The brutal murders of twenty-one Coptic Christians by the so-called Islamic State in Libya are grim reminders of the reality of religious persecution in the Middle East. Not only Christians, but other religious minorities face ongoing persecution throughout the region. As well, the refugee crisis that predates the violence of ISIL, having been created by over a decade of military action in the region, calls for our attention and a prudent response.
A solution to the crisis in the Middle East must follow a path with a preferential option for non-violence and peacebuilding. Pope Francis has stated: “the problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response.” He and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have reiterated on a number of occasions that it is “licit” to enforce international and humanitarian law to protect religious ministries and civilians from indiscriminate violence, such as bombardment. Such use of military force, they remind us, must be proportionate and discriminate, and used under consensus formed at the United Nations. Military force alone is not adequate to address the challenges posed by violent extremism and religious persecution; in fact, it is likely to expand the brutality.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is currently pending before Congress needs to be placed within this context. The debate around the AUMF provides Congress and all citizens an opportunity to reflect upon the clear failure of past military solutions and to give fresh consideration of non-violent means and the importance of peacebuilding programs. Pope Francis maintains, “Fanaticism and fundamentalism…need to be countered by…solidarity” that rests “on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom…; commitment to ensuring what each person requires for a dignified life; and care for the natural environment.” With these pillars, Pope Francis provides an outline for a preferential option for non-violence, and a way out of the endless war currently charted by the AUMF.
The Joliet Diocese Social Justice Coalition joins with Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling upon Congress and all citizens, as we engage in the debate on the AUMF, to push for a replacement that provides security, freedom, and development for all peoples in the Middle East, and one which offers more promise of disentanglement from endless military endeavors.
To contribute to this reflection and dialogue the Coalition has prepared a reflection paper (below) which provides an historical overview of the present crisis and lays out several starting points for developing a way forward using principles grounded in the theory and practice of non-violence.
A Call to Peacebuilding and a Preferential Option for Non-Violence: A Statement on 2015 AUMF
Joliet Diocese Social Justice Coalition
“There is no need to bomb.” Bishop Warduni of Baghdad 1
Recent events will mark this spring as a crossroads for U.S. policy and involvement in the Middle East. A shocking array of brutal terrorist killings by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS),2 fullscale U.S. bomber missions,3 and contentious nuclear negotiations between the U.S., Iran, and Israel will have a lasting impact. But what makes this spring different is the chance offered to the public to deliberately consider U.S. war fighting policy in Iraq and Syria by the new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) proposed by the Obama administration.4 This AUMF, like its predecessors of 2001 5 and 2002, 6 has the potential to allow the cycle of violence to expand far beyond a reasoned, proportionate response to any terrorist acts and, with such an unlimited scope, must be rejected. In its place, the U.S. government must invest in a new strategy in the Middle East based on subsidiarity (the involvement of international, regional, and local political entities in their appropriate capacities) 7 and peace-building programs in the spirit of the one whom both Christians and Muslims call Teacher and Prophet, Jesus.
This statement carefully considers the historical context for the rise of ISIS and offers a Catholic alternative, rejecting a renewed war effort.
“Reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist.”– Pope Benedict XVI 8
The rise of ISIS is a realization of blow-back from two key failed U.S. operations. The first is the U.S. led destruction of the government of Iraq based on false accusations of possession of nuclear weapons, etc. The second is the rise of U.S. supported extremist groups in the ongoing Syrian civil war.9 The result is a power vacuum near the border of Syria and Iraq in which an enraged class of young men and women lash out at the U.S. in particular and the West in general.
Previous AUMFs and resultant U.S. actions in the Middle East have greatly contributed to the current crisis and must be considered thoroughly to understand the current situation and the likely fallout from the proposed AUMF.
The 2001 AUMF, passed within a week of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is a sweeping resolution that spans immense geographical and temporal scope. It is the current legal basis for U.S. military and intelligence activity in Afghanistan, Yemen, and other areas. This authorization is so broad that President Obama claims that it covers a ground war against ISIS; as the President has stated, “Existing statutes provide me with the authority I need.”10 It enables administration lawyers to defend wiretapping inside the United States,11 and it has been used to justify the prison at Guantanamo Bay.12 It is the legal face of war at home and abroad: when hostages in orange jumpsuits are executed by ISIS, they make a correspondence with the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody and make a mockery of Western principles of justice.
