Talk given by Tony Kempster at the Irish School
of Ecumenics, Antrim Road, Belfast on 24th February 2006
Organised by the Irish Network for Nonviolent
Action Training and Education (INNATE) and the Irish School
of Ecumenics which is part of Trinity College, Dublin, based
in Northern Ireland.
Dr Kempster is the chair of the Movement for
the Abolition of War (www.abolishwar.org.uk)
and general secretary of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Note on the title of the talk
Since the title was agreed, the US defence chiefs
have unveiled a new plan for fighting global Islamist extremism.
Their report to Congress describes the plan as ‘The
long war’, and this is apparently seen as a replacement
for the term ‘War on terror’.
Looking beyond the Iraq and Afghan battlefields,
US commanders envisage a war unlimited in time and space.
It may be fought in dozens of countries simultaneously and
for decades to come. The emphasis shifts from large-scale
conventional military operations towards a rapid deployment
of highly mobile, often covert counter-terrorist forces. The
Pentagon does not pinpoint the countries it sees as future
areas of operations but they will stretch beyond the Middle
East to the Horn of Africa, North Africa, central and south-east
Asia and the northern Caucasus. In addition to the obvious
priority to defeat terrorist networks and preventing hostile
and non-state actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction,
the report includes the priority area of ‘shaping the
choices of countries at strategic crossroads’. (Report
in The Guardian of 15th February 2006.)
I use the words of the song, ‘Out of the clear blue
sky’ by the American singer-songwriter, John Lester
to introduce the subject of terrorism using the dilemma of
culpability for the attacks of September 11th 2001.
When I was a young man, so many troubles seem
to come my way;
I didn’t see that I sowed the seeds of my own anger;
they grew a little everyday.
Always a battle for my ways and always someone
else to blame;
So many enemies, never did I wonder from whence they came.
I never stopped to look inside to see if I held the reason
The evil one came at me from out of the clear blue sky.
Now comes a time, when my country’s also
come of age;
A hell hit the homeland and everyone’s rightfully filled
The President’s pointing his finger and from the pulpit
I heard him say:
‘We’re one nation under God and by God we’re
gonna get them back one day’.
With no admission to reason’s why he placed all the
blame on the other side
And said the evil one came at us from out of the clear blue
Bridge Call me a traitor, say I’m a coward
not a patriot.
Well I know we had to strike back
I just don’t think we’ve planned the hardest battle
How many fights for freedom
Will we wage while the peace is denied
And is that peace just a prayer we make on Sundays
And hope that God will bless it on us
From out of the clear blue sky.
They were crazy, they were evil and they were
But the weak take a desperate measure when they’re backed
into the corner by a foe too strong.
My brother, my sister, my countryman and my friend
I think we’ve also got to take a hard look at ourselves
if we want to keep this from happening again.
If we search beyond our pride, perhaps we’ll find an
answer that has long been denied
And peace will reign upon us, from out of the clear blue sky.
© 2002 John Lester; information on www.JohnLesterMusic.com
The song works at several levels. It begins
with reference to the personal violence of young people (and
I sometimes use it in school’s talks for this reason).
The second verse relates to international terrorism and to
the repercussions of 9/11. The bridge between verses returns
to the personal. The last verse then goes on to acknowledge
that the al-Qaeda terrorists were evil and wrong, but says
that the weak sometimes resort to desperate measures when
threatened. It ends with the line addressed to the American
people (not the principles and powers notice) suggesting the
importance of reflecting on what happened to find an answer
to terrorism. And it ends with what could even be a reference
to the God’s Peace.
The words are bound to elicit different reactions. Those taking
a patriotic anti-totalitarian stance are likely to take issue
with the apologist sentiments. Others, particularly left-wing
progressives, critical of the failings of western society,
might well say they do not go far enough in explaining the
motives of the terrorists.
Whatever the reactions, the attack did not come
‘out of the clear blue sky’. There were reasons
and motivations behind it, just as there are for any terrorism.
Terrorism is a complex and multi-faceted issue:
so much so that it is difficult to agree a definition and
debate continues among international lawyers. According to
the US Code, terrorism is ‘premeditated, politically
motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets
by subnational groups or clandestine agents usually intended
to influence an audience’. Walter Lacquer (2003), the
guru on terrorism, extends this to all actors - not just to
subnational and clandestine agents – defining it as
‘the systematic use of murder, injury, and destruction
or the threat of such acts, aimed at achieving political ends’.
But I prefer the definition of US Friends Committee
on National Legislation (Washington Newsletter, May 1996),
which spells this out thus:
‘Terrorism is a tactic, whether used by
an established government, a revolutionary group or an individual.
The characterization of an action as ‘terrorism’
depends on what is done, not who does it. Terrorism includes
threats or acts of violence ranging from deprivation of basic
human rights, to property destruction, physical violence,
torture and murder. Terrorist acts are consciously chosen
and committed for purposes that go beyond the violence itself.
Terrorist acts are usually undertaken for an identifiable
political goal, as distinguished from crimes committed for
personal gain or private vengeance or because of mental derangement.
The political goals might be to punish or retaliate against
an enemy or dissident elements or to destabilise an opposing
government or organisation.’
Such a definition is a broad one. It embraces
counter-terrorism if this involves unnecessary violence, the
torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and might even be extended
to the destruction of property carried out by Ploughshares
In his book, The war on terrorism and the terror
of God, Lee Griffith sets out his misgivings about the inclusion
of property destruction and thinks finer distinctions need
to made. People are terrorized by the fire-bombing of churches
or homes, even if no people are physically injured; whereas
the destruction of a draft card is unlikely to affect them.
Likewise, it is doubtful that anyone is terrorized by damage
inflicted on weaponry as in the Ploughshares actions which
do not threaten injury on any person.
To understand terrorism (like any phenomenon)
one needs to investigate its roots rather than deal with its
Misconceptions exist about modern terrorism;
particularly that it is normally a response to poverty and
injustice. This may have been true of past situations (for
example the anti-Tsarist revolutionaries and the Irish patriots
fighting against grinding poverty. But with modern-day fanatics
the situation is less clear since, for example, few terrorist
attacks have been made in the 50 poorest countries in the
One recipe for making a locality ripe for terror
that has been much used in the past is this: undermine traditional
culture(s): pour in plenty of weapons and introduce competition
for economic survival. This leads naturally to economic disparities
and generates violence not only among the poor (as if the
poor were somehow more susceptible to violent impulses), but
among members of all economic groups including the ‘near
poor’ and middle groups beset by rising expectations.
But it is no less true that disparity contributes to violence
by the wealthy because they want to protect what they have
So we have to be especially careful when explaining
the motives of al-Qaeda which seem to be more a product of
modernity, globalisation and religious fundamentalism than
poverty and injustice. The organisation believes that the
world can be transformed by spectacular acts of terror.
In his controversial book, Anti-totalitarianism:
the left-wing case for a neoconservative foreign policy, Oliver
Kamm (2005) draws attention to the long-standing critics of
US power such as Noam Chomsky who are quick to rationalise,
or at least relativise, the hatred of ideological opponents
of Western liberal democracies. He says: ‘It is a failing
of many liberal commentators to be swayed by the sheer unlikelihood
of a popular movement dedicated to the political realisation
of an eschatological vision. So far as we can ascertain from
their intended targets, the terrorists of 9/11 were not making
a statement about poverty or oppression. Rather they were
acting out an ideological imperative of striking at