The year 2014 will be marked as a period of numerous violent conflicts and displacement of populations. A hundred years after the beginning of the First World War, it seems that our world is not able to effectively protect people and prevent the outbreak of violent conflict and wars.
Our hearts cry out when we see innocent people and vulnerable groups – including persons with disabilities, pregnant women, children, elderly persons, killed in violent conflicts: Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Libya, Mali, Central African Republic, Ukraine and elsewhere. Our hearts cry out when violence is used as a justification for more violence, while the innocent lie dead, wounded or homeless.
Every day seems to bring more bad news as instability rages on. Unfolding events in countries such as Nigeria (with the abduction by the Boko Haram group of over 200 girls) as well as in Syria and Iraq (with sectarian tensions leading to killing fields) provide high profile examples of what happens on a daily basis in terms of discrimination.
Tragically, all too often religion is being misused in these situations. All too often, religion is a “victim” of the cynical efforts designed to demonize the other. Hate speech and demonizing the other cannot be accepted. The name of religion has been invoked to justify the murder of ordinary people.
People of faith are using their religion as a source of strength to resist the great pressures to demonize people of other faiths. Indeed, ways need to be found to reach out in solidarity for peace.
Faith based organisations, such as Pax Christi International, dedicate their energy in bridging the divides that so painfully separate communities. Communities must be peacemakers. Sectarian violence need to be rejected and dialogue promoted. We need to keep the respect of human dignity and the standards of “the right to freedom” as high as possible and that should be enjoyed by people of all faiths and beliefs.
Radical extremists like the so called ISIS must be defeated since the application of such ideologies is decidedly evil. But that will not happen with brute force – even if in some cases it may be necessary. Transparent and legitimate political solutions have to be actively pursued and enacted.
Roughly 40 % of the 300 million residents of the Arab world are in abject poverty today. In addition, the region suffers from high unemployment levels and a breakdown of trust in rulers and governmental institutions. In other words, there must be a political process that addresses the root causes of the instability and a political framework is needed to solve the crisis in the Middle East.
Civil society must also play its role by implementing the so called “track 2 dialogue.” That means: investing in dialogue and in cross border contacts with key players within all the groups and parties involved in the conflict: academics, peace and human rights activists, social organisations, church leaders, etc. This is diplomacy from below.
I believe that there is a potential for religious actors to be peacemakers. They have the capacity to provide solutions to conflicts. Religious institutions are capable of significant social mobilisation, in addition to a distinct moral standing.
Politically speaking, religious institutions are either part of or stand in direct opposition to ruling regimes in many parts of the world. In my opinion, churches and religions should always be in a position of “critical distinction” when it comes to the political realities.
The fundamental teachings of religion include concern for peace, actions for social justice, and caring for the poor and marginalised. Blessed are the peacemakers, God shall call them his sons and daughters.
Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor Pax Christi International