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Seal Team Six: asymmetries and symmetries

[ by Charles Cameron — we just might want to understand the Quranic ROE — or at least its OBL and SK Malik versions ]


I was watching Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden, the TV movie aka Code Name: Geronimo last night [okay, okay], and one phrase early on caught my attention and sent me, first to the OBL Letters from Abbottabad and Nelly Lahoud‘s commentary, and then to the always useful Brig. SK Malik‘s Quranic Concept of Power.


Here then, from Prof: (Brig: Retd.) S.K. Malik’s The Quranic Concept of Power, published in an edition of 500 by Progressive Publishers, Lahore, in 1991, pp. 303-04, is a brief outline of the Rules of Engagement for jihad as presented in the Quran and Sunna, and understood by the late Pakistani Brigadier and professor in the Defence & Strategic Studies department of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad:

The Holy Quran also directs us to observe its ethics during the application of the military instrument. The divine ethics are gracious, liberal and generous. With regards to fighting in the Prohibited Months and in the Sacred Area, our Lord has prescribed for us a law based on quality and reciprocity, We are forbidden from fighting in this period and place for as long as the enemy also observes these limits. If the enemy transgresses these limits, we are permitted to transgress the limits to the extent he does. Even I such situations, our Mighty Lord has commanded us to prefer patience and restraint. Under no circumstances, however, can we transgress the clear and well-defined limits set forth for us by our Lord.

According to the studies carried out by the Muslim jurists on the subject, we are prohibited from cruel and torturous ways of killing the enemy during war. The killing of women, minor, servants and slaves is also forbidden. We are also to spare the blind, the monks, the hermits, the old, the physically-deformed and the insane or mentally-deficient. For bidden for us also is the decapacitation of the prisoners; the mutilation of the men and the beasts; devastation and destruction of harvests; excesses and wickedness; and adultery or fornification with captive women. We are also forbidden to kill hostages and taking to massacre to vanquish the enemy. Muslim soldiers are not permitted to kill their parents in the enemy forces except in absolute self-defence. Prohibited similarly is the killing of peasants, traders, merchants, contractors and the like who accompany the enemy forces to the battle field but do not take part in actual fighting.

The checks and controls imposed by the Holy Quran on the use of force have no parallel in the annals of human history In practice, there were very few occasions on which the Faithful transgressed these limits and they were duly reprimanded for it. It must, however, be understood that the exercise of restraint in the use of force in inter-state relations is essentially a two-way affair. It is not possible that one side goes on exercising restraint while the other goes on committing excesses. Nor doe the Holy Quran approve of such a restraint. In such situations, the very injunction of preserving peace demands the use of limited force. The Holy Quran commands us to use force for just such a purpose.


I am sure Brig. Malik’s work [most accessible: his Qur’anic Concept of War] is only the tip of the iceberg here, and I’d certainly advise reading western analysts (eg Cook, Firestone, and Bonner) on the topic, too — but it would surely be helpful to know what ROE jihadists are in fact supposedly following.

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