Author’s note: Yesterday Jihad Watch posted an AP article about how Pope Francis is considering dropping the Catholic Church’s Just War doctrine. The article’s author, Maria J. Stephan, attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy with me, where she was a noted advocate of nonviolence. She sent an email to the school community in the days following the September 11, 2001, attacks promoting supposedly creative thinking about nonviolence as a strategy, although the email’s author conceded that nonviolence would not work in all conflicts such as those involving Al Qaeda. The email advocated policies like seeking Arab-Israeli peace to remove the grievances that supposedly motivated groups like Al Qaeda (how original).
Stephan has also edited a volume entitled Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East that “examines the past, present, and future of advancing justice, rights, and democracy without the use of violence in one of the most fascinating and geopolitically important areas of the world.” In this volume Stephan co-wrote a chapter analyzing various nonviolent strategies that helped the 1979 overthrow of Iran’s Shah (some justice).
As the following article (originally published at Juicy Ecumenism) shows, one of the organizers of this Vatican conference praised by her, Pax Christi, is perhaps even more radical than Stefan. Those considering this call to abolish traditional Christian Just War doctrine should beware.
As previously analyzed by Juicy Ecumenism, an April Pax Christi International Vatican gathering proclaimed in opposition to centuries of Christian teaching that “there is no ‘just war.’” This extraordinary statement merits closer inspection of this pacifist Catholic group whose radical views are particularly pronounced amidst various conflicts involving the Islamic world today.
Founded in France after World War II, the now global PCI ascribes human conflict not to a fallen world’s evils demanding self-defense as a last resort, but rather to hackneyed leftist explanations of “root causes.” “Many conflicts have roots in our fears and prejudices,” one PCI webpage states, as if merely more human interaction could prevent genocide by Nazis and others. Accordingly, PCI asserts in flat denial of decades-long policies of containment and President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” that the “Cold War came to an end mostly without violence, and the peace movement greatly contributed to this.”
PCI and its Co-President Marie Dennis manifest well-worn Marxist materialist themes. The organization’s website attributes conflict to the “fear of not being able to develop oneself as an individual as a result of limited access to basic resources such as food.” Per Dennis, the “militarization of US foreign policy is the result of many interconnected factors, including unsustainable US lifestyles that are highly dependent on natural resources from around the world, the power of arms manufacturers.”
Unsurprisingly, PCI chapters and allies worldwide support a potpourri of leftist causes, like gun control in America. PCI issued a statement before the November 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris declaring that a “peaceful future depends on climate justice now.” PCI’s Australia chapter similarly issued a statement examining the “human rights dimensions of fracking.”
By contrast, PCI’s almost uniformly benign views on Islam indicate a rejection of any understanding that violent behavior could result from bad ideological beliefs. PCI’s website saw in the 2011 Islamist-dominated “Arab Spring” a “cry for democracy” and “new prospects for freedom in the Arab world” while similar naïveté marked a 2016 PCI document. This asserted that a “new wave of peaceful demonstrations in Syria” show that Syrians “are clear about what they want: a united, democratic Syria where all citizens enjoy equal rights.”
PCI’s website asserts a fundamental moral equivalence among all faiths with the statement that the “non-violent perspectives of all religions in their Holy Scriptures should be promoted.” PIC evinces little interest in critical inquiry into Islam, as a 2015 event on “Islamophobia” by one of its Belgian chapters suggests. “Islamophobia is not just a criticism of Islam—it is an act of racism,” the event description shrilly declared concerning this undefined phobia (irrational fear) of a religion, not a race.
With parallel illogic, PCI’s German chapter chose precisely March 21, 2006, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to make a bizarre commentary upon the Danish Muhammad cartoons published the previous fall. These German peacemakers determined that Muslims rioting worldwide against these cartoons demonstrated how Islam and its adherents had suffered past and present Western injustices such as colonialism. Thus the “most important task today is not to protect or uphold a supposedly threatened freedom of opinion. Much more important is to help a marginalized and out of favor faith find again dignity and freedom.”
