Social Issues

LIBERATION AND RECONCILIATION, 75 YEARS LATER: The aftermath of World War II

Laurens Hogebrink is a former board member of the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) which merged with Pax Christi Netherlands into PAX. The picture is the German War Cemetery of Maleme (Crete) with 4,500 people buried. An earlier version of this blog was published by the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

In Europe we have just commemorated the 75th anniversary of the German surrender in May 1945. For us World War II was over, though not yet in the Far East. In the Netherlands, Liberation Day is 5 May, when German capitulation became effective. That is: in the northern part. The south had been liberated already in the fall of 1944, but then the Allies were unable to cross the large rivers dividing the Netherlands.

In other countries it is hardly known that during the remaining months of occupation the north suffered terribly from what we call ‘the hunger winter’. Some 20,000 people died from hunger and cold. I have lived in a house where pieces of the wooden beams had been chopped off for heating.

Because of corona all large commemorations were cancelled, but our main news agency continues its daily news bulletins about events of 75 years ago as if they happened today. They will not stop until Japan’s capitulation in August. It is confronting. I am learning a lot more about the daily suffering in my country also after liberation. A grave has been discovered in the dunes with ten missing members of the resistance. A ship has arrived in Marseille coming from Odessa with survivors of Auschwitz. One of them is Otto Frank, the father of Anne. He hopes to be reunited with his two daughters. A few weeks ago, 120,000 German soldiers have marched back to Germany, leaving looted towns behind.

Of course, I knew about the German terror bombing of Rotterdam on 14 May 1940, about the crimes by the Germans during five years occupation, and about the destruction and victims during the liberation war in 1944/1945. The home of my grandparents was burned. There were also mistakes by the Allies, such as the bombing of Nijmegen which killed 400 people.

But these daily news bulletins add a new sense of how it must have been. And how it must have felt. They tell about village after village being conquered, often with very heavy civilian losses. Some look similar to German towns after the war. History books can only give a summary, but in these daily news bulletins it goes on, day after day, week after week. History becomes story after story.

For many people liberation meant ongoing suffering. Of course, I knew how strongly this applied to the few Jews who returned. Their homes were taken by other Dutch people, their relatives were gone. I also knew that on 5 May a huge crowd was celebrating liberation on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. Suddenly, German soldiers in a nearby building opened fire and killed 30 people. Similar things happened even in small villages. Liberation?

There was the mourning of the dead. And what about the uncertainty, not only among Jews, about the thousands who had been deported? How did this feel, day after day? In October 1944 a German officer was killed by the resistance near the village of Putten. The Germans revenged by setting more than 100 houses afire and deporting some 600 men to German concentration camps. Already on 14 April 1945 Putten was liberated by Canadian tanks, but the fate of the men remained unknown. People kept hoping. Then, on 10 May, five days after Liberation Day, there was news. In a packed church, in dead silence, the reformed minister read the names of 180 men who were now known to be dead. And the others? Eventually, it turned out that 550 of the 600 had been murdered or had died of hunger, disease and exhaustion. Liberation?

In these bulletins the war happens today. But how should we look at it 75 years later? For instance, I keep writing: ‘the Germans’. The Germans bombed, the Germans killed. But when I talk about the war with my German friends they often say ‘the Nazi’s’. The Nazi’s bombed Rotterdam. The Nazi’s executed hostages. I can fully respect this. They are a new generation – and a generation that has dealt with the war in a far more serious way than has been the case in many other countries. (Take France and the silence about the Vichy regime! Or take the Dutch inability to deal with our colonial past.) I admire this, it is impressive. Still, we will keep saying ‘the Germans’. Of course, we know that not all Germans were Nazi’s, that also many Germans died in concentration camps, that there were German resistance groups. Still, this is how we look at the war.

But – and this is my point – this is also how we look at what happened after the war. Very soon reconciliation processes started. They were not about reconciliation with ‘the Nazi’s’. They were about reconciliation with the Germans. The German people.

Some initiators of reconciliation had suffered in concentration camps. Then they saw in Germany the suffering there. The millions of refugees. The children without parents playing in the ruins of their homes. The hunger. The diaconal help they set up became crucial for post-war ecumenical work in Europe. Reconciliation started with recognizing the daily reality of suffering.

Parallel to this was the political work. Some of the ecumenical pioneers were also pioneers of European integration. Don’t repeat the mistakes after World War I, our future in Europe must be a future together. Indeed. What today is the European Union is the most important reconciliation project of the 20th century.

Last October I was on Crete. In May 1941 the Germans invaded Crete. They were met with fierce resistance, not only by Allied troops, also by villagers. The Germans revenged. I saw several places with stories like the one of Putten. But I also visited both the Commonwealth and German war cemeteries. And as part of the commemorations in my own country I have stood at American, British, Canadian and also German graves. I often do. There I can just think of young men, parents, wives and children, one generation ago.

But when driving home I think of the future. The current threats for European integration. The returning anti-semitism and extremism. White supremacy. Exclusive nationalism in Europe. Armed militias in the US. The corona crisis is feeding this dangerous polarization. In Europe the war is over, but every single day I read about its aftermath. Every single day I am reminded that working for a united, reconciled Europe is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nous devons promouvoir la paix a tout prix!

par Pere Godefroid Mombula,
Directeur du CIC

(a l’occasion de l’ouverture de l’atelier de formation des formateurs du reseau Pax Christi des Grands Lacs, Kinshasa, 18-22 aout 2019)

Monsieur le coordinateur régional de Pax Christi International pour l’Afrique, et mesdames et messieurs les participants:

Il m’est un grand plaisir et un grand honneur de me mettre devant vous pour vous adresser ce petit mot de bienvenue. Je le fais d’abord en ma qualité du directeur du CIAM-Afrique, une des organisations partenaires de Pax Christi International. Ensuite, je me mets devant vous en ma qualité de membre du comité directeur de Pax Christi International. Pour exprimer mes sentiments je n’ai que des mots. Malheureusement, les mots ne traduisent pas toujours fidèlement tout ce qui est dans le cœur de l’homme. Puisque c’est l’instrument que la nature et la culture ont mis à notre portée, je l’utilise tout de même malgré son imperfection pour vous exprimer mes sentiments de fraternité et d’amitié à vous tous ici présents: sentez-vous chez vous!

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Nous sommes réunis ici dans le cadre d’un atelier de formation des formateurs du réseau Pax Christi des Grands Lacs dont les objectifs sont:

  1. Apprendre les méthodes d’actions non violentes, à être artisan de paix et à les appliquer aux problèmes auxquels on est confronté;
  2. Aider les candidats-formateurs à découvrir en eux cette force de vie intérieure, libératrice et transformatrice des injustices;
  3. Connaître le réseau Pax Christi des Grands Lacs, son projet et son exécution; concevoir des outils de gestion de ce projet;
  4. Entrepreneuriat des jeunes: création et gestion des AGR.

