Symposium Introduction

Murad Idris, in War for Peace: Genealogies of a Violent Ideal in Western and Islamic Thought (2019), critically deconstructs relationships between peace and war through an analysis of how peace operates polemically, parasitically, and provincially within the work of ten political thinkers. Idris argues that peace is often intertwined with insinuates, such as law, security, unity, friendship, and justice, and is treated as “a political concept, an ideal, and a morality” (2). Idris’s deconstruction problematizes peace, leading us to ask whose peace and which peace, since peace is not some universal ideal, but is always defined within situated, historical contexts. Peace discourse is always already tied up with violence and war, often producing racialized hierarchies and dehumanization.

Idris’s introduction outlines the three logics mentioned above. The argument is that these three logics “are internal to and constitutive of the ideal of peace.” The polemical structure of peace means, “Not only can peace be weaponized, but its idealization is, structurally and discursively, crafted as a weapon, with specific enemies in view, and honed against specific others” (7). Conceptions of peace have dynamically unfolded vis-à-vis “configurations of enmity [which] draw new contours of peace within constellations of insinuates and visions of the globe.” So, there is a need to look for alternatives to peace, particularly as a political idea, rather than a moral ideal, which he returns to in an epilogue.

The first chapter deconstructs Plato’s Laws, drawing on the discussion between Cleinias the Cretan and the Athenian Stranger concerning “two competing principles: that there is no peace, only war, and that peace exists, because war is waged for the sake of peace” (19). Idris argues that “Plato is showing how . . . acceptance of war conjoins peace to war, turns friendship into a virtue of war, presents ‘war for the sake of peace’ through the law, and secretes ‘unjust enemies’ on either side of the polis’s borders” (68). Idris shows that “Plato gives voice to schematizations of symmetry and of wholeness, as they intermingle with geostrategic concerns and theological forms . . . abstractions [which] delineate the boundaries of peace, but also open up to enmity and violence. The practices of friendship, the reach of law, and the polis’s spaces reinforce one another, for peace and for war” (71).

The second chapter juxtaposes Abu Nasr al-Fārābī and Thomas Aquinas, who both draw on Plato’s Athenian Stranger’s view that the “things of war . . . should be legislated for the sake of peace” (70). A “peace-lover” / “barbarous peace-haters” distinction emerges, but it is unsettled in discussions of how violence transforms those who use it—especially the peace-lover (72–73). For both Aquinas and al-Fārābī, “the virtuous guide and admonish others,” with license to mete out just punishment and the good intention to transform the enemy via war (121–22). However, both neglect the violent peace-lover’s transformation due to their focus on the “purity of the self, the purity of war’s causes and conduct, the purity of war through its distinctions, and the purity of war for the sake of one’s intention of peace, against those who one believes are warlike, those who one believes lack peace” (123).

An interlude addresses “themes about correcting the friend, punishing the enemy, waging war, or making peace with neighbors, [and] reflect[s] the aporetic qualities of intervention,” including that the consequences of correcting one’s neighbor remain undecidable (125). Idris addresses Ibn Ḥazm and al-Jāḥiẓ on friendship, especially disagreements about when it is proper to admonish and risk losing a friend. Though Desiderius Erasmus “sanctions other wars,” he follows on the need for war to be brief and a last resort, since war does not lead to peace (126–29).

Chapter 3 considers Erasmus’s historical context. Erasmus “constructed the Ottoman Empire as a threat,” against which he develops what Idris frames as a political theology pertaining to “peace, war, and the Turk” (134). Erasmus writes on war’s evils, yet builds hierarchies between war and peace with Turks or with Christians (135). Erasmus’s political theology presents Christians as the fulfillment of humanity and aims for the “conversion of Turks into Christians . . . through speech, or the performance of the W/word,” in the sense of “speech for peace” (175–76).

Chapter 4 addresses “the reconfiguration of peace through law against ‘outlaws’ and the relationship of the law’s moral economy to a political economy of seizures, war, commerce, and settler colonialism vis-à-vis extra-European spaces” in the work of Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius (179). Gentili and Grotius commonly see law as eternal, everywhere, and necessary; the law is never silent. Universal law reveals the superstition that there is one “human society,” which demonstrates how universalisms exclude lawless “outlaws” to the extent that both Gentili and Grotius justify settler colonialism’s land grabs in terms of “law, humanity, and peace” (212–13).

A second interlude notes emerging themes, such as “anthropology and geography,” “inheritance and normativity,” and “internal and external,” and how “barbarians, nomads, brothers, missionaries, and pirates, act as conceptual templates in discourses about peace and violence” (215). Four “intersections” emerge across the chapters. First is the tendency to elaborate a “morality of peace . . . in circumstances of geopolitical weakness and vulnerability,” which leads to the so-called “need to ‘enlighten’ all peoples and attain universal agreement for the sake of humanity” (216–17). Second is the tendency of “discourses of faith and faithlessness [to] place Turks, pirates, and barbarians outside peace and law” (217). Third, in relation to Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddima (Prolegomena), Idris argues that historical relations of power structure how “Western” and “non-Western” texts are canonized (219–20). Fourth, Samuel Pufendorf’s criticism that Thomas Hobbes misnames peace just like Plato’s Cleinias is addressed. However, Hobbes “describes every man as a savage beast” in such a way that men relate to one another like pirates, i.e., enemies of all (223–24). Hobbes generalizes “the law of nations,” reflecting a “war of the lawful against the lawless,” who are “pirates” in the forms of “states, mini-states, empires, families, and persons” (225).