In yet another proclamation of pacifism to a supposedly rational humanity, this German chapter and Dennis opposed military action against brutal, genocidal Islamic State (IS) jihadists. PCI Germany urged German military personnel to object conscientiously to current German participation in military action against IS while she was among the signatories to a letter to President Barack Obama. American airstrikes would only lead to the “accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters,” the letter stated. 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.”
Rose-colored optimism also permeates PCI’s assessment of the July 14, 2015, Iran nuclear agreement. Two days later PCI praised “this important diplomatic accomplishment as a critical step toward nuclear non-proliferation and, ultimately, nuclear abolition.” Additionally, the “deal will enable Iran to play a more active role in regional politics” so that this leading state terror sponsor can somehow ameliorate conflicts in Iraq and Syria. By contrast, PCI has worried that “some warmongers may still try to sabotage this deal” given that nuclear nonproliferation fears often provoke “irrational actions” like Israel’s 2007 airstrike destroying Syria’s nuclear facilities.
Concerning Iran, PCI’s German chapter in 2006 offered strangely discordant, brief glimpses of realism, perhaps influenced by an unavoidable German history of genocide. Iranian leadership has formulated “antisemitism as a state ideology,” these Germans noted, an ideology that undergirds “anti-Semitic tendencies in Islam and in the political culture of many countries of the Near and Middle East.” Additionally, “Iran demands and/or wishes the concrete abolition of the state of Israel and therefore a possible direction for the military use of Iran’s atomic competencies is indicated.”
Concerning Israel, by contrast, PCI sees apparently only evil and “has embraced the Kairos Palestine agenda,” as noted by Jerusalem-based writer Malcolm Lowe. As Lowe has analyzed, the 2009 Kairos Palestine document calls for the effective destruction of an Israel equated with apartheid South Africa with Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and a Palestinian “right of return.” This would demographically destroy Israel’s Jewish state via an influx of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s 1948 independence war.
The PCI-Kairos Palestine connection is little wonder given that one of the document’s main authors, Michel Sabbah, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1987 to 2008, was PCI president from 1999 to 2007. Denounced by some as the “Patriarch of Terror,” this Palestinian has a long history of apologizing for Islam and terror. His condemnation of Israel also easily mixes with the antisemitism present in the Kairos Palestine document itself, as condemned by the Central Council of American Rabbis.
A criticized August 22, 2006, “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” signed by Sabbah and other Palestinian Christian leaders accused that “Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.” Although the “struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently” according to the declaration, Sabbah’s other statements have been less nonviolent, reflecting similar Kairos Palestine discrepancies. “Love is power and Jihad and does not express weakness,” he has stated; meanwhile “Israelis have moved only forced by violence … Every country has been born in blood.”
Sabbah’s other statements are also ambivalent about nonviolence. In 2015 speech, he stated that “…faced directly by death…to give our life as martyrs for our faith and for the life of our own enemy…alone is the Christian choice.” Alternatively, in a 2002 Newsweek interview he considered it “necessary to treat each one according to his own principles. As Muslims see it, suicide bombers are giving their lives for their country, to gain their liberty.”
Sabbah’s May 2006 interviews with the French publications Le Monde and Le Figaro concerning the jihadist terrorist group Hamas highlight his less than absolute commitment to nonviolence. Hamas “has had recourse to terrorist means, which I condemn. But its resistance against occupation, that is the right of every people in demanding its liberty.” Israel, he equivocated, “has also committed terrorist acts.”
Contrary to evidence, Sabbah told his French interlocutors that Hamas presented no threat to Palestinian Christians. Hamas’ “principal message is to demand liberty for the Palestinian people. For the moment, Hamas does not mix politics and religion … It affirms that there exists equality among all citizens.” “Christians and Muslims are one people. This conviction exists among all Palestinian authorities, including Hamas.” “Christians are protected by Hamas,” he affirmed in another 2010 French interview (English translation here).
