Thursday, May 05, 2011

N.T. Wright on Osama bin Laden

N.T. Wright comments on the killing of Osama bin Laden over at Ruth Gledhill's blog.

I hear Wright's objections and I am no fan of American exceptionalism. The point I would like to make is that this is not really exceptional but typical of how governments go after terrorists. The UK and other governments spasmodically engage on seek and destroy missions in other countries where the goal is to terminate rather than capture terrorists. Israel does it all the time and they are not alone. To give an example, an SAS hit team killed three IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988. In terms of the degree of force applied, in the 1980 siege in the Iranian embassy in London all but one terrorist was shot and killed by the SAS who had explicit orders to take no prisoners! You can pursue terrorists with a Tomahawk missile or a special forces hit team, but the result is the same. It is important to remember that under the Laws of Armed Conflict that terrorists are not subject to the protection of the Genevan conventions because they do not qualify for its provision (long story, but it's true). For this reason, the rules of engagement given to soldiers dealing with terrorists are usually different from that during conventional warfare or peace keeping operations.

There are questions of legality and morality about war, how warfare is conducted, and how Christians tackle these tough ethical issues. For all of its limitations, I still think Just War Theory is the best way to go and provides the framework for us to approach this subject.


Brian Small said...

If the Brits do the same thing, then it isn't about American Exceptionalism, then, is it?

Virtual Methodist said...

"the Brits" could no longer get away with doing it outside their jurisdiction... Gibraltar and the Libyan embassy were both within the borders of British jurisdiction(whatever Spain may think about that)... But it isn't an issue of American exceptionalism alone (though it reinforces the other issues at play)... it is the mentality of imperial power (the Pax Americana enforced by overwhelming military power), the myth of redemptive violence, which America has espoused in its religious and political ethos and glorified in its media (probably no more than any previous imperial power, but because the reach of American media is greater than any other in history to date we notice it more) and the refusal to accept any responsibility by the US and west in general for contributing to the problem in the first place...

Saint and Sinner said...

On the IRA terrorist scenario: if Britain knew that the terrorists were in Boston, and if Britain could not trust the American government to keep a raid on the IRA compound a secret (especially if they might even be harboring the terrorists!), then Britain would have every moral justification to make the raid.

Just another reason to ignore the morally backward Church of England. [Aren't these the guys who wanted to allow Sharia law in Britain?]

Jeremy said...

"...and the refusal to accept any responsibility by the US and west in general for contributing to the problem in the first place..."

If by "in general" you mean outside of the academy then yes. But the academy, Christian or not, has severely critiqued the decisions the US has made since, well for a long time. And the academy is a powerful voice.

Ian Paul said...

There is some interesting theological reflection about this under my posting of it at

John Thomson said...

Saint and Sinner

The issue isn't really whether Britain would have been justified (though carrying out covert operations in a friendly foreign state is arguably morally doubtful) but whether they have been vilified by the USA for doing so. I suspect they would.

I am neither pro nor anti American, however, I suspect the bottom line is being a/the world super-state gives the right to do as you please; power, in this case, is morality.

I think N T Wright's points are well worth weighing.

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