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Comme vous le savez peut être, Pax Christi International est une organisation catholique non gouvernementale pour la paix. Elle a été fondée en 1945 après la seconde guerre mondiale comme mouvement de réconciliation entre les français et les allemands. En effet, l’année prochaine en mai 2020, PCI fêtera ses 75 ans d’existence. Cependant, l’aspiration pour la paix est encore loin d’être réalisée. Des conflits persistent; pensez au cycle de violences et de guerres dans la Région des Grands Lacs.

Nous avons besoin désespérément de la paix: « Pax vobis » (Luc 24, 36). Ce sont les paroles de Jésus adressées à ses disciples après la résurrection. Ces paroles ont été utilisées par les pères de l’Eglise et continuent à être utilisées dans la liturgie catholique dans l’échange de paix. Le monde, loin d’avoir besoin de la nourriture d’abord, le monde et surtout la Région des Grands Lacs ont plus besoin de la paix. Si nous avons la paix, nous aurons la nourriture pour tout le monde.

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Permettez-moi de vous raconter une histoire qui me parait très suggestive. L’histoire est écrite par un certain Mr. Nassan:

“There is a huge statue of Christ holding a cross on the Andes, between the countries of the Argentine and Chile. The story of that statue is worth knowing. Once the Argentine and Chile were about to go to war with one another. They were quarreling over some land which each said belonged to them. So both countries started to prepare for war. Then on Easter Sunday, bishops in Argentine and Chile began to urge peace. They went round their countries crying out for peace in the name of Christ. The people did not want war and in the end they made their governments talk peace with one another, instead of war. … The big guns, instead of being used for fighting, were melted down and made into the great big bronze statue of Christ. It now stands on the mountains between the two countries.”

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Nous devons promouvoir la paix à tout prix. La paix n’est pas conquise par la force, elle est plutôt l’aboutissement d’une compréhension d’ensemble. Albert Einstein disait: « Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding ». C’est malheureux que notre monde et surtout la Région des Grands Lacs puissent sombrer dans une recrudescence de violences et de guerres pendant que la jeunesse est là, croisant les bras. En effet, la jeunesse est une période de la vie qui devrait plutôt nous donner l’opportunité d’accomplir quelque chose de neuf et de devenir un nouvel homme: « Rien n’est trop difficile pour la jeunesse », dit-on. Nous espérons que la paix est possible pourvu que la jeunesse s’y engage. Et le moyen pour y arriver c’est la non-violence. Mohandas Gandhi déclarait: « My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God and non-violence is the means to reach Him ».

Que vive Pax Christi International! Que vive la paix dans la Région des Grands Lacs! J’ai dit et je vous remercie!

Peace

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

by Toine Van Teeffelen, Arab Educational Institute

A few weeks ago, my colleagues at work and partners came together in a restaurant in the countryside to the west of Bethlehem. The Qassieh family owns a land there of the size of a soccer field, about half an hectare. They exploit a well-known restaurant, the Makhrour restaurant, called after a broader valley to the west of Beit Jala. It is area C – the over 60% of the West Bank lands under complete Israeli control.

It is a bit far located, and so Mary and I had never visited the restaurant. However, the Arab Educational Institute created an opportunity at the occasion of the departure of the German volunteer Fabian, sent out by Pax Christi Stuttgart and Aachen, who was with us for a year. The food during the early evening tasted good and the environment was pleasant, with plenty of green trees and bushes around us, away from the noisiness and the many cars of Bethlehem.

The memories were good, too. Makhrour is an area where Mary and I, family and guests from abroad are used to hike, from Beit Jala to the west of Bethlehem to the beautifully located village of Battir – a few years ago made into a world heritage site partly to prevent the erection of the Wall. It is graced by Roman-time terraces and archeological sites, with spectacular views over agricultural fields and valleys, and an old railroad and small station. Many years ago the Makhrour was an area where the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Beit Jala used to sleep under the trees in the summer and afterwards during harvest time; sometimes even for weeks, as my Arabic teacher used to recall not without nostalgia.

At the end of the dinner we felt rested and promised ourselves to come back, with or without hike.

The Qassieh family is one of those who display sumud or steadfastness by staying on their land. As so many others – the Nasser family of the Tent of Nations immediately comes to mind – they have been absorbed by Kafkaesque Israeli High Court proceedings which last for many years, if not decades. However, they hung on, even though several dwellings on the land have previously been demolished. Many lands in area C are not formally registered though well-known to belong to certain Palestinian family owners. Add to this that almost no Palestinian gets a building permit in area C from the occupier – the Israeli army/Civil Administration.

The Jewish National Fund suddenly came two years ago with proofs of land ownership nobody knew about. Supposedly the family land was sold almost 50 years ago. In a statement about the case, the Israeli organization Peace Now speaks about the Jewish National Fund as the “Fund for the expulsion of Palestinians.” The Israeli High Court did not allow for any further appeal by the family. On Sunday the main house was demolished, live on Facebook for Bethlehemites and anybody else to see.

Don’t forget the context. These years house demolitions have been happening in the West Bank and East-Jerusalem at an exponential pace. A few weeks ago, at least 70 apartments or houses were demolished in the village Sur Bahir to the east of Bethlehem. They were not located in area C, but in area A and B, under Palestinian civil control, and built with permits. The excuse for demolition there was that the houses happened to be in an area of 250 meters on both sides of the illegal Wall which the army has designated as ‘security’ area.

Where there is a will there is a way, especially when all power is in your hands.

____________

Photo: https://mondoweiss.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/house-demolition-beit-hanina-east-jerusalem-2014.jpg

 

Nonviolence, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

The metamorphosis of a female fighter into a peacebuilder

by Sawssan Abou-Zahr

The story you’re about to read is that of armed conflict and gender, ideologies and the business of war, self-criticism and healing, peacebuilding and education. It is that of a woman who went from being a fighter, to fighting for peace. It is a story that proves how easy it is to get caught at a young age in the labyrinth of war, and how hard it is to detox oneself.

“I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change.”

Salwa Saad is a retired Lebanese educator. Instead of resting, she takes every possible chance to promote the role of women in peace education and peacebuilding as well as convincing vulnerable youth not to fall for sectarian discourses that end in armed conflict.

“I hate killing”, she told me when I started the interview with a perhaps rude question. I asked whether she got involved in killings directly. She answered: “I didn’t kill. Something inside me prevented me from taking lives although I was as good as any man in shooting… Some female fighters were notorious like their male counterparts. They still don’t show any remorse… As for me, I cried for years.”

She added: “When we became combatants, we cancelled the others’ rights; we didn’t perceive them as humans… After the war (1975 – 1990), I met fighters from the other end. It wasn’t easy to reach out to people who used to be enemies. They had their cause and I had mine. I disagree with their thinking, but they have another version of the story of the war.”

A villager in the war

Salwa was a rebel child in a mountain village. At the age of ten she experienced gender inequality without knowing this discrimination had a name. Her conservative father sent her to a public school whereas her brother was enrolled in a private one despite the fact that she was a better pupil.

