Who Is My Enemy? by Lee C. Camp (book review)

Book cover for "Who Is My Enemy?" by Lee C. CampI have just finished Lee C. Camp’s book Who Is My Enemy?   This is a book every American Christian should read–full stop.  It is also a book everyone who’s frustrated with the public political stance of American Christians should read.  And it’s also a book anyone wrestling with the questions of war and peace with regard to the church and/or teachings of Jesus Christ should read.  And it’s also … oh, forget it, just go buy and read the book already! (and no, I get no remuneration for this…I bought my copy on Amazon!)

Camp wrote this book out of a journey he undertook to attempt to see America through Muslim eyes, as well as to get to know Muslims first-hand, as he contemplated Americans’ fear of Islam in the post-9/11 world.  Along the way, he learned a lot about his own faith as well.

I have had conversations with more than one Evangelical Christian about Islam.  I’m sad to report that most of those discussions seem to get mired down in the notion that Islam is essentially a violent religion bent upon the destruction of any and all who do not convert to the Muslim religion and subject their nations to the Islamic “Shariah” law.  Most of those friends, frankly, discount my own personal experiences with any Muslim who might have ever treated me with anything like respect or even love…they are convinced that any such person was either deceiving me in order to eventually convert me, or else he wasn’t really a committed Muslim.  Maybe my faith is weak, but I don’t know how many of this particular subset of my friends would even hear Lee’s message.  But for the rest, I believe he’s drawn out some important insights.

Camp makes a compelling historical case that when Christians claim Islam is a violent religion, they’re suffering a serious case of collective amnesia regarding Christianity’s own history.  We all know that the “Christian” Europeans launched the Crusades during the medieval era; I did not know that not only Muslim history, but also written records from the crusaders themselves, document at least one instance of the crusaders actually boiling Muslim adults, roasting their children and eating them.  Camp recounts records from the crusaders’ own accounts as well as those of Arab historians, of whole towns slaughtered, mosques filled with people burned alive, and similar accounts of wanton slaughter that frankly horrified the Muslims who survived.

But then, in answer to the claim that Christians became more enlightened since the Middle Ages, Camp also relates the history of the colonial and early American slaughter of Native American people, including one event where hundreds of Indians were massacred over a period of weeks on the provocation of one settler being murdered.  In the 17th century, the Christian Puritans who came to America well-trained in Calvinist Christianity, stated following their wanton slaughter “Thus was God pleased to smite our enemies, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance.”

He carries the tale to the twentieth century, and the U.S. invasion of the Philippines under Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, where civilians “stood along the side of the road, took off their hats, touched their foreheads with their hands.  ‘Buenos Dias, Senors’ (means good morning),’ and then the soldier boys proceeded to kill the residents and destroy the village.”  Even the most-justified (in American eyes) war in our history, World War II, had a dark side we rarely discuss:  the British and American firebombings of Hamburg and other German cities where the civilian residential areas were deliberately targeted in a strategy designed “to destroy the morale of the enemy civilian population, and in particular, of the industrial workers” (attributed by Camp to Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, British historians of the war).  The same rationale, it may be said, also was used in our firebombings and ultimately nuclear attacks on Japan, justified by many in the American Christian world.

All this is not–and Camp makes this clear–an attempt to justify Muslim violence by positing some sort of “moral equivalency…” a “sure, they’re bad, but so are we” argument. Camp is rather confronting those who claim that Christians are peaceful and Muslims are violent, with the harsh evidence of violence in our own ranks.  As he says:  “I intend no rationalizing or excusing or justifying on anyone’s part.  My concern instead is that we practice honest self-examination rather than the dishonest procedure of comparing an idealized form of our faith tradition with the messy historical record of Muslims.”

This then is where Camp’s work becomes more theological.  Though not a proponent of Augustine’s criteria for “Just War,” he calls to mind a significant part of Augustine’s teaching that I most emphatically have not heard taught in American churches.  Augustine promoted several criteria for Jus ad Bellum, justice in deciding to go to war (this comes from pp.71-72 of the paperback edition of the book).  These are the well-known criteria that

  • War is declared by a legitimate governing authority
  • War must be engaged for just cause, such as self-defense, defense of innocents, restoration of order;
  • War must be undertaken for right objective intentions…peace and justice as opposed to territory or resources;
  • War must also be undertaken with right subjective intentions…justice and mercy not hatred and vengeance.

There is also the notion of due process in war:

  • It must be undertaken as a true last resort after other options have been exhausted;
  • The enemy must always be allowed to sue for peace on the grounds for which the war was started; the demand of an unconditional surrender is ipso facto unjust;
  • The cause must be winnable
  • Force must be proportional to the cause and the harm being prevented (this of course runs counter to the “Powell Doctrine”)
  • Treaties & international law must be respected;
  • Enemy combatants must be treated justly if captured.

