Replace Just War Theory with Nonviolence—What about Syria and Genocide?

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A historic conference recently wrapped up at the Vatican that addressed the continued relevance of the traditional Catholic doctrine of just war theory.

Just war theory outlines the moral requirements surrounding the decision to use force and the ethical limits on using force justly. The decision to use force requires a just cause, right intention, a reasonable probability of success, and proportionality. It must be undertaken by a legitimate authority and only as a last resort.

The Church’s criteria for the justness of the conduct during the war include: all military action must be necessary to achieve the just end, all actions are done for the right intention, the military actions demonstrate proportionality in the good achieved as compared the harm inflicted on the enemy, and innocent civilians should be protected from unnecessary harm (it is always immoral to directly and intentionally target the innocent). It is never about the ends justifying the means; the means must be as pure as the end being sought. Despite the carnage inherent in war, the Church has taught that certain moral obligations must be maintained for a war to be just.

Instead of seeking to modify this traditional Catholic doctrine, the conference pushes for an encyclical advocating for nonviolence to replace just war theory entirely. The participants at the conference argue that there is no longer such a thing as just war and “suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.”

Supporters of this theory claim that instead of limiting the conditions for war, just war theory has often been used to exacerbate conflict and provide a pretext for aggressive, interventionist actions. Of course, moral rules cannot be eliminated simply because they are ignored or abused at times; Church teaching explicitly rejects that type of consequentialism. Ultimately, they contend that war is not the solution to stopping conflicts of any type and that non-violent means have been used with great success throughout history to resolve conflicts and overturn oppression.

To this observer, the call to systematically dismantle just war theory when Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has viciously butchered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens and Daesh is engaging in the ruthless slaughter of thousands of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in territories they control sounds completely out of touch with reality.    Read More


In Response to the Crimes of Assad and ISIS, the House Passes Genocide and War Crimes Resolutions

After nearly five years of civil war, precipitated by Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, and perhaps 470,000 deaths, the US House of Representatives passed a war crimes resolution aimed at holding Assad and his allies accountable for their war crimes, as well as a genocide resolution that identifies Christians as victims of ISIS’s genocidal campaign of terror, along with Yazidis and others.

The latter passed by a vote of 393-0, putting pressure on the Obama administration to include Christians as designated victims of genocide in Syria.

The war crimes resolution passed 392-3. This resolution, sponsored by Republican Chris Smith, a leading defender of human rights in the House, directs the Obama administration to promote, through the UN, an international war crimes tribunal. Smith explained, “Accountability that is aggressive, predictable, transparent and applicable to perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity on all sides of the divide must be pursued now.”

Voting against the resolution were three of the worst members of a historically lackluster Congress: Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, two extreme anti-government Republicans, and Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, who has argued that the continued rule of dictatorships that have engaged in crimes against humanity serves American interests. Brooklyn Middleton put it best: shame on them. This should haunt their political careers.

Update via CNN:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the United States has determined that ISIS’ action against the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria constitutes genocide.

“My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims,” he said, during a news conference at the State Department.


Assad’s Victims Include Syrian Christians

201141722223122790_20While a number of prominent Christian leaders have backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as he engages in the mass murder of Syrian men, women, and children, it is important to remember that many Syrian Christians have been brutalized and murdered by the regime because of their courageous commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights. And, of course, many others have been killed simply because of Assad’s indiscriminate use of force to terrorize the population. The persecution of Christians, Yazidis, and others by ISIS should not obscure this fact. Hind Kabawat has a new article that reminds everyone that the war in Syria is not a holy war, many Christians have stood by their values instead of embracing sectarianism, and that Assad’s millions of victims—who have their lives uprooted or ended by the dictator’s lust for power—include Syrian Christians:

Before the uprising, Daraya was a sleepy middle-class suburb for Damascus residents. By 2011, it had become an epicenter of peaceful protests, as thousands marched in the streets calling for Assad to step down from power. As a member of the Syrian Christian community, I was overwhelmed with excitement to join this grassroots people’s movement that called for democracy, freedom and rights for all Syrians, no matter our differences.