At the age of 14 or 15, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that had headquarters in her village started military training for young women. She used to watch secretly and dreamt of being among them, out of her support for the Palestinian cause and admiration to the equality between male and female freedom fighters.

Salwa is Muslim Shiite by birth. When I told her that I have to mention this to help non-Lebanese readers understand the motives of a young woman in a sectarian and still divided country, she was reluctant out of her secularism and refusal to be defined by inherited traits she didn’t choose. She only agreed when I told her I would write she was “Muslim by birth” instead of “Muslim”.

Early in the morning of Sunday April 13th, 1975, the Kataeb (Phalanges) Christian militiamen opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinians passing in the suburb of Ain Al-Rummaneh, killing over 30 people. Retaliation happened shortly after on a nearby church. The war erupted.

Salwa was then enrolled at the public university studying to be an educator. Shortly after, some communist colleagues invited her and other female students to visit their party where she would later sleep over by herself in the ammunition room…

Read this entire article at this link.

Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

People are not plants! Why do people move? Let “humanitas” speak!

By Rev. Paul Lansu

In recent months and years, boat people have arrived at different tourist beaches in Méditerranée countries.[1] In many cases, tourists have been helping these people coming bringing them on land. In other cases, tourists have been upset because of the landing of death bodies, Libyan migrants for instance, in the backyard or on the beach of their hotel. Tourists asked as soon as possible for another hotel where they were not confronted with the migrant problem and to continue their vacation free of worries. This is about human dramas and dilemmas and the world turns its back on evading confrontation. Let the others solve it!

There is at least a group of people who are indignant and want to help refugees in concrete terms as much as possible. Nowadays, people are being blamed for saving migrants’ lives and providing the humanitarian assistance, which EU Member States are unwilling or unable to provide according to international law and EU law.

These humanitarian activists are very often strongly opposed by, among others, different governments and political leaders of the European Union, such as Italy. It has gone so far and it has come so far that aid workers are being punished. The targets include volunteers, peace and human rights activists, NGO’s, lawyers, crewmembers of rescue ships, migrants’ family members, and journalists, mayors and priests. Solidarity has been and is criminalised by the EU countries. The number of facts of people who have criminalised for humanitarian activities has grown rapidly since 2015. Is this the new normal?

Fear of migrants sells. The anti-immigrant discourse in Europe and elsewhere as in the USA is very high today. Fear of immigrants earns politicians votes. Immigrants will keep coming.

Helping people both legally and morally turns out to be a crime. It seems anti-migration and criminalisation is becoming a normal practice. In this way, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2] is totally eroded and made unbelievable. However, that means that the standard reduction has increased dramatically in recent years and that care for other people is no longer important. It is a burden!

Are migrants no human beings? Are not all men created as equals? So human dignity is at stake. The European Economic and Social Committee stated that solidarity is not and will never be a crime.[3] In addition, Caritas Europe issued a statement against the criminalisation of solidarity as a threat to our democracies.[4]

It is not just about migrants

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be held on Sunday 29 September 2019 on the theme “It is not just about migrants.” In the message of his Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees,[5] Pope Francis highlights his repeated and explicit calls of concern for migrants and refugees should be understood as being integral to his deep concern for all of humanity.

His message aims to convey to us how deeply involved  ‘’as Christian communities and societies we are and that we are all called to respond and to reflect how our faith and commitments are engaged in responding to vulnerable people on the move.”

In an increasingly globalised world, where migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion, Pope Francis reminds us that each encounter with the other, is an encounter with Christ and in extending the hand of love, friendship, assistance and support to the most vulnerable, we are extending our hands to Christ and open our hearts for the Other(s).

The heart should have no borders

On 26 June 2019, Pax Christi International awarded its annual peace prize to European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL),[6] Greece. ELIL is one of the few organizations that provide legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugees flock en route to Europe. Since the founding of ELIL in 2016, around 150 lawyers from 17 countries have provided free legal aid to more than 9,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

ELIL is grateful that their work to uphold the rule of law, to protect human rights and to ensure substantial access to legal aid for refugees in Lesbos is recognized in this way. It is hoped it will help raise awareness of the elementary importance of ensuring that legal assistance for refugees throughout their asylum procedure.  The work of ELIL is very relevant and critical activism for peace and justice.

The Pax Christi International Peace Prize awarded to ELIL is a meaningful and political statement. Especially, because the political debate in Europe is deeply polarised and is in many ways demonizing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. This completely conflicts with the vision of a Europe that should respect human dignity and fundamental rights.

In his speech at the award ceremony, the outgoing co-president of Pax Christi International, Bishop Kevin Dowling, stressed the importance of human dignity and of solidarity, which are common threads in Catholic Social Thinking. Refugees and migrants are primarily people and should be treated as people. A constant lowering of norms and values is breaking through in our democracies. Let “humanitas” speak!

People are not plants!

Why are people on the move? First, people are not plants! Migration is a constant in human history. Our planet has become a world in motion. Between 1960 and 2017, the overall numbers of migrants tripled. Today, 3 à 4 per cent of the world population, or one out of every twenty-nine humans, lives in a country different from the one they were born in. Mass migration has become the defining human phenomenon of the twenty-first century.

Today, according to UNHCR there are at least 70.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide,[7] both within a country (IDPs) as well as abroad. Never before has there been so much human movement. In addition, never before has there been so much organised resistance to human movement. One effect of this is the withdrawal of countries from multilateral institutions and treaties.

Walls, fences or barriers will do nothing to stop people on the move. Not at the Mexican & USA border, not anywhere else. They will keep coming, on foot or in boats, by digging tunnels, on planes or on bicycles, whether you want them or not. Drive is a human element. Nevertheless, open borders is not an option in principle. However, at least people should keep their hearts open.

It is very important to listen with an open heart to the stories of refugees. What they have experienced and what difficulties they are in. In most cases, migrants have left a love behind, sometimes their whole family. Many of the refugees have taken big risks and travelled in dangerous situations. Their only option is to leave from a country of misery toward a better and promised country. Is it because our globe already has many inhabitants that we are denying migrants to look for a better life?

Consequences of colonialism

The many conflicts and wars of the last centuries have caused a lot of migration. People do not want to be involved in armed conflicts. They seek protection for themselves and their families, preferably in their own neighbourhood, or if necessary further away.

A deeper reason is to be find in colonialism, which began with a huge migration, when millions of Europeans moved overseas to invade, settle and rule other countries and even over other continents. That resulted in huge displacement of locals and in worldwide slavery. Slavery was abolished in the last century. However, in some countries slavery existed until a few decades ago.

Many of the issues that make people emigrate are home-grown: corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement by local rulers, and inherent societal issues that preceded colonialism, such as the treatment of women. Western values have been imposed on other civilisations, which contrasted with the individuality and the character of the local population.

