The Great War Series Part I

Gaza, ISIS & The Ukraine

By Guillaume A.W. Attia, Editor-In-Chief

April 1, 2015           REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

Picture Description: A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal. Reuters Photographer, Youssef Boudlal describes his encounter with the 6-year-old “Yazidi Girl” in this short report.


The abduction and murder of three Israelis and one Palestinian in the summer of 2014 escalated into a 50-day war between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas militants. According to the United Nations, the war resulted in the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis; a disparity in death toll (especially of infants) deplored by a number of observers around the world- including, unfortunately, some whose perceived hostility towards the State of Israel and its people, in either word or deed, have allegedly been the source of some of the current Jewish concern about a supposedly rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

During that same summer, exactly 15 days after Israeli Forces stormed Palestinian territories in search of the three missing boys, The Islamic State (also known as ISIL or ISIS) declared a caliphate in an area occupying vast parts of Iraq and Syria. Since then ISIS has gained an infamous reputation for acts of brutal violence and cruelty that have shocked the world. These gross human rights violations, as well as the plausible threat that ISIS poses to states and territories that do not pledge allegiance to it, are amongst the many factors that have compelled the President of The United States to request congressional authorization to approve U.S. military involvement in the coalition fight against the Islamic State.

More explicit U.S involvement in the Middle East is however not the only possibility in the near future. Some government officials and foreign policy analysts are debating the possibility of an American-backed arming of Ukrainian state soldiers in their fight against pro-Russian insurgents. Since the March 2014 annexation of Crimea (Southern Ukraine) by Russian troops just a few weeks after the sacking of pro-Moscow leader Viktor Yanukovych, Vladmir Putin has continued to complicate the dispute by making his military resources more readily available to the separatists on the border of the Ukraine. This disturbing presence for the Ukrainian government has caused repeated fighting and tragedies, most notably the mistaken downing of a civilian Boeing 777, MH17, with 298 people on board, allegedly by a “surface-to-air missile” fired by soldiers on the ground. The plane crashed in a field right within the war zone in Eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers died.

The 13 essays below pay special attention to some of the pressing philosophical problems emerging from the 3 conflicts introduced above: Gaza, ISIS and The Ukraine. The overall objective of this series is to point readers to new ideas that may be useful for critical reflection on foreign policy and will hopefully sharpen their understanding of the issues at stake.


Section I: GAZA

Article #1: “The 2014 Gaza War: Was Operation Protective Edge a Just War?” by Professor Helen Frowe (Stockholm University)

One of the most striking aspects of the debate over Operation Protective Edge was the effort made by commentators and participants to articulate, criticise and defend Israel’s campaign by invoking components of what is commonly know as just war theory. Such efforts typically treated just war theory as a single, established set of rules or principles that we can invoke to give us clear guidance about the ethics of war. But this is a mistake: there is in fact surprisingly little consensus amongst just war theorists about the principles that determine when a war is just, or how a war might be justly fought. In recent years, much of the traditional, state-based understanding of the ethics of war has been undermined by a revisionist project that focuses on the rights and duties of individuals. Here, I outline these two approaches to war, and then consider their implications for whether Operation Protective Edge satisfied the requirement of last resort.

Helen Frowe is Wallenberg Academy Research Fellow in Philosophy at Stockholm University, where she directs the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace. She is the author of Defensive Killing (Oxford University Press, 2014) and The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction (Routledge, 2011), and co-editor of How We Fight: Ethics in War (Oxford University Press, 2014) and The Oxford Handbook of the Ethics of War (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Article #2: “Are The Activities of Hamas Morally Defensible?” by Professor Adam Hosein (Harvard University  and The University of Colorado Boulder) and Professor Mahrad Almotahari (The University of Illinois Chicago)

When evaluating the actions of Hamas, it is essential to separate some importantly distinct issues. We argue that even though Palestinians in Gaza have very serious grievances, there are major practical and moral objections to Hamas using violence to address those grievances, including an absence of the sort political legitimacy needed to fight in the name of Gazans. There are yet further objections to the particular violent methods that Hamas uses.  These reflections also show that Gazans have no reasonable means to protect themselves at this point, and as such there are very strong duties on other parties, including Israel and the U.S., to help address their grievances.

Adam Hosein is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  He works mainly in moral, political and legal philosophy. He has been a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School and he did his graduate work at MIT.