Syrians were united then. The church bells rang in Daraya in solidarity with the protesters. From their balconies in the narrow streets, Syrian Christians showered protesters below with rice and flowers. They marched hand in hand.

A holy war, this was not.

By 2012, the Assad regime intensified its armed crackdown against the unarmed protesters in Daraya. A terrible massacre occurred there on Aug. 24, 2012, as Assad’s regime sent troops, secret police, and members of the elite 4th Division to prevent residents from fleeing the city by any means necessary. Families were executed in their homes, whole buildings of women and children were machine-gunned in the streets, and residents were even decapitated — long before the so-called Islamic State even existed.

The state-run media launched an aggressive propaganda campaign claiming Muslims were massacring Christians, aiming to stoke fear of the opposition in the Christian community. As regime soldiers went door to door, searching for people to murder, it was the Christian community of Daraya that opened theirs to protect those fleeing the atrocities. One Catholic church treated the injured and prepared food for them….

If anything, Putin and Assad’s bombing and starvation campaign has made Syria more dangerous for Christians. The barrel bombs dropped by their military machine on Daraya and towns across the country cannot offer our Christian community protection. The thousands of Syrian children unable to attend schools, and the thousands facing starvation due to Assad’s kneel or die policy, cannot offer Syrian Christians peace of mind.


UN: Assad Regime Guilty of Extermination, Crimes against Humanity

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NBC News describes a new report from the United Nations on crimes against humanity in Syria:

Thousands of civilians are being secretly imprisoned, raped, tortured and exterminated by Syria’s government as it wages a bloody civil war, a United Nations commission found Monday.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria lifted the lid on what it called a systematic, country-wide pattern of prisoner abuse by President Bashar Assad’s regime — which it said amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The government’s crimes against prisoners included “extermination, murder … torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts,” according to a report from the commission published Monday.

Tens of thousands of detainees have been arrested in what the commission described as a “countrywide pattern” of arbitrary detention over allegations such as supporting the opposition or being “insufficiently loyal” to the government.

While most prisoners are men, some women and children as young as seven years old have died in regime custody, the report added.

None of this is really news to anyone who has been following the Syrian civil war. But it does shine a spotlight on the costs of the Obama administration’s feckless response to these mass atrocities. And now Assad’s ally Russia has joined the regime in committing war crimes, killing thousands of civilians through the use of indiscriminate weapons and by directly targeting the innocent, mirroring Assad’s tactics. It is all part of a coordinated strategy to leave the two sets of mass murderers—the Assad regime and ISIS—as the only two groups left standing.

The Vatican continues to repeat its persistent calls for a negotiated settlement, while Assad, Iran, and Russia seek a military solution to the war. Unlike the threat of American strikes (in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons), Russia’s indiscriminate bombing has not prompted a special day of prayer or any other direct response from Pope Francis. Nor has the Vatican shown any signs of remorse for siding with the Assad-Putin-Iran-Hezbollah alliance in negotiations, a disgraceful decision, which is magnified with each new report of the alliance’s crimes against humanity. Even with the brutality of the Assad regime and its malignant intentions on full display, we still are not seeing real moral leadership from Pope Francis (or many other Catholic leaders, for that matter), such as denouncing those by name who are committing these crimes against humanity and demanding in the name of God that they stop slaughtering innocent people.

Does the Catholic Church believe that mass murderers, who murder, rape, torture, and disappear innocent civilians, are legitimate authorities? If the Church and its leaders sincerely believes in its teachings—that governments exist to serve the human person and that their legitimacy is intimately linked to this responsibility—then the answer should be clear: mass murderers belong behind bars, not in palaces or presidential suites. But we are hearing silence on the matter. And silence is complicity.

 


Millennials of the Year 2015: The White Helmets of Syria

The brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad has gassed, starved, tortured, and slaughtered the Syrian people. And the international community’s response has been shamefully inadequate. But there are some people who have displayed courage and character in the face of these mass atrocities. Our 2015 Millennials of the Year are the millennial volunteers of the Syrian Civil Defense, the White Helmets.

Not all of the White Helmets are millennials, but a large number are young people who risk life and limb to pull people from the rubble of their homes, marketplaces, schools, and more. If Assad, ISIS, and other vicious mass murderers show the depths of the human capacity for evil, the White Helmets show the human person’s extraordinary capacity for good.

