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


Genealogies of Violence and the Question of Acting in War for Peace

In War for Peace, Murad Idris provides a fascinating and compelling study of the conceptual constructs that have been holding war and peace in oppositional relations across both Western and Islamic bodies of knowledge and philosophy. Through meticulous readings of select but key works in the areas—from the Greek Plato 2,500 years ago to the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb in the twentieth century—the study collapses the various binarisms (rather than dualisms) that have been constructed around the two notions. Idris’s hermeneutical refusal pays off as he succeeds to reveal the conceptual interdependence of war and peace, and he remains steadfast in suspending the presuppositions upon which each thinker’s conceptualization of the two concepts is founded. The foundations that maintain war and peace as contraries or opposites, Idris suggests, are laid on shifting sands. All peace, he submits, has been in place for the purpose of an apparently imminent war, and, one way or another, as the impending war’s preparatory stage. And these wars, of course, are waged in the name of peace. Idris’s thesis is bold but tangibly realistic: one needs to have a glimpse at the Western powers’ liberal-imperialist campaigns in the Middle East just in the past couple of decades (and not, for the moment, on how British and French imperialisms carved out today’s Middle East through the fall of the Ottoman Empire) and their destabilizing efforts and regime changes in the region, military campaigns and economic wars waged in the name of global and regional peace (for whom?). Peace is indeed a “violent ideal” concealing its violence by attributing it to its apparent contrary. Peace is a “troubling ideal” (xiii–xiv) one that “authorizes war and sanitizes violence” (314). A Nietzschean streak—that the “revered things are insidiously involved with their opposites” (314) informs the study (xiii). “The language of peace has also worked to pacify and delegitimize protests against political oppression, economic inequality, and racial injustice” (xv).

The study’s sophisticated readings and arguments can in themselves be the subject of various reviews, and that should prove a worthwhile effort in its own right. I surmise that at least some of his readings, unconventional as they are, go against the grain of mainstream scholarship on these subjects, which might bring in some controversy (mind you, no serious study is without it), and yet this is precisely why Idris’s study is important: it collapses the long-held dualisms that inform much of Western philosophy—a legacy of Christianity’s influence on European secular Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinking, the sustained extent of which continues to strike me as an outsider to, and stranger in, Western contemplative plateaus. That said, it is not my intention here to probe any specific reading of any particular thinker in this book. I am more interested in having a dialogue with this book, or to be precise, in the conceptual work that has led Idris to his hermeneutical master key—one that opens new horizons before thought.

There is rich potential in Idris’s study. The book is intent upon revealing an otherwise concealed and neglected genealogy of the three logics in the works of seven Western and three Muslim thinkers who were in fact in historical dialogue with one another and bound, to varying extents, by the philosophical tradition founded by ancient Greek “love of wisdom”—even thinkers as “radical” as Sayyid Qutb. It is important to note that the three Muslims thinkers in this study (al-Farabi, Ibn Khaldun, and Sayyid Qutb) were specifically Middle East and North African (MENA) Muslims (with some shared civilizational traits) and not the representative of the diverse Islamic world or thought. The book’s selective asymmetry aside, it is important to note that the discourse of “peace” in Idris’s study—in all of its fascinating transmutations across diverse thinkers—has spread, in this particular genus, out of classical Greece. Clearly, peace as such is a universal idea, with its particular Greek variation representing only a subset—albeit hegemonic. Naturally, as a side note, one could launch similar studies of the philosophies of ancient Asia, particularly in China and India at the time when these philosophies were unalloyed by conceptions of war and peace resulting from Greek-Persian and Christian-Muslim conflicts. Likewise, the philosophies of indigenous peoples of Americas could be the subject of study to see if the Greek watershed still holds in face of the radically incommensurable Turtle Island indigenous thought. Out of particular interest for me personally, one could also study, in light of Idris’s work, the Persian epic Shahnameh (Book of Kings, written 977–1010 CE), by Abul-Qasem Ferdowsi (940–1020), a poem of fifty thousand distiches (or couplets), that offers the mythological and historical origins of pre-Islamic Iran (before 651 CE), a work that introduces a specific conception of humanity based on ontological strife expressing itself in episodes of war between enemies that are blood relatives, only with intermittent peace between these episodes when justice periodically reigns. These comments indicate the potential extensions of Idris’s study into the radically heterogenous.

