Category - Peace

1
Islamic Scholars to ISIL: Islam Forbids Your Actions
2
Let’s Not Forget About Nuclear Disarmament
3
Just War Against ISIL?
4
In Solidarity with Ukraine
5
Against a clash of civilizations: The Common Word
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Speaker for the Dead
7
Walking the Walk: The Annual Prayer for Peace of the Community of Sant’Egidio

Islamic Scholars to ISIL: Islam Forbids Your Actions

ISIL claims to be Islamic. Now, a letter signed by over 100 highly respected Muslim scholars has decisively condemned ISIL’s rhetoric and behavior, and urged the ISIL leader to desist and repent. The signatories describe their views as representative of the “overwhelming majority of Sunni scholars over the course of Islamic history”. Given that ISIL draws some recruits from Sunni Muslims in its fight with Shii Muslims, this letter has the potential to dissuade some recruits, provided that media outlets and social networks help publicize it.

The letter makes 24 points on ISIL’s assertions and activities. Taking a traditional jurisprudential approach, the document cites religious reasoning forbidding virtually all the abhorrent acts feeding ISIL’s notoriety, such as mutilation, killing emissaries, enslavement, torture, desecration of graves and shrines, and ill treatment of women, children, and other religious groups (especially Christians and Yazidis). In these alone, the letter is noteworthy.

Yet this document does more: it addresses the extraordinarily consequential question of who can interpret Islam, and what assertions count as religiously authoritative interpretations. To better explain this, consider that Islam in general, and Sunni tradition in particular, is decentralized in religious authority structures: there is little in the way of a clerical hierarchy. Social conflicts and new communications technologies have added to the crowded field of self-proclaimed religious voices.

Decentralization means that it is hard to mobilize an authoritative response to misguided religious claims. However, decentralization does not necessarily mean interpretative anarchy. There are established norms governing religious interpretation. The first point made by the signatories is that fatwas (religious legal opinions) cannot be offered without the necessary learning requirements, and must be grounded in Islamic legal theory. From this follow points about specific prerequisites for religious legal interpretation, such as mastery of language and refraining from “cherry-picking” sacred texts, and several points related to ISIL’s wrong assertions about jihad.

Religious vigilantes are those with rudimentary Islamic education who arrogate to themselves to the roles of judge, jury, and executioner. Religious vigilantes like ISIL deviate from the norms that guide traditional religious deliberation.  By condemning ISIL’s behavior, this document condemns vigilante brutality in the name of Islam. By affirming the prerequisites of religious interpretation, this document demands a more elevated religious deliberative community.

In one religious ideal, a non-coercive setting would permit the coexistence of different religious interpretations, with people effectively agreeing to disagree. This would allow for thoughtful public deliberation where diverse views are aired and carefully examined. The reality is that some refuse the ground rules, and disputes can turn into shouting matches, where the biggest megaphones and fists prevail. To work for long-term peace, the wider community should breathe life into norms of public deliberation, opening avenues for the redress of grievances, and ensuring that all injustices are held to account.

Let’s Not Forget About Nuclear Disarmament

On September 22, in a little-noted address to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Archbishop Antoine Camilleri, the Holy See’s foreign minister, reiterated the Holy See’s long-standing call for “a world free of weapons of mass destruction.”

This call for nuclear disarmament is motivated by concerns about the increased risk of the use of nuclear weapons due to nuclear proliferation, accidental launch, and terrorists obtaining nuclear capabilities.  It is also motivated by the “appalling” humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, as well as “a sobering assessment of the immense resources required to maintain and modernize nuclear arsenals.”  In language uncharacteristically blunt for a Vatican diplomat, he concludes that “the mere existence of these weapons is absurd and that arguments in support of their use are an affront against the dignity of all human life.”

It is easy to dismiss this and similar statements by Vatican diplomats and popes as little more than hortatory or utopian appeals by religious leaders who do not bear the burden of making the hard choices faced by political and military leaders.  And that was the fate of many such statements in decades past.

