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.