Idris offers a critical thesis, advancing the idea that “peace” functions through three logics. Parasitically, peace hangs itself to other concepts such as friendship or security. Provincially, peace promotes a universal idea that masks particular desires. Polemically, it is deployed in the face of the radically antagonist in order to justify hostilities (2). The “insinuate relocates peace to its discursive terrain” (3), co-implying war and peace (9). Yes, parasitically, it is required “to frame the recurring debate over whether peace should be understood ‘positively’ . . . or ‘negatively’” (2). The asymmetrical polarization of war and peace subsumes peace under potential and actual states of war (37). It leads to “a denial of how the things of peace enable war, or even the things of war and peace are the same” (226). Idris’s study of insinuates yearns for semiotics and discourse analysis and yet he achieves it without them!

If, as Idris shows in this book, the logics of peace tether it to concepts other than peace itself (parasitically, provincially, and polemically), and only through those logics peace is connected to war through a constructed opposition, then we are gifted with three observations that are consistent with Idris’s thesis.

First, “peace” stands out as an empty signifier whose signifieds are overdetermined contextually and historically through a chain of already accessible and vastly comprehensible and thus shared signifieds. One could argue, quite rightly, that within, say, Western imperialist excursions in the MENA region, peace has in fact become a floating signifier in the sense that “bringing peace” to MENA is hegemonically constructed through a chain of signifiers including regime changes, providing strategic “security” for Israel, garnering neoliberal “stability” in the region that is a precondition for unfettered capitalist access to MENA resources and markets, and ensuring the control of Western companies over petroleum. Stated differently, a number of (inorganic) substitutions make the war for peace in MENA justifiable. Idris’s triangular logics explain why this is the case. In this particular context, the floating signifier of peace underdetermines peace as improved human development index, social security, social justice-oriented government programs, and reduction of state-societal violence—all of which refer to social justice, to varying degrees of course, as the conditions for peace. Whence arises Idris’s parasitical structure of peace. The overdetermination, though, is usually a political decision as well. That is why no peace is ever “peaceful enough” (xv). Yet peace must remain an empty signifier precisely because it can become such a malleable idea. Which brings me to the next observation.

Second, peace lingers in the nebulous epistemic region between notion and concept. Peace stands out as a universal idea shared by culturally diverse aggregates of humans on the notional plateaus of communities’ weltanschauungen. Precisely because of its rootedness in human collective experience, peace remains a notion and only thus perpetuating—that is, through cognitive imprecision, which interestingly renders peace a matter for philosophical reflections and acclaimed accuracy. Like other human constructs, notional peace is transformed into philosophical concept. From notion to concept, vagueness is harnessed by asserted exactitude, partly because the experience behind the notion is always a particular experience. What philosophy achieves is to render the notional construct of the particular experience into the universal, catch-all, and wholesale concept. Idris is right about peace’s provincial structure, and again, philosophical conceptualization fixes peace and war to the city’s attempts to defend itself and defeat its Others. So, conceptualization is also already a political decision. Peace remains an empty signifier.

Third and last, if the two points that I extracted from Idris’s argument hold, then we inevitably arrive at the observation that peace has no essence of its own. Its being tethered to other things means that peace can only have an absent presence. This absence holds unless we come up with some positively ascertainable notion or concept that for the time being and within a specific context can give peace a substance, a positive value, thus rendering it desirable. Idris’s exposing the logics shows precisely this. But on further probing, it turns out that peace’s essential lack, which prevents it from being present in an autarkic fashion, indicates its radical negativity. The ontological instability of peace, therefore, makes it both elusive and desirable and thereby ontologically dependent upon war. Stated in common parlance, peace is the absence of war, but war has many, many manifestations. One’s peace is another’s war. And yet, since war needs to justify itself in the name of peace, the foundational violence of war rests with peace and its ontological instability.