But today, religious leaders are, in some ways, behind their political and military counterparts.  The policy debate on nuclear disarmament has moved ahead of the ethical debate.

The U.S. nuclear debate is a case in point.  The Catholic Church in the United States played a significant role in the nuclear policy debate of the 1980s.  In their pastoral letter of 1983, The Challenge of Peace, the U.S. bishops declared that nuclear deterrence is ethically permissible only as a step toward progressive disarmament. Some of those who dismissed that call for progressive disarmament as utterly utopian in 1983 have since taken it up as their own.  Three decades later, in a radically transformed world, the moral imperative for disarmament identified by the bishops is now endorsed as a policy goal by prominent military and political figures, as well as by the U.S., Russian and other governments.

Although U.S. bishops and the Vatican continue to question the legitimacy of nuclear deterrence and have called for greater progress toward a world without nuclear weapons, the role of the Catholic community in this debate has diminished in recent decades.  Many of the Catholic bishops who spoke on these issues have passed on or retired. More important, scholars have devoted little attention to the new ethical challenges that arise as the world moves toward global zero. Catholic scholars, even those deeply committed to Catholic social teaching, are generally uninformed about and unengaged in the nuclear debate at the very time when the Church’s long-standing calls for disarmament are gaining traction among policymakers.

There is a gap in the ethical analysis needed to sustain calls for nuclear disarmament by religious leaders and policy experts.  Questions that need fuller examination include:

  • What is the relationship between nuclear deterrence and disarmament as the world moves toward a nuclear ban?  Since global zero would likely make nuclear weapons even more valuable, more usable and more destabilizing given the risk of nuclear break out, what forms of deterrence would be morally acceptable then?
  • Would new forms of deterrence and defense have to be complemented by a new doctrine of disarmament intervention?
  • Does an ethics of disarmament require further development of a political ethic of peacebuilding?
  • What are the implications for an ethics of sovereignty and the role of international insitutions if a global ban on nuclear disarmament is to be effective?

With the support of former Senator Sam Nunn’s Nuclear Threat Initiative, the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies has teamed up with the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and Boston College on a new Project on Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament.

This project was launched in April of this year with a colloquium for bishops, scholars and students at Stanford’s Hoover Institution that was hosted by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. A symposium on the ethics of nuclear disarmament is taking place this week at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  That will be followed by public events at Catholic universities around the country, as well as a concerted effort to publish scholarly articles.  At the same time, we will work with Global Zero groups on college campuses to catalyze greater engagement in this issue by young people.

Strengthening the Church’s capacity to support and engage in the policy debate on nuclear disarmament will require expanding the number of bishops and Catholic ethicists and teachers who are well-versed on the moral and policy issues at stake. It will require the development of a sophisticated body of scholarly reflection on the ethics of non-proliferation and disarmament that is comparable to what was produced during the Cold War. It will also mean encouraging greater public engagement on these issues, particularly among young people.  This multi-faceted approach will help empower a core group of Catholic bishops, ethicists, opinion makers, and youth leaders who will be well placed to make a distinctive contribution to the ethical and policy debate on nuclear disarmament.

For further information:

Archbishop Antoine Camilleri address to IAEA, September 22, 2014: http://www.aleteia.org/en/world/aggregated-content/holy-see-calls-for-a-world-free-of-nuclear-weapons-5775544201248768

Press release on Stanford colloquium, April 28, 2014: http://www.usccb.org/news/2014/14-070.cfm

Press release on statement by Rev. John Jenkins, CSC. President, University of Notre Dame, April 28, 2014

http://news.nd.edu/news/48001-bishops-notre-dame-and-other-universities-encouraged-by-schultz-perry-and-nunn-commit-to-revitalizing-catholic-engagement-on-nuclear-disarmament/

Essays on Catholics, Universities and the Nuclear Threat in Peace Policy, May 2014: http://t.e2ma.net/message/ssm0h/c480k

 

Just War Against ISIL?

