Nonviolence, Peace

Just Peace: The only antidote to the age of violence – Part 1

by Joseph Camilleri
Pax Christi Australia (NSW)

Endemic violence, the hallmark of the last hundred years, shows no sign of abating. The death toll resulting from war in the 20th century is 187 million and probably higher. The number of armed conflicts in the world has risen steadily since 1946 and now stands at 50 or more in any one year. In each case ‘just war’ rhetoric has been invoked to defend the indefensible. It is time to shift our thinking and public discourse from ‘just war’ to ‘just peace’.

Questions regarding the morality of war can be traced back to classical antiquity and across the histories of the main civilisations. Just war theory, as it came to be known in the Western tradition, has its origins in Greek and Roman thought, but it is only in the Christian era that it received its distinctive formulation.

In a decisive shift from the pacifist leanings of the early Church, Augustine argued that war could be waged but only under the right authority and for a just purpose. Several centuries later Thomas Aquinas greatly refined the concept, arguing that for war to be just, it must satisfy three tests. It must be waged under the authority of the ruler whose responsibility it is to protect the state and its people; it must be waged against an opponent intent on aggression and then only as a last resort; and the underlying motive must be to achieve good or prevent evil.

These conditions paved the way for what later came to be known jus ad bellum (the conditions for a just cause) and jus in bello (the conditions for the just conduct of war). In the early 17th century Hugo Grotius, widely regarded as the father of modern international law, stripped away the theological trappings of just war and ground it firmly in natural law…

Read the entire blog post by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace

Martin Luther King, Jr: It is nonviolence or nonexistence

by Ingeborg Breiner
former International Peace Bureau Co-President & former Director of UNESCO

Some of us would remember exactly where we were on the day 50 years back when Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered so hideously. Very few “survive” being killed in the way that Martin Luther King has done. The civil rights movement and the struggle against racism are forever linked to his name, his words and his deeds. As we mark the 50th anniversary of his death it is of high value to have this collective reflection in order to look more deeply into what his legacy means, and may mean, in the 21 Century.

Even though his name may be most strongly linked to the fight against racial segregation, his opposition to war and encouragement of non-violence remain of great inspiration. His criticism of the Vietnam War, of the drafting of young, colored men from disadvantaged families and the role of the military industrial complex, made him a very central person for “the 68-generation”. Those in this generation with links to the Hippie movement were particularly receptive to dreams about a new and more just society, less hierarchical and less authoritarian, without war and based on love and equal possibilities

In his memorable speech in Memphis on the eve of his death, Martin Luther King expressed in clear terms the urgency and necessity of non-violence: ‘Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. Now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence in this world, it is non-violence or non-existence”…

Read the entire article on page 11 of the IPB January 2019 newsletter by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

Is it sufficient simply to acknowledge the nonviolent heroes among us?

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International NGO Delegation to the United Nations

It is not difficult to find heroes at the UN: individuals and communities who, in the face of enormous challenges, maintain a commitment to peace and nonviolence. Najlaa Sheekh, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, exemplifies the power of nonviolence in the midst of the ravages and soul-grinding consequences of war.

I first met Najlaa late last Fall, at a forum at the UN sponsored in part by Peace Direct, celebrating women from around the world who were making a difference in their communities. The following day, Najlaa joined our UN-NGO Syria Working Group for a discussion of her life and work.

Najlaa and her family once lived a comfortable life in cosmopolitan Damascus. With the breakout of war in Syria, that life ended. A brutal barrel-bomb attack killed members of her family and demolished parts of her neighborhood. In the aftermath, her younger son could not be found. Najlaa and others searched frantically through the rubble for him, eventually finding him – alive, but seriously injured. The only way for Najlaa and her family to secure the medical care her son needed was to flee to Turkey. Her son did survive. But Najlaa and her family remain refugees.

Upon arrival in Turkey, Najlaa was haunted by the number of older Syrian women in the streets desperately begging for food for themselves and their families. She was also deeply saddened to learn that the only real way for young Syrian refugee women – many of whom had been raised in deeply conservative families – to survive was to join the local houses of prostitution.

Herself personally experiencing the deep loss and trauma of displacement, Najlaa recognized that the nightmarish existence now confronting Syrian refugee women could not be borne alone. So she approached and introduced herself to other women, inviting them to join with her, in her small rented home, to discuss what they could do collectively to adjust to their new realities.