The 2002 AUMF, often informally referred to as the Iraq Resolution, enabled the war in Iraq. The war was based on false accusations of possession of illegal weapons by the Hussein government of Iraq. For example, in the 2003 State of the Union address, then President Bush claimed that Iraq had access to weaponizable uranium. Shortly after the war began, the claim was retracted. 13 This war was presented to the U.S. public as an effort to be measured in weeks 14 and that the U.S. soldiers would be greeted as liberators.15 In fact, the U.S. met stiff resistance from all strata of Iraqi society, as evidenced by varied forms of resistance, from the thousands of military casualties as an organized defense to ad hoc roadside bombs placed by individuals. The U.S. still has thousands of troops in Iraq.16
U.S. operations in Syria have been ongoing for two or more years. The unrest began with the Syrian Civil war in early 2011. The CIA has been active among Syrian rebel groups since at least 2012, providing weapons and assistance. ISIS developed among these groups. It is impossible to say which groups are allied with ISIS and which support some U.S. friendly notion of liberal government. However, it is clear that the power vacuum in Syria, the plethora of available weapons, and a international network of militant traffic and weapons from as far away as Libya 17 has promoted the rapid development of ISIS into a sizable force.
It should also be noted that the power vacuum in Libya, enabling the growth of ISIS there, is also due to the U.S. supported overthrow of the government and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who was obscenely tormented and killed by a street mob.18 The response by the U.S. Secretary of State was “We came, we saw, he died.”19 Libya is currently a security nightmare 20 and an active area for ISIS activity.21
ISIS thrives in the absence of political order. It is sustained by an abundance of weapons and a supply of available recruits, motivated by rage against the U.S. for destroying their nations, villages, and families. Although coverage of the war in Iraq has greatly diminished in the U.S. over the last decade, massive violence is still front page news in the Middle East. In fact, the 17,073 Iraqi civilian deaths in 2014 exceeded those of peak war years 2003, 2004, or 2005.22 Well after those years, drone strikes and cluster bombs carried by cruise missiles still hit wedding parties 23 and teenagers,24 in the hot war zones as well as Pakistan 25 and Yemen, leaving a legacy of un-exploded ordnance, grief, and resentment.
ISIS will not be restrained by additional U.S. aggression in the region: that will only serve its purposes as a source of propaganda, hatred, and weaponry.
“It is necessary and urgent to build peace!” Pope Francis 26
Now is not the time to review the statements of Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis warning of the consequences of military action in Afghanistan,27 Iraq, 28 and Syria.29 It is the time to reexamine practical peace-building as a last chance to preempt another generation of U.S. led war in the Middle East.
The popes have consistently pointed out the fallacy of reliance on a military solution alone. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is notable for its lack of international cooperation and planning for a political aftermath. 30 While intervention in Afghanistan and Syria has been covered by a veneer of international agreement, Afghanistan is “beset with a daunting array of problems” 31 and is still occupied by 9,800 U.S. soldiers 32 (fourteen years later!) and Syria is the breeding ground for ISIS. The proposed 2015 AUMF offers no insight into political solutions.
The Joy of the Gospel, Sections 4.III and 4.IV, is an escape plan from another generation of war. Pope Francis mentions three key points that deserve careful inspection: the Sermon on the Mount, the example of St. Francis of Assisi, and the need for dialogue.
The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, calls the disciples of Jesus to a radical path of peacebuilding. After the brilliant outline of the Beatitudes, Jesus does not delay in covering murder, vengeance, and adversaries. The fulfillment of the Law is to allow oneself to be transformed by the Sermon. Followers of the Beatitudes provide the salty flavor of amazement at Jesus/ teaching, unbinding them from fear and judgment. It opens imaginations and allows humanity to “live our human life to the fullest.”33
The Sermon on the Mount is not a 5 year plan, a battle plan, or a negotiation strategy. It is a mystery; a road on which the followers of Jesus walk. While nonviolent strategies are powerful political tools, 34 the Sermon itself cannot be decried as practical or impractical to those it calls. It is an inspiration to the People of Faith across time and place, opening them to creativity, dialogue, and the personality of their neighbors, in the appropriate place and time.
The historical event of St. Francis of Assisi in Egypt is one of the lesser known images of the saint, but demonstrates the practical impact of following the Sermon with trust, courage, and innocence.35 During the Fifth Crusade, the saint crossed to Egypt with little fanfare and no entourage. The saint did not accomplish his goal on the first try, he was stymied by weather. But on the second attempt he was able to enter into dialogue with the Sultan, at great personal risk. Under the difficult circumstances, we cannot be sure what happened. As far as St. Francis was concerned, he was the only Italian to visit the Holy Land at that time (the object of the Crusades), and the Franciscans enjoyed privileges at the Holy Places for years to come.