Congress approved President Obama’s plan to expand military and counter terrorism actions to degrade and defeat ISIL. ISIL has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to United Nations investigators, deliberately targeting and killing thousands of civilians.  Many in Congress and the public call for the U.S. to further bomb ISIL, in order to stop their killing campaigns, to kill them so that they will not kill others, particularly civilians.  The Pope and other Catholic leaders have been criticized for their statements on the need to protect civilians and build a lasting peace for all in Syria and Iraq, especially persecuted minorities and Christians. Yet the Holy Father and the Holy See, as well as career military officers, are the voices of reason in these debates, repeatedly pointing out that bombing ISIL is not the same as building a lasting peace in the region; the U.S. cannot bomb its way to peace.  Only politics, dialogue, inclusion, and nonmilitary options can build sustainable peace.

ISIL and Syria’s deliberate targeting of noncombatants violates international law, as well as ancient moral codes about the use of force, known as Just War tradition (JWT).  But would expanded U.S. military strikes constitute a just response?

St. Thomas Aquinas never imagined a world of robot drones dropping hellfire missiles, or the use of chemical weapons that kill thousands of people in a breath, but these old moral codes can still provide guidance in modern warfare.  JWT is a centuries-old guide to thinking about when and how it can ever by morally justifiable to violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” JWT holds that even during warfare we are still capable of moral behavior, and still obligated to protect human life and dignity. JWT stakes out the middle ground between realpolitik, which always allows war, and pacifism, which never allows war.

            Before entering combat there must be a just cause such as self defense and the protection of human life. Certainly the Iraqis and Syrians have the right to use force to defend themselves against the attacks of ISIL and of the Assad regime.  But do external actors such as the U.S., Britain, and others, have a just cause to militarily intervene to protect civilians in Iraq and Syria from ISIL as well as from their own brutal government?

Beyond just cause, a whole package of JWT moral criteria must also be met.  Only a right, public authority can enter into war, guided by the right intention of protecting peace and the common good. Force can only be used as a last resort, when success is possible, and the harms of war will not outweigh the reasons for going to war. During war, force must be discriminate and proportional.  Civilians must be protected, not targeted.  In discussing potential limited military targets, the Obama Administration shows attention to proportionality and discrimination.

The ISIL and Syrian cases are hard because they hit JWT on its growing edge, humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect (or “R2P”).  Some just war thinkers propose that expanding just cause to include protection of civilians in humanitarian interventions should correspond with restricting right authority to only a right, public, international authority such as the United Nations, not a decision made unilaterally by a single state alone.  The Responsibility to Protect takes this approach.  R2P is a new international security and human rights norm, adopted in 2005, to address the international community’s failures to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  R2P notes that the state has the primary responsibility for protecting its own civilians from atrocities.  But if a state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, as when the Assad regime perpetrates war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own citizens, then the international community has a responsibility to protect endangered civilians.  R2P and JWT both  prescribe non-military means be used first.  But if peaceful humanitarian and diplomatic means fail, the international community must be prepared to use collective force authorized by the UN Security Council.  Stipulating an international right authority is good in theory, to restrict states from defining military interventions as “humanitarian” that were more self-serving in nature.  But restricting right authority to the UN Security Council raises the bar for intervention in a way that is difficult to reach.  In practice it means usually only civilians in diplomatically isolated or pariah states could effectively claim a UN right to protection. For Syrians it has made international authorization near impossible over the past year, as the permanent members of the UN security council, such as Russia, promise to veto any UN Security Council motion for intervening in its ally, Syria.  Ironically, ISIL’s own brutality is today driving greater international consensus.  President Obama is asking the UN Security Council to act, but is conducting an expanded campaign regardless of the UN response.