All around the world, civil upheaval causes people to flee, and many conflicts have been ongoing for years or decades. There are the wars that everybody knows about, such as in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria; then there are the little-known ones, such as the Moro Muslim conflict in the Philippines,[8] which has cost a cumulative 120.000 lives, and the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo,[9] which has taken over 60.000. Many of these conflicts have their origin in colonialism or botched colonial population transfer or map making. One of the latest dramatic examples is the 2015 Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.[10] Almost a million of them have fled over the border to Bangladesh.

Small arms

War creates refugees. The purchase and sale of small arms is another cause of people on the run. Just as the sale of small arms fuels domestic strife and spurs migration, the sale of heavy weapons is instrumental in creating conflict between nations. To date, 130 countries have signed the 2014 United Nations Arms Trade Treaty,[11] the only serious effort to stem the trade in conventional arms around the world.

Climate change

Climate migration is not new. In the twenty-first century, the number one driver of migration might be climate change. According to the UN, a fifth of the world’s population will be affected by floods by 2050. Therefore, many of them will move to dry land. According to the International Organisation for Migration,[12] at least 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050. The figure could be as high as one billion, which would be one out of every ten people. That means that in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant.

You can set up a wall to try to contain 10.000, 20.000, and one million people, but not 10 million. Migration by climate change has been dramatically increasing in the recent past. Since 1992, droughts, floods and storms have affected 4.2 billion people. Today, 1.8 billion people are suffering the effects of drought, land degradation and desertification. According to the UN high commissioner for refugees, since 2008, 22.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of climate-related extreme weathers events, like hurricanes or droughts. Climate change affects everyday life.

In conclusion

This debate requires individual and common solidarity. Solidarity is one of our norms and values. Solidarity will first be structural, organized solidarity. It is painful to see that most governments remain stuck under the .7 % of the development cooperation budget. The same governments argue for the elimination of the causes of migration but do little or nothing specifically about it. You cannot maintain double and contradictory rhetoric.

Today, and since the 1980s, solidarity is not a buzzword. It remains in full completion. Trends within political groups push solidarity towards the private sphere. It is not always certain that the necessary involvement with other people will continue to exist. Charity is good and it is good for interpersonal relationships. It is also necessary, but rather temporary, fragmentary. If solidarity dies, it harms the citizen.

From a justice perspective, we know that you should always look at a social system from the point of view of the least-favoured, in this case the people on the move. So from the bottom up. Never from the top down. The ratio essendi, the ground of our being, the ground of existence of each of us is being human, unique and irreplaceable. Everyone must be given a fundamental equality. Why not?

____________

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK-0DbOG3zk
[2] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
[3] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/news/statement-criminalisation-solidarity
[4] https://www.caritasinternational.be/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/190617_Caritas_Europa_criminalisation_solidarity_FINAL.pdf?x67227
[5] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-05/pope-francis-message-world-day-migrants-refugees-full-text.html
[6] https://www.paxchristi.net/news/pax-christi-international-recognises-european-lawyers-lesvos-recipient-2019-peace-prize/7296
[7] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moro_conflict
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ituri_conflict
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Rohingya_refugee_crisis
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_Trade_Treaty
[12] https://www.iom.int/migration-and-climate-change-0
Nonviolence, Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

A cross of human bodies

by Rose Berger, Sojourners

I spent five hours as a guest of the U.S. Capitol Police last week. It was hot, really hot. And those plastic handcuffs leave bruises.

I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages — 63,624 of whom have been apprehended by border patrol at the southwestern border between October 2018 and June 2019 and seven of whom have died after being in federal custody since September. More than a dozen Catholic orders and organizations sponsored the event. Seven Catholic bishops sent letters of support.

I’ve been arrested more than 30 times for nonviolent civil disobedience, beginning when I was in high school. It is one way to say “no” to inhuman laws, to show how to build a “‘moral frontier’ in one’s own identity, by openly and publicly challenging authorities who [are] practicing inhuman orders,” as Mexican Gandhian strategist and Catholic Pietro Ameglio puts it.

When laws become so egregious that life and creation are at risk, then the moral imperative is clear: Disobedience in the face of what is inhuman is a personal, religious, and social virtue to increase the good.

We were in the Russell Senate building to pierce the veil of morally isolated political leaders who are caging immigrant children…

Read the full article here.

A picture of lush ferns in a dense forest
Our Stories, Peace Spirituality

Soil, Soul, Society: A new trinity – not for realists or pragmatists

The following is a reflection from Fr Claude Mostowik, president of Pax Christi Australia. It was originally published to the Edmund Rice Centre website

Soil, Soul, Society – A new trinity – not for realists or pragmatists

In the wake of increasing global climate catastrophes, the global population is progressively being forced into reforming the way that it functions. The need to create a new consciousness, focusing on our important relationship with the environment has become apparent. As people look to complex and intricate solutions to immediate problems, there are people who suggest a more wholistic yet simpler response, considering three things, our environment, ourselves, and our community.

The New Trinity

Historical movements have at times had their three key words or ideas to express the spirit of their movements1. The French had ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ and the Americans have ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Though relevant at the time, for the French revolution and the American War of Independence, these ‘mottos’ are outdated. They represented a human-centred view of the world where the human being is at the centre of the universe and all other life forms at its service.

In his book, Soil, Soul, Society: A New Trinity of Our Time, Satish Kumar refers to another trinity that reflects a comprehensive way of nonviolent living; soil represents the natural world; soul signifies the spiritual world, and society stands for the human world. This is a new trinity for our age of sustainability and nonviolent living by emphasising that we are all connected2.

Kumar argues that the spiritual aspect of the environment is what has been lost in the great debate about the way we live; and that the broad environment movement has not understood the power of concepts such as love and reverence. He insists that love and reverence are not to be confused with religion, ‘The environment movement here is very logical and analytical. But it is driven by doom, gloom and disaster.’

‘There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places.’ (Wendell Berry)

People view nature from a very utilitarian point of view, and see what is good for them only, he says, and seek to manage it rather than protect it. ‘I want to move people to a more experiential philosophy of the natural world,’ he says. ‘That way you can protect it.’ He sees no reason why governments and authorities should not be driven by philosophies of reverence to nature rather than violence to nature.

Nonviolence

The basic principle for a harmonious relationship with creation, the spiritual world and the social world is nonviolence. This concept is not abstract but a guide for a new way of living. It informs how we live our everyday lives, how we work, and how we interact with others and our environment. It is important that we do not compartmentalise our relationship with the natural world, our personal spiritual world and our social world. This was the message of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’3, which coincided with the United Nations’ International Year of the Soil. We are all members of a one-earth society, and caring for the earth and soul is interrelated. Laudato si’ has been called a magna carta of integral ecology. It is a powerful reminder of the connections that we have, but do not always recognise, and a warning of humanity’s self-destructive course. It has parallels to the nuclear weapons crisis as well as a paradigm shift from people being rulers of the environment to be participants in the universal sister and brotherhood in our common home.