Now we are left with this “troubling ideal” that resonates with us all and yet justifies imperialism, interventions, unilateralism, repression of social protests and national liberation movements today. Idris’s concluding position is interesting: “I argued that parasitical, provincial, and polemical functions are internal to idealization of peace. However, they are not inherent to the idea” (318, my emphasis). This is due to the “untenable desire for mastery” (319) and attempts at securing the futures that, as Hannah Arendt shows us, are essentially open, due to which in turn, the outcomes of our actions remain unpredictable. My argument is that the three functions may not be inherent to peace, but it is inherent for peace to fasten itself to insinuates and logics (including my list of social justice-oriented indices above). Precisely because Idris forecloses on my argument, he can offer three alternatives to the dominant concepts of peace that “renounce and unmake the fiction of purity” (319): truce, particular peace, ethics of separation (319–21). I understand that the common denominator of the alternatives is to take peace out of its “ideal” and idealistic shell and push peace to manageable particularities and contextualities. Ideally (pun intended), these “peace alternatives” offer particularistic solutions to conflict situations, thereby delinking peace from war in the traditional-theoretical sense when peace served as the war’s “preparatory” state of affairs, justified through the logics. The condition of possibility of these alternatives, of course, is peace itself—a dominant conception of peace that Idris meticulously deconstructs. In other words, truce, particular peace, and separation inevitably remain subsets of the seemingly immortal and hegemonic ideal of “pure” peace. If we agree that peace is an essentially negative idea (which annuls the claim that logics are inherent to peace), that there is no positively ascertainable substance to it, that because of this characteristic, peace needs to be riveted to logics that become handy in selling the ideal and justifying wars in the name of peace (Idris’s thesis), then would the alternatives not also represent an attempt at substantiating peace in “positive” terms within the seemingly inescapable existing liberal-imperialist hegemonic structure that, having inherited an entire tradition, negates the negativity of peace simply because “peace as such” does not serve its purposes?

I think what I ask here is this: given the revolutionary outcomes of Idris’s deconstruction of the “troubling ideal” of peace, should we seek solace in offering alternatives within the existing, hegemonic world order? Perhaps the alternative peace should be sought elsewhere.

  • Murad Idris

    Murad Idris


    Response to Peyman Vahabzadeh

    Peyman Vahabzadeh discusses the conceptual background of War for Peace. He explores various avenues for extending the book’s argument to other historical texts and to contemporary contexts, and he considers the possibility of overcoming peace. His focus on semiotics and on what is or is not inherent to peace is an opportunity to restate and clarify the book’s arguments, extensions, and scope.

    The idea that “war is for the sake of peace” is central to how idealizations of peace have been elaborated across the history of political thought. The ten thinkers that the book examined, themselves caught up in webs of citation, also cite and contend with some version of the idea. War for Peace studied how this trope functions in the history of political thought to argue that peace is embedded in provincial, parasitical, and polemical structures. The argument goes beyond war-for-peace and beyond its counter-discourses, or those views that only reverse the war-for-peace formula or collapse the opposition between war and peace—that is, those that either read peace as the prelude to war (peace is for the sake of war) or peace as a coded war (peace is war). These simplifications, with their own histories and political productivity, are not outside the genealogy of peace as a moralized ideal. In fact, War for Peace started with Plato’s Laws because it puts on display some of these tropes and discourses—from those that deny peace, to those that subsume peace as prelude to war, to those that declare that war is for peace. Peace, war, and their opposition are more dynamic and pervasive; the simplifications are insufficient for unmaking peace as a morality and an ideal.

    My argument that peace functions provincially requires moving beyond investments in its universality, whether as an idea or as an ideal, and beyond the belief that it must always function in the same way or that it has an essence. Claims to universality are embedded in particular power structures and hierarchies that are available to some and not others. I was interested in the contingencies underlying peace as an ideal and the constructions surrounding its categories, ideas, and mobilizations. War for Peace did not take a stance on whether peace is or is not a universal concept, but I am suspicious of Vahabzadeh’s formulation that there is something like “peace as such” in the first place or that it is “clearly a universal idea” of which the one in the book is a cultural variant. One of the alternatives that I sought to recover in the epilogue, what I called “particular peace,” entails “refusing to speak of peace as such” (320, emphasis in original), or training oneself instead to refer to concrete relations and to ask, “Whose peace? Which peace? Why peace?” By treating peace (and war) as discursive artifacts rather than universal concepts or natural notions, War for Peace traced the constellations of structures that differentiate, relate, and moralize them. And thus discourses surrounding peace, it argued, do lots of work. For example, they can facilitate the justification of war. They can arrange and redefine the opposites of peace. What counts as peace can in turn calibrate the boundary between war and other forms of violence (riot, rebellion, revolution, police action, liberation, occupation, etc.). “Peace” can enshrine a present haunted by a war, onto which a past conquest, massacre, or defeat is indelibly stamped. It can make some forms of political organization (like the modern state) seem obvious and legitimate while casting others as unjustifiable and obsolescent agents of violence. Invocations of peace can deflect attention from racialized global hierarchies. And the remarkable idea that peace is a basic human desire sets the stage for recasting some formations of violence, inequality, and domination as the necessary, peace-loving will of humanity, progress, or civilization.