Mahrad Almotahari is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He earned his PhD from MIT in 2011 and specializes in the philosophy of language and metaphysics. Before arriving at Illinois-Chicago he was a fixed-term lecturer at the University of London, Birkbeck College.

Article #3: “Does Moral Opposition to ‘Operation Protective Edge’ Translate into Antisemitism?” by Professor Brian Klug (Oxford University)

In July-August 2014 Israel conducted Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. There were large public demonstrations in Europe and elsewhere against what protestors saw as the injustice of Israel’s campaign. According to numerous observers, the price of this opposition was an increase in antisemitism and a return to the time when life for Jews in Europe was constantly under threat. In this article I problematize this view, focussing mainly on conceptual issues, especially the meaning of ‘antisemitism’, though I bring certain historical and factual questions into the discussion. I argue that in order to understand much of the anti-Jewish hostility today it is necessary to take account of the radical change in the situation of Jews in the world since the creation of Israel.

Brian Klug is Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, St Benet’s Hall, Oxford and a member of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. He is also Honorary Research Fellow, Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton and Associate Editor, Patterns of Prejudice. His latest book is Being Jewish and Doing Justice: Bringing Argument to Life (2011).

Article #4: “Is Forgiveness a Facile Solution to The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?” by Professor Paul M. Hughes (University of Michigan-Dearborn)

This article discusses the nature of interpersonal forgiveness and whether it, or an analogous political form of forgiveness, can play a role in solving the long-standing and seemingly intractable Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I suggest that although interpersonal forgiveness may have a role to play in smoothing relations between the perpetrators and victims of the violence that has been part of this conflict, it can only be after other institutional and political measures have been adopted to broker a lasting peace between the two groups.

Paul M. Hughes is professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. His areas of specialization include moral philosophy, philosophy of law, and political philosophy. Professor Hughes has published articles and reviews on forgiveness, temptation, personal autonomy, and affirmative action, amongst other topics. He is currently working on a series of articles on temptation and moral character, as well as an annotated bibliography on forgiveness for Oxford University Press.

Article #5: “Netanyahu, Political Islam & the New Debate about Containment” by Professor Nir Eisikovits (Suffolk University)

Benjamin Netanyahu and many on the American right view Political Islam as a unified entity – a “poisonous tree” that needs to be cut down at the roots. Distinctions between the different “fruit” of that tree – ISIS, Hamas, Al Qaeda, Iran’s Religious leadership  – are taken as trivial. This view resonates with the militant version of containment advanced by Paul Nitze and others during the Cold War: all manifestations of Communism were equally pernicious and none could be allowed to make any gains. Against this ahistorical, ignorant and ultimately destructive impulse to unify and erase distinctions, I offer George Kennan’s far more agile, nuanced, and culturally informed version of containment – the version which, to America’s great detriment, was rejected as a way of managing the Cold War.

Nir Eisikovits is Associate Professor of Legal and Political Philosophy at Suffolk University in Boston, where he also directs the Program in Ethics and Public Policy. His writing and teaching focus on questions of transitional justice and the ethics of war. Nir’s first book, Sympathizing with the Enemy: Reconciliation, Transitional Justice, Negotiation was published by Brill. His second book, Kill Me Tomorrow: A Theory of Truces is due out later this year with Palgrave Macmillan. Nir is also co-editor of a recent collection of essays, Theorizing Transitional Justice, out this year with Ashgate and guest editor of a special issue of Theoria, forthcoming later this year, on The Idea of Peace in the Age of Asymmetrical Conflict.

 Section II: ISIS

Article #6: “Why a Return to Medieval Iraq Wouldn’t Be Such a Bad Thing” by Professor Peter Adamson (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich)

This piece considers the precedent for inter-religious dialogue set in the formative or classical period of Islam, looking at the collaborative enterprise by which philosophy first blossomed in 9th century Iraq, and the multi-faith activity of philosophers in the time up to Avicenna.

Peter Adamson is Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich. He was previously Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King’s College London. He has published monographs and edited numerous books on philosophy in the Islamic world, especially the reception of Greek philosophy in Arabic. He is also the host of the History of Philosophy podcast (

Article #7: “Sayed Qutb, Islamic Extremism & Philosophy” by Professor Arif Ahmed (Cambridge University)

The philosophy of Islamic fundamentalism, as revealed in the best-known work of its best-known thinker Sayed Qutb, involves a number of philosophically indefensible positions, including theism, essentialism and an unrealistic view of human nature. Its intellectual attractions are superficial and it is an inferior political philosophy to liberalism.