There is a need to create a new consciousness that reveres nature and explores how, as a global society, we need to embrace diversity and become pilgrims on this earth not tourists. To bring about change in the world we must be the change we wish to see. This is nothing other than a call to conversion called for by both Popes Benedict and Francis.

The Lost Connection with Soil

In our modern world the innate connection of earth and people has been lost, and as a result we have seen devastating effects on people’s spiritual and social health. For a majority of the community we receive food coated in plastic packaging, underneath artificial lights, at supermarkets. Never thinking about where they come from, we sit indoors talking to others through a screen, in our air-conditioned offices, while many even walk to work on concrete sidewalks. In essence we have lost our connection with nature, because it has become something not apparent in our day to day lives; which considering we live on earth is perplexing.

Earth is life; without it there is no food, no oxygen, no means of our society’s existence. Our ancestors revered and lived by this. Australia’s Indigenous peoples understood the land and their links to it formed their entire being. They lived out this ‘new’ trinity of soil, soul and society centuries before it was new, through their own connection to Land, The Dreaming and Kinship. There are many examples of how peoples of the past had a key understanding of the importance of soil, even down to the word human and its connection to the top layer of soil. “We are the earth. What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves. And it is no accident that the words “humus” and “humans” have the same roots.”4 Both Catholic and Buddhist teachings refer to the way the land provides and creates. The biblical passage, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:19)5 is reciprocated in the Buddhist teaching as Satish Kumar exclaims “You are earth, air, fire, water, imagination, creativity, consciousness, time and space – you have this all in your genes and in your cells. You are billions of years old. You have been recycled and recycled.  You are a beautiful example of the total recycling principle of the universe.”6

Nevertheless this message does not translate into any of our everyday being, rather than people feeling as part of the earth, we see ourselves as owners of it. Our policies, attitudes and actions speak of violence. “The trees have a right to exist. We have no right to cut them down without proper purpose.”1 We recognise our own rights yet not that of the creation around us, and this shows the way we have lost the connection our ancestors had recognised. “In our education systems, we have come to think that soil simply means dirt and that dirt means dirty. But dirt is not dirty; it is the source of life.”

Real World Implementation

Soil, soul, society as a new trinity provides a guide for our global community establishing the need for a transformation in the way we approach our lives. Society, the environment and individuals are calling for it. We are so removed in our humancentric views that we only ever put into action environmental initiatives when we are directly affected by the environment’s outcries for help. When our beaches suddenly disappear, and temperatures rises. Rather than this approach focusing on the impending catastrophe or inevitable doom and blame we need to look for solution 7. Integrating the environment into our social, political and environmental structures is how we will be able to establish this trinity to positive effect. Kumar explains how this can be:

‘Social systems can be changed,’ Kumar insists. ‘The ones we have now are not very old. The trouble is we are driven by fear and so we take panic decisions, like opting for nuclear power. At the moment, our culture is of violence – to nature, animals, people, ourselves. We are not protecting nature these days so much as managing it without knowing it. If you want to protect it, go out in it.’1

People need to return to their innate connection with land to be able to coexist in harmony with creation. Recognising the trinity of soil, soul, society into our global vocabulary and cultures could be for the benefit of all life.

With thanks to Beth Hansen for her contribution

REFERENCES:

1: Kumar, S., 2013. Satish Kumar: The Link Between Soil, Soul And Society. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/satish-kumar-soil-soul-society&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

2: Vidal, J., 2008. Soul Man. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/jan/16/activists&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

3: Francis, 2015. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis. 1st ed. [Vatican City]: [Vatican Web Site].

4: Shiva, V., 2014. We Are The Soil. [online] Seed Freedom. Available at: <https://seedfreedom.info/we-are-the-soil/&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

5: Genesis 3:19, The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version

6: TEDx Talks, 2012. Soil, Soul And Society: Satish Kumar At Tedxexeter. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

7: Eisenstien, C., 2019. CLIMATE — A NEW STORY. [S.l.]: READHOWYOUWANT COM LTD.

 

OTHER RESOURCES:

  1. Nonviolence And Quality Of Life: Soil, Soul And Society. [ebook] Available at: <https://www.cpp.edu/~ahimsacenter/files/conference_06_workshops.pdf&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Brogan, K., 2020. Climate: A New Story. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: <https://kellybroganmd.com/climate-a-new-story/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Brogan, K., 2020. Sacred Activism: Moving Beyond The Ego. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: <https://kellybroganmd.com/sacred-activism-moving-beyond-ego/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Eisenstein, C., 2017. The Age Of We Need Each Other. [online] Charles Eisenstein. Available at: <https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-age-of-we-need-each-other/?fbclid=IwAR1ZMyu9HoxqPgBOfVNF7c2rnll18JX65hn4_OtZOTa82mUPsDmFvgy_4_M&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Eisenstein, C., 2019. Why The Climate Change Message Isn’T Working. [online] Yes! Magazine. Available at: <https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2019/01/04/why-the-climate-change-message-isnt-working/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Findhorn New Story Hub. 2018. A New Story Of Climate Change – Charles Eisenstein At New Frontiers. [online] Available at: <http://newstoryhub.com/2018/06/a-new-story-of-climate-change-charles-eisenstein-at-new-frontiers/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Jensen, R., 2010. Soils And Souls: The Promise Of The Land. [online] The Texas Observer. Available at: <https://www.texasobserver.org/soils-and-souls-the-promise-of-the-land/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kingsbury, D., 2019. Climate: A New Story | Suzuki Elders. [online] Suzuki Elders. Available at: <https://www.suzukielders.org/climate-a-new-story/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kumar, S., 2012. Soil, Soul And Society. [online] Resurgence & Ecologist. Available at: <https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article3877-soil-soul-and-society.html&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kumar, S., 2012. Soil, Soul And Society. [online] The Ecologist. Available at: <https://theecologist.org/2012/dec/07/soil-soul-and-society&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Minami, K., 2009. Soil and humanity: Culture, civilization, livelihood and health. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, [online] 55(5), pp.603-615. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1747-0765.2009.00401.x&gt;.

Penniman, L., 2019. By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal The Planet And Ourselves. [online] Yes! Magazine. Available at: <https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/dirt/2019/02/14/by-reconnecting-with-soil-we-heal-the-planet-and-ourselves/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=YTW_20180215&utm_content=YTW_20180215%20CID_b10737bb9c6465fc7638788aec3c6992&utm_source=CM&utm_term=By%20Reconnecting%20With%20Soil%20We%20Heal%20the%20Planet%20and%20Ourselves&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Spire, S., 2018. Review: Charles Eisenstein’s Climate—A New Story. [online] Simon Spire Emergent Inquiry. Available at: <https://www.simonspire.com/blog/climate-a-new-story&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Swennerfelt, R., 2020. A Story Of Interbeing: A Book Review Of Climate: A New Story By Charles Eisenstein. [online] Quaker Earthcare Witness. Available at: <https://www.quakerearthcare.org/article/story-interbeing-book-review-climate-new-story-charles-eisenstein&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

TEDx Talks, 2012. Soil, Soul And Society: Satish Kumar At Tedxexeter. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Transition Consciousness. 2014. Book Review: Satish Kumar – Soil Soul Society – A New Trinity For Our Time. [online] Available at: <https://transitionconsciousness.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/book-review-satish-kumar-soil-soul-society-a-new-trinity-for-our-time/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Photo: Matthew Paul Argall CC by 2.0 via Flickr.

