What Islam Thinks of Saddam's War

The Muslim world has no love for secular Saddam. Then why is the defense of Iraq a jihad?

Saddam Hussein is known among Muslims for adopting Islamic rhetoric in times of crisis, and flouting Islamic principles when it suits him. On the battlefield in particular, Saddam and his troops have long ignored Islam's ancient and sophisticated tradition of wartime ethics. We talked recently with Sohail Hashmi, assistant professor of international relations at Mt. Holyoke College and an expert on Islamic ethics, about Saddam and Islam.

Is Saddam waging a just war, according to Islamic tradition of jihad?

We have to emphasize right away that we are dealing with a secular regime. He's not claiming to be following the Islamic laws of war, nor have I found any of his field commanders making any such argument. Islamic ethicists have challenged Saddam's tactics as long as he's been in power. That includes the way he fought the Iran-Iraq War, which was heavily condemned by Islamic scholars. It was seen as a war of aggression, since he launched the war without provocation.

The argument was never that Iraq had violated Iranian sovereignty, as you'd hear in Western just-war debates. Iraq had initiated discord-the word in Arabic is


, civil discord among Muslims. That is a very serious offense in Islamic terms. The idea is that Muslims are all part of one family, culturally and religiously, and in the classical theory they were supposed to be united politically as well. Mischief-makers are dealt with very harshly.


How do Muslims view Saddam's adoption of Islam and the language of jihad as war began?

He appeals to Islamic rhetoric, of course, to rally support. He's making himself out to be an oppressed Muslim leader. This has been going on now for 18 years. In the Gulf War he clothed himself in Islamic garb very quickly and very completely.

If you look at the Iraqi flag prior to Desert Storm, there was no "Allahu Akbar" on the Iraqi flag--no "God is Greatest." The Iraqi flag is a very secular flag, the flag of Nasser, the Baathists, of all those who have nothing to do with Islam per se. All of a sudden, in January of 1991, "Allahu Akbar" appears on the flag, miraculously. This is Saddam's attempt to call Islamic fervor to his side. It abated when the threat abated, but now he's been playing it up again quite a bit.

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Interview by Paul O'Donnell
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