Just Peace…

By FAN Executive Director, Stephen Schneck, PhD

This morning, National Catholic Reporter, published my assessment of the Trump administration assassination of Qassem Suliemani, along with similar assessments by noted Catholic theologians. For reasons of space, the focus of analysis in the piece was whether military action could be called “just” according the church’s so-called just war teachings. My conclusion was that not only was the assassination unjustifiable, it was immoral.

Focusing on just war teachings, though, can lead us to overlook something much more important – peace.

Since St. John XXIII’s papacy, just war teachings have been de-emphasized in Church teachings. Emerging is a Christlike emphasis on peace, replacing the casuistry justifying any military actions. St. Paul VI at the United Nations in 1965 cried “No more war, war never again.” St. John Paul II not only repeated Paul VI’s cry for peace many times, he admonished President George W. Bush in a message ahead of that administration’s pre-emptive attack on Iraq, advising that God was not on the side of the United States. Pope Benedict XVI, even questioned if it was “still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war?'” Pope Francis at Hiroshima in November, 2019, argued that “Violence is not the cure for our broken world” and, just this week warned after the Suleimani assassination that “War brings only death and destruction.”

As these recent pontiffs signal, the Catholic Church is increasingly a peace church – a church which never justifies war. This should give us pause. If peace is the only justification, then surely we must look at military forces in a different way.

If you’ve not had a chance to see the recent movie A Hidden Life, I recommend it. The movie traces the heroic martyrdom of Bl. Franz Jägerstätter. An Austrian and a Secular Franciscan, Jägerstätter refused military service when called up to serve in a war he thought was unjust. For that conscientious objection he was guillotined by the Nazis in 1943. In 2007, he was declared a martyr for his faith by Pope Benedict XVI and was beatified. His feast day is May 21st.

Published in: on January 13, 2020 at 11:41 am  Comments (1)  
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Tweeting a War: While we watch from afar, are we complicit?

Sunset near the Tent of Nations / Nassar Farm, West Bank, June 2010. Photo by Jason Miller.

I read with great relief about this week’s 72 hour humanitarian cease fire in Gaza. I pray that it is for good. I went to Israel and the West Bank as part of an innovative dual-narrative tour with Israeli and Palestinian guides in 2010, during the middle of the Gaza Flotilla incident and have been interested in the conflict there ever since. The last month has been a particularly strange experience trying to keep up on the latest news. Rather than checking news outlets, I’ve been getting twitter notifications on my phone from young Gazans on the ground—16 year old girls and 20-something college graduates, reporting directly on what’s happening there, usually right before I make dinner or go to bed.

As I read the tweets that will soon give me nightmares-I wonder how it’s possible that so many ordinary citizens who seemed to have lost life’s lottery still try to remain hopeful despite the death and destruction. Most Palestinians are just ordinary citizens, who want to live a normal life like anyone else, and yet, it’s easy to dehumanize them as the “other” because of the nature of the government in Gaza. Hamas gives Israel the justification it needs for civilian causalities. No longer are people in Gaza human beings, but rather, human shields (a debunked myth), collateral damage, or worse, which makes it much easier to justify bombing schools or places of worship. As with most instances of war, it is civilians who end up suffering the most and can do little about their own plight.

When the Gulf War started in 1991 and was broadcast on CNN, it fascinated the American public, able to watch far away bombings from the comfort of their living rooms. War once again became theater, like the days of old, only this time, it was much more distant and detached. Drone warfare further dehumanized acts of war, almost making it like a video game. Most Americans never have to face wars up close—war is for foreigners in far off places, or for poor Americans who enlist, not “us.”

Middle East politics involves feuds and grudges that have existed for centuries, and lately, they’ve made strange bedfellows. As John Stewart so aptly pointed out recently, the United States supplies arms to Israel, and also to Qatar, who then sells them to Hamas. If the United States is selling weapons to both sides in the name of our country’s chosen god, the almighty corporate dollar, does that make Americans complicit in acts of war? What about when we buy products from corporations which make money from war profiteering or when we pay our taxes to the government? And perhaps worse, have we forgotten so much about our shared interconnectedness as fellow human beings that we simply no longer care about innocent people being killed half a world away?

