Nonviolence, Peace

Working inside the Catholic Church to revitalise the tools of nonviolence

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Peace News readers will be familiar with the names of Gene Sharp, Jean Paul Ledarch, George Lakey, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as among those who have lived, taught and supported nonviolent peacemaking through the decades. For some of those named, the Christian Gospels and the life and witness of Jesus will have been a source of motivation and inspired their thinking and practice of nonviolence.

In 2016, Catholic peace practitioners, academics, theologians and members of Pax Christi International gathered to urge ‘our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices.’

As a Catholic international movement for peace called ‘Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ,’ we had hatched a plan to take the experiences of peacemakers to the Vatican and open a process to move the institutional church closer to a commitment to nonviolence.

Pope Francis, we knew, would be open to this process, as he has never minced his words or shunned controversy in speaking out against global violence and warfare today: ‘Never war again. With war, everything is lost’ (2014); and ‘We plead for peace for this world dominated by arms-dealers, who profit from the blood of men and women’ (2015)…

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Nonviolence

Advancing ‘just peace’ through strategic nonviolent action

By Dr. Maria J. Stephan
U.S. Institute of Peace

Note: The following article was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016 as one of the primary background papers of the conference.

All across the globe, from Guatemala to Poland to Venezuela to Palestine, ordinary people are organizing and challenging systems of injustice, inequality, and oppression using weapons of will and active nonviolent means. Their struggles are part of a rich history of nonviolent movements and “people power” that include the Mahatma Gandhi-led fight for self-determination in India, the Polish Solidarity movement against communist dictatorship, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the peaceful ouster of dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and recent nonviolent movements for human rights and dignity in Tunisia, Guatemala, Brazil, and elsewhere.

The Technique of Nonviolent Action

In each of these cases, unarmed civilians used nonviolent direction action, or what nonviolent action scholar Gene Sharp described as techniques outside of institutionalized behavior for social change that challenges an unjust power dynamic using methods of protest, noncooperation, and intervention without the use or threat of injurious force. The theoretical underpinnings of nonviolent resistance, articulated by Sharp and by earlier scholars including German philosopher Hannah Arendt, holds that power is fluid and ultimately grounded in the consent and cooperation of ordinary people, who can decide to restrict or withhold that support. Sharp identified six key sources of political power, which are present to varying degrees in any society: authority, human resources, material resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, and sanctions. Ultimately, these sources of power are grounded in organizations and institutions, made up of people, known as “pillars of support”. When large numbers of people from various pillars of support (bureaucracies, trade and labor unions, state media, educational institutions, religious institutions, security forces, etc.) use various nonviolent tactics to withhold consent and cooperation from regimes or other power-holders in an organized fashion, this can shift power from the oppressor to the oppressed without bombs or bullets.

Sharp identified 198 methods of nonviolent action that included peaceful marches, vigils, social and consumer boycotts, stay-aways, sit-ins, street theatre, humor, and the creation of parallel structures and institution (included in what Gandhi referred to as the “constructive program”, which focused on social uplift for the poor and marginalized). The rise of social media technologies, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram has expanded the universe of tactics even further, while offering new avenues for communication, mobilization, and peer learning across borders. Successful movements have integrated both on and offline forms of mobilization, organization, and direct action – online activism is never a substitute for nuts and bolts offline organizing…

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Nonviolence, Peace

A just peace built on contemplation and resistance

by Rose Berger

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

In 1999, I walked into Camp Rakovica. There were 1,500 Kosovar refugees in this camp on the dusty outskirts of Sarajevo. They had come by bus, car, and on foot. First held in the expansive bottling rooms at the Coca Cola factory, the refugees now live in an old cattle barn, in tents, and on an open field.

We were invited into the barn’s converted milking room and given the best of the plastic seats around a plywood table. Forty families live here in 6-by-8 foot cubicles separated by curtains. The men told us that Serb soldiers herded them out of their homes. One asked us to find information about his brother, who he presumed was dead in Kosovo. Adem, the oldest man in the camp at 80, wore a blue wool beret and his weatherworn face glistened with tears. Thirty members of his family had been killed by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo.

The women stand around the ring of conversation holding children on their hips. They served us coffee in chipped red cups. Harija, in her mid-30s, shot her words at us like fire. “How can I live with this pain that my neighbor—my husband shoveled snow from her walk before he even cleared our own—stood in our yard while I was hanging laundry and spoke aloud how she was going to kill me and my children? She was trying to decide between mortar or sniper.”