Chapter 5 looks further into how Hobbes, in opposition to indigenous people in the Americas, “universalizes enmity, ends militant friendship, and theorizes law’s separation between the nightmares of war and the commodities of peace.” Meanwhile, Ibn Khaldūn “theorizes militant political friendship and its decay in the life of peace and luxury” in contrast to “the savage nomad of the desert” (225). Both Khaldūn and Hobbes “bind . . . peace and its morals to a political economy of development,” which ultimately shows that “neither the desire for commodious peace nor the projection that everyone shares this desire is outside political economies of war” (229–30). When peace is an ideal, “others of peace” result (260).

The sixth chapter looks at Sayyid Quṭb’s “vision of global Islamic expansion” and Immanuel Kant’s “vision of ‘democratic peace’ as a secular order of the world” (260–61). Perpetual, universal peace connects Kant’s and Quṭb’s respective condemnations of “European imperial exploitation” and “the United States [as] . . . a settler colony, built on war and extermination, that had joined the ranks of imperial powers” (262). Idris argues that their conceptions of universal, perpetual peace are never actualized, but instead each “authorizes war” (313).

An epilogue completes Idris’s book, reaffirming that “peace is a troubling ideal [which] operates parasitically, provincially, and polemically” (314). Idris argues that we should “rethink peace against its idealizations,” such as in terms of a “truce,” which “is one way of rethinking peace without insinuates” (318–19). Idris also calls for focusing on each actual, “particular peace,” rather than abstract notions of peace, and suggests seeing in peace an “ethics of separation” (320). These ways to rethink peace against its idealizations do not construe peace as a solution, universal, or ideal and are not exhaustive of other ways to rethink peace (321). In the end, Idris achieves his aim to introduce the possibility of not thinking of peace as an ideal.

The following symposium with Idris includes Hagar Kotef, Nadim Khoury, Peyman Vahabzadeh, and Chloe Ireton. Kotef discusses the contentious Israeli/Palestinian peace-process plan in terms of how Israel presents its violence as “for peace.” She suggests resituating Idris’s argument within the tradition of critiques of universal, democratic, liberal ideals alongside figures such as Du Bois and Fanon. Khoury considers the parasitical character of insinuates to endorse “just peace.” He asks whether the Israeli position during the 1993 Oslo negotiations in favor of “a simple peace” is a “peace without insinuates.” Vahabzadeh points to how Idris’s analysis could be extended to different areas of study, such as in semiotics and discourse analysis. Vahabzadeh also questions whether Idris’s suggested alternatives to peace can work outside of the current hegemonic world order. Ireton questions how the parasitical, provincial, and polemical logics would apply to slavery and the New World. Ireton also introduces possible ways to expand upon Idris’s work, notably asking what peace would have been idealized by soldiers who have fought and died in wars for peace. I won’t further forestall the discussion, and instead present this symposium as a reflection on Idris’s book as a timely work that offers an abundance of critical analysis, while revealing that we must cautiously address peace, since peace is almost always already entwined with war and violence.

Hagar Kotef


War for Peace

A Review

There was one peace that kept popping into my mind as I read Idris’s War for Peace; one “peace” that, as the many “peace’s” Idris describes, has been more violent than many states of non-peace (for example, cease-fire); one peace that, as Idris so accurately shows, has often worked to foster, support, and instigate war and at the very least was never the opposite of war; one peace that, as he claims, has been historically tangled with, or expressed itself via the Muslim question, itself a question of who is “peaceful” and whose resistance or struggles are always seen as violence. I kept trying to push this peace away, since, as Idris rightly insists, we must resist the urge of exceptionalism. Accordingly, perhaps, this particular peace is not mentioned in the book even once, but I wonder whether the trope of exceptionalism itself does not come to insinuate that this peace has been hounding Idris too, as he was writing the book—a book which is less engaged with the present and more with a reading of the history of political thought, even though it undoubtedly has the present in mind.

I do not want to allow this peace to take over my reading here, and yet it is the peace into which I grew up, the peace I learned to crave, the peace that has shaped the political identities of myself and so many of those near me, the peace that has never arrived, and whose eternal deferral has come to define its very meaning: it was always a-peace-to-come. Idris refers to the “parasitical structure” of peace to point to the fact that “peace” often arrives in tandem, adjunct to something else, such as “security,” “order,” or “friendships.” This combination, he argues, “intensifies the potential of peace for radical self-subversion . . . and for its blurring into war.” (4) The “parasitical” concept that came in tandem with “my” peace did the same, as it was the very declaration of this peace’s futurity, that is: the declaration of its absence; it has always been a “peace process” (or in its current formulation a “peace plan.”) I refer here to the peace process that presumably sought to solve the Israeli/Palestinian “conflict.”


I was born to the melodies

And to the songs of all countries

I was born to language and the land

To the few and the many,

who will give peace their hand


I was born to peace—let it draw near

I was born to peace—let it come.

I was born to peace—let it appear

I want, I want to be in it already.


(Uzi Hitman, “I Was Born for Peace,” 1979; a famous Israeli song. Note that the phrase “I want to be in it [peace] already” is awkward and unclear in the original Hebrew, as well.)


