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I have been reading the Oxford philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny's lucid, at times startling, and always thought-clarifying book What I Believe (2006) the last few days.  His chapter 'War' is particularly helpful to me in formulating my response to the murder of many schoolchildren the other day in Pakistan. Kenny observes that there are only a few arguments for just war, and that for many centuries Muslim and Christian theologians were mainly on the same page; a just war had limits, and a clear one was (and remains) the rejection of the killing of innocent non-combatants. Holy wars, as Kenny observes, however, conducted by Muslims and especially Christians, have tended to be unjust, in the sense that the killing of civilians was often excused, or encouraged, on religious grounds he (I think rightly) concludes are ill-founded in reason; and few other wars have been "just" through and through.

The decision by "Taliban" fighters to kill a hundred or more children in a school in Pakistan the other day is an atrocity to rival any in human history.  It is, by any but the most cruel and insane standards, an evil act.  Only a belief in a very harsh and extreme kind of holy war could explain the act, which has no moral, sensible, humane or rational excuse.  It is, by almost all ethical, religious, political, and human standards, an act of total depravity, in the sense that those who performed the act have, in the performance of their crime, removed themselves from the common network of reasonable civilised bonds that connect societies, peoples, and even whole nations and faiths. As such, these people should be apprehended and punished, to the full extent of the laws governing war crimes.

However, and further, their actions the other day underline what has, for many people in the West (and beyond) become apparent over the last 15 years - any legitimate grievances harboured by post-colonial peoples due to harsh, unfair and violent treatment by Western nations and their allies have become increasingly beside the point, as more and more terrible atrocities are committed with a ferocity and fanaticism beyond even the normal human range of thought and action - the killing of women and children and innocent captives in cruel ways, and the throwing of homosexuals off roofs are examples. This tone of ever-crueller, more deranged violence, an ultra-terrorism begun with 9/11, is both terrifying and self-defeating.  The terrorists, who never had the moral high ground in the first place, but perhaps had some claim on territory, are now in a sub-basement where they will find few if any allies willing to support their ongoing actions.

As such, they must be defeated, with full use of all force necessary.  It is no longer morally feasible to formulate arguments for appeasement and reconciliation.  Not with sadistic madmen who massacre children on this scale.  This is a just war, and talk of oil and land and control of empire can no longer sweep aside the reality, that the fanatics at work in broad swathes of Asia and the Middle East speak for a brand of religious thinking that, even by Medieval standards, is barbaric and ill-judged.

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