There was no doctor in this camp. The outhouses were overflowing. The only food available was bread and canned vegetables. The graffiti on the wall shows a young man with a gun to his head.

One man led me down a shoe-strewn hall. He opened the curtain and there, on the bunk bed, lay a 2-day-old baby boy wrapped in clean linens and a rough army blanket. The mother looked worn and happy in her torn T-shirt and dusty skirt. I prayed over the Muslim child, making the sign of the cross on his forehead. No one seems to mind the mix of religious symbols.

War is the great evangelizer. As NATO tossed Tomahawks into Slobodan Milosevic’s tinderbox, Madeleine Albright said she’d pray for Serbia. At the same time, in the foxholes of Belgrade basements, cultural atheists were coming to Christ. While Belgrade burned and Pristina became a ghost town, prayer seemed to be the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. But how do we separate the arrogant petitions of the powerful and the desperate pleas of the weak from that revolutionary act that “moves mountains”?

Authentic prayer brooks no illusions. It is a process of disillusionment. Disillusionment requires education. Education requires context.

For more than 40 years, Tito and his successors squelched religious affiliation or ethnic identity for the sake of a “unified” Communist Republic of Yugoslavia. After Tito’s death, the country went into sharp economic decline. In 1982, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the upheaval caused by an International Monetary Fund austerity program in Yugoslavia. The program was causing unrest, especially in a small province called Kosovo.

Lesson one. The end of communism’s enforced monoculture produced a renaissance of ethnic and religious identity and pride in the Balkans. Genuine pluralism cannot be produced by force.

Lesson two. Budgets, international monetary systems, and structural adjustments are moral issues with real and ethical consequences.

In 1986, Slobodan Milosevic became head of the Serbian Communist Party. He made a powerful nationalistic speech in Kosovo that effectively stole the national agenda from democratic forces and the Serbian resistance movement. His rallying cry was that Kosovo could never be separated from Serbia. In 1989, with massive popular support, he cracked down on opposition, purged the party of reformist rivals, and abridged autonomy in the regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina, establishing de facto martial law.

Lesson three. Past behavior is an important indicator of future behavior. Milosevic was an educated, urbane, and charismatic leader. He was also cruel and desperate to hold on to the last stronghold of communism in Europe. While we must always appeal to the “king within the man,” we should not be surprised by—and more importantly, we should be prepared for—the response of the tyrant.

While Milosevic was preoccupied with genocide in Bosnia, Kosovar Albanians—under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova—organized a pacifist resistance movement modeled on Gandhian strategies. It was mainly unrecognized and unsupported by the international community. The death knell of the resistance was the Dayton Accords, when the European Union not only recognized Yugoslavia and Milosevic as its leader, but also rewarded Bosnian Serbs, who had committed the worst acts of genocide since the Nazis, by giving them half of Bosnia.

Lesson four. Appeasement has no place in building a sustainable peace with just foundations.

Early in 1998, after the Dayton Accords, Serb forces massacred ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo during a seven-month “anti-terrorist” sweep. Albanian dissident Adem Demaqi promoted a more aggressive nonviolent approach to Kosovo independence, calling for mass demonstrations and strikes. The Serb military responded with brutal force. As despair built among the Albanians and the war in Bosnia wound down, the militant Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army formed. They smuggled in weapons and began an armed guerrilla offensive.

Lesson five. By the time we come to a place where violence seems the only option, the failure is not simply in the moment, but in how we arrived at the apparent lack of options. The time to address a situation is before it devolves to violence. Once we are in the midst of violent conflict, peacemakers must be active in negotiating justice between the warring parties and interceding on behalf of the victims—all the while building the groundwork of a just peace.

Lesson six. Nonviolence is like horseback riding. When you get thrown off, you have to climb back in the saddle. Grappling with the hard questions about applying nonviolence in real-world situations can make us stronger, even when we don’t have simple or clear answers.

In the U.S. Christian commentator Chuck Colson decried the lack of church protest against the war. “What makes this silence even more disturbing,” he said, “is that the situation in Yugoslavia raises profound moral questions that the Christian church is uniquely qualified to address.” Theologian and activist Ched Myers reminds us that the body politic can be possessed by a vicious demon of silence just as the mute boy was in the gospel of Mark. Jesus tells us that the demon of silence can only be exorcised by prayer and fasting.