Growing up in Israel was growing up on the desire for peace alongside the notion that this very desire is what defines “us” vis-à-vis the Palestinians and other Arabs (presumably the enemies not just of us but, as Idris notes, of peace itself). “We” kill by accident, we often tell ourselves or others, as collateral damage, or because we have no choice; “they” kill because they are bloodthirsty, because they are savages, because they have no value for human lives—and it does not matter that we kill using F16s, tanks, and some of the most advanced weaponry systems in the world, bombarding entire families, flattening entire neighborhoods, push an entire nation to starvation, kill from the air and the sea and the land, and they kill often using knives, or stones, or semi-improvised missiles, or explosive devices that have to take their own lives as they take others. It is still us who are peaceful and they who want war. Therefore “they” are constantly required to demonstrate their peacefulness (the Trump plan is just the latest articulation of this demand, with Israel given the right to withdraw from future negotiations if it deems Palestinians have failed to provide security for Israel and Israelis—whilst Israel, importantly, is not required to withdraw all military presence from the West Bank, only to make effort to “minimize” it; the security of Palestinians is thus not even part of this equation of “peace and security”). This requirement importantly goes in tandem with the framing of every action Palestinians take in order to resist their oppression as violent, even if it is explicitly part of a politics of nonviolence (the “diplomatic violence” with which the PA engages when seeking recognition from the UN, or the “economic violence” BDS is declared to be, etc.).

Those who have already read War for Peace can hear in these descriptions many echoes to his arguments. I am often struck by the conviction Israelis assume when they insist on this distinction between their own peacefulness and the Palestinians’ presumed thirst for war at the same time that their state bombards unarmed demonstrators for merely walking “too close” to a fence or a wall; when their state demolishes homes on the people in them; when their state generates increasing death tolls which cannot be compared with the death tolls they pay. But the concept of peace as Idris unfolds it brings these tensions to a clear relief, as it shows the long history of the symbiotic existence of war and peace.

The book does so through a genealogical analysis of some key thinkers of peace/war, whose untraditional juxtaposition is sometimes a value in and of itself. These include Kant alongside Sayyd Qutb (who is perhaps most known today for providing some of the ideological foundations of al Qaeda); AlFārābī alongside Aquinas, or Ibn Khaldūn alongside Hobbes. This genealogy reveals the conceptual roots of the war elements and war language that still order our international and national relations: from the notions of militarized societies in which people “belong to war,” (25) to the differences between symmetric and asymmetric wars we find already in Plato; from the idea of “just war” as a “bridge” between war and peace, (180) to the idea of “faithless” enemies—or indeed theological ones (i.e., precisely of faith, albeit the “wrong” one)—as what underlines colonial wars.

War for Peace provides us with a history as well as a structure in which peace and war are very much inseparable. Not only has peace been an empty rhetoric (some would say a facade, a lie) used by people who dishonestly speak in the name of peace to justify military violence. Idris’s argument goes deeper than that and has to do with “the inner structure of peace” (8). Beyond a critique of the dishonest use of the term, then, Idris shows how the very concept of peace is thoroughly entangled with the practice of war. Or as he puts it: “Not only can peace be weaponized, but its idealization is, structurally and discursively crafted as a weapon, with specific enemies in view, and honed against specific others” (7). Peace is the very framework that keeps authorizing war, even though war is presumably what it seeks to eliminate. Peace, Idris tells us, is being sought in war and war—endless wars, from Plato’s time until today—are being waged for the sake of peace. The two are therefore caught in a bind that cannot be reduced to antagonism or constituting oppositions, since they keep flow in and out of each other.

Idris’s analysis of Plato’s Laws can provide a quick example for this claim. Idris points to the fact that Cleinias, one of the dialog’s protagonists, uses “peace” “to describe those times when ‘a state of war’ does not exist quite as much as when it really does” (37). This means that war permeates peace, defines it; not as its other, but rather as its temporary suspension: war always exists in peace, yet rather than concrete battles, “peace” means war’s potentiality. Or perhaps war exists in peace as “the known disposition thereto” as Hobbes’s famous formulation goes. In this sense we have in Cleinias an inversion of Hobbes’s state of nature, wherein “war” is used to define those times—all times outside of sovereignty[/footnote]Yet we should bear in mind that the peace brought by the institution of the Leviathan is merely the internal peace, which does not preclude, and perhaps even necessitates, wars between sovereign states, or between those states and non-sovereign communities as part of imperial expansion.1—where peace cannot “exist quite as much as when it really does,” to return to Idris’s observation. These two opposite formulations do not merely show, albeit from two opposite trajectories, that war is the always-already potentiality of peace (one defines “peace” as the suspended presence of war; the other uses the term “war” to describe a state when peace is always threatened by this suspended presence). The ability to slide seamlessly between these two formulations is yet another manifestation of the degree to which these seemingly opposing concepts are in fact meshed with each other. And in this entanglement, war always triumphs, because no matter which side is presented as the temporary suspension of the other, the outcome is that everyone is called upon to “act as if he is already at war” (37). The peace-seeking society is thus militarized through and through, and through Idris’s long genealogy we see there is no contradiction at play here.

In some of its elements, the book belongs to a rich tradition that offers a critique of universal, democratic, and liberal ideals. Specifically in regard to “peace,” the work of Fanon and Du Bois have offered similar understandings of peace as a value which—to draw on Fanon’s critique of Western values—is always “stated with such violence.” Whilst Idris’s analysis is much more systematic in this regard, and unfolds a much wider theoretical and historical arc, it would have benefitted from a clearer placement within this tradition. Most importantly, such a placement may have been able to mark a clearer political trajectory for the book’s important arguments. While War for Peace begins with a clearer political path, it ends with a less determined one. This—it seems to me—has to so with a conceptual ambivalence subtending the book; an apt ambivalence that we find in Fanon and Du Bois as well. In his analysis, Idris moves between two modes of critique: one is a critique of “peace” as it has been historically conceived and used throughout a wide history of political thought, and hence, one may say, of the meaning of peace as such. The other insists on seeing these uses as contingencies, leaving space for a different peace that is still to come. And while keeping both modes of critique open is crucial, sometimes these two modes of critique are blurred and at times they do not easily reside next to each other. In this movement between the two lies the political and ethical implications of the book, as well as one of its meta-theoretical questions: What we do with the political concepts that keep betraying us? Idris’s uneasiness in answering the question is when and how politics may lose its grip. I did appreciate Idris’s carefulness in refusing to end the book with identify clear alternatives to the politics of “peace.” Those would have probably crumpled under any careful scrutiny. In this sense his ambivalence is an important one. And yet at times I wanted more, and it seems to me that a better anchoring in the above mentioned theoretical traditions could have allowed this ambivalence to travel a slightly more secure path.