Probability of success and comparative justice (the idea that more good than harm will come of intervention) are the hardest Just War criteria to meet in the ISIL and Syrian cases.  According to Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker as well as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, any military intervention may fail.  Dropping bombs will not build a lasting peace.  U.S. military intervention could make matters worse, according to General Dempsey.  “We could inadvertently empower extremists.”  Arming the locals can backfire.  ISIL wields US weapons–humvees, tanks, machine guns, and artillery– which they seized from the Iraqi military.  ISIL may be attempting to lure the U.S. into greater military interventions in Iraq and Syria, thus painting themselves as legitimately responding to foreign aggressors and occupiers of Muslim lands.

Just War Tradition attempts to limit war, but here lies the problem. Limiting war, however laudable and needed in containing ISIL, is not the same as building peace.  The U.S. has made this mistake before.  In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration invaded with little attention beforehand to the most basic aspects of how they would build peace after invading.  Military interventions can backfire, make things worse, and have unintended consequences.  There was no al Qaeda or ISIL in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion; the U.S. invasion created both.  Today, those who simplistically applaud military interventions against ISIL focus on the tactics of war, but not the strategies of peace. They weigh tactical, operational questions of military logistics, basing, and targeting, the how-to of military destruction.  But what sort of peace do we seek in Iraq and Syria and the Levant region? If a U.S. military intervention helped contain ISIL, who would govern these countries and how? Too often the U.S. engages in military magical thinking.  Yet the overwhelming predominance of the U.S. military power to destroy does not carry with it some magical power to easily create new political orders and institutions.  When 160,000 U.S. troops were fighting in Iraq, they were not able to create a stable, political order.  How will much smaller military operations achieve this now?  Peace must be built, with time, trust, and societal participation, as described in emerging Just Peace moral criteria.  JWT must be married to these just peace criteria.  Iraq and Syria show how much we need an expanded toolbox for building just peace.

In Solidarity with Ukraine

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, an event which took place – in collusion with Hitler – just 16 days after the German invasion of the western border that marked the outbreak of World War II. Executed on the basis of the Ribbentrop-Mołotow pact, the invasion of 700,000 members of Stalin’s Red Army represents one of the most tragic moments of Polish history. The Soviet advance, like the German advance, was characterised by war crimes and crimes against humanity, arguably also acts of genocide. Yet Poland was left to fight alone against totalitarian agressors on both fronts.

75 years on, war in Europe is a painful reality once again. Poles feel a particular solidarity toward their Ukrainian neighbours who have struggled to defend their territorial integrity after months of Russian-backed agression. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, stressed during his recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine that the situation in the country must be recognized as “a direct invasion by Russia”.

While we long for peace, there is much evidence to suggest that the most recent ceasefire implemented by Ukrainian forces was engineered by Putin to further advance his own strategic interests. Linda Kinstler suggests that bills passed yesterday in the Ukrainian parliament that grant three years of self-rule to rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk, represent “huge concessions” to Putin and pro-Russian separatists. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the bills in part as a symbolic olive branch, in part as recognition of the fait accompli: Ukraine does not and will not control these parts of Donbas as Russia will not allow it to do so. Whichever way we look at it, such “concessions” on the part of President Poroshenko are understandable in light of the West’s own concessions towards Moscow, including the decision last Friday by EU leaders to withhold full implementation of a long awaited EU-Ukraine Association Agreement until 2016.

So what should we expect will happen next?

Several weeks ago, Anne Applebaum warned us about attempts by Russia to carve out a new state under the name of Novorossiya (“New Russia”):

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here — Novorossiya can grow larger over time.

Yesterday, Linda Kinstler noted the „New Russian” aspirations of the pro-Russian separatists who have maintained control of Donetsk and Luhansk, reporting that,

the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics announced they are merging their militias into a single force, the United Army of Novorossiya, which will liberate Ukraine from “Nazi scum.” These are the people who will be ruling the populations of Donegal and Luhansk for the next three years.