    The structure of the book reflects these different aspects of peace as a political idea, in the oppositions that its idealization shores up and in how the oppositions inflect narratives surrounding “Islam” and “the West.” Such narratives are written into how the discipline of political theory narrates history. Plato and Sayyid Qutb—the two thinkers who bookend War for Peace—trouble these civilizational markers; they are both internal to “Western thought” and “Islamic thought” (or neither). At stake are the cultural politics surrounding these categorizations, and how different texts are mobilized to construct racialized narratives and identities. As I noted in the book, al-Fārābī, Ibn Khaldūn, and Quṭb are important today because of what they represent; each has come to represent a distinct caricature of Islam, peace, and war.

    I agree with Vahabzadeh that it would be interesting to examine other texts, contexts, and genres, including poetry that recounts pre-Islamic history. This might include the Shahnameh or the Ayyām al-‘Arab (Battle Days of the Arabs), which I only mentioned in passing (92). Both address strife, violence, and justice among blood relatives, and both have a complex and direct relationship to modern projects of postcolonial and ethno-nationalist identity formation. These texts, their representations of violence, justice, and order, and the histories of their deployments and mobilizations, all remain understudied in political theory, philosophy, and intellectual history. I am interested both in what they say about peace, war and violence and in the uses to which they have been put, how they have been read, absorbed, or made to cohere. Just as important in turning to texts inside or outside the conventional bounds of the discipline are the politics of what they have been made to represent, how they are taxonomized as culturally distinct, and how they are made to intervene today (13–14). This is a question of the politics of comparison and its disciplinary histories.1 Another excellent place to look would be the Bhagavad Gita and the histories of its interpretation, particularly in light of the excellent forum that Shruti Kapila and Faisal Devji edited some years ago.2

    War for Peace is about the work that “peace” performs in the world and in the history of political thought. As a genealogy of the moralities of peace, or what peace does and how it functions, the book approached peace—the idea, the ideal—as something that is contingent, historical, and political. Vahabzadeh’s propositions about peace as an empty signifier between concept and notion are interesting. They are much more about what peace is and what it means as part of an ontology. Meanwhile, War for Peace examined how such discourses about the meaning of peace (as negation, positivity, theology, legalism, transcendence, etc.) structure its moralization, what they enable, and their continuities and transformations across the history of political thought. I do not think the problem is about definitional positivity or negation, inherent lack or necessary excess. War for Peace moved beyond the hoary opposition of “positive” and “negative” peace. Its argument about the parasitical structure of peace draws attention to the recurrent (and at times competing) sets of “insinuates” that are appended to it—that provide content to peace, that peace sanitizes, and that act as a hinge with war. I agree with Vahabzadeh that “bringing peace to the Middle East” does similarly provincial, polemical, and parasitical work, and that it works euphemistically. I suspect that he is right that the phrase is also an empty signifier. Nonetheless, Laclau’s idea of an empty signifier is, I think, both crucially different and a narrower shift in registers. Although it can be an illuminating analytic, that other understanding of semiotics and struggle dilutes my argument and constrains the critical analysis of peace into a general frame with terms that become vague and contested slogans in fields of hegemony. The argument in War for Peace offers a different approach, one that begins from the specificity of who invokes peace against whom and how, who desires it and who is incapable of desiring it, and the precise terms and power structures through which the name can be extended, withheld, or recognized—along with the realities on the ground that such decisions then make possible.3

    War for Peace unmasked three dynamic logics to which peace is attached, not essential or immortal traits. It is neither that every invocation of peace follows an unwritten law nor that the problem is only when the wrong people say peace. Vahabzadeh agrees, I suspect, that peace tends to perform this work irrespective of political affiliation and ideological orientation (as in, for example, Kant and Quṭb). The logics capture the dominant ways in which peace appears in contemporary discourses, not as abuse or misuse. The functions and logics, I argued, are internal to peace and part and parcel of its inner structure: they are neither external accidents to be dismissed as abuses and exceptions, nor are they intrinsic and inevitable essences. Peace is, indeed, a political idea and it can emerge in other forms, attached to other logics (7). To observe that the three functions are not essential means that not every discussion of peace performs this work and that peace can indeed appear in other forms; to observe that they are internal to its inner structure means that these logics are part of how peace operates as a universal moral ideal and a discursive artifact. It neither means that these logics are easily surmountable, nor that there is some other moral notion of peace that somehow solves the problem (7–8, 318). Sometimes “peace” is a descriptor for periods or relations in history without official war. Sometimes its invocations are provincial, polemical, and parasitical; sometimes that is not the most salient or interesting thing about them. Sometimes it is a patriarchal concept tied to domesticity and the home. Sometimes it is a psychologized concept tied to the “disturbed” mind or theologized for the “guilty” soul. Sometimes it describes the auditory environments of “nature”—forests, mountains, lakes—or remote places. Sometimes it rallies workers to strike. Sometimes the idea of “no justice, no peace” means that justice and peace require each other or that there is no peace because there is no justice; and sometimes it is a threat in the dominant idiom: the oppressed want justice, and the oppressors only value peace, so the oppressors will not have their peace so long as oppressed do not have their justice. Each of these comes with entire constellations of politics.