  • Murad Idris

    Murad Idris


    Response to Hagar Kotef

    I am grateful to Hagar Kotef for her productive and insightful reading of War for Peace. Kotef captures the book’s arguments, and she powerfully draws out the book’s relevance for theorizing contemporary settler colonialism in Palestine and for the rhetoric of the so-called peace process and its recent mutations. She also hones in on the relationship of the book to Fanon, Du Bois, and anticolonialism in order to inquire about the political horizons that the book might open up.

    War for Peace focused on ten thinkers across the history of political thought, from Plato to Immanuel Kant and Sayyid Qutb. It examined the discursive operations of peace as a universalized and moralized ideal. In the preface, I indicated some contemporary contexts that its analysis can illuminate, alluding to these at different points in the book and again in the epilogue. These contexts include the mobilization of peace talk in the Global War on Terror and the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Israeli rhetoric about peace and Palestine, and the way that contemporary sites of protest, dissent, and resistance—across Occupy, Cairo, Baltimore, Ferguson—have been continually reframed through an insatiable demand to be “peaceful.” Other commentators have observed further resonances, ranging from Gandhi’s and Bin Laden’s theorizations of peace and violence to Trump’s rhetoric about Iran. The participants in this forum similarly draw out the relevance of the book’s arguments for Iberian discourses of slavery in the Americas (Ireton), slogans of peace with justice or without justice in colonial contexts (Khoury), “bringing peace to the Middle East” (Vahabzadeh), and here, Israeli discourses of peace (Kotef). The phenomena in question, in other words, are relevant to various contexts, and other sites will resonate with different readers.

    Palestine and Israel appear at the margins of War for Peace, in the preface (xv), in a handful of footnotes and somewhat more allusively at various points. I agree with Kotef that the Israeli production of peace as a basic desire, and indeed as the desire that marks “humanity,” is bound up with the polemical, parasitical, and provincial structures of dehumanization, racialized hierarchy, and normalized violence that War for Peace examines. (As I write in my response to Khoury, the transfiguration of the question of Palestine into a question of “peace” has been part of an entire machinery of dispossession.) I am indebted to Kotef for noting that, when reading War for Peace, she was thinking of the context of the “peace process” and the frame of “conflict” in Israel and Palestine and, indeed, for modeling how to make such connections. The book’s arguments can shed some light on how peace operates here and elsewhere: from the weaponization of “peace” as a moral ideal that dehumanizes through racialized ideas about enemies who do not “love” peace, to the temporalities of dispossession inscribed in the deferral and anticipation of peace; from pitting “peace and security” against “peace and justice” without interrogating the work that “peace” does, to how the fictions of symmetry and size elide the asymmetries of colonizer and colonized. Kotef eloquently draws out how Israeli public discourse is framed by these structures.

    The framing of the book’s individual chapters also lends itself to unmasking the politics of peace in contemporary discourse. The chapters address the oppositions between well-ordered peace and disordering violence, the peaceful and the warlike, just war and illegitimate aggression, peace-lovers and peace-haters, history’s saviors and theological enemies, the lawful and the lawless, civilized peace and uncivilized war, and productive war and purposeless violence. The naturalization of these oppositions is fundamental to the structures of idealization that the book examined and fundamental to the discursive life of peace today. These oppositions derive from and fortify the idealization of peace; they reflect how peace is discursively embedded in, for example, aesthetics that demand symmetry of like-to-like and those that recast the enemy as an incomplete part, or in racialized hierarchies that designate some places as epicenters of peace and legitimate war, others as sites of pacification and sources of illegitimate aggression. The chapters explored the idealization of peace through domains that are activated differently across contexts: ideas of symmetry, the location of violence, the divine purpose of the enemy, the permanence of the law, development and prosperity, historical progress and modern statehood.

    I wanted War for Peace to cover the range that it does—Plato to Kant and Qutb, broad in some ways and very specific in others—because the book is about a morality that is pervasive and unacknowledged. Today, this morality is global, and its tensions and paradoxes have deep historical roots. Kotef models how to take these arguments and themes and trace their lives in a contemporary context. Reading the book’s arguments and resonances in terms of these broad structures, without letting it be determined by one place, also overcomes two interpretive dangers and defensive postures tied to the analysis of peace. On the one hand, the book refuses to stop at the idea that appeals to peace are merely “hypocritical” or “ideological.” Focusing on rhetoric in one place can make it easy to deflect attention from the idealization of peace and to think that the particular discourses are “abuses” of a universal ideal. The defensive maneuver would then relocate the analysis to the beliefs and intentions of those who appeal to peace, rather than the structure of peace itself as a morality. Because the idiom of peace does form a public relations and national apparatus, it can too easily shift the terrain to a discourse analysis of how specific politicians, figures, or organizations deploy peace strategically and whether they do so in good faith. It thereby can shield the idealization and moralization from critique. Second, centering one place, be it Israel or the United States, can provide cover for appeals to peace in a different way, namely by normalizing their weaponization of “peace” and by locating it as in keeping with the “tradition” of political theory. I wanted my book’s genealogy to simultaneously push against notions of tradition and inheritance and to carve out space for unmasking how peace performs different kinds of parasitical, provincial, and polemical work across a variety of contexts. The book’s arguments needed to be neither disconnected from the world nor focused on the particularities of one place, neither about ahistorical laws nor an intellectual history of how some thinkers thought about peace. (There is of course much more to be said about being a political theorist who is critical of peace as a moralized ideal in contemporary discourse and the history of political thought and who is also Palestinian, as well as the constraints and compulsions that come with all this in American academia generally and political theory specifically.)