In other words, New Russia is there to stay: the only question is whether it will stay within its present borders or grow. Judging by current developments, the latter option seems more than plausible.

While Western states have been reluctant to provide direct assistance to the Ukrainian military, Polish citizens have found their own way to express solidarity with those who have spent weeks trying to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Last week Poles sent their own humanitarian convoy to areas worst affected by ongoing conflict. The convoy delivered desperately needed supplies – winter clothing, socks and underwear for the military, toys for displaced children, medication and even off-road vehicles. But the situation of both Ukrainian combatants and civilians near the front line looks bleak. Many have been without energy or water for weeks; the Russians have effective control of the gas supply, and a harsh winter lies ahead. There are tens of thousands of IDPs across the country and tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border.

President Poroshenko’s visit to DC this week is very timely. While many Ukrainians feel betrayed by the West, some look to the USA as its last hope. At this time of great uncertainty, we should pray that the USA will find a way to walk in solidarity with Ukraine on the precarious road toward a just and sustainable peace – at least within what is left of its borders.

Against a clash of civilizations: The Common Word

Some commenters reject the attempts to distinguish ISIL from Islam more broadly. Their underlying belief seems to be that Islam is at war with the Judeo-Christian West. And it is a fact that self-described Islamic political actors have been fighting the West. The “clash of civilizations” story is alive and well. Yet there is a danger in the story: if people act as if the story is true, they risk turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Westerners will target Muslims, Muslims will target Westerners, and the conflict will escalate into all domains where Islam and West potentially collide. Wider still is what would happen if the story of civilizations at war extended to all Muslims and Christians–together, they make up over half the world’s population.

Other stories exist, yet haven’t reached many Muslims and Westerners. A crucial one is the path-breaking initiative in Muslim Christian relations known as “A Common Word Between Us”. This authoritative statement has been signed by diverse Muslim authorities from around the globe. The initiative seeks to affirm the two greatest commandments- to love God above all, and to love for one’s neighbor what one love’s for oneself- as the basis for relations between Muslims and Christians. It invites Christians to work with Muslims on this basis, and says that to do otherwise would be to risk not only our worldly well-being, but our very souls. The Common Word initiative provides principles for a constitutional reset in Muslim-Christian relations. As I have recently argued, institutional design founded on these principles can promote cooperation between Muslims and Christians.

Unlike the Catholic context, where the teaching of Nostra Aetate could be spread among Catholics within a generation through the structure of bishops, the Muslim world is decentralized. Religious instruction is not dominated by an ordained clergy, but by a less hierarchical community. Traditionally, well-trained scholars and spiritual masters were pre-eminent Muslim religious instructors. Consensus was difficult to achieve. In our age, traditional authority has further eroded, making consensus even harder. It is all the more remarkable that the initiative has been endorsed by such a wide geographic and theological range of Muslim scholars, including figures with tremendous reputations in different communities. The teaching thus has the status of an authoritative claim about how Muslims are to relate to Christians.

Despite an initial wave of publicity, the document is still not commonly known. To make the Common Word a widespread reality, creative emulation and reciprocation through networks and institutions are needed. This is not impossible. It demands transnational entrepreneurship, awareness-raising, and civic artisanship. Particularly valuable would be the demonstration that the initiative has provided meaningful avenues for the redress of grievances. This would help stem the turn to violent alternatives. Tangible results of cooperation can further change the clash story. And that possibility depends on what Muslims and Christians do now.

Speaker for the Dead

As séances go, says Timothy Larsen in the latest issue of Books & Culture, most tend to be awfully one sided: a question, a gust of wind, a tap on the desk, a flicker of the lights. Not much of a dialogue, he says, which sadly tends to be the way we deal with the dead even when we’re using the tools of history and not a Ouija board.