    The structures of peace that I outlined in War for Peace have been and remain central to contemporary political orders and imaginaries. Understanding the three structural features of peace’s moralities as pervasive but unacknowledged is fundamental for the alternative modes of approaching peace that I briefly sketched in the epilogue (319–21). The alternatives which I sketched emerge out of the critiques. Vahabzadeh correctly observes that of course they cannot solve or undo a liberal-imperialist hegemonic structure.

    The alternatives are alternative critical conceptualizations, not alternative ways of reclaiming or idealizing peace. They offer critical modes of apprehending power. They function as interruptions and interrogatives of invocations to peace, toward un-making the affective hold that the name peace continues to have, including in Vahabzadeh’s own call for an “alternative peace [to] be sought elsewhere.” The book’s broader argument, from unmaking peace as a moral ideal to recognizing it as a political idea (8, 315), does not mean defending an ideal peace, or a non-ideal peace as a new ideal. It means understanding its moralization and idealization as a weapon. The alternatives “interrupt its idealizations” (321): they point to how to critique and move beyond peace in the three functions that the book outlines.

    The alternatives also remind readers of a basic premise of any genealogy: nothing needs to be the way that it is. Peace does not need to be an ideal or a morality. Against the parasitical structure in which peace is tied to insinuates, the truce denaturalizes the temporality of peace and interrogate the slippages enabled by idealizations of peace and justice, peace and security. Against the provincial structure in which peace is offered as an abstract universal, the object is to demand that those who invoke peace speak more concretely about which peace and whose peace, if at all. Against the polemical structure in which peace is treated as a desire that points to consensus and friendship, it is to see separation and silence as already inside “peace” and to bring into sharp clarity the apartheids, walls, and violences that peace sanitizes. War for Peace offered an extension of its critical reorientation toward confronting dominant discursive structures, not a way of escaping power.

    My argument was that by refusing to search for solutions in peace and refusing to treat peace as the solution, questions of power, discourse, violence, and war become visible, including the concealments and dehumanizations that are facilitated when peace is treated as an unquestioned moral and universal ideal. Undoing the idealization means undoing the demand that the answer must be in peace. Here, too, my point was not Vahabzadeh’s Arendtian observation that the desire for mastery does not leave room for unpredictability, but that the compulsion to speak in terms of peace, to desire it, and to arrange historical narration, institutions, and knowledge around an uninterrogated investment in peace and with an eye to its realization and perpetuity—all this fortifies the racial hierarchies and formations of violence that peace has shielded and carried along with it.

    1. I examine the current politics of such expansions in “Political Theory and the Politics of Comparison,” Political Theory (2016) 1–20, On the disciplinary politics and histories of one such attempt, see “Producing Islamic Philosophy: The Life and Afterlives of Ibn Ṭufayl’s Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān in Global History, 1882–1947,” European Journal of Political Theory 15.4 (2016) 382–403. War for Peace discussed the histories through which al-Fārābī’s, Ibn Khaldūn’s, and Quṭb’s changing locations in modern disciplines track a certain set of political choreographies of culturalized difference.

    2. See “Forum: The Bhagavad Gita and Modern Thought,” ed. Shruta Kapila and Faisal Devji, Modern Intellectual History 7.2 (2010) 269–457.

    3. This was, I think, also part of Roland Barthes’s point when he described the French official vocabulary of African affairs as one of renaming, disavowing, and withholding: “WAR. The goal is to deny the thing. For this, two means are available: either to name it as little as possible (most frequent procedure); or else to give it the meaning of its contrary (more cunning procedure, which is at the basis of almost all mystifications of bourgeois discourse). War is then used in the sense of peace, and pacification in the sense of war.” Roland Barthes, “African Grammar,” in Mythologies (1957), trans. Richard Howard and Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 2012), 155.