Arif Ahmed studied mathematics at Oxford University and Philosophy at Sussex and Cambridge. He has worked at Birmingham University and Sydney University and is now Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Cambridge University. He writes mainly on decision theory, but also has an interest in religion and has debated the subject against William Lane Craig, Tariq Ramadan, Rowan Williams and others. He is an atheist and a libertarian and his philosophical outlook is most closely allied with those of David Hume and Friedrich Hayek.

Article #8: “Humanitarian Intervention & Consent: Two Puzzles” by Dr Jonathan Parry (Stockholm University)

It is commonly claimed that military humanitarian intervention is only morally justified if the subjects of intervention consent to it (or, at very least, do not overtly refuse it). In this article, I will argue that while the general idea of a consent requirement has firm moral foundations, it is surprisingly difficult to determine what counts as satisfying the requirement in practice. On one interpretation, the consent requirement is met if a majority of those subject to intervention consent to it. However, as I will explain, there are two problems with this intuitive idea. The first is that it doesn’t specify the class of individuals among which we should look for a majority. The second is that there seem to be cases in which intervention seems clearly justified, despite the fact that a majority do not want it. Until we resolve each of these problems, it will often be indeterminate whether or not an intervention satisfies the consent requirement.

Jonathan Parry is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, based in the philosophy department at Stockholm University. His current research focuses on how the resources of political philosophy help illuminate the ethics of war. He also has a longstanding interest in the ethics of ‘irregular’ armed conflicts, such as civil wars, rebellions and revolution. He recently completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield, during which he was also a visiting student at Rutgers University, USA. For more information on Jonathan’s research, see

Article #9: “Just War, ISIS & The War on Terror” by Professor Jovana Davidovic (The University of Iowa)

The atrocities committed by ISIS have left most of us wondering how we should respond. While on one hand, we can’t imagine not intervening to prevent further ethnic cleansing, on the other hand, our recent history of involvement in the region and various strategic considerations, leave us asking if a ground intervention is the smartest choice. This paper addresses worries about what exactly would count as success in an intervention against ISIS and argues that without an institutional mechanism for dealing with terrorists it would be hard to imagine a long-term successful intervention at this point.

Jovana Davidovic is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Iowa, working in the fields of military ethics, philosophy of law and political philosophy. Before coming to the University of Iowa Jovana was a Visiting Research Associate at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics in Canberra, Australia, where she worked on the Australian Research Council Discovery project “Jus Post Bellum and Transitional Justice”.  She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota. Her publications include works on humanitarian military interventions, international law, transitional justice, human rights and the legal and moral status of combatants.

Article #10: “Drones & The Never Ending War Against “The Barbarians” by Professor Daniel Brunstetter (University of California Irvine)

The ongoing war against the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria has been framed as a conflict against evil “barbarians” – those whose acts and values are considered the opposite of “civilization”. In this essay, I explore the implications of framing the war against ISIS in this way. I argue that in the context of the Western understanding of the ethics of war, calling members of ISIS barbarians places them into a very specific strain of just war thinking dating back to Francisco de Vitoria, in which victory is measured by the total annihilation of the enemy. However, the turn to a strategy based primarily on air power (and especially drones) risks turning this into a perpetual conflict because it insulates the U.S. from the costs of the war and fuels ISIS recruitment. I conclude with some insights from a forgotten chapter of the just war tradition and historical antecedents of western wars against barbarians – the Legacy of Las Casas – to shed light on an alternative viewpoint.

Daniel R. Brunstetter is associate professor in the department of political science at the University of California, Irvine. His work on the ethics of drones has appeared in Ethics & International Affairs, The Atlantic, the Journal of Military Ethics, and the International Journal of Human Rights. He has published more generally on the contemporary applications of the just war tradition in Political Studies, Raisons Politiques, International Relations, Review of International Studies and elsewhere. He is also the author of Tensions of Modernity: Las Casas and His Legacy in the French Enlightenment (Routledge, 2014). His current research focus is the use of limited force in contemporary politics.