The pillaging of the past for clear and unambiguous stories that make sense of the present day is not a new problem, but it’s earned a special place in the conflagration in Iraq in the last month. Yesterday, the New York Times ran some easy reading on how “Longtime Rivals Look to Team Up to Confront ISIS,” a feel good round up about how pretty much everyone in the region is grudgingly putting aside old enmities to face ISIS/ISIL together. “I don’t think there’s been anything like this since the seventh century,” quoted one former American ambassador. It’s a delicious piece of journalistic overstatement, but it also fingers the pitiless, and instrumentalist, way the history of the region is often picked over in the moment to score today’s talking points.

There has, in fact, been something like this since the seventh century. The now accepted truism that Shia and Sunni Muslim traditions are nearly eternal and intractable enemies neglects not only the basic political-theological history of a region, often defined by its mutual vulnerability to external threats (say, the Mongol demolition of central Asia), but also long histories of exchange and dialogue between groups that might alarm us. S. Frederick Starr in his important new book, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane makes a long point that not only did scholars and theologians across ‘long time rival traditions’ engage in regular debate and dialogue, but that dialogue was itself the fruit of a great deal of scientific, philosophical, theological, and medicinal innovation. Further, he speaks at length of the central Asian legacy of these achievements, not only their Islamic origin, harkening both to Zoroastrian and Buddhist roots of what only retrospectively gets called the Islamic renaissance of culture and science. We hear stories about paper making in Khwarazm, of that jewel of trade and culture Samarkand, the astronomical sophistication of Balk, and the urban academies of Merv.

But to read (some) political commentary on war in the region today would convince you that rival political-theological traditions of Islam have been making total war on each other since the first Fitna (656-661). This is true in the same way as the wars of religion in Europe (1618-1648) were an uncomplicated contest between Protestants and Catholics, an easy history which all but the most committed dogmatics have long since abandoned. In fact, the history of central Asia is replete with historical facts on both sides of the argument – of fitnas and dynastic war, but also of interreligious, scientific, and cultural renaissance.

It serves present-day sensibilities, and sensationalism, to give a picture of a region/religion that is hopelessly and eternally divided, driven to aligning tactically on the back of the atrocities of ISIS/ISIL. Tactical alignment, as Nasr says, may be a present reality, but it is neither a first, nor last time, something like that has happened in a region, one time Center of the World, one time home of the world’s greatest, most enduring empires. Dan Philpott writes about the global resurgence of religion that the more interesting question is not ‘why religion is back’ but ‘why we [in the West] ever thought it went away.’ Larsen might say a version of that question is the more interesting for central Asia too. The more interesting question is not ‘why regional interests have aligned for the first time since the seventh century’ but ‘why we ever thought they hadn’t before.’

Walking the Walk: The Annual Prayer for Peace of the Community of Sant’Egidio

Today is the final day of the International Meeting of People and Religions in Antwerp, Belgium, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.  The meeting is an annual event that was first held in 1986 in Assisi, Italy, hosted by Pope John Paul II.  Though interreligious dialogue can be long on wind and short on fruit, having been to one of the Sant’Egidio gatherings, I can attest that they are meaty and worth checking into.  Explore the website linked above, with its webcasts and conference schedule.  The level of analysis is always high; attendance by world religious leaders is typically impressive; and the relationships that form there often bring concrete results for peace.

Behind this substance is the Community’s track record of walking the walk for peace.  Its major breakthrough was its negotiation of the end of Mozambique’s civil war in 1992, a war that took 1.6 million lives and lasted 16 years.  Few entities other than governments and international diplomats have ever pulled off such a success and the Community did it through its extensive network of friendships in Mozambique dating back to the early 1970s.  Since Mozambique, the Community has negotiated for peace in Algeria, Kosovo, Liberia, Burundi, Uganda, Guatemala and many other places.  A recent book documents these efforts.  (Two ArcU bloggers, Andrea Bartoli and myself, are members of the Community.)

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.