Chloe Ireton


Provincializing Peace

Response for War for Peace Symposium

Chloe Ireton


Why does the idea of peace blur so easily into war across the history of political thought? This provocative question informs Murad Idris’s War for Peace: Genealogies of a Violent Ideal in Western and Islamic Thought, a bold and ambitious monograph that unmasks the violence that resides within idealizations of peace across space and time in Western and Islamic thought. This compelling book explores the genealogy of idealizations of peace across the works of ten Western and Islamic thinkers, who each “make visible the questions of power that are crucial for theorizing peace, and each take up some version of the claim that ‘war is for the sake of peace.’” Writing from an early twenty-first-century vantage point in which “the experience of perpetual war for the sake of perpetual peace has become ordinary,” the author unveils how the ideal of peace authorizes war throughout the history of Western and Islamic thought. How and why idealizations of peace authorize war, and who has authority in any given context to determine the friends and enemies of peace are the questions that animate the central arguments of this book.

The protagonists of the monograph are a cast of thinkers rarely considered under the same analytical lens, namely Plato, Al- Fārābī, Aquinas, Erasmus, Hugo Grotius, Alberico Gentilli, Ibn Khaldūn, Hobbes, Immanuel Kant and Sayyid Quṭb, each of whom have been “inserted into civilizational narratives that construct the West and Islam—they have become cultural icons, feeding into the various forms that the Islam/West opposition takes and how this opposition itself is inflected by the polarization between peace and war or good war and bad war, good peace and bad peace.” Idris avoids a discussion of these thinkers as “cultural ambassadors in dialogue,” instead opting to interweave an analysis of the polemical, provincial, and parasitical elements of peace in their works by reading these thinkers’ approaches to peace “through and against” one another. In doing so, Idris unveils the universality of idealizations about peace, and the violence that it authorizes across different times and places. This reading of ideas thematically across different pairs of thinkers, who were not necessarily in conversation with each other, highlights how idealizations of peace share a universality: peace always operates as a weapon that authorizes war and violence, and the existence of an idealization of peace necessitates definitions of both the enemies of peace and the friends of peace.

Reading thinkers’ theorizations of peace through and against each other brings into stark relief the provincial nature of idealizations of peace. As Idris notes, theorizations of peace reflect assumptions about “who counts as peace’s primary subjects, its candidates, and its exclusion, about which places are peace’s epicentres, and its peripheries, and its voices and which zones are marked for peace, and which for pacification, which are sources of legitimate warfare and which are sites our of which legitimate violence arises.” In other words, mapping a genealogy of peace illustrates how the definitions that constitute particular idealizations of peace are never stable, but change depending on the context. Assumptions of peace as a universal moral ideal that have developed in particular streams of Western thought since the eighteenth century, for example, bear little resemblance to earlier idealizations of peace and how peace is constituted in other times and places. By provincializing idealizations of peace, Idris aims to “disrupt the way that peace constitutes the moral purity of Europe, the West, and humanity.” In so doing, Idris takes up Dipesh Chakrabarty’s important challenge “to provincialize Europe and its ontologies, here by focusing on a contemporary ideal, its moralities and its allegedly transhistorical, universalist global form.”

The significance of provincializing peace is most evident in chapter 5, “Colonizing Frontiers: Ibn Khaldūn, Hobbes, and Commodious Violence,” in which Idris meticulously reads “Hobbes and Ibn Khaldūn through and against one another, to elaborate denials of the co-production of war and peace, or the politics of when peace is idealized and by whom.” Provincializing peace brings to light how idealizations of peace “allows some to cast themselves as superior, advanced, cultured, or civilised. It justifies certain kinds of hostility and refuses others, but it does so in ways that often reveal particular interests, anxieties, and desires ––ones that make war-waging peace-lovers the privileged reference of these frames.” The discussion of Hobbes’s vision of peace and war in the Anglo Americas caused me to reflect on the power of discourses of peace in the Spanish Americas, and how, for example, Iberian discourses of pacification of certain groups of indigenous Americans authorized bloody wars, such as the forty-year Chichimeca war (1550–1590) that colonists in New Spain waged against the Chichimecas in the northern New Spain in the name of pacification. A host of Castilian, Indigenous Americans, Black Africans, and people of African descent served as soldiers in the four-decade-long war; such soldiers would later petition the Castilian crown for royal privileges in return for their roles in pacifying the Chichimecas.

