Armed Struggle and Common Sense

In certain situations and under certain conditions, armed struggle is sanctioned by both Islamic and International Law.  No one can rationally be opposed to armed struggle when these conditions are met, though there are those who may oppose armed struggle in principle; that is a moral argument, not a rational one.

The conditions for the permissibility of armed struggle in the Shari’ah are stricter than those in International Law, though many Muslims may believe otherwise.

International Law, for example, does not consider predictable outcomes as a factor in determining permissibility.  International Law permits people to take arms to fight for their “right to self- determination, freedom and independence” when they have been “forcibly deprived of that right, particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes or other forms of alien domination”, regardless of whether or not such a struggle has any realistic chance of success.   The Shari’ah, however, is not so careless about likely outcomes, and is far more common sensical; if armed struggle can reasonably be expected to result in a situation of greater harm, then it is prohibited; even if all other conditions are met for its permissibility.

Islamic Law does not recognize as a rebuttal to this condition the possibility of miracles.  In other words, the “Allah will Help us against impossible odds” argument is not legally valid.  No; you have to make a realistic assessment of relative strength, power dynamics, strategic options, access to support, and review relevant historical precedents to determine as objectively as possible whether or not armed struggle will conceivably succeed in its goals, or whether it will simply spread greater chaos and suffering.  In this respect, the Shari’ah illustrates greater concern for the safety and security of the oppressed than does International Law; and any armed group that does not share the Shari’ah’s concern can only be viewed as reckless and insincere in their stated goals of liberation.

If we are to believe what the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) says about itself; that it receives no support from foreign organizations, groups, or governments, and that they are nothing more than a small, largely untrained, unfunded, group of volunteers armed primarily with farming tools, knives, and occasionally guns and homemade bombs; then the predictable outcome of their struggle is quite clear.  Indeed, the outcome of their operation last October against a military checkpoint saves us the trouble of pondering.  The result of that operation was a brutal pogrom by the army against innocent villagers; horrific murders, gang rapes, and a massive exodus of refugees.  There is no reason to suppose that any future operations ARSA undertakes will lead to different results.

Indeed, the mere existence of ARSA substantiates for the government their long held claim that the Rohingya pose a security threat; that they are terrorists or harbor terrorists among them.  Now, again, according to International Law, ARSA has the right to exist, and their operations; so long as they adhere to legally permissible targets; cannot legally be called acts of terrorism.  There is perhaps no population on earth with a greater justification for armed struggle than the Rohingya.  According to International Law, ARSA not only has the right to exist, but they also have the right to seek support.  They have the right to recruit fighters, solicit funding, and seek training from any group or government around the world, so long as these are not designated as terrorist groups or sponsors of terrorism.  That is the official rule in International Law.  However, the official rule, we have seen time and time again, is not universally applicable.

According to International Law, the Palestinians have the right to engage in armed struggle against Israel; the people of Iraq and Afghanistan had the right to engage in armed struggle against US and NATO occupations; the people of Kashmir have the right to engage in armed struggle against Indian occupation, and so on and so forth; yet in all of these cases the liberation struggles have been designated as terrorist.  It is also worth noting that none of these struggles succeeded in anything except increasing the devastation for their respective societies.

The government in Myanmar has been saying for years that the Rohingya are militants, are terrorists, are a security threat.  Up until last October, this claim was extremely weak.  Today, the government does not have to ask the public to imagine the existence of armed Rohingya militants, they actually exist; the pretext for either preemptive or retaliatory “security” crackdowns in Rakhine is now an established fact.  That profoundly increases, not decreases, the danger faced by the Rohingya; and any operations ARSA may carry out will predictably open the gates for an escalation of atrocities.

If ARSA is, in reality, receiving foreign support, for instance from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan; this does not make the predictable outcome any less clear than if they were a strictly indigenous group.  The possibility of a military victory against the Myanmar army is zero.  In this particular scenario, having greater access to weapons, funds, and training, would simply increase ARSA’s ability to provoke even more brutal reprisals by the government.  Foreign support would only intensify and prolong the strife in Arakan, not end it.  In the view of the Shari’ah, this constitutes greater harm, and it is therefore prohibited.

If you are sincerely committed to achieving and protecting the fundamental rights of the oppressed, your strategy for doing so must not actually worsen their condition; this should be obvious.  And you cannot rationalize the use of arms by simply saying “nothing else has worked” when taking up arms will predictably increase the horror.  Nor can you say “armed struggle has worked in other places” unless you have intricately studied those rare successes, understood why they succeeded, and can prove that the conditions under which those struggles occurred are similar enough to your own to warrant comparison.

Having said that; the Rohingya have been unforgivably ignored by the world, and yes, all efforts to help them have miserably failed.  The resort to armed struggle is entirely understandable in desperate and hopeless situations.  There is no doubt that ARSA was born from the neglect of the international community, and the only way to dissuade them from the path of suicidal armed struggle is for all of us to do more and to genuinely strive to achieve real results on the ground.

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