In a place where dictators fan the flames of sectarianism to keep their grip on power and terrorists kill in the name of a vile sectarian agenda, the White Helmets reject sectarianism entirely and pledge to save the lives of everyone they encounter, regardless of their background or creed. In a climate where the degradation and dehumanization of the person is constant, they show the power of solidarity and a commitment to the dignity of each person.

They have saved over 40,000 lives. The impact reverberates far beyond these lives, however. The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends, and colleagues of those who have been saved will be eternally grateful for their heroism. The loss of each of these lives would have ripped irreparable holes in the lives of these families and communities. Far too many Syrians have already experienced this loss and devastation. But the White Helmets have saved many from heartbreak.

They are teachers, students, carpenters, construction workers, bakers, and more. They are men and women. They are volunteers. They are rescuers. They are heroes. For their devotion to human dignity and the common good, they are our 2015 Millennials of the Year.

 


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Hard questions we’re not asking Pope Francis by John Allen: “To date, the only concrete diplomatic success to which Francis can point is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cling to power by opposing Western strikes. The pope had his reasons, including fear for Syria’s Christians in the aftermath of regime change. Yet assuming that Assad reasserts control, the question is whether Francis will use the Church’s resources to promote greater respect for human rights and democracy. If not, his major political accomplishment could go down as propping up a thug.”

The Changing U.S. Labor Force by Anna Sutherland: “Whatever the cause of unions’ decline, however, the future of work in America may be one of low wages and erratic schedules (both of which are hard on families) unless policy-makers find some other way to bolster the power of labor.”

The Neo-Conservative Imagination: An Interview with Patrick Deneen, Part III by Artur Rosman: “I don’t want to paint a picture of utopian bliss in Germany—of course, that’s far from the case—but we ought to look at specific practices in countries such as Germany to begin to think about how better to avoid some of our wrenching instability and how we might better conceive an economy to support family and community.”

Selfie esteem: Body image in a digital age by Meghan Murphy-Gill: “The Catholic Church has a counterpoint to this seemingly superficial approach to image: Humans are the imago Dei, created in the image of God. This alone is the source of a person’s value, not how well she applies eyeshadow or whether her selfies show a glowing girl with a great smile.”

Synod on the Family, Part I by Michael Sean Winters: “The Francis effect is only possible because people are truly hungry for the Gospel and a more humane civilization. No civilization can long remain healthy if its families are not healthy, and the remedy must be found, first and foremost, by placing the bonds of family and society – and the bond of faith, that binds us to Jesus Christ – in their true, liberating promise and pointing out that the autonomy the modern world promises is actually a grim form of self-chosen slavery.”

Everyday saints by Kira Dault: “Those who have come before us—not just the great men and women with their huge footprints, but the mothers and fathers, the children, the friends lost to us—mark the course. In their examples they leave breadcrumbs to follow, clues for how to become the kind of people we want to be.”

The Message of Mercy by Walter Kasper: “So, canon law is not against the Gospel, but the Gospel is against a legalistic understanding of canon law. Canon law should be interpreted and applied in the light of mercy because mercy opens our eyes to the concrete situation of the other.”

Monument Seeks to End Silence on Killings of the Disabled by the Nazis by Melissa Eddy: “The first to be singled out for systematic murder by the Nazis were the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. By the end of World War II, an estimated 300,000 of them had been gassed or starved, their fates hidden by phony death certificates and then largely overlooked among the many atrocities that were to be perpetrated in Nazi Germany in the years to follow. Now, they are among the last to have their suffering publicly acknowledged. On Tuesday, the victims of the direct medical killings by the Nazis were given their own memorial in the heart of Berlin.”

An unspoken truth about teens who flee the Catholic church by Jennifer Mertens: “Young people must be valued as active, respected and fully engaged members of our faith communities. Teens long to be taken seriously, to be heard, considered and included. As adults, we do not possess or control the living revelation of Christ. We journey together with our youth.”

Encounters with a drinking culture in college by Carlos Mesquita: “I asked some of my friends why they drank to excess, and while some just said they enjoyed it, many responded that they were drinking to forget something or to relieve stress. They described trying to avoid or escape some part of themselves.”