Responding to Idris’s invitation to “look more critically at those who claim to speak in the name of peace, at the ostensibly universal desire for peace, and the dominant grammars of peace—that is to see peace as the problem,” I wondered whether Idris might reflect further on the relationship between discourses of peace and just war, and the legitimacy of slavery, especially in the context of the establishment of the the trade in enslaved Africans in the Atlantic world that forcibly displaced over twelve million people from Africa to labor in European imperial domains in the Americas. Developing a more nuanced understanding of the often-contradictory ways that justifications of the enslavement of certain people, but not others, operated in Western political thought is pressing, and perhaps Idris’ work might invite us to consider how ideas about peace that authorized wars and violence, might be helpful for developing a more nuanced understanding of the discourses that authorized enslavement in Western political thought. In other words, Idris’s work might inspire scholars to pause and analyze the provincial nature of ideas about peace in tandem with discourses of just war, and the legitimacy of slavery. Did an idealized vision of peace authorize enslavement in the way that the ideal authorizes war? More broadly, how could Idris’s interventions on peace (and the political work that it does) help us to think about varied discourses of slavery (often diverse and contradictory) that became pervasive in the early modern world, and especially, but not limited to the Atlantic context?

One of the attributes of this monograph is Idris’s impressive linguistic dexterity across languages and deep reading of thinkers who are rarely considered under the same analytical lens, or even read by the same scholars; historians of political thought often reside in intellectual traditions that engage with either Western or Islamic authors and rarely with both. In this respect, the book is an important and welcome addition to the history of political thought, as the work pushes against a Western/Islamic opposition, and demonstrates how peace had different meanings, textures, and lives across space and time, while being universally linked to violence. And yet, as a historian who traces political ideas “from below,” often across diverse social history archives, I wondered whether archives beyond the texts authored by ten male thinkers from Western and Islamic political thought might shed light on broader genealogies of peace. While reflecting on the intricate link between peace and how the ten thinkers deployed the concept to authorize war and violence, I could not help but wonder about those soldiers who risked (and often lost) their lives throughout history in wars that were authorized by peace. How would they have idealized peace? Would the diverse cast of Indigenous American, free Black, and Castilian men who fought for the Castilian crown in the four-decade-long Chichimeca War in late sixteenth-century New Spain have seen themselves as fighting for a peace that authorized the war? In other words, what could we learn about the diverse genealogies of peace and the political work that peace performs from a social history archive? What would a genealogy of the idea of peace look like if we traced idealizations and understandings of peace among historical actors who did not necessarily put pen to paper?

Idris has offered a thoroughly thought-provoking monograph that asks us to reflect on how the name peace “orders understandings of political solutions, and who can ponder such solutions and invoke peace in the process.” Idris demonstrates the violence inherent in idealizations of peace. The book does not seek to find a way for peace to live without violence. Instead, as Idris notes “Peace is not the solution. It is a problem. This is a genealogy of peace to move beyond peace.” This call to move beyond peace perhaps hopes to find an interlocutor in contemporary political leaders who continue to “wage perpetual wars in the name of perpetual peace.” For historians engaged in archives of political thought and social lives, Idris’s work offers a timely invitation to explore how varied and distinct idealizations of peace were tied to war and across different times and spaces, and to more seriously consider peace as a category of analysis.

  • Murad Idris

    Murad Idris


    Response to Chloe Ireton

    I thank Chloe Ireton for taking up the invitation in the epilogue of War for Peace, to see peace as a problem and to look more critically at peace in other contexts. Conversations across methods, regions, and specializations are among the highlights of forums like this one; they can tune an argument to a different key or highlight the fissures between disciplines. Ireton raises two questions about the range of the argument. The first is about extending the arguments about peace and just war to the discourse of just slavery. The second is what happens to a political theoretic argument about the genealogies of morals when we shift to a social history archive.

    War for Peace tracked the genealogies of peace as a moral ideal. It operated in the curatorial mode and disciplinary key of how the field of political theory presents a set of canonical thinkers who are supposedly “Western” or “Islamic”—thinkers whose own theorizations of war and peace have been filtered through civilizational discourses, making them avatars for discourses of peace-loving or warlike cultures. To demonstrate the unacknowledged work that the ideal of peace does in the world, War for Peace showed the imbrication of peace in discourses of barbarism, empire, settler colonialism, and racial hierarchy in the writings of major thinkers, including Erasmus, Hobbes, Grotius, and Kant. The book was less about the universality of peace always or necessarily only functioning in the ways it examined—what I call provincial, parasitical, polemical—and much more about the productivity of, and the investments in, peace’s universalism. These functions, I submit, represent the dominant structure of peace. Across the contextual differences between thinkers, periods, and sites, these functions dynamically wind through the idealization of peace.