 

 

Mushroom cloud from nuclear weapons test in the Pacific Ocean
I am Pax Christi, Nuclear Disarmament, Our Stories, Peace

Putting Hope to Work: The Pax Christi Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament

By Jonathan Frerichs, UN representative for disarmament, Geneva, Pax Christi International

Pax Christi’s working group on nuclear disarmament is an embodiment of hope born with Pax Christi 75 years ago—the hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The working group was formed at a propitious time, in 2016.  Three seminal conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons had changed the dynamics of disarmament.  A growing majority of the world’s governments and a broad range of civil society organizations were united behind a singular conviction: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances”.  Pax Christi had the further good fortune that this new group was formed during the current papacy.  The Holy Father’s prophetic admonitions to free the world of nuclear weapons have encouraged and guided us from the start.

Here are some of the convictions and experiences, opportunities and challenges the group brings to a critical task.

Conviction.  In Japan’s symbolic cities last November, Pope Francis condemned not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession.  His words inspired concerned citizens around the world.    Some of our group had heard him make the same point before 400 peace workers, diplomats and church leaders in 2017 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which includes Pax Christi.  We also worked and prayed for his message to be heard in Japan.

At Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial, the Holy Father called nuclear weapons “a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home”.

At Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Hypo-Center Park, the pontiff said nuclear weapons breed “a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust”.  The pope challenged the theory of nuclear deterrence which has defined the nuclear era and continues to hold the entire planet at risk.

Before and after the papal visit, we took heart from actions of the Canadian and Japanese bishops’ conferences.  Both conferences urged their governments to sign and ratify the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  It will become international law when 12 more states ratify the agreement.

The bishops in Canada along with leaders of other churches urged the Canadian government “to work with allies and to engage would-be adversaries to formulate security arrangements that do not rely on the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

The Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan complemented the pope’s visit by calling on the leader of Japan, the only country to experience atomic warfare, to lead the international community in abolishing nuclear weapons.

These calls from the church have significant implications: Key nations must abandon the mutually assured destruction which has defined the 20th century and embrace the mutually assured security on which life in the 21st century already depends.

The working group’s members are familiar with such dilemmas.  They are mostly from countries which have, or rely on, nuclear weapons. But the language of “having” and “relying on” nuclear weapons can hide harsh realities.  For much of the past 75 years our countries have threatened humanity with indiscriminate destruction and practiced nuclear apartheid in international affairs.

In reality, today and every day, our leaders stand willing and able to destroy hundreds or even thousands of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. Our governments insist they would use nuclear weapons only in extremis, but this does not alter the fact that they would be committing mass murder in other countries and mass suicide in their own countries at the same time.  What is more, they stand ready to take such actions with only a moment’s notice. This caveat alone makes a mockery of the entire nuclear regime and the doctrine of deterrence by which it justifies itself.

The work of peace requires conviction.  These are but a few examples.  Pax Christi’s diverse membership knows from experience that every true work of peace is much more than opposition to something evil.  It is also positive engagement for something of great good.  The case of nuclear weapons leads us to what Pax Christi’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative calls a wider engagement with the suffering of our world, the forms of violence which spawn that suffering, and the love and determination to end it together.

Experience. The working group is blessed with the wide range of skills, vocations and commitments of its members.  One member, a national coordinator of Pax Christi, came from a career in teaching, speech therapy and clinic management.  She had always worked for justice and peace with the church.

Another member of the group practiced law for 35 years, specializing in civil litigation, before working with Pax Christi.

One member is a life-long advocate of nonviolent methods for dealing with conflicts. He became a foreign service officer during the Cold War and then helped establish the Nonviolent Peaceforce.  A toolkit he designed for Pax Christi provides faith communities with ways to address ethnic and racial conflict.

Another member was a mathematician in Germany’s Space Operation Center. His local Pax Christi section, which he joined 40 years ago, focuses on arms exports, Middle East peace and interreligious dialogue.  His priorities include removing the nuclear bombs based in Germany and opposing the growing threat of lethal autonomous weapons.

Members speak of milestones in their pursuits of peace. Theresa Alessandro of Pax Christi UK recalls: “As a teenager I read John Hersey’s book ‘Hiroshima’ and I have believed in getting rid of nuclear weapons ever since. Finding in Pax Christi others who feel the same has supported me and helped me channel my frustration over the continuing presence of nuclear weapons in the world.”

“A regional meeting in Jordan, followed by visits to members in Palestine and Lebanon, and to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, made a deep impression on me,” says Marie Dennis of Pax Christi USA and former co-president of Pax Christi International. She is connected to peacemakers around the world through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and has authored theological blogs against nuclear weapons.

“The work leading up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 was highly gratifying—sessions at the UN, lobbying individual Missions and meeting creative, intelligent, passionate people from around the world, capped off by the Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament,” says Mary Yelenick of Pax Christi USA. Her work has led to new friendships with young peace-builders around the world.

Opportunities.  Working groups are a benefit to their members when opportunities in one place lead to new approaches in other places.  When one member shares their plans and purposes, it may help another member to see new options too.  Collaboration along these lines may even shape a kind of power map showing which actions work where.

For example, the new nuclear ban treaty is being signed and ratified at a healthy pace.  Only 12 more ratifications are needed before it enters into force.  But that process takes time.  The nuclear powers and various allies are going to considerable lengths to denounce, dismiss and ignore the accord.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will make nuclear weapons illegal.  Meanwhile, close at hand, are ways to make nuclear weapons even more illegitimate than they already are.  Thanks to the work of PAX Netherlands (formerly IKV Pax Christi), detailed information is available to the international community about which banks and investment funds are financing nuclear weapons and which corporations are involved in making them.  BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund are among the 77 financial institutions which have cut or ended their investments in nuclear arms.  Pax Christi UK is also advocating and facilitating responsible investments with an inter-faith project on Banks, Pensions and Nuclear Weapons: Investing In Change.

The most striking feature on our power map of Europe are the US nuclear weapons permanently stationed in five European countries.  Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group has members in four of these countries—Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy.  Protests at the bases and lobbies of governments take place regularly.  A new project by Pax Christi Flanders would engage with parliamentarians opposed to nuclear weapons in each country and encourage inter-parliamentary initiatives for the weapons to be removed.