The prayer we are called to is at once profoundly personal and profoundly political. It consists of contemplation and resistance. Contemplation is the process of dismantling illusions and authentically seeking truth. Resistance is the act of rebuilding, both personally and politically, on a firm and true foundation.

Nonviolence, Peace

Sumud: Neither resigning to the occupation nor becoming absorbed by hate

by Rania Murra
Director of the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, Palestine

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

My personal, family, work and political circumstances as shaped by the Israeli occupation have motivated me to participate in nonviolence and peacebuilding. During my work at the Arab Educational Institute (AEI)/Sumud Story House in Bethlehem/Palestine, I have been exposed to different kinds of formal and informal education and participated in several of AEI’s nonviolence activities. Examples are interreligious prayers and retreats; singing and acting in front of the Separation Wall; collecting, editing and fixing story posters in the so-called Wall Museum; vigils and marches; encouraging the Bethlehem Sumud Choir; filming, documenting, and interviewing peace activists; and holding an annual Sumud Festival.

Sumud is Arabic for “steadfastness”. It refers to an active, nonviolent lifestyle in which one neither resigns to the occupation nor become absorbed by hate towards the enemy. Sumud is a third way in which one keeps head and dignity high, stays actively connected to the land and the community, and challenges occupation by a peaceful lifestyle with preparedness to suffer. Sumud is about being tested as Jesus was tested in Gethsemane and afterwards. It’s a concept which gives space to stories and voices of individual women, families and communities. Jesus, as well as personalities like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are examples showing the personal leadership of sumud.

Sumud implies a solid strategy, living by example. Strategy means that we have to work on educating and liberating people, and especially raising the voice of women. Women have to participate and present their stories, but they should also be decision-makers in their communities. Each woman has her own way to make a difference. This has also a personal and family dimension. It is about raising your children in the spirit of sumud, against the occupation, against despair and emigration, against bare survival. In the case of women’s rights, you are trying to build your country in a way that aims at ending the occupation. When I fight what are called “honor killings”, it is not only a fight for humanity but also a fight against the occupation because you make your people and community stronger.

I believe that we have several strategies available to deepen and widen the practice of nonviolence in the worldwide Catholic community. All require our energy:

  • Living by example: working with Catholic communities on local and global issues of justice, inequality, discrimination, poverty and peace – and showing the many linkages between the different issues in an increasingly interconnected world. A practice of nonviolence can only be fostered by working together on real world problems.
  • To encourage joint working and living by example it is important for the church to increasingly involve lay people in the church organization. Conversely, it is helpful to have more clergy involved in directly dealing with real life problems.
  • To approach world problems nonviolently, it is important to work on peace/nonviolence education, including the ability of people to raise their voice in different forms and genres.
  • Essential for strengthening nonviolence in the Catholic community is working with women on issues important for protecting her human security and rights. It is also essential to promote women’s participation in society, including her participation in the church.
  • We should try to strengthen the dialogical capacity of the Catholic Church with regard to both ecumenical dialogues within the Christian church and dialogues across religious borders. Dialogues between religious communities are important for allowing a broad-based, global, nonviolent peace movement. While there are many institutional and dogmatic obstacles here, we can use the exemplary practice of the present pope to illustrate the need for inter-religious dialogue and living together.
  • It will be important for believers in the Church to make a direct connection between the example of Jesus’s life of suffering sumud and approaching nonviolently present-day world problems. Symbols referring to Jesus’s life of struggling nonviolently for a just peace are meaningful. Showing the life of the Virgin Mary and the life stories of saints in appealing forms and designs can help to illustrate a nonviolent lifestyle. Some spiritual traditions of the church are inspired by nonviolent approaches including indigenous traditions in newly established churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last but not least, it is extremely important that the church itself gives a good example of nonviolence, including preventing the abuse of children in its own ranks.

Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

Nonviolence as a tool for empowering warring communities to be agents of their own change

By Elizabeth Kanini Kimau

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

In 2009, I began my peace mission in South Sudan (Sudan by then) and Northern Kenya, which is characterized by armed conflicts among pastoralist communities which inhabit that region. In Northern Kenya I went to live at the grassroots (Leyai IDP-camp) with the people who were badly affected by the Rendille-Borana conflict. In South Sudan I teach in RECONCILE Peace Institute which trains key persons, mobilized from all corners of South Sudan, on peace and trauma healing. For the last five years I have met participants who were born, lived, married, and are now aging, in war. Most of them have been in and out of refugee camps. In February 2015 I started helping a Catholic diocese in the western part of the country in establishing a Peace and Trauma Healing Museum. This region has also been affected by war — and worse, by the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA, a rebel group from Northern Uganda which has abducted many women, girls, young men, and boys, and maimed and killed many. The language of nonviolence helped me transform myself and empowered me to be able to live and work in these hostile environments and among people who are violent as the result of protracted conflicts. Nonviolence has also been key in transforming the Rendille-Borana conflict in Northern Kenya.

This paper will only focus on my experience in Northern Kenya and how nonviolence was very powerful in changing violent relations to peaceful relations.

Experience of Violence in Leyai Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp

The Peace and Justice Commission (CJPC) of Tangaza University College, where I was a member, visited the Marsabit Diocesan CJPC to help in peace activities for one week. I learned that the conflict situation in the region has subjected many people to live in dehumanizing conditions. I resolved to participate in building a culture of peace in the region by empowering people to be agents of their own change. The ten pastoralist groups in Marsabit County were fighting each other. I decided to focus on the Rendille-Borana conflict which was claiming many lives at that time.

I went to live in Leyai IDP Camp to create a rapport with the people, understand their culture, build trust, allow the people to know me and deeply understand the violent conflict. I saw that Leyai primary school was closed several times due to insecurity and had just reopened with only three teachers. Therefore, as I lived with the local people, I started teaching their traumatized children in the school.

Leyai IDP Camp was inhabited by the Rendille community. While there, I observed that the Rendille and Borana communities were deeply divided and never interacted. Each community used its own source of water, means of transport and never traded with each other. They perceived each other as an enemy and whoever killed an enemy was praised and termed a hero. I witnessed situations where people were killed and cattle were raided. The pain of loss, bitterness and anger was temporarily ‘relieved’ after revenge.

As I interacted with the children, I learned that the enmity and hatred had been passed down from generation to generation, leaving the conflict in a vicious cycle. Whenever I asked the children to draw, they all drew guns, people killing each other and cattle being raided. I asked different questions at different times. What will you do when you grow up? “I will go kill Borana and take back our cattle.” Who created your parents? “God.” Who created the parents of Borana children? “The Devil.” When I bring Borana children, what will you do with them? “We will kill them.” My interaction with the pupils informed me of an urgent need to cut the chain of enmity and hatred.

Overcoming Violence with Excessive Violence

The hatred and enmity between Rendille and Borana communities was a big obstacle to any dialogue attempt or to solving disputes constructively. I heard from the local communities that many peace meetings had ended in violence. In addition I observed that any act of violence was reacted to with excessive violence. If cattle were raided and a person killed, revenge was immediate and it was doubled in many cases. Many victims of revenge were innocent people, especially from Songa and Jaldesa locations who live at the border of the two communities. The revenge mission escalated the violence to a very high magnitude, leaving the area very insecure.

Introducing Nonviolence as an Alternative to Solving Conflicts with Bloody Violence

The deep rooted culture of violence and revenge could only be transformed if people changed the way they perceived each other and communicated. Consequently their violent actions will change. I met Imtraud Kauschat from Germany and her team who were training in nonviolent communication. In collaboration with Irmtraud, we introduced nonviolence between Borana and Rendille communities. We began by training the elders who are the key decision-makers. They were taken away from the violence zone to a peaceful area (more than 600 km). The elders started to interact, listen to each other, and perceive each other as human beings. They were able to sit and discuss the violence which has enslaved them. The elders went back to Marsabit as a team, and when people saw them together in Marsabit town, they asked, “When did Rendille and Borana elders start talking together?” These elders visited various villages to ask people to unite and take responsibility to build their own peace.

Secondly a team of Morans/warriors (key perpetrators to the conflict) were trained in nonviolent communication. Some confessed how they were to kill each other during several violent attacks. They decided to remain friends. When they went back, they resolved to preach peace to their peers and keep them from raiding or killing.

The women whose children and husbands had been killed by the bloody conflicts were also trained. All these people became agents of peace in their region.

The Opportunities Created by Nonviolence

The language of nonviolence changed the perception of an enemy to a human being whom they can collaborate with in developmental activities. Consequently the elders, who are key decision-makers, started holding dialogues and resolving disputes before they escalated to violence.