Article #11: “Philosophical Pacifism & Wars in the Middle East” by Professor Andrew Fiala (Fresno State University)

This essay offers a modest pacifist conclusion from reflection on decades of wars in the Middle East. It is not clear that war has made things better—and there are reasons to suspect that violent solutions lead to more war. Indeed, one of the obstacles to peace is the continued resort to war by multiple parties involved in these conflicts. Pacifists point out the difficulty of justifying war along with critiques of economic, spiritual, and ideological structures that make war more likely. It is not apparent that peace will dawn in the Middle East any time soon. But nonviolent voices should be strengthened as part of the process.

Andrew Fiala, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy, Chair of the Philosophy Department, and Director of the Ethics Center at California State University, Fresno.  He is co-author (with Barbara MacKinnon) of the 8th edition of the ethics textbook, Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues (Cengage Publishing, 2011) and he has published a number of monographs and articles on ethics, political philosophy, and issues in war and peace.  His latest book is an edited volume, The Bloomsbury Companion to Political Philosophy (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015).


Article #12: “Are The Victims of Flight MH17 Collateral Damage?” by Professor Anne Schwenkenbecher (Murdoch University)

Are the victims of the MH17 crash ‘collateral damage’ or rather were their deaths an unintended side effect? What exactly happened on July 17th 2014 to Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is still not known with certainty. The plane crashed shortly after 1.20pm over Eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board died. The plane crashed after being hit by “a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside”, as the report by the Dutch Safety Board puts it: It appears to have been shot down – some say by mistake. If that were the case and it was shot down by mistake, would that make it somehow less bad? Many people think it is worse to foresee harm to someone and to carry on regardless than to accidentally harm them. But some accidental harm can be just as bad (or worse) even though it is not foreseen: what if the person who caused it did not even bother to find out whether his actions might harm someone? Or – worse – what if he deliberately chose not to investigate the risks attached to his actions? Engaging in (potentially) risky activities without investigating the potential side effects and harm to others is negligent and morally the more problematic, the greater the risk and the more obvious it should have been to a reasonable person. If the plane was indeed shot down, from a moral point of view, the really important question is not actually whether those who did it intended to kill civilians. Rather, we must establish how much care they took in minimizing the risk of harm to those who have done nothing to deserve to be harmed.

Anne Schwenkenbecher is a Lecturer in Philosophy in the School of Arts at Murdoch University. Before joining Murdoch in June 2013, she held appointments at The University of Melbourne, the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) at Australian National University, and the University of Vienna. Her PhD in Philosophy (2009) is from Humboldt University of Berlin. Anne’s research focuses on a range of topics in normative and applied ethics, as well as political philosophy and action theory. These include the possibility and normative significance of collective agency, the ethics of political violence, and ethical problems arising from climate change. Her book “Terrorism: A philosophical enquiry” was published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.

Article #13: “Ukraine, MH17 & What is Wrong With Supplying Weapons” by Professor James Pattison (Manchester University)

The downing of the MH17 passenger plane has been widely alleged to have been carried out by rebels pursuing independence in the aftermath of the Ukrainian revolution. It has been widely claimed that Russia has supplied the rebels with various weapons and a Russian-made weapon was used to down the MH17. In this essay, I consider why the Russian supplying of arms to the rebels has been morally wrong. I argue, in short, that this is not because of any complicity in the downing of the MH17, but rather concerns the general moral problems that occur when supplying arms to both just and unjust rebel groups. I go on to suggest that these problems also apply somewhat to the US’s proposed arming of the Ukrainian government.

James Pattison is Professor in Politics at the University of Manchester. His first monograph, Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: Who Should Intervene? (Oxford University Press, 2010) was awarded a ‘Notable Book Award’ in 2011 by the International Studies Association (International Ethics Section) and has recently been published in paperback, with a new preface on the intervention in Libya. His second monograph is on the ethical issues surrounding the use of private military and security companies, The Morality of Private War: The Challenge of Private Military and Security Companies (Oxford University Press, 2014). He is currently working on a third book, Just and Unjust Alternatives to War (under contract with Oxford University Press), which is based on an AHRC-funded project on the ethics of the alternatives to war (AHRC Ref AH/LOO3783/1). This considers the normative case for the alternatives to war, such as economic sanctions, arming rebel groups, and nonviolent resistance, and their relation to Just War Theory. He has published various articles on the ethics of force, including in the British Journal of Political Science, Ethics & International Affairs, International Theory, Journal of Political Philosophy, and Review of International Studies.


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