Such dialogue is risky business. As People of Faith, we must prefer the risks of dialogue to the risks of violence. We must reject the great lie of violence: that we can stop human suffering and solve political problems through overwhelming firepower. We must develop, raise up, and support peacemakers and peacemaking societies, even as they are rejected by state elites.36 The U.S. bishops reminded 37 U.S. leaders of the impact of ongoing violence in the region on refugees and religious minorities such as Christians and Kurds, while noting that the Islamic Sunni and Shia sects may be alternately victimized from time to time. They state that the U.S. is morally obligated to “accept its share of these vulnerable cases” such as orphans, widows, and the maimed, and protect refugees in place through licit actions under international consensus.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is providing ongoing help to refugees of all faiths in affected regions, such as Iraq, in collaboration with Caritas Iraq and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. CRS notes that the number, over 4,000,000 internally and externally displaced persons,38 is overwhelming aid must be provided. The number grows by 60,000 each month. Syria faces an extraordinary refugee crisis: 43% of the population is internally or externally displaced.39 The only permanent way to quell the refugee crisis is a political solution. The international community must cautiously pursue this, “instead of arming both sides.”40
More violence will not help these refugees. It is the right and opportune moment to acknowledge the failure of U.S. violence and aggression in the region and fundamentally rethink U.S. policy, casting aside the use of military force and related authorizations.
The principle of subsidiarity reminds us that local solutions are often best. To this end, smallscale dialogue and peacebuilding efforts should be supported, but left to their own deliberations. All agree that the only possible lasting solution to the growing chaos is a trustworthy balance of power among regional and local groups.
1 Quoted on News.va, Feb. 21, 2015.
2 Islamic State Video Shows Beheadings of Egyptian Christians in Libya, New York Times, Feb. 15, 2015.
3 B1 Pilots Describe Bombing Campaign Against ISIS in Kobani, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 17, 2015.
4 Letter from the President to Congress, Feb. 11, 2015.
5 Public Law 10740, 107th Congress, Sept. 18, 2001.
6 Public Law 107243, 107th Congress, Oct. 16, 2002.
7 Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1883.
8 As Cardinal Ratzinger. Quoted in 30 Days, 2003.
9 U.S. Bolsters Ties to Fighters in Syria, Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2012.
10 Letter to Congress, Feb. 11, 2015.
11 Administration Lays Out Legal Case for Wiretapping Program, New York Times, Jan. 19, 2006.
12 Clock Ticks on Authority for Guantanamo Detention, AP, Nov. 23, 2013.
13 Tenet Admits Error in Approving Bush Speech, CNN, Dec. 25, 2003.
14 Rumsfeld: It Would Be A Short War. CBS News, Nov. 15, 2002.
15 Dick Cheney quoted on Meet the Press, NBC News, Mar. 16, 2003.
16 Obama to Send 1,500 More Troops to Iraq as Campaign Expands, Reuters, Nov. 7, 2014.
17 U.N. Panel of Experts on Libya, Security Council report S/2014/106, Feb. 19, 2014.
18 Gaddafi’s Last Moments, The Guardian, Oct. 20, 2012.
19 Clinton on Qaddafi. CBS News, Oct. 20, 2011.
20 US Shutters Embassy in Libya, Evacuates Staff … as Security Deteriorates in Tripoli, Fox News, July 26, 2014.
21 ISIS Fighters Take Over Major Libyan Oilfields. Time Magazine, Mar. 4, 2015.
22 Numbers from iraqbodycount.org. The only years that exceeded 2014 in fatalities were 2006 and 2007.
23 US Cluster Bombs Killed 35 Women and Children, The Telegraph, June 2010.
24 We Dream About Drones, Said 13yearold Yemeni Before His Death in a CIA Strike, The Guardian, Feb. 10, 2015. “Kids in this area wake up from sleeping because of nightmares… They turned our area into hell.”
25 US drone strike killings in Pakistan and Yemen ‘unlawful’, BBC News, Oct. 22, 2013. The U.N. reports over 400 civilian fatalities in Pakistan alone.
26 Angelus, Jan. 4, 2015. “At home? Make peace! In your community? Make peace! In your work? Make peace!”
27 Pope, Not Mentioning U.S., Urges Military Restraint, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2001.
28 Pope St. John Paul II, Address to the Diplomatic Corps, Jan. 13, 2003.
29 Pope Francis Appeals to World Leaders to Avoid ‘Futile’ Syria Strike, L.A. Times, Sept. 5, 2013.
30 Memo: U.S. Lacked Full Postwar Iraq Plan. Washington Post, June 12, 2005.
31 Afghanistan’s Steep Path to Stability. Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2014.
32 New, Expanded Rules for U.S. Combat in Afghanistan in 2015, Military Times, Nov. 25, 2014.
33 Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph 75.
34 Chenoweth and Stephan. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. 2012.
35 “He made a dash for his Mediterranean enterprise with something of the air of a schoolboy running away to sea.” G. K. Chesterton.
36 “The contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule.” Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 496.
37 U.S. Catholic Bishops Urgently Call For Greater Protection Of Middle East Religious Minorities, USCCB news release, Feb. 24, 2015.
38 CRS web site: http://crs.org/iraq
39 Almost Half of Syria’s Population Has Been Uprooted, The Atlantic, Aug. 30, 2014.
40 USCCB/CRS letter to John Kerry, June 19, 2013.