Liberal Christians Think that “Community-Based Nonviolent Resistance Strategies” are the Key to Defeating ISIS
It would be nice if we could gather all the butchers in ISIS together around a campfire, break out the guitar and settle our differences with a nice round of Kumbaya passing around a big fat joint and a bottle of Jack Daniels. This is almost what the Catholic, Washington-based Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns have proposed. They recently posted a letter addressed to President Obama and other White House officials at the end of August. Signed by 53 national religious groups (including Maryknoll), academics, and ministers, the letter urged the White House to avoid warfare in Iraq by resorting to “a broader set of smart, effective nonviolent practices to engage hostile conflicts.” The strategies are part of “a fresh way to view and analyze conflicts” offered by an emerging ecumenical paradigm called “justpeace” (a cutesy combination of justice and peace). This approach was initiated by the Faith Forum for Middle East Policy, a “network of Christian denominations and organizations working for a just peace in the Middle East.” The signers expressed their “deep concern” not so much over “the dire plight of Iraqi civilians” being slaughtered by ISIS as “the recent escalation of U.S. military action” in response. “U.S. military action is not the answer,” they claim, sounding a pacifist note common among left-leaning Christians. “We believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.” Good luck with that. It doesn’t take a diplomatic genius to know that ISIS’ response to such flaccid tactics would be the same as the one they delivered recently in a video warning to the U.S.: “We will drown all of you in blood.” But the left deals in wishful thinking, not reality. Thus the signers affirm, with Pope Francis, that “peacemaking is more courageous than warfare” – a statement that makes a great bumper sticker for Priuses but has no basis in fact. “It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” concedes Pope Francis, but “stop” does not mean wage war, which he calls the “suicide of humanity.” Typical of the blame-America-first left, the letter’s signers faulted “decades of U.S. political and military intervention, coupled with inadequate social reconciliation programs,” for “the current crisis in Iraq.” More violence, they believe, will simply lead to “a continual cycle of violent intervention” that does not address “the root causes of the conflict.” You know that when the left speaks of “root causes,” they mean poverty, social injustice, imperialism – all of the familiar grievances whereby the left legitimizes “freedom fighters” such as ISIS. The left is also fond of the notion of the “cycle of violence” – as if both sides are equally to blame, and if one side takes the bold step to end that cycle, the other side will stop as well.
An emerging ecumenical paradigm called “justpeace” offers a fresh way to view and analyze conflicts. This gives rise to the realization of a broader set of smart, effective nonviolent practices to engage hostile conflicts. See below for a recent example of this approach initiated by the ecumenical Faith Forum for Middle East Policy.
August 27, 2014
Dear President Obama:
As religious communities, leaders, and academics, we write to express our deep concern over the recent escalation of U.S. military action in Iraq. While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.
Pope Francis has affirmed that “peacemaking is more courageous than warfare,” and more recently said that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop;’ I don’t say bomb, make war — stop him.” But how, we ask?
In addition to the complex factors spilling over from the civil war in Syria and pressure from other neighbors, decades of U.S. political and military intervention, coupled with inadequate social reconciliation programs, have significantly contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. More bombing will ultimately mean more division, bloodshed, recruitment for extremist organizations, and a continual cycle of violent intervention.
The current state of crisis and the breakdown of state institutions in Libya provide another stark example of the failure of a militarized strategy. Like Libya, the air strikes in Iraq will ultimately fail to build and maintain sustainable peace in the long-term.
We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians. However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not “necessary” to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the “suicide of humanity.”
There are better, more effective, more healthy and more humanizing ways to protect civilians and to engage this conflict. Using an alternative frame, here are some “just peace” ways the United States and others can not only help save lives in Iraq and the region, but also begin to transform the conflict and break the cycle of violent intervention. To begin, the United States should take the following steps:
- Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.
- Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence. Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.
Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq. Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel-back some of the persons joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with influence on key actors in the Islamic State.
- Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full participation in the process.
- Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties. For example, experts have suggested strategies such as parallel institutions, dispersed disruptions, and economic non-cooperation.
- Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council. For example, disrupting the Islamic State’s $3 million/day oil revenue from the underground market would go a long way toward blunting violence.
- Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.
- Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. U.S. arms and military assistance to the government forces and ethnic militias in Iraq, in addition to arming Syrian rebel groups, have only fueled the carnage, in part due to weapons intended for one group being taken and used by others. All armed parties have been accused of committing gross violations of human rights. Along with Russia, work with key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to take independent initiatives and meaningful steps towards an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict.
- Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level. Deep sectarian and ethnic divisions have long been exacerbated by various factors, including the U.S. military intervention in 2003. Sustainable peace will require peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts from the ground up.
With hope, deep-felt prayers, and a splash of courage, we ask you to move us beyond the ways of war and into the frontier of just peace responses to violent conflict.