    Ireton’s question about the productivity of peace for discourses and practices of “just slavery” is exciting. It builds on the way that War for Peace resituated idealizations of peace in a frame with formations of violence, unfreedom, and dispossession. I agree that this nexus, with just slavery at its center, is affiliated but has a different starting point and archive. Taking Ireton’s invitation, I offer here two provisional thoughts about discourses of peace and war in relation to the history of theorizing slavery. First, just as War for Peace discussed how names can be extended or withheld for different forms of violence—be they organized or disorganized, unevenly distributed or partly invisible—the status of “slavery” might be read in terms of its discursive relationship to “war,” hierarchies of violence alongside violent hierarchies. This thread, of how the genealogy of peace is the genealogy of its multiple opposites, reinforces the book’s general aim of troubling and unmaking peace. Second, I agree with Ireton’s astute observation that the justification of slavery can become tethered to peace. The examples that she gives are instructive. They would, perhaps, also point to how the history of justifying slavery intersects with the genealogy of idealizing peace in the history of political thought. I would imagine that more than Plato’s Laws and its history of citations, Aristotle’s Politics and the history of citing Book 1, chap. 5 might feature prominently, especially given its mobilization to justify slavery (Sepúlveda’s Democrates Alter is famous for this). Aristotle here separates slavery from both war and peace: the qualities needed for war or for peace are found among free people, while natural slaves have the qualities for neither—their enslavement is denied the name war, their labor is the invisible foundation of that “peace.” Ireton’s reading exemplifies the kinds of extensions and affiliated discourses that I wanted War for Peace to bring into view.

    War for Peace works through a specific set of texts from Plato to Immanuel Kant and Sayyid Qutb. It is a work of political theory that traces the contours of a discipline and the broader civilizational discourses it fortifies. At different instances, it pointed to counter-discourses and to other permutations of peace—whether peace as a purely internal phenomenon in the person or as a watchword of critique or as purely legal category—and it pointed to disciplinarily marginalized discourses in the writings of neglected thinkers, some of whom wrote from positions of social or geopolitical subordination. War for Peace did not focus on discourses from below. Its aim was to demonstrate how the idealization of peace operates in tandem with, and gives cover to, formations of violence, war, and hierarchy. As Ireton notes, these operations resonate, at times dramatically, outside the canon of political theory, not only with contemporary sites of war in the name of peace (and wars that carry the name of peace), but also with a variety of historical contexts. Iberian discourses of peace and the pacification of indigenous peoples of the Americas are precisely such an example.

    This structure of peace—as a moral ideal that sanitizes violence, dehumanizes enemies, and re-entrenches hierarchies—inflects the history of political thought, elite discourse, public discourses, and, at least today, the everyday investments of modern subjects. My aim was less to instruct leaders or theorists to speak differently than to unmask how the idealization of peace in political theory, history, and political and quotidian discourses reflects a compulsion to speak, one that has remained unexamined and the violence it travels alongside unacknowledged; in fact, our respective disciplines have often been complicit in perpetuating this structure. The contemporary investment in peace—the desire for it, and the desire for peace to exist as an ideal, one that is immune from critique or is itself even the ultimate source of critique—is symptomatic. It does not examine the work that this idealization performs in the world. It is perhaps for this reason that a series of other concepts and ideals central to political thought have been provincialized, undone, and overcome, while the status of peace remained untroubled: deferred but desired, problematic but salvageable, and in the end, no matter how much violence it carries, still idealized and shielded from critique.

    Ireton and I share an intellectual and political investment in the theorization of empire, the politics of contemporary knowledge production in the humanities, and the politics of writing against the grain. Methodologically and disciplinarily, we approach them in different but complementary ways. One way, which War for Peace pursued, works within, against, and at the margins of a discipline’s construction of itself and its narration of the world. That means reading its core works to undo and denude its presumptions while pointing to other political horizons. Another way is to unearth neglected or marginalized archives, to retrieve suppressed voices who write back. When Ireton wonders whether peace was an ideal for the diverse cast of indigenous American, free black, and Castilian men who fought for the Castilian crown, part of this is an empirical and archival question that is well worth exploring. Another part of it is the political or conceptual question about the significance of such invocations or silences for theorizing peace in history and in the present. If “peace” was central to Iberian colonial discourses but Ireton’s cast did not idealize it, what does this disjuncture enable? If they offer a counter-idealization or if they use peace to criticize the crown (or perhaps as a different theology), does it then escape or challenge the structure of the dominant idealizations? And in either case, how do such invocations or silences bear on the present? Can they offer resources for thinking otherwise, perhaps for thinking beyond peace, or do they quietly fortify the function of peace as a provincial, parasitical, and polemical ideal? The two kinds of archives represent complementary projects, though they may put different emphasis on the critique of dominant structures and the recovery of marginalized voices. Nonetheless, both are (or should be) interested in unmasking contemporary morals and overcoming their grammars.