    War for Peace attempted to thread those multiple needles. It aims to provide the groundwork for tracing the broad theoretical architecture of the logics that wind through discourses and sites and for seeing the particularities, differences, and permutations across them. It enables readers to do the kind of connective and disruptive work that points to resonances, disconnections, and constellations in and across contexts—as Kotef models in her response—and that thereby come with alternating positions of critique for recognizing points of fissure or intensification.

    It is with this sense of connectivity, disconnection, and interruption that the book’s final chapter resituates Immanuel Kant as a philosopher embedded in empire and Sayyid Qutb as a theorist of colonialism, race, and capitalism. The chapter recovers Sayyid Qutb’s pre-prison international thought: a Qutb whose anticolonialism locates him in relation to other anticolonial projects and thinkers from the Global South that tackled colonialism, capitalism, whiteness, knowledge production, and a federation of postcolonial states. Such thinkers include Du Bois and Fanon (304, 305). The idealization of peace thus tracks the global color line and inflects the opposition between colonizer and colonized as one of “values.” Given the book’s scope, part of its challenge was to think with theorists such as Fanon and Du Bois, but to also recognize the long history of the idealization of peace, that it precedes and exceeds colonialism and has been sometimes uncritically championed by anticolonial and decolonial thinkers. The chapter challenged readers to understand Qutb the Islamist in this frame, as part of a tradition of anticolonial thinking. It thereby invites readers to overcome the normalized silos of political theory and public culture that hive off Islam as something separate and altogether different and to think about the location of anticolonialism and anticolonial thought differently.

    In this vein, I agree with Kotef that the work of provincializing today’s dominant values is integral to anticolonialism and that it resonates with Fanon’s thought (xviii, 10, 305). Although Fanon does not say much about peace, there is much to recommend bringing Fanon into this frame of interrogating who idealizes peace, when and how and to facilitate or conceal which structures; this is also to say that it can helpfully disrupt the dominant Anglo-American framings of Fanon in terms of a moralized and abstract opposition between violence/nonviolence. Du Bois, I think, offers a different set of possibilities and interventions. I am, incidentally, writing elsewhere on how Du Bois and Qutb offer pieces of a critique of the idealization of peace in relation to whiteness, colonialism, and capitalism, though their critiques reinscribed the status of peace. Du Bois is interesting to me because, and writing here very provisionally, he discusses peace in roughly three ways. The first is skepticism about white appeals to peace as hypocritical, narrow, and self-serving. The second is his critical analysis of how war and peace track “the color line,” or how the peace of colonialism results in wars of colonizer against colonized, colonizers against each other, and eventually will lead to war of all the colonized against their colonizers. He thus calls for anticolonial unions. The third way is an immanent critique, in which “peace” is a moral universal ideal that would be attained through progress, a genuine commitment, and the desire for peace. In this sense, Du Bois and Qutb were simultaneously critical of colonial invocations of peace but nonetheless reinscribed its status as a universal moral ideal to be attained through the right desires and through federative political forms that use but exceed the modern state. Even as they treated peace as the answer, each outlined some of the crucial components for a critique of peace as a morality.

    Such readings of Fanon and Du Bois would also be important as disciplinary interventions, for disrupting how each has been taken up to sanction the valorization of peace and as doing the work that the liberal idealizers of peace want them to do. They are marshaled and mobilized to shield peace from critique, so that Fanon apparently wrote about violence and colonialism because supposedly he really just wanted peace (perhaps even unbeknownst to him?), whereas Du Bois’s antiwar activism puts peace beyond critique. I am interested in how the discipline’s double investment in peace and in race requires that peace, or the desire for it, remain unassailable, and that minoritized thinkers’ own critiques of the rhetoric of peace, its violent structures, and its system of values can only culminate in ventriloquizing the desire for peace—a desire that cannot be critically examined. The issue, then, is less whether Du Bois or Fanon provides solid footing as an ethical exemplar, and more the structure of morals that gives peace a remarkable hold over contemporary sensibilities and the compulsion to idealize it. (There is a different but related way that highlighting Qutb’s anticolonialism makes liberal readers worry about whether it’s a slippery slope to endorsing a theocratic regime.)

    Kotef is exactly right that the book refuses to prescribe solutions or to identify alternatives that treat peace as an answer. War for Peace begins by moving beyond the idea that peace is a solution and it ends by resisting easy solutions to peace, let alone the strange idea that the solution to the discursive structures of peace is more peace. Kotef is right that the epilogue refuses to give closure. It also refuses to recuperate peace as an ideal.

    Historicizing and provincializing peace, and working to see what it masks and what it colonizes, means treating it as a political idea rather than a moral ideal: this shift makes it possible to draw connections and mark disconnections across formations of violence, to sketch political horizons that are unrelenting in moving beyond peace, and to demand a discipline that is unabashed in seeing the operations of power.

Nadim Khoury


Justice and Peace

War for Peace aims, and hits its marks, personally, politically, and academically. Growing up during the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, peace was central to my political upbringing. And what Idris astutely calls the “insinuates” of peace have shaped my experience of the process (e.g., an unjust peace, peace and security, peace of the brave, comprehensive peace, etc.) to the point where I could no longer differentiate peace from its insinuates, peace from its enemies, and peace from war.

