Is the War in Afghanistan Necessary? — Talal Asad

Talal AsadTalal Asad, author of On Suicide Bombing, argues in an essay for Religion and Ethics, argues that the war in Afghanistan was not necessary. In examining the rationale for the war, Asad demonstrates the various ways that through rhetoric and legal arguments the war has been justified to the international community and the U.S. public.

Asad begins by examining the ways in which the idea of “evil” was employed to rally the American war effort. He writes: “But what intrigued me from the beginning were the sentiments that shaped the violence, how the will to extirpate evil (‘terrorism is evil’) was combined with a desire to reach out, reform and uplift a part of the world in which “evil” (the aggressive rejection of “our way of life”) still thrives. Thus, the invasion of Afghanistan was not only an act of self-defense aimed at rooting out terrorists but an opportunity to spread American values.

The conduct of the war, specifically the use of torture and other methods that might appear as antithetical to American values were explained away by employing legal arguments about Afghanistan’s status as a failed state without the same rights of other sovereign nations. In turn, enemy combatants would not have the same rights as normal soldiers.

In the conclusion to his essay, Asad looks at the lack of a significant antiwar movement despite the relative unpopularity of the war. Asad writes:

The fact that United States citizens are no longer required to do military service has a serious impact on United States politics and culture generally, and with the performance of American sovereignty in particular.

As with religion, and so much else in secular market society, soldiering has become a matter of individual choice. The distancing of the military from civil society separates full citizenship from exposure to death and mutilation in defence of the political community, and passes on that responsibility – and the anxieties that come with it – to a small number of professionals, including mercenaries who are often not American nationals at all.

One consequence of the average citizen’s non-involvement in a distant war is the lack of any consciousness that he has a responsibility for it. But, as I have indicated, this seems to go along with a curious eagerness to mobilize for active support of one side in a distant civil war for which the United States government has no responsibility.

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