats were frequent customers at the place.
The “original” Taliban (meaning students) were a group of Afghan refugees and activist students from
Darul Uloom Haqqania who went to Afghanistan in reaction to the lack of stability offered by the Afghan
warlords after the Cold War was over and the Soviet army defeated. They invoked Islam to establish peace
and order, and managed to take over large parts of Afghanistan during the early part of the 1990’s. See
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2000).
This speech was given five days after the attacks. It is available at: /20010916-2.html.
TTP was created in 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. It is an umbrella organization
consisting of around 27 Taliban factions, many of them guided by experienced warriors from the Afghan
Taliban militia.
The primary sources for the rulings on jihad (ahkam al-jihad) have traditionally been the Quran and
reports of the practice of Prophet Muhammad. Early jurists like Imam Malik (d. 795), Abu Yusuf (d. 795)
and al-Shaybani (d. 804) wrote longer works on the concept of jihad. Also al-Shafi`i (d. 820) and al-Tabari
(d. 923) rendered opinions on the conduct of war and of statecraft. They established precedents, which were
developed in turn by scholars like al-Sarakhsi (d. 1096), al-Mawardi (d. 1058), Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328),
and a host of others. Some of the most authoritative statements about the demand of a just imam (imam aladil) are made by Imam Ridha and Shaykh Tusi.
Muslim Khan did however abstain from giving me the textual references and found it sufficient to
maintain that the divine permission is “clear” in the Quran and hadith literature.
See for instance Rahimullah Yusufzai, ‘The Impact of Pashtun Tribal Differences on the Pakistani
Taliban’, Terrorism Monitor 6: 3. 2008.
Available at:
Juergensmeyer, Global Rebellion.
Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2007).
Asad, On Suicide Bombing, p. 16.
Some of the most important contemporary texts include Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars. A Moral
Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 1977), Barrie Paskins and Michael
Dockrill, The Ethics of War (London: Duckworth, 1979), J.T Johnson, Just War Tradition and the Restraint
of War ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981), Richard Norman Ethics, Killing, and War
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), Brian Orend War and International Justice (CA: Wilfrid
Laurier University Press, 2001).
In the just war (justum bellum) tradition, theorists distinguish between the rules that govern the justice of
war (jus ad bellum) from those that govern just and fair conduct in war (jus in bello). In other words, it
covers discussions concerning ethical grounds for going into war, on the one hand, and ethical conduct in
the course of battle, on the other. Just war theory also covers rule of post-conflict settlements.
See e.g. Mark Rigstad, ‘Jus Ad Bellum After 9/11: A State of the Art Report’, The IPT Beacon, 3, June
2007 and Nicholas Rengger, ‘On the Just War Tradition in the Twenty-First Century’, International Affairs
78, 2002, pp. 353-363.
The prototypical examples have today become the US launched pre-emptive strikes in Afghanistan and the
challenged proposition that the invasion of Iraq was due to democratic regime change considerations. See
Jean Bethke Elstein, Just War Against Terror ((New York: Basic Books, 2003) for arguments justifying the
US response to 9/11 2001. For a critical review see Nicholas Rengger, ‘Just a war against terror? Jean
Bethke Elshtain’s burden and American power’, International Affairs, 80: 1, 2004, pp. 107-16.
’Securitization and Desecuritization’.
Just like conventional war, jihad has since the 19th century been explained with reference to defensive,
preventive and system transforming (ideal driven) purposes, and Islamic jurisprudence also provides
discourses on the causes and ethics of jihad. See e.g., John Kelsey, Arguing The Just War In Islam
(Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2007). Historically, one of the strongest justifications for engaging in
militancy has been attributed to the resistance against colonial rule in the part of Islamic scholarship
dealing with just causes and just conducts in jihad. Originally the concept of militant jihad was linked to
the political authority, and legitimate jihad was to be declared by the ruler of the country. In Muslim
writings militant jihad covers the right to self-defense waged to resist aggression, as a means of preventive
war against hostile states, and as a right to spread Islam and force regime change (David Cook,
Understanding jihad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). While the first cause is commonly
agreed upon, the second cause is often seen as the jihad of the early Muslims in the 7th century. The third
cause is the most disputed among Muslims, just as there is great debate about interventionist policies of
forced democratic regime change. In traditional Islamic jurisprudence there are also codified laws on
appropriate behavior in jihad, where for example it is made imperative to avoid harming civilians, women,
children, trees, and buildings. The modern debate on jihad raise questions about legitimate targets and
means, and has especially revolved around the issue of equating ideological enemies with military enemies
and the issue of suicide attacks.
The radical position taken in this debate is that there is no moral distinction in targeting an armed
combatant and a civilian involved in arming or feeding the combatant. This debate also covers the question
of collective versus individual responsibility. See for instance David Rodin, ‘Terrorism without Intention’,
Ethics 114, July 2004, pp. 752-771, Virginia Held, ‘Terrorism and War’, The Journal of Ethics 8, 2004, pp.
59-75 and Ted Honderich, After the Terror (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002).
Held, ‘Terrorism and War’, p. 67.
Cited in Asad, On Suicide Bombing, p. 18.
The neat distinction between state (secular violence) and terrorism (religious violence) can indeed be
challenged, since states - as was the situation before the creation of Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan oftentimes use insurgent groups strategically or, as history has shown, even create jihadi movements in
proxy wars. As Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of
Terror (New York: Pantheon, 2004) writes, “the U.S. government decided to harness and even to cultivate
terrorists” during the latter half of the Cold War as it sought to roll back the Soviet Union’s global
influence. Now, with that legacy coming back to haunt its creators, Mamdani concludes, “no Chinese wall
divides ‘our’ terrorism from ‘their’ terrorism. Each tends to feed the other.”