Sabbah’s views are not surprising, given that this inveterate Arab nationalist falsely told Newsweek that “there is no Muslim persecution of Christians” in Arab countries, notwithstanding “a lot of propaganda in the West.” He dismissed in his 2015 speech the “imaginative discourse” of those Israeli Christians (see here and here) who now identify more with their Aramaic heritage that pre-exists the Middle East’s Arabization following seventh-century Islamic conquest. “Today, we are what we are: Palestinians, Arabs and Christians,” he stated, and “belong to our people, whatever the behavior of our people might be, welcoming or persecuting as it happens to be now in Syria and Iraq” under IS Christian genocide.
Another Kairos Palestine Document author is Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian “visionary” who studied in Germany and with whom PCI’s German chapter “has been involved for decades.” As Lowe has extensively documented, “Raheb is a noisy denier of the very legitimacy of the State of Israel, which he seeks to undermine not by physical violence but by a radical theology.” As this author has personally experienced, Raheb’s counterfactual thesis is that Palestinians like himself have greater ancestry among Biblical Jews and therefore greater claim to the Holy Land than modern Jews.
Raheb’s views are of a piece with an understanding of Israel as an imperial injustice inflicted upon indigenous Palestinians shared by many PCI members. PCI’s United Kingdom chapter supports Kairos Britain, whose booklet Time for Action: A British Christian Response to A Moment of Truth, the Kairos Palestine Document, decries Israeli “colonization of Palestinian land.” “Our Shame…has its roots in Britain’s colonial past, and Britain’s self-interested pursuit of power and influence in the world,” the British authors write of Britain’s past support of Zionism while downplaying Jewish Holy Land claims. Like Kairos Britain, Dennis has similarly signed a letter making the false accusation against Israel of “ethnic cleansing policies of 1948.”
PCI’s inaccurate Israel history extends into the present with its 2015 assertion that “Israel is required to withdraw from the territories occupied” during Israel’s 1967 Six Day War victory. PCI’s misinterpretation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 ignores that it only demands an undefined Israeli withdrawal from some of these territories, subject to Israel’s needs for secure borders. Nonetheless, PCI makes the blanket demand concerning “Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine” [i.e. the 1967 territories] that “[i]n order to prevent settlements from becoming profitable, settlement products should be banned.”
Accordingly PCI’s German chapter has protested against a German cement firm for having production facilities in Modiin Illit. Yet most people assume that this “settlement” city of 41,000 people just across the 1967 lines and in view of Israel’s second largest city, Tel Aviv, will stay Israeli under any future peace settlement. The German chapter has also initiated a “Besatzung schmeckt bitter [Occupation tastes bitter]” campaign to raise consumer awareness that some products labeled as made in Israel actually come from these disputed territory “settlements.”
Accordingly, similar to PCI’s American affiliates, the German chapter welcomed a November 2015 European Union (EU) Commission advisory statement calling upon EU member states to specifically label Israeli “settlement” products. Israelis have denounced this measure as anti-Semitic, noting that no similar special labelling applies to products from other disputed territories. In America, 36 senators observed in a letter to the EU that the “proposed labeling would prejudge the outcome of future negotiations” and “promote a de-facto boycott of Israel.” Indeed, the Besatzung schmeckt bitter campaign tells German consumers to “only buy products by which you can be sure that they come from Israel,” an appeal that could have a chilling effect for all Israeli products.
As Israel and the wider Middle East demonstrates, PCI’s pacifism barely disguises a partisan leftist ideology whose discredited theories misdiagnose violence and the human condition. PCI’s equally flawed policy prescriptions often indulge aggressors like the Islamic Republic of Iran while weakening others like Middle East Christians and Israelis in the face of deadly threats like Hamas and IS. Such radicalism and biases disqualify PCI as an authority for Christians and others seeking guidance concerning existential matters of war and peace.