These small gatherings gave birth, in 2013, to a new organization, Kareemat (meaning “women of dignity,” in Arabic). Over the years, Kareemat has functioned as a place of gathering and stability for Syrian women refugees and their families. Kareemat offers counseling and vocational training for women, teaching them sewing and other life skills. To Najlaa’s immense pride, young Syrian refugee women are no longer forced to work as prostitutes; instead, they have acquired , through Kareemat, work skills and community connections that enable them to live a less degrading and dangerous life. In addition to helping Syrian women lead better lives, these new avenues of employment for women afforded by Kareemat also help combat negative stereotypes of Syrian women in Turkey.

Kareemat also engages in a variety of peacebuilding activities: hosting workshops on the dangers of war; facilitating discussion groups regarding the impact of violence against women; and presenting film screenings to raise awareness of the important role of women leaders in effective conflict resolution.

Kareemat also engages in activities designed to dissuade young Syrian refugees, whose passions are sometimes stoked by their vengeful elders, from returning to Syria to pursue armed retaliation. When Najlaa’s own eldest son vowed repeatedly to return to Syria to seek vengeance, she responded that if he insisted on returning to Syria, she would also return, with him, to remain always by his side. Her threat of accompanying him – which her son recognized would place his mother in mortal danger – convinced him to relinquish his dream of retaliation and violence. Instead, both he and his brother have now renounced any plans of revenge, and are directing their energies instead to acquiring an education.

This accomplishment, Najlaa said – her turning her two sons away from perpetuating the cycle of violence – is her proudest personal achievement.

Najlaa’s vision, courage, and fortitude, alone, would have made her remarkable. But what will stay with me most is the message she had for those of us who might be inclined to simply romanticize her story, without connecting it to our ourselves.

Najlaa explained that she recognized that traveling to the United Nations was a once-in-a-lifetime gift and opportunity for her, and for the women of Kareemat. When she arrived in the United States, she realized that her first obstacle was the fact that few of the people she would meet spoke Arabic, and that she would thus not be able to convey, in her own tongue, the urgency, or nuances, of her personal story. Instead, she would have to rely on the sensitivity and goodwill of an interpreter. (Luckily, her interpreter, Lebanese journalist Sawssan Abou-Zahr, who had previously published an excellent article about Najlaa, https://www.peaceinsight.org/blog/2018/10/remarkable-story-kareemat-and-its-founder, was both an effective and empathetic translator.)

Thus, the first words spoken to us by Najlaa – this woman who has accomplished so much, in unfathomable circumstances – were an apology to us for not being able to speak English. At that moment, I felt the tyranny and imbalance of a world in which people given vast power over the lives of others – the global decision makers – do not speak even the same language as those who suffer the consequences of their decisions.

Najlaa then described to us, repeatedly, her burning desire and goal of returning to her homeland, to help rebuild her country. It is the Syrians themselves, she said, who must solve Syrian problems. It is not for other countries to do. The people being sent to resolve the Syrian crisis should not be special envoys from international organizations, jetting in and out. It should be Syrian women. For it is the women of Syria who best know Syria. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian families. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian needs.

Najlaa’s story was both heart-wrenching and memorable. Yet I sensed her holding back.

Finally, after about an hour of questions-and-answers, there seemed to be a shift in our group dynamics. Najlaa sat back, paused, looked at us closely, and asked if she could be frank with us. She seemed finally to trust her audience – despite the imbalance of power and access – to hear what she was really trying to say. We (with some discomfort), urged her to speak honestly.

I want you to listen to me, Najlaa said to us. I want you to remember my words. I want you to remember my story. I want you to think about the way that you, being privileged, are connected with this story. I want you to think not simply about what we Syrian refugees are experiencing, but about what you can and must do to change that story.

She then explained that, in preparation for this trip to the UN, she had made cards (no easy task, living as a refugee) to share with the people she met, listing the contact information for her and for Kareemat. Najlaa had made a significant effort the day before, she said, personally to hand a card to everyone in the room.

And yet at the end of the meeting, most of her cards remained on the table. People had accepted her card, but had not cared enough to take it with them.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York. She is member of the UN-NGO Syria Working Group as well as the UN – NGO Security Council Working Group.

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

When bishops said ‘yes’ to war, Ben Salmon said ‘no’

by James Dearie, National Catholic Reporter

Clad in oversized goggles, with grotesque face coverings under otherworldly gasmasks, soldiers in the trenches of the First World War seemed fully mechanized, fully dehumanized, in their attempt to survive the world’s first employment of chemical warfare on a large scale.  The industrial revolution, and the technology that it ushered in, had finally been turned from their original home in industry, to the art of war itself.