Reading War for Peace, I now realize that this was not an accident. The confusion is essential to the way peace works. There is no such thing as peace by itself, Idris provocatively argues, and there has never been. Peace always appears within a constellation of ideas (insinuates) such as security, law, friendship, harmony, order, agreement, unity, concord, dignity, development, and prosperity. Rarely, if ever, does one encounter it alone. It is hard to disagree with Idris on this point, and yet this important claim has not received the critical attention it deserves—not until Idris’s thought-provoking book. So, for the remainder of this review, I would like to focus on the insinuates of peace.

According to Idris, these insinuates play an essential role in the theories and discourses of peace. While they vary (how many, what kind), insinuates operate according to a parasitical logic (2). The implied biological metaphor suggests that peace and its insinuates entertain host-parasite relations similar to those found in nature—trees and fungi, dogs and fleas, stomachs and worms. For Idris, it is mainly the host (peace) that benefits from its parasites (the insinuates of peace). Since peace rarely appears by itself, he argues, it must feed on insinuates such as security and justice in order to become desirable, providing the illusion that these insinuates constitute “peace’s real, intrinsic, and necessary positivity” (3). The parasitical structure also works the other way so that the insinuates themselves (security, justice, friendship, etc.) feed on the host. “Peace sanitizes them of their violence,” Idris writes, “and furnishes them with alternate justifications” (3). In this symbiotic relationship, entire constellations are formed that connect war to peace and blurs their boundaries.

Idris might resist that one takes the biological metaphor too literally. He does not want to suggest that there is a kind of ontological relationship between peace and its insinuates that resembles the biological relationship between host and parasite. The relationship between the two, he insists, cannot be essentialized. “Insinuates are a recurrent series of additions,” he argues, “they form an iterative constellation of supplement concepts; over time, some insinuates disappear, others are added, and the priorities among them shift” (3). Therefore, War for Peace sets to examine these different constellations historically, focusing on ten thinkers that span continents and centuries.

Idris also encourages his readers to look at the ways insinuates work in actual discourses on peace:

This genealogy is an invitation to look more skeptically, critically, and without civility, at those public intellectuals, politicians, scholars, and world leaders who demand peace of others. It is an invitation to ask whether the polemical, provincial, and parasitical logics . . . are at play when we hear those all-too-common demands that everyone, or some, conform to peace or demonstrate their devotion to and love of peace. (314)

I want to take up this invitation and the first question I want to ask is: are all insinuates equal? And here I mean normatively equal? I expect that the answer is no, because Idris insists that there is no independent moral standard by which we can evaluate these insinuates. Any attempt to distinguish amongst insinuates is always “provincial” and “polemical”—marked by the spaces we speak from, motivated by the spaces we seek to dominate, and aimed at the enemies we wish to defeat. If we are always operating within constellations of peace, I would then ask: Am I not to choose my insinuates? Against an imperial peace, should I not summon an anti-imperial peace? Against an oppressive peace, can I not call for an emancipatory one? Against an unjust peace, should I not brand a just one? I ask these questions in the spirit of an agonistic politics, one that I believe informed the ways many socialists, feminists, anti-colonialists mobilized for peace in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and continue to do so today within critical peace studies.

Here again, I expect Idris to answer in the negative, because in the introduction and conclusion, he reintroduces the truce as a preferable alternative, directly challenging mainstream thinking about peace—from perpetual peace, to positive peace, and peacebuilding. The truce, for Idris, is a “peace without insinuates” (319). It is not normative suggestion (9), but a kind of ethic, one that teaches us to see peace as limited in time and in space.

I understand how the insinuates of peace have forged hierarchical orders that have historically legitimized a lot of violence. Idris shows this convincingly in the writings of Plato, Hobbes, Kant, Qutb, and others. I also understand that the removal of insinuates is meant to lay bare the grammar of peace—the violence it enables, the asymmetries it creates, and the silences it imposes. However, I am not convinced that the truce (a peace without insinuates) necessarily offers anything different from the constellations of peace with insinuates.

It seems that Idris is mainly concerned with the additive dimension of insinuates (what kind of violence is committed in the name of peace when we add friendship, security, law, order, etc.). Does subtracting insinuates create similar problems? What kind of violence, dehumanization, asymmetries and sanitization are enabled by the removing (rather than adding) insinuates? What kinds of violence, silences, and enmities are created by de-parasiting peace?

I ask these questions with a specific insinuate in mind—justice—and a specific peace process—in Palestine/Israel. Both issues have generated entire literatures, so I cannot address them in detail. I find the case useful because a major disagreement between Palestinians and Israelis is the insinuate “just” added to peace. Many in the Israeli peace camp preferred “a simple peace” whereas a number of Palestinians have insisted on a “just peace.” For example, Yossi Beilin, an Israeli politician who was highly involved in the negotiations that lead to the Oslo Accords in 1993, insisted that “the concept of Just Peace is not only unnecessary, but may also cause harm, and it is therefore best to avoid using it.” This strikes me as a peace without insinuates (a peace without justice). “The term Just Peace is redundant,” continues Beilin, “but its problem lies not in its redundancy, but in the accompanying concept it introduces onto the stage—‘unjust peace.’ The concept of ‘unjust peace’ creates a wide margin for resistance to peace, claiming that it is unjust, thus causing injustice to those who pay the price for lack of peace.” Here I see Beilin doing the very kind of work that Idris criticizes—distinguishing the friends from the foes of peace and thus sanitizing different kinds of violence, masking asymmetries, and providing excuses for new kinds of war. However, this work is done through the removal of insinuates (especially the insinuate of justice) and the insistence of “simply peace.” The injustice of “a simple peace” explains why so many in the Palestinian camp call for a “just peace” that addresses the structural, historical, and ongoing injustices Israel has inflicted on Palestinians since its inception in 1948.

