On 20 August 98 the U.S. launched ---unannounced--- air attacks against several targets thereby killing lot of people and destroying lot of property in Afghanistan and Sudan, including a medicine factory that provided 50% of the medicine needs for Sudan and the neighboring countries. According to the U.S. president the action was taken to retaliate against bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and to prevent further attacks against U.S. interests. The attacks were also aimed at killing Usama bin Laden because the U.S authorities had decided that he had committed crimes punishable by death.
The U.S. military action taken against sovereign countries was perfectly legal, U.S authorities and the media, including the CNN, assured the world; a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 allowed the U.S. president to take action against "terrorist" targets throughout the world. The reaction of political leaders within the United States and of governments throughout the Western alliance was one of enthusiasm and support. It was a "bold step against terrorism, " aimed at protecting the "civilized world" from the fanatics of the 20th century.
Or was it? What was wrong with the embassy bombings? They killed and injured innocent people in pursuit of a political goal. And what did the U.S. do? It killed and injured innocent people in pursuit of a political goal. Actually the U.S. action was worse because in this case a state --- and not an anonymous group of fighters --- took action against other states whose sovereignty it was sworn to respect. Of course, comprehension of the moral dimension would become easier if the shoe were on the other foot. For probably there is not a single American who would have the slightest doubt about the illegality, immorality, and absolute unacceptability of the action taken by the U.S., had the same action been taken by another country against the U.S. Can anyone imagine the reaction if another country, say Afghanistan, decided to launch a cruise missile against a target in Washington DC to kill someone it was satisfied had committed crimes against Afghanistan?
How do we, then, explain the U.S. action and the generally positive reaction to it both in the U.S. as well as the Western world? You'll not find the answer in the impressive literature ---lining up shelve after shelve in library after library --- that talks nicely about "International Law", dignity and equality of human beings, respect for life, due process, fairness, justice, human rights, and the civilized way of resolving conflicts through negotiations instead of the use of force. Rather all of this can be explained by only two overriding principles of "realpolitik." A) Might is Right B) "My People--- Right or Wrong", also known as patriotism or rallying to the flag.
Of course, both of these principles are as old as darkness itself. They have (miss)guided human action since the time of the old Jahilya or period of ignorance. For the most part the world has lived under the tyranny of these "principles" as it continues to do today. Our single minded pursuit of self-interest makes us selfish, unjust, even tyrant. The beautiful advice about doing unto others does not apply if our calculations show that the other is too helpless to do anything unto us. The only thing that will keep us from following the path of oppression in that case would be the fear that our actions will have consequences beyond what we see today, that one day we'll be held accountable for them by the Almighty. The modern secular state is wonderfully free of any such qualms and is therefore free of any brakes that could check its oppressive tendencies.
At the same time our talk of justice, fairness, rule of law, and dignity of human beings reveals an innate human desire for a moral world order. Is that Utopia or can that order ever be realized? A scan of history will reveal the one society where this was actually achieved. It was the society built by Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and his followers. That society was built on the Quranic command that one must be just to everyone, friend and foe alike. In case of a conflict between moral principles and self-interest, it unequivocally put its weight behind moral principles not self-interest.
Consider just two quick examples from history.
Prominent Companion Hudhayfa ibn Yaman and his father were on the way to Madinah when they were stopped by Abu Jahal. He allowed them to continue only on the condition that they would not participate in a battle against his people. When they reached Madinah, the Muslims were facing the battle of Badr in which poorly armed Muslims faced a well equipped army three times their size. It was a battle in which the very survival of the nascent Muslim community was at stake, and each single person counted tremendously. Yet the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, did not permit them to join the Muslim army simply because they had given word that they would not!
During the rule of Umar, Radi-Allahu unhu, at one time the Muslim army in Palestine had to leave because they were needed for a campaign in Syria. As usual the army had collected the Dhimi tax from its subjects for providing them with protection. Now when the circumstances forced them to leave, obviously they would no be able to provide the protection. They could have simply left or for better public relationing they could have explained the situation and said sorry. But this was the Muslim army. Before leaving they returned all the tax although their subjects were in no position to demand or extract it. The subjects were left crying at this display of justice that they did not expect from even their own co-religionists when they ruled them.
The Christians and Jews in Palestine cried when the armies of Abu Ubaida left them. The Hindus in Sind cried when Muhammad bin Qasim left them. The whole world has been crying for the Muslim rulers who dispensed that justice that the "civilized world" only talks about. Of course crying is not enough. We need to build our societies based on the Islamic principles of justice. Or we'll keep crying for the victims of the arrogance and short sightedness of the "civilized world."