One of Pax Christi International’s other global priorities is to advocate with communities affected by mining, logging and other extractive industries in Latin America.  Pax Christi partners there and in Africa are aware that the economic and ecological injustices they face are also related to the nuclear threat.  The exploitation of strategic minerals is one example; the fact that virtually all nuclear weapons tests have taken place on the territory of indigenous peoples is another.  Pax Christi International is part of the worldwide effort by ICAN to have states sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty.  This was explained to partners in Colombia and DR Congo.   They contacted their foreign ministries at home and worked through Pax Christi’s United Nations office to bring the same request to their missions in New York.

Challenges. The road to a nuclear-weapon-free world is paved with challenges.  Here are some current examples:

  • It is fitting that the members of Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group are mostly from nuclear-weapon states and their allies. But since Pax Christi has 120 member organizations on five continents, it would also be fitting to welcome new members on the working group—especially from the global majority of countries which reject nuclear arms.
  • A new nuclear arms race has begun. Treaties which have limited nuclear arsenals for decades are expiring without being renewed. Nuclear-weapon states are modernising their arsenals.  The USA is spending more on its military than the next 10 military powers combined.  Such trends must be reversed.
  • Curiously, the nine states with the world’s most fearsome weapons have done a poor job of defending themselves against a microscopic coronavirus. New national priorities are needed— moving vast resources from threatening lives to saving lives.
  • The world is still at risk of nuclear annihilation 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pax Christi is still working for healing, reconciliation and peace.

The climax of Pax Christi’s anniversary year was to have been the movement’s World Assembly in Hiroshima, a much-anticipated opportunity for reflection, thanksgiving, fellowship and renewal.  There is reason to regret that the gathering was not possible but also to be grateful for the safety of foregoing it.

This 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings is a warning to a world newly reminded of its fragile, common fate.  Nuclear weapons have no place where security is truly shared.  Pax Christi’s anniversary motto – “Let’s build peace together” – is an invitation to the practice of hope.

Photo: US Government via the ICAN Flickr Stream CC BY-NC 2.0.

Social Issues

It’s OUR racism

The following is a post by Mary T. Yelenick a White member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team. It was originally posted on the Pax Christi USA website on 16 June 2020.

Our nation is drowning in the blood of African Americans murdered by white people – often (though not always) by police officers; frequently with impunity.

In March of 2020, Breonna Taylor, a young emergency medical technician in Louisville, was killed in her bedroom when the police – who kicked in the door and burst into her apartment to execute a no-knock warrant, actually intended for another person, at another address – executed her instead. Several weeks earlier, on February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American man, was ambushed and murdered by gun-toting, racial-epithet-wielding white men in Glynn County, Georgia as he jogged through a residential neighborhood. And on Memorial Day, 2020, a videotape captured the agonizing death in Minnesota of George Floyd, whose desperate pleas (as with those of onlookers) to a white police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, preventing him from breathing, were ignored.

Most white people I know – holding a wide variety of political views – have condemned the murder of Mr. Floyd.  Presumably, such condemnation should accompany any callous murder. Yet the reality is that many white people have historically resisted denouncing the killings of People of Color by whites. Instead, in the aftermath of such murders, many whites have scrambled to concoct reasons why the victim should bear at least some responsibility for his or her death – reasoning that, after all, the person killed was not only Black (thereby posing an implicit risk to whites), but also:

  • Was overweight, or not otherwise in good health – like Eric Garner, killed in Staten Island in 2012, whose anguished last words were, as were Mr. Floyd’s, “I Can’t Breathe!”) – and therefore bore some responsibility for his own death;
  • Had, in response to a police order to stop and show his hands, pulled from his jacket his wallet – like Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times in the middle of the night, just outside his apartment in the Bronx, by four plain-clothed New York City police officers (all of whom, despite having fired at Mr. Diallo a total of 41 bullets collectively, were later acquitted at trial);
  • Was wearing a “hoodie,” partially obscuring his face – which, after all, might reasonably frighten people in a largely-white neighborhood (like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, visiting the apartment complex of his father’s girlfriend, whose self-appointed neighborhood protector/vigilante killer was subsequently acquitted by a jury);  or
  • Owned a gun – like Philando Castile, who after explaining to the officer who had pulled over the car carrying Mr. Castile, his fiancé, and their four-year-old child that Mr. Castile was in possession of a registered gun in the car, was nonetheless shot point blank by the officer (who was subsequently acquitted).

This fixation by some white people upon “explaining” why the Black victim – “if only” he or she had acted more reasonably – could have avoided death, reframes the death as an unfortunate, but avoidable, mistake, instead of the predictable outcome of a racist system that deems Black bodies expendable. White people, in other words, look for an “out”:  a way to avoid responsibility for the deaths of Black people caused by white police officers, or by white citizens, traced to the social system from which all  whites benefit. It is a sleight-of-hand: blame the victim, not the system – and thus, by definition, don’t blame “me.”

I wonder now whether we might not be witnessing a variation on that theme. The murder of George Floyd – perhaps because it unfolded in all its brutality on television and computer screens all across the country – has prompted a nationwide outpouring of public protests. The large crowds gathering in the streets of major cities all across the country  – notable not only for their size and multi-racial character, but also for the willingness of the protesters, congregating in large groups, to risk contracting the potentially-fatal coronavirus [1] – are expressing deep-seated anger, pain, and outrage.

For the most part, the large crowds are, by all accounts, peaceful. Yet there are also reports of some individuals – including white people, as well as People of Color –  destroying property (though it is not clear whether those individuals truly come from the ranks of the protesters themselves, or are instead disrupters, opportunists, or outside provocateurs seeing to influence media coverage). And that is where white “if onlys” are being heard anew, albeit in a slightly different context. Most whites seem to agree that Mr. Floyd’s murder was wrong. But many whites then add a coda, or caveat, to their condemnation: the protesters’ actions (presumably, they mean the looters’ actions) are wrong, too, given that some people from those crowds have engaged in destroying property. Accordingly, there is “bad” on “both sides.”

But is that not a false equivalence? Do we really place the destruction of property on the same moral plane as we do the destruction of human beings?

And are we white people – who have perpetuated, and who continue to benefit daily from, a rigged system that persists, generation after generation, in inflicting deadly harm on People of Color – now also entitled to judge the appropriateness of how victims of that system react? Who appointed us whites the arbiters of what, and whose, conduct is appropriate, in response to our highly-violent system of white supremacy?

And how do I – as a white peace-activist – respond to the death of George Floyd, and to the reactions of others to the death of George Floyd?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the imperative and efficacy of nonviolence. He preached it. He modeled it. He died for it. He knew that nonviolence was the only effective, long-term way to counter violence. Responding to an oppressor’s violence with violence only serves to justify, in the oppressor’s (and often the onlooker’s) mind, reciprocal violence. And so the parties commit to a death spiral. It is only when violence is returned with love that the destructive character of the oppressor comes into sharp contrast with the life-giving character of the nonviolent responder. [2]

As a member of Pax Christi, I am firmly committed to nonviolence. I believe it to be the only force capable of disarming the world. And because I care very deeply about my sisters and brothers of Color; desire that they have the fullness of opportunity and respect that I experience daily; and yearn for an end to our nation’s system of white supremacy, I pray for the struggle to be undertaken in the manner that history has shown to be most likely to be effective, successful, and sustainable long-term:  through active, creative nonviolence. [3]

To the extent that some people in the crowds on the streets of our cities may be unfamiliar with, or too impatient to explore the philosophy and historical basis for, proceeding nonviolently creates a tension between what I personally believe should be done, and the way that someone else may choose to act. It is a tension with which I, as a white person, and also a peacemaker, must struggle. On the one hand, it is my own core belief that only nonviolence can defeat violence. But I also know that nonviolence takes time. It takes patience. It takes experience. It requires suspending the cathartic experience (one that should not be underestimated, for anyone who has long borne unspoken and unacknowledged pain) of smashing something, and directing suppressed energy outward.