  • Murad Idris

    Murad Idris


    Response to Nadim Khoury

    I don’t think the question of Palestine is a question of “peace.” That framing emerges from, and reflects the discourses and interests of, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the American imaginary. In fact, the occupation of Palestine exemplifies how the question of “peace” has fortified, occluded, and sanitized settler colonialism, dispossession, and expulsion—or better yet, it is a question of how the rhetoric and idealization of peace as a solution performs the kind of provincial, polemical, and parasitical work that War for Peace outlines.

    I wish to thank Nadim Khoury for asking about peace’s parasitical structure, what it does and what it doesn’t do, and the relationship between peace, power, and critique. War for Peace pointed to discursive and political horizons that go beyond peace as a universal and moral ideal, beyond the idea of its weaponization as rhetorical abuse, and beyond what I call its parasitical structure. It was written against the all-too-common refusal to consider that justice and freedom might contradict “peaceful resistance,” that they exceed the dogmatic commitment to “peace,” and that such concepts along with peace transform through their conjoinments in ways that should be critically examined and denaturalized.

    War for Peace tried to denaturalize the links between peace and the recurring sets of insinuates, not to naturalize them as ontological truths. I called this a parasitical structure; Khoury calls it a symbiotic relationship. It is worthwhile to dwell on the difference because the latter construes the biological metaphor too narrowly. Symbiosis can be mutualistic (both host and parasite benefit), parasitic (parasite benefits, host is harmed), or commensalistic (parasite benefits, host is unaffected). Khoury’s description of my argument is something like parasitism in reverse, where the host benefits and the parasite is harmed. These one-to-one relations are interesting, but they elide that War for Peace discusses the parasitical structure of peace more broadly to capture something that, to my knowledge, does not have a specific term in the study of organisms and nature. To extend the metaphor I first deployed, it is where the symbionts are transformed in their interaction. Sometimes they are stretched; sometimes constrained. Sometimes this pacifies. Sometimes it produces violence. Sometimes it sanctions hierarchies. (If a biological term were necessary, it would be mutual parasitism, but the strictly evolutionary biological idiom is too narrow and naturalistic.)

    War for Peace argued that peace is embedded in polemical structures, not only parasitical and provincial ones. The three structures can overlap or become tightly knit, but they don’t have to. The polemical structures refer to how the idealization of peace reflects antagonisms and facilitates hostility, as through the identification of some as enemies of peace. The polemical structures (and their violence, enmity, and sanitization) are not predicated on the parasitical structure of peace. As a moralized ideal, peace is a polemical concept: the argument of the book is not that removing insinuates ends violence and sanitization, nor is it that the “right” insinuate releases peace from these political structures.

    The insinuates blur the boundary between peace and its opposites. One of the book’s challenges was to recognize that the parasitical structure does not simply strengthen, solidify, or improve either peace or these other ideals: “this structure intensifies the potential of peace for radical self-subversion, for contradictions with and among its insinuates, and for its blurring into war” (4). It is not entirely correct to write that in War for Peace, “it is mainly the host (peace) that benefits from its parasites (the insinuates of peace).” I discuss the insinuate in relation to Jacques Derrida on the supplement, or that which adds to replace and “fills . . . as if one fills a void.” I explain: “The insinuate [justice, security, order, etc.] cannot be described as ‘contained,’ for it determines the container itself. It bends peace to its means, makes its aims those of peace, and makes itself appear peaceful” (3). Rather than a simplistic or constant relation of benefit or harm, the point was to shift the view beyond the grammars of “positive” and “negative” peace, beyond the naturalized association of peace with justice, order, law, or security—and vice versa.

    Justice, security, unity, law, order, development, civilization, friendship, and other insinuates are certainly neither the same nor equivalent. War for Peace showed that they do different kinds of work, depending on who appeals to them; they do different work depending on to whom the invocations are addressed. Security for the colonizer is different from security for the colonized (which is from colonizers); this theme runs throughout chapter 6 on Kant and Qutb. Concepts—and insinuates—are always situated. They do not hover outside political relations.

    War for Peace argued against the view that “constellations of peace” are universal, continual, and perennial. I do not think that “we are always operating within constellations of peace.” This belief in peace belongs to the moralities that War for Peace examined, or the moralities that produce the compulsion to speak in the idiom of peace. The book introduced the view that those compulsions and constellations should be anatomized if not resisted. War for Peace provincialized such universalizations of peace, including that the universality is so inevitable that all subjects (must) cathect in peace and then choose from a settled palette of insinuates. This is where it is important to think of the three structures that the book outlined together: peace is embedded in parasitical and provincial and polemical structures. Operating in constellations and idealizations of peace is not an inevitability: “it need not be so” (321).

    All this is basic to my argument about the alternative conceptualizations of peace that the epilogue briefly discusses. When I discuss the truce, it is not a moral prescription or a solution. It is a critical diagnostic, a way of rethinking and interrogating, to denude the work that appeals to peace and appeals to peace with its insinuates perform. Although Khoury acknowledges this, I think he nonetheless treats it as a normative suggestion for solving violence, asymmetry, and oppression. The truce, particular peace, and separation represent ways of apprehending power differently. They are not counter-ideals or solutions, but reorientations toward peace in discourse and toward the relationship between appeals to peace and structures of power. They are important precisely because it is impossible to idealize them (321), and they are precisely about laying bare the structures of violence, silence, moralization, and deflection that peace carries. They continue the book’s critique, or understanding peace as finite, denaturalizing its links, and pointing toward the worlds, constellations, and horizons beyond the idealization of peace and beyond its enduring hold over political imaginaries.