Each night before I go to bed, I have to turn off my phone, to keep it from buzzing all night and reminding me of the horrors of war, at least for a few hours. But before I do, I remind myself of Pope Francis who recently alluded to the words of St. Francis of Assisi and said:

“Now, Lord, help us! Grant us peace, teach us peace, guide us toward peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and grant us the courage to say: ‘no more war!’; ‘with war all is destroyed!’ Instill in us the courage to perform concrete actions to build peace…. Make us willing to listen to the cry of our citizens who ask that our arms be transformed into instruments of peace, our fears to trust and our tensions to forgiveness.”

Pope Francis is right: working for peace is never in vain. We must keep those trapped in the horrors of war, no matter who they are, in our thoughts and prayers.

And may we continue to examine our own lives, speak out for peace, work towards justice, and always remember that we are all members of the same human family.

Jason Miller is FAN’s Director of Campaigns and Development. Follow him on twitter @419in703

Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Mass Slaughter in Syria

Peace Activist Aziz Abu Sarah with a child at a Syrian refugee camp.

Peace Activist Aziz Abu Sarah with a child at a Syrian refugee camp.

I’m someone who considers himself both a consistent life, progressive Catholic, and a proponent of responsibility to protect during times of mass atrocities. I found my friend’s Robert Christian’s recent article  urging consistent life proponents to demand action, specifically force, in Syria missing the mark. I’ve made no secret about how much the crisis in Syria haunts me,  but as with most mass atrocities, the reality on the ground is a shade of gray.

The conflict in Syria is complicated and heartbreaking. The country started to fall apart in 2011, but the world failed to notice what was happening there until rebel groups began to fight back. Slowly, the West began to take notice, but did little. Since the start of the conflict, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has committed crimes of humanity against his own people, killing 140,000 and displacing millions.

Robert’s argument boils down to this: because the consistent life ethic is typically pacifist, it’s rejection of force in an instance such as the conflict in Syria, makes the entire movement invalid. But calling for peace doesn’t mean that the peace movement is endorsing the death of civilians. In fact, it’s the opposite, as pacifists never would have wanted the war to start in the first place. But since the war is ongoing, what’s the answer for Syria?

If Robert was making the argument to use force in Syria in 2011, he would have a valid point, early on in the conflict, the use of a military or preferably a UN peacekeeping force (as the United States’ reputation on the world stage is questioned) would have been an option. But much like the international community’s response to this conflict, Robert’s article fails to realize that it is now too late for the use of force.

At this point, with all the different factions so entrenched, and the country in such ruin, the only way out is a diplomatic one. Only by sitting down at the negotiating table, can Syrians decide together who will lead their country. Otherwise, we might see a situation like the current one in Iraq, where different factions continue to fight each other for control of the country and civilians are still at risk. Without diplomacy and with Assad gone, the war could still continue with no resolution in sight. Diplomacy would ensure that what is happening in Iraq doesn’t happen in Syria. This means bringing all sides to the table–even Assad–if he’s willing.

In addition to diplomacy, support of refugees, both internal and external, are the ways to best ensure a peaceful end to a violent and senseless war. My friend Aziz Abu Sarah’s work in Syrian refugee camps would be a good place to start to look for hope.

The failure in Syria isn’t a failure of the pacifist community, or of those who consider themselves proponents of a consistent ethic of life—those voices are needed in a world full of violence. Rather, Syria is once again the failure of the international community, who continually exclaims “never again” while it continues to turn its head when mass conflict happens again and again and again.

Someone should get blamed for the tragic things that are happening to the Syrian people, but it needs to be placed on those responsible. It needs to be placed on Assad and more broadly the failures of the international community, not on those calling for peace.

Action needs to be taken, but more force in a country and region torn apart by war could lead to even more grave consequences in the future.

Jason Miller is FAN’s Director of Campaigns and Development. Follow him on twitter @419in703

Photo credit: Aziz Abu Sarah