The Greatest Threat to Our Liberty Is Local Governments Run Amok by Franklin Foer: “Only a strong federal government can curb the autocratic tendencies burbling across the country. Libertarians worry about the threat of local tyrants, too, but only abstractly. In practice, they remain so fixated on the perils of Washington that they rigidly insist on devolving power down to states, cities, and towns—the very places where their nightmares are springing to life.”

The Catholic casino conundrum by Mathew Schmalz: “The message was simple: You can gamble, but take it easy. Do so temperately — within appropriate limits….But given Pope Francis’ strong stand on our obligations to those in need, it is difficult to see how to justify gambling of any kind, since the money that we might so cavalierly wager does not belong to us alone.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Mercy, Part I by Michael Sean Winters: “Most of us Christians grew up with the idea that the God of the Hebrews was an angry God. Certainly, many Christians have conceived him as such. But, Kasper sets out to destroy this myth and largely succeeds.”

Part II and Part III

Finding Faith in The Simpsons: The Top Five Theological Episodes of The Simpsons by Katharine Mahon: “But hidden inside this deeply flawed family and this caricature of American culture is a honest and rich depiction of family life in 1990’s America. The show explores moral dilemmas, spiritual crises, the love of spouse, parent, child, and sibling, as well as the testing of that love.”

Saudi Arabia continues its outrageous repression of human rights activists by Washington Post: “Saudi Arabia remains determined to shut the windows, close the doors and throw dissidents into solitary confinement.”

U.N. says pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine murder, kidnap and torture by Louis Charbonneau: “Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are guilty of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and are receiving a “steady supply” of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, according to a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.”

The Mental Virtues by David Brooks: “In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”

The Saint Who Taught Me to Worship by Timothy O’Malley: “The vocation of humanity is this kind of praise, a perfect praise in which every form of worship finds its end not in better, more sophisticated (and novel) worship that generates more and more emotion. But in that gift of self, which Christians call love. Worship is not about us, it is not about our affections. Instead, it is about becoming who God intended us to be: members of a symphony of perfect praise of the voice and the will alike.”

ISIS selling Yazidi women in Syria by Raja Razek and Jason Hanna: “Hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by ISIS have either been sold or handed out to members of the Sunni extremist group, according to an organization that monitors the crisis.”

Getting to the Crux of why Catholicism matters by John Allen: “In places such as the Philippines, corruption is a signature Catholic concern, and with good reason. Global Financial Integrity, a research organization based in Washington, estimates that corruption cost poor nations almost $6 trillion over the last decade, draining badly needed resources for education, health care, and poverty relief.”

Russia Is Burying Soldiers in Unmarked Graves Just to Conceal Their Role in Ukraine by Josh Kovensky: “The Russian government couldn’t care less about its dead soldiers. Paratroopers who have been killed in Ukraine are not receiving military funerals, nor are they being recognized for having died for their country. Rather, their graves have been kept unmarked.”

More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’ by NY Times: “The lawsuit is part of a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees’ tips. Worker advocates call these practices ‘wage theft,’ insisting it has become far too prevalent.”

What’s missing in the Ebola fight in West Africa by Jim Yong Kim and Paul Farmer: “To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.”

Siege of Iraqi town broken by CNN: “Iraqi security and volunteer forces have broken the siege of Amerli and have entered the town, retired Gen. Khaled al-Amerli, an Amerli resident and member of its self-defense force, told CNN on Sunday….The breakthrough came after the United States said it carried out airstrikes and dropped humanitarian aid in Amerli to protect an ethnic minority that one official said faced the threat of an ‘imminent massacre.’ Amerli is home to many of Iraq’s Shiite Turkmen.”

Right to Die, or Duty to Die? The Slippery-Slope Argument Against Euthanasia Revisited by Charles Camosy: “When euthanasia is legalized in cultures where the values of autonomy and consumerism hold sway, we soon end up with the kinds of deaths that almost no one wants. We also end up with a culture that almost no one wants – one that pushes vulnerable older persons, not just to the margins of society, but even to the point of dying in order to make space for the young, vigorous and productive.”