How can I condemn a young person for expressing the depths of a lifetime of anguish? How often has the system of white supremacy softened its response to People of Color? Are we whites somehow to be given a pass from reaping what we have sown, for generations? How much grief and pain can people take, before they explode?

It is not my role to determine or criticize, nor try to shape, the response by any Person of Color, or anyone else, to white supremacy. I have more than enough to worry about regarding my own response, as a white person, to white supremacy. My obligation as a white person is to work to stop the behavior of, and challenge the presumptions by, white people (including myself), and our nation’s vast white-favoring systems, that trigger the necessity of a response by People of Color in the first place.

My obligation as a white person is to work for the abolition of our racist system, and of white supremacy. That requires me actively to engage with and challenge other white people; it also means changing my own behavior as a white person. It means deeply and honestly examining and recognizing the many ways in which I benefit, daily, as a white person, from the system of white supremacy. It means being conscious of the opportunities, relationships, access to power, presumed competence and credibility, [4] freedom to live, work, speak, and travel wherever and however I choose – the “free passes” that I take for granted, and have never been called to account for, simply because I am white.

It also means honoring what People of Color themselves decide they need to do. And it means offering my presence, my heart, and my soul, as an ally in that work – and also asking People of Color to be my allies (though not my saviors, nor dispensers of absolution), as well, to help me recognize the many ways I have to unlearn, and repudiate, my unearned privilege.

A sign carried by a white woman at one of the demonstrations, replayed on national media, read simply: “Listen to Black People.” And indeed, that is what we whites need to do.

But we cannot rely on People of Color – from whose psyches, energies, futures, and lives we whites have already demanded and extracted so much –  to “teach” us about racism; or soothe or reassure us that we had no real choice in constructing a system devised long before we were born; or otherwise salve our consciences. [5]

Racism persists because it benefits whites. We may not have actively worked to institute policies or practices of white supremacy. But every day that we as whites benefit from them, without actively seeking to dismantle them, we remain complicit in them.

We whites need to honestly name and confront – and work actively to eradicate – the structures of white domination and unearned white privilege that touch every aspect of our lives.

We whites have plenty of things to do other than to criticize the response of any Person of Color to the deadly system and strictures of white supremacy. We have plenty of our own work to do.

And if we whites do our job properly, our sisters and brothers of Color will finally be able to breathe.

____________

Mary T. Yelenick is a member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team (PCART). She is deeply grateful for the comments and suggestions generously shared by other members of PCART regarding earlier drafts of this article. As always, every insight gained about the system of white privilege from which she benefits reveals how much more work she needs to do to recognize and work to dismantle that privilege.

____________

[1] THIS DANGEROUS RISK IS EXACERBATED BY THE FACT THAT AFRICAN-AMERICANS ARE CONTINUING TO FALL VICTIM TO THE CORONAVIRUS IN NUMBERS FAR GREATER THAN THOSE OF THEIR WHITE FELLOW CITIZENS, DUE TO THE HARSH LEGACY OF RACISM –INCLUDING HIGHER LEVELS OF POVERTY, INADEQUATE HOUSING, POOR NUTRITION, ILL HEALTH, AND THE TRAUMA PEOPLE OF COLOR EXPERIENCE DAILY IN OUR WHITE-SUPREMACIST SOCIETY.
[2] IN THE WORDS OF DR. KING, “IN WINNING OUR FREEDOM WE WILL SO APPEAL TO YOUR  HEART AND CONSCIENCE THAT WE WILL WIN YOU IN THE PROCESS.” STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM:  THE MONTGOMERY STORY  (HARPER & ROW 1957), P. 94.
[3] SEE, E.G., WHY CIVIL RESISTANCE WORKS:  THE STRATEGIC LOGIC OF NONVIOLENT CONFLICT BY ERICA CHENOWETH AND MARIA STEPHAN (COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS AUGUST 2011) (NOTING THAT NONVIOLENT CAMPAIGNS ATTRACT GREATER NUMBERS AND A MORE DIVERSE COMPOSITION OF PARTICIPANTS, AND HAVE GREATER LONG-TERM SUCCESS, THAN DO VIOLENT STRUGGLES).
[4] A POWERFUL ARTICLE BY FR. BRYAN MASSINGALE, “THE ASSUMPTIONS OF WHITE PRIVILEGE AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT,”  (NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER, JUNE 1, 2020), OBSERVES THAT THE ACCOUNTS OF WHITE PEOPLE REGARDING A GIVEN SITUATION WILL LIKELY BE GIVEN GREATER CREDIBILITY BY LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS THAN WILL THOSE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR – WITH OFTEN DEADLY RESULTS (WITNESS OUR NATION’S HORRIFIC HISTORY OF LYNCHING). 
[5] I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERY WHITE PERSON READ “WHITE FRAGILITY: WHY IT’S SO HARD TO TALK FOR WHITE PEOPLE TO TALK ABOUT RACISM” BY A WHITE WOMAN, ROBIN DIANGELO (BEACON PRESS 2018).

 

Peace

For the 75th anniversary of Pax Christi International, let’s blow out the candles together!

PCI 75 donation gateau post websiteAround the world, we work to make peace and nonviolence a way of life.

It’s not easy every day. But our mission is just and—more than ever—we are motivated to lead humankind to more serene and peaceful pathsDiscover our history.

With new campaigns to celebrate 75 years, a special logo and many other actions throughout this anniversary year, Pax Christi has decided to share its message of joy with as many people as possible. Discover our campaign.

For all these years, Pax Christi International has been working with your help. We bring experience wherever we can to resolve conflict situations through nonviolence. Our goal is to transform our earth into a more just, nonviolent, and peaceful world.

You can participate in this change by supporting us through donations, volunteering or becoming a member of our movement. Discover our network.

Whatever your contribution, it will be welcome.

Through us and with your help, let us build a peaceful world.

Nonviolence, Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

A Theological Foundation for Rejecting the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons

Marie Dennis (former co-president of Pax Christi International) and Ken Butigan (Pace Bene) reflect on a Theological Foundation for Rejecting the Possession and Use of Nuclear Weapons:

The Universal Ethic of Nonviolence Rooted in the Life and Mission of Jesus

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