But interestingly, Augustine also provided some other guidelines for Jus in bello, the just conduct of the war:

  • Immunity of the innocent; noncombatants must not be targeted;
  • Weapons must discriminate between the innocent and the combatant (this is often taken to state that land mines, which are completely agnostic to their targets, are unjust);
  • Methods must be only what is necessary to achieve the objective;
  • Human dignity must be respected; torture, slander, rape, poisoning of wells, are forbidden, and keeping truces and giving quarter are required.

The point that Camp makes in all this is that American Christians tend to claim Augustine’s “Just War” mantle in determining that the decision to wage war is just (although even there, our voice is rarely heard in a critical manner), but then Augustine’s further guidance is left entirely by the wayside in the pursuit of a war once engaged.  Here, the history Camp has recounted in previous chapters comes back to devastating effect, as time after time, the American position has been to win the war at all costs because we have adjudged the cause to be just, but with little regard to the justice of the means.  “This is not merely an argument about pacifism.”  Camp writes.  “This is about the fact that the church ignores JWT [Just War Theory] too.  This is about the move toward ‘total war,” in which we are told we must wage merciless war on behalf of the good news of democracy and free-market economies and political liberalism so we might be free to worship the Lord who in Jesus taught us to love our enemies.” (p. 96)

But here, then, is where Camp gets to the meat of his discovery.  The Christian theory of Just War is far more similar to the teachings of Mohammad in the Qur’an, than it is to the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. Islam also has a rich “Just War” tradition in both scripture and history…although certainly it has been violated in history just as the Christian tradition has.  But nobody who has read the texts can argue that Mohammad did not condone warfare in some form, while that argument is quite compelling not only for Jesus himself, but for at least the first two hundred years of Christianity.

Camp unpacks an association I thought I had seen before, but had yet to put into words, when he actually associates Christian warmaking as a logical extension of the Christian doctrine of penal-substitutionary atonement.  He explains it through the eyes of a Muslim theologian with whom he met (and this is Camp’s explanation, not that theologians exact words):  “The Christian myth gets to ‘redemption’ through a crucifixion, a violent, abusive act; ‘justice’ demands such punishment; and redemption requires the shedding of blood in exchange for the sins and hostilities committed.  This myth…ironically depicts the cross in such a fashion that it becomes easily co-opted by Crusaders of any and all sorts.”  (p. 114)

He then takes a clear-eyed look at the Muslim denial that Jesus ever died.  Camp is no synchretist.  His chapter “Good Friday” is absolutely clear in the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection to Christian doctrine and practice.  But he shows the truth of the cross as the counter-worldly way in which God chose to deal with evil…not by killing those infected by evil but by dying to give them life…so that resorting to the violent way of the world is actually to deny the way of the very Lord we claim to serve.  “Thus, we come to this ironic observation, that while the Muslim may deny the historical fact of the crucified Jesus, we Christians have often denied the ethical relevance of the crucified Jesus.”  And later, “…when the crucified Jesus becomes yet one more ‘doctrine’ merely to be believed, stripped of its narrative force, stripped of its ethical significance for the disciple of that Jesus…when the cross becomes an emblem, or the Scriptures that testify to this Jesus become the morale booster to go off and kill the enemy whom Jesus commanded us to love, then the Christian has denied the crucified Jesus every bit as much as the Muslim has, but less honorably so.”

The Muslim denies with his words,

because of what the Qur’an says;

the Christian denies with his deeds,

despite what the Bible says.

Camp’s concluding paragraphs are powerful.  “Wherever we Christians come out upon the question of ‘pacifism’ or ‘just war,’ we all will need immense courage to speak up and speak out:  against nationalism and militarism, against fearmongering and hatred of enemies, against praying for ‘our troops’ instead of praying for peace….[We need] to stop counting the United States, for all the many things about this country we may savor and know to be genuinely good, as the savior of the world, for the world already has a Savior…”

“Freedom is the gift of God and is enabled by cross and resurrection, not by the United States’ Constitution, or Declaration of Independence, or well-intentioned and honorable soldiers.  It is Jesus who gives us freedom…”

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite.  This is an important book!

2 thoughts on “Who Is My Enemy? by Lee C. Camp (book review)”

  1. Pingback: The Weekly Hit list: December 2, 2011

  2. Michael Snow

    It is interesting that Augustine’s seemingly unquestioning acceptance of warfare for the Christian empire was rooted in that acceptance by his mentor, Amborse, who, to Augustine, had been as the voice of an angel.

    While most American Chrisians have little appreciation for the just war limitaitons, it is also noteworthy that, as Yoder point out, the line beteween Holy War and Just War becomes confused.

    And, of course, Christian Pacifism is thoroughly unAmerican for most American Chistians, who have as little knowledge of that as they do of just war theory.

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