Islamic Law and the Balancing of Justice and Peace in Iraq’s Post-IS Landscape

CICJ researchers Mohammad Hossein Mojtahedi and Joris van Wijk recently published an article in the International Journal of Transitional Justice.

Balancing justice and long-term security in a post-conflict context is already complex in a secular state, but arguably even more complex in theocratic or highly religious states in which both state and non-state actors respectively contrive their responses based on religious or ideological prescriptions. A sense of revenge among victims, combined with religiously recommended prescriptions of post-conflict justice, may be a poisonous tree which can justify violence in the name of justice and futile alternative transitional justice mechanisms. Iraq’s post-IS (Islamic State) landscape can serve as an explicit illustration of this tension. Over the last years the Iraqi government has detained and prosecuted thousands of mainly Sunni citizens for terror-related offenses. This has been accompanied by a free pass for religious paramilitary groups to establish their own version of justice.

Taking into account that Islamic jurisprudence shapes the views and behavior of religious leaders – and more specifically non-state armed actors who play such an important role in Iraq’s post-conflict setting – there is an obvious need to analyze the potential of Islamic law to balance justice and peace in a post-conflict and post-terror era. Taking post-IS Iraq as a case study, our recently published article ‘Islamic Law and the Balancing of Justice and Peace in Iraq’s Post-IS Landscape’, discusses what Islamic law dictates state authorities and non-state actors involved in Iraq’s post-conflict justice to do with detained (suspects of) atrocity crimes and terrorism and explores what possibilities Islamic law offers to balance justice and long-term security.

The article concludes that crimes against the state should according to Islamic law, in principle, lead to harsh punishments. However, a careful review of Islamic jurisprudence learns that there are a variety of lesser known, possibly even forgotten, interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence which would allow for a more forward looking accountability framework with the potential to strike a better balance between doing justice for victims and long-term peace and security. This locally-inspired narrative of post-conflict justice which has been contrived from Islamic resources might arguably have a higher chance to be accepted and supported by religious leaders as well as religious non-state actors in Iraq. Nevertheless, integrating these interpretations of Islamic law into Iraq’s existing transitional justice framework is certainly not without challenges. The popular perception of the Iraqi people, is arguably one of the most important barriers that may block any of the suggested changes to Iraq’s current transitional justice approach.

The article is part of the research project ‘Transitional Justice and Prevention of Radicalization in Iraq’s post-Islamic State Landscape‘.