    Peace without justice is not peace without insinuates. Just as insinuates are nonequivalent, so too the different lacks of insinuates are incommensurable. Reconceptualizing peace without insinuates is discursively nonequivalent to a group demanding peace without justice. Thinking of peace as without insinuates and against idealization exceeds the positive and negative dyads: peace with or without justice, with or without insecurity, and famously, “peace and security” versus “peace and justice.” War for Peace aimed to undo that hoary discourse of which these framings are symptomatic, namely whether peace should be “positive” or “negative”—all while its discursive functions and moralities go unquestioned.

    The idea of the truce interrupts the structure of moralizing and concealing work that peace performs, including in the idea of “a simple peace” discussed by Beilin. The liberal Israeli public discourse does not describe “peace without insinuates.” In fact, the so-called simple peace has, quite simply, always been a demand precisely for peace with insinuates—security for Israel, recognition of a “right to exist,” insecurity for Palestinians, renouncing future claims, racialized hierarchy, etc.—one that is even more pernicious in that it was paraded (and is still viewed in quarters) as simply peace on its own. When Beilin refers to “a simple peace,” he should not be taken at face value. That framing itself has been a weapon. Rhetoric should be scrutinized and situated, especially surrounding peace. War for Peace encourages readers to look more critically and skeptically at such invocations of peace, especially when they have done quite a bit to delegitimize anti-colonial resistance. As Joseph Massad shows in The Persistence of the Palestinian Question (chs. 4–6), the landscape of this peace process discourse, especially the “land for peace” formula, reflects among other things a racial structure in which Israelis simply long for peace while Palestinians can only be peace-haters responsible for all violence. The deployment of peace was, indeed, polemical. And it carried more than a trace of peace as the moral and universal ideal.

    At a minimum, War for Peace requires that one be much more wary of the unacknowledged work that the grammar of peace does, including in the investment in a just peace. A “just peace” has been one kind of platform for critique and for some groups to articulate certain kinds of criticisms and demands. My interest is in how peace is the idiom through which some, especially the oppressed or marginalized, are compelled to speak—including in their critiques of power and demands for change. My interest is in how the compulsion to avow the desire for peace has come to be pegged to the recognition of humanity; it is part and parcel of a structure of racialization and dehumanization that simultaneously can pacify and constrain demands for freedom, equality, and justice, and even undo them. This is less to take issue with those who demand peace with justice against injustice, violence, and oppression, and even less to offer recommendations about specific policies or official rhetoric. I neither wish to make some universalistic claim about the effectiveness or desirability of slogans across social and political movements nor to police their speech. Sometimes calling for a just peace is an effective tool; sometimes it isn’t. These are empirical and tactical questions that refer to concrete effects on subjects, discourses, and relations on the ground. (As an empirical question, the particulars on the ground are relevant to what I call “particular peace,” or learning to refer to the peace between specific groups, in order to shift from the subterranean work of peace as an abstract ideal and hone in on the politics of which peace and whose peace.) But in both cases, “peace” exercises an unacknowledged and pervasive affective hold—a wounded attachment for some, a violent disavowal for others.

    Palestine only appears in a handful of references across the book, but it exemplifies a number of my arguments. Just as War for Peace scrutinized the productivity of old tropes such as an unjust peace is preferable to war (138–40) or a secure war is better than an insecure peace (54), justice in Palestine is sometimes framed as the either/or of whether peace with justice is preferable to unjust peace. An insistence on such frames elides my invitation to think more critically about how “peace and justice” rewrites justice, not only peace; the insistence elides that the parasitical structure functions not as an arithmetical operation of adding or subtracting but as discursive constellations that naturalize conceptual associations, structures of power, and moralities. The pegging of justice to “peace” has arguably been one of the insinuations that displaced the Palestinian struggle for freedom into one, to paraphrase Ghassan Kanafani, of pacification, capitulation, and talking, which today tend to travel under the umbrella of reconciliation between colonizer and colonized. Who has set the terms of discourse? What are the genealogies of the continual transfiguration of the refusal, critique, and rejection of settler colonial occupation, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing of Palestine into the idiom of “peace with justice”? To whom is the reinscription of “peace” as ultimate value and solution addressed? What political and discursive work does “peace” do to the struggles for justice, freedom, equality, dignity, reparations and historical responsibility, decolonization, and abolition? What structures of power does this reinscription reflect?

    More broadly, calls for “peace and justice” can of course put other logics into play, but I suspect that they do not exit the three structures—parasitical, polemical, provincial—that the book highlighted. This is not a normative theory or a general indictment. It is, however, to remain critical of the idea that “peace and justice” offers an exit from power and discursive structures. The remainder of the sentence that Khoury partially cites—on the need to move beyond the anti-historical and moralized demand for peace—points to the need to move beyond the entwinement of this demand with the will to persistently “imagine that this ideal’s parasitical, provincial, and polemical functions have no bearing on its sanitized violence today” (322).

    War for Peace refuses to reinscribe peace as a solution. As I wrote in the book, peace is a problem, not a solution. As the current moment shows, this is so for many across the globe and it continues to be so for Palestinians. The idealization of peace as an ultimate and basic value is one that should be dismantled, not as a question of tactics and normativity, but as a structure and morality.

Peyman Vahabzadeh


May 6, 2021, 1:00 am

Chloe Ireton


May 13, 2021, 1:00 am