Saturday, August 21, 2010

killing the innocent

The Quran, in chapter 5, verse 32, says that if you kill one innocent person, it's as though you have killed the entire world. I heard this in the movie "Traitor" which seemed as if it might be original until it became one more justification for the so called war on terror. But the verse has been playing in my head and with my head since I heard it.

Those with legal training will immediately zero in on the meaning of the word 'innocent' as the crux of the matter. At one extreme 'innocent' would mean only young children who have not reached an age when they can decide for themselves whether or not to participate in the war effort. At the opposite extreme would be the view that all who are not actively participating in the fighting are innocent. The first view would exculpate most so called acts of terrorism as the victims are adults, paying taxes into a treasury which funds the war effort. The latter view would condemn all acts of terrorism and justify only direct action against military forces on the battlefield.

But let as consider some hypotheticals. A high ranking military officer on vacation with his family is killed. Would such an action be considered a violation of the Koran? What if he was a retired officer? How about an injured veteran who has served his time in the military and had a change of heart about his actions? Who has the authority to define innocence? Those of you who believe in an anthropomorphic God will simply answer that only God may decide but that is the answer of a coward.

Divinity has been delegated to us, the human race. Our actions determine the fate not only of our species but perhaps all life on this planet. If the powers that control the planet's resources are jeopardizing our future as a species than it is incumbent upon us to take action to stop the potential destruction of our species and our planet.

Religion, like all forms of dogma, is garbage but the texts that underpin many of the religions of the world are rife with beautiful and amazing insights into the complexity of the human condition. Sura 5:32 is just such an insight. It is a clear condemnation of the war tactics which are followed and have been followed by most state governments throughout history. Innocent death (or in our Orwellian rewriting of unpleasant terms "collateral damage") has become an accepted part of any conflict.

The loss of innocent life is glossed over when the murder occurs at the hands of a state, but if a resistance movement brings down a munitions factory and accidentally kills a night watchman it is front page news. A case in point is the Weather Underground's demise largely due to loss of innocent life.

I have heard it said that the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is an improper translation of "Thou shalt not murder". To square the Hebraic, Christian and Islamic versions of this proscription we need only define the meanings of "murder", "kill" and "innocent". If murder is the killing of the innocent than the death of those who are not innocent is left to our discretion. Can a human being make such a determination? He can.

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