Incidences of killing and raids have been greatly reduced. People living in IDP camps like Leyai have gone back to their farms and resumed agricultural activities. In May 2014, they contributed 5,000 kgs of maize to areas affected by drought in Marsabit County. There was enhanced communication where each community started alerting each other in case they sensed any danger. The two communities started trading together and using the same means of transport. Some Rendille started working as casual workers in Borana farms. Elders started tracking raided cattle and return them to the owners. Criminals are punished with no regard from which group they are. The elite youth took responsibility for promoting interaction between Rendille and Boran youth through sports and parties which have promoted good relationships among the young people. Consequently, the Rendille and Borana have now lived in a peaceful environment for the last three years after many years of bloody conflict.

Conclusion

My experience of using nonviolence to myself first and then communities at war with each other has motivated me to gain deeper understanding. Nonviolence is the solution to the protracted conflicts which have resulted in the loss of meaning for the preciousness of life and subjected many people to live in dehumanizing conditions. However, many people — especially those working for peace — do not have a deeper knowledge of the practice of nonviolence. This is why many negotiations have not yielded fruits due to eruptions of violent communication which worsen the situation.

The Catholic Church is very well-placed in the society. It is connected with people all over the world from the top, middle, and to the grassroots level. Therefore the Church can be a good channel of active nonviolence. Jesus is an icon of nonviolence, therefore if active nonviolence is taught at all levels, it will become a language which can overcome the violence being experienced in many parts of the world. Through the Council of Justice and Peace, a manual can be developed which can be used to train people at the national level, hence spilling over to the grassroots. Finally there is a need to document successful stories of nonviolence which can help others to learn.

Nonviolence, Peace

Shifting the lens: Just peace and nonviolence

by Eli McCarthy

[NOTE: The following article was published this past August on the Huffington Post.]

Disheartening trends of global violence continue with the latest attacks in Iraq, Germany, and France, including the direct taking of a Catholic priest’s life. The lens we use to respond to these violent habits, especially as a Catholic Church is of utmost importance for both better effectiveness and faithfulness.

As a grateful participant in the April conference in Rome on just peace and nonviolence, I previously wrote about being deeply moved by the encounter with fellow Catholic peacemakers who lived in violent conflict zones. Out of this experience, I want to respond to this interview in Our Sunday Visitor about the conference outcome document. The person interviewed was a respected colleague, Dr. Gerard Powers, professor of the Practice of Catholic Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame.

I, and the Conference, appreciate and agree with Gerard on the following points: Catholic life needs to better integrate peacebuilding; there is value in a just peace theory; just war theory is unfortunately being used primarily in an unhealthy way; and the significant value of a new Papal document on this issue. So, hopefully there is a lot of common ground to work on together.

There are four other points of divergence, which I want to address with the hope of deepening the dialogue as we seek God’s truth together. These points arise in large part out of an emphasis on the pastoral question about how we better form peacemakers as a Catholic Church.

First, in the interview there is no clear articulation of how Jesus’ way corresponds to the Catholic Church continuing to use and teach the just war theory. This is not a minor point. Yes, the Catholic Church uses both scripture and tradition, but as we Catholics all know it is an “and” not an “or” relationship. Jesus’ way needs a clear role and any moral teaching needs to have consistency with that way. Scripture scholarship is basically unanimous that Jesus models a way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies. The call to love our neighbor must always be consistent with how Jesus loved (John 13:34), and our perceived enemies always remain our neighbors. Recent Popes have confirmed this reality about Jesus, and the conference builds its’ appeal consistent with this realism about Jesus.

Second, the claim is made that Catholic social doctrine already has a just peace theory. In general, this is a promising point and something we can build on together. The article says that “the vision, principles, criteria for moral action constitute the substance of a just peace theory.” Yet, it’s not clear which criteria are intended here. Is it the just war criteria or something broader? Either way, I agree that Catholic social doctrine certainly has elements of a just peace theory. But Catholic social doctrine has yet to explicitly identify, explain, and prioritize a just peace theory/approach. For instance, the conference alluded to seven specific just peace criteria to guide moral action across all stages of conflict, including during violent conflict. These criteria and this method of application have not yet been affirmed in Catholic social doctrine. There are also specific virtues, such as the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking, which were discussed as part of a virtue-based, just peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence. Examples of a similar just peace approach have been articulated by others on lethal drones, nuclear weapons, and ISIS

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