Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor (2013) is based on the true story of Operation Red Wings: a team of U.S. Navy Seals who were sent in 2005 to kill or capture Ahmad Shaw, a Taliban Commander. When the Taliban fighters capture Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), they prepare to behead him, a violation of internationally-recognized rules of war. The reason they want to execute the injured Navy Seal is because they are radical Muslims who believe the Qur’an commands them to kill unbelievers.
Unlike the Taliban, the Navy Seals follow the Law of Armed Conflict. During a briefing on the mission, the Seals review the Rules of Engagement. These rules state that “only combatants and other military objectives may be attacked.” According to International Humanitarian Law, the first rule of war is that “Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”1 The Seals’ willingness to follow this rule is put to the test when they are discovered by goat herders. The Seals are faced with three choices: If they kill the herders, they can continue their mission, but intentionally killing civilians is first-degree murder. If the Seals tie up the herders and leave them behind, they might die. The final alternative is to let the herders go, which will result in the Taliban fighters discovering where they are. After much debate and argument, the Seals release the herders. They do not violate the first rule of war.
In contrast to the Navy Seals, the Taliban fighters do not follow the rules of war. They follow what they believe are Allah’s “rules of war” which includes beheading unbelievers. The Qur’an 8:12 states, “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”2 Similarly, the Qur’an 47:4 says, “So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them.”3 When the Taliban fighters capture Luttrell, they plan to behead him because they believe it is the will of Allah. However, beheading Luttrell —unarmed and injured—is a violation of the 47th rule of war: “Attacking persons who are recognized as hors de combat is prohibited.”4 A person hors de combat is someone who is defenseless because of wounds or sickness.5 Luttrell has suffered serious injuries and is and no longer a threat, but the Taliban fighters want to kill him because they believe the Qur’an commands them to.
The Taliban’s stated goal is “to set up the world’s most pure Islamic state.”6 The reason Shaw and the Taliban fighters are engaged in a war in Afghanistan is because they believe the Qur’an commands them to fight non-Muslims and moderate Muslims who do not obey the teachings of Allah. The Qur’an 9:29 says, “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth.”7 In one scene, Shaw has an Afghan man beheaded for supposedly helping the Americans, an accusation the man denies. When the man is beheaded, Shaw yells, “Allahu Akbar” which means “Allah is great.”8 Shaw has the civilian executed because he views him as an enemy of Allah.
Lone Survivor shows us the bravery of four Navy Seals in fighting a brutal and barbaric enemy. What the film fails to do is to give us insight into the mind and motivations of the enemy. The Taliban fighters kill unbelievers because they believe the Qur’an commands them to do so; however, moderate Muslims interpret these verses differently. For the vast majority of Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace, but radical Muslims believe they are called to violent jihad.
- J. M. Henckaerts, “Study on customary international humanitarian law,” International Committee of the Red Cross, https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/customary-law-rules.pdf
- Qur’an 8:12 (Shakir). http://quran.com/8
- Qur’an 47:4 (Sahih International). http://quran.com/47
- J. M. Henckaerts, “Study on customary international humanitarian law,” https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/customary-law-rules.pdf
- “Analysis: Who are the Taleban?” 20 December, 2000, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/144382.stm
- Qur’an 9:29 (Sahih International). http://quran.com/9
- WikiIslam, s.v. “Allahu Akbar,” accessed September 9, 2015, http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Allahu_Akbar