You can see the fear-inspiring uniforms the soldiers wore, along with life-size images of men in them, at the National World War I Memorial and Museum, just a few miles from NCR’s headquarters in Kansas City. In this year, the centennial anniversary of the war’s end, that old technology serves as a ghastly reminder of the ways in which warfare evolved in the 20th century. While World War I changed what war itself could be, it also began a change in how the church, both leadership and laity, thought about war, the United States, and Catholics’ role in both.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XV, who reigned from September of 1914 until his death in early 1922, pled the cause of peace, issuing an encyclical decrying war in November and calling for a Christmas truce in December. As the conflict raged on, he continued calling for an end to hostilities and even presented a plan to end the war, although his pronouncements were largely disregarded by the belligerents.

In the U.S., which stayed out of the European conflict until April of 1917, the bishops pledged the support of American Catholics for the war effort as soon as it was underway.

“Moved to the very depths of our hearts by the stirring appeal of the President of the United States, and by the action of our national Congress, we accept whole-heartedly and unreservedly the decree of that legislative authority proclaiming this country to be in a state of war,” the bishops wrote to President Woodrow Wilson after the declaration of war.

Although the U.S. reaction to the war undermined the papal position at the time, it was hardly unique. “French Catholics saw the war as a chance to unite France; German Catholics (persecuted by the state in the 19th century) participated wholeheartedly,” historian and former dean of the University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters John T. McGreevy told NCR.  “And the same was true for Italian, Belgian Catholics etc. This all made it challenging for the Vatican to manage tensions, especially when Benedict XV offered his own peace plan, and was then challenged by the peace plan offered by Woodrow Wilson.”

While many American Catholics shared their bishops’ sentiments and served in the war wholeheartedly, some did not.  One example was Denver resident Ben Salmon, who refused to go to Europe after being drafted in 1917. Despite the pronouncements of the leadership of his church, Salmon cited his religious convictions in a letter to the president, stating, “The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is unconditional and inexorable … When human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army.”

At the time, it seemed that there may be “no space for someone like Ben Salmon in the Catholic Church,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International told NCR. “While in other traditions … there was an agreed upon root for a conscientious objector. That simply didn’t exist in the Catholic Church.”

The church had long relied on the Just War Theory to determine the morality of participation in such conflict, “which had been useful but didn’t stretch the thinking very much beyond that, which was very notable in the United States,” Dennis added…

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Nonviolence

This is what nonviolence looks like in Kenya on the International Day of Peace

by Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, IBVM
Pax Christi International Board member

During this year’s International Day of Peace (21st September 2018),  the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) whose work is supported by St. Paul’s University where I serve as a Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies, set three days of different activities in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, in order to bring together Christians and Muslims. Peace practitioners, peace scholars, government officials especially in the Security sector, University chaplains, lecturers, students from universities across Kenya, youth and women organisations, all engaged in these activities with the aim of creating a culture of peace — especially among Muslim and Christian communities. There was a different theme for each day.

The theme for Day One: Moving Kenya towards sustainable peace and development: Countering/preventing violent radicalization and violent extremism.

This day began with public lectures by scholars, Church leaders and government officials respecting gender balance. The auditorium (with a sitting capacity of 1800) was filled to capacity by mainly university students and other youth and women activists and peace builders. The presenters touched on the ‘approaches of countering radicalization and violent extremism from a Christian, Muslim, Gender, and Youth and Media perspectives’. There were plenary sessions where the audience was given the opportunity to seek clarifications or share their own personal experiences. One experience that remained with me was the sharing of one of the youth who said that he was on the verge of joining a militia group but the generosity of the people during one of his music concerts was a turning point. He made a decision to spend his life serving people by utilizing his talents for the good of humanity. There was also an opportunity for cutting of the peace cake and lighting of “Candles of Peace” which were given to a representative of all the groups present. The Christians also visited the mosque and the Muslims were allowed to break for their prayers at the appropriate times.

The theme for Day Two: Peace Walk – Christian and Muslims Together for Peace: Stop Violent Radicalisation!! Stop Violent Extremism!!

The walk was from August 7th Memorial Park (where the American bomb blast took place) to Eastleigh (where one of the most populated slums (Mathare) is situated. The peace walk started off with prayers (Christian and Muslims), the Kenya national anthem; and flagging off the walk.

All the participants donned a white t-shirt with the Christian and Muslim symbols and at the front engraved the words: “Peace Walk” and “Christians and Muslims together for peace”. At the back were the words, “Stop Radicalisation!! Stop violent extremism”.

The walk was animated by the Kenya Administrative Police Band and a youth-led peace caravan. The youth sang songs of peace, chanted peace slogans and informed the people about the theme of the day and its importance.
“We the Christians and Muslims are saying no to violence, no to radicalization, no to violent extremism and yes to peace.” There were three key stopovers mainly in the less privileged areas of Nairobi where radicalization and violent extremism is more pronounced.

On the last day, Day Three: There were special Church services and prayers for peace and victims of violent radicalization and violent extremism. Both the Christians and Muslims were involved in this too.

My Short reflection on the three days activities

Reflecting on the three days where I experienced us, Christians and Muslims sitting together in the same room, worshiping and eating together, visiting the churches and mosques without fear of one another, singing and dancing in rhythms of peace and not violence, playing football and walking together as we left our footprints of love, sisterhood and brotherhood as opposed to footprints of blood, speaking in one language of peace and love, the language of active nonviolence, I am convinced that another world is possible; a world where everything is turned upside down — our prejudices, our old held beliefs that continue to inform our decisions, especially regarding ‘us’ and the ‘other’. I am convinced of a world where children will play games without fear of a bomb, machete, spear, arrow, bullet, nuclear weapon; where people will not be afraid to embrace each other because they are different; where differences will be solved while sitting together, speaking to each other and sharing a meal as opposed to throwing different ‘missiles’ at each other and causing untold pain and suffering to each other.

Through these activities I was also reminded that what unites us is more profound than what separates us. Violence severs us from each other and indeed from our true self. We were all created equal and have one common home, the earth, that embraces us irrespective of our colour, religious affiliations, race, ethnicity, gender and education backgrounds. “I live in hope that one day swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks and that no nation shall learn or experience war or violence any more.” (Isaiah 2:4).

To read about the work of PROCMURA, website: http://www.procmura-prica.org/en/; the contact for their link with the St Paul’s University is http://www.spu.ac.ke/old/spu-academics/centre-for-christian-muslim-relations-in-eastleigh.html.

 

Nonviolence, Peace, Peace Spirituality

The courageous witness of Saints Oscar Romero and Paul VI

by Tony Magliano

Two very different men, facing different sets of dire challenges with prophetic courage, faithfully journeyed along two different paths to the same destination: sainthood!

Who would have predicted it?

Who would have imagined on Feb. 23, 1977, the day of his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador, that the highly conservative Oscar Romero – who was suspicious of the Catholic Church’s involvement in political activism – would die a martyr’s death for courageously defending his people against the murderous assaults of the Salvadoran government, military and right-wing death squads?

Romero’s appointment was welcomed by the government, but many priests were not happy. They suspected their new archbishop would insist they cut all ties to liberation theology’s defense of the poor.

However, as Romero started getting to know the poor and how they were oppressed by the government and rich coffee plantation owners, his conscience seemed to gradually awaken.

But the most important event affecting Romero’s decision to wholeheartedly stand with the poor and oppressed was the assassination of his close friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande; who was promoting land reform, worker unions, and organizing communities to have a greater voice regarding their own lives.

Romero, who was deeply inspired by Grande said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’ ”

In a letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Romero warned that continued U.S. military aid to the government of El Salvador “will surely increase injustices here and sharpen the repression.” Romero asked Carter to stop all military assistance to the Salvadoran government.

Carter ignored Romero. And later, President Ronald Reagan greatly increased military aid.

During his March 23, 1980 Sunday national radio homily, Romero said, “I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army … You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters … The law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God … In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people … I beg you … I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The next day while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the hospital compound where he lived, Saint Romero’s loving heart was pierced with an assassin’s bullet.

With numerous armed conflicts raging in various parts of the world, and the Vietnam War worsening, Pope Paul VI on Oct. 4, 1965 proclaimed before the U.N. General Assembly: “No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”

Unfortunately, in 1965 the world did not heed Paul VI’s prophetic words. And sadly, it has not heeded them since.

Saint Paul VI in his prophetic encyclical letter Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”) wisely said, “When we fight poverty and oppose the unfair conditions of the present, we are not just promoting human well-being; we are also furthering man’s spiritual and moral development, and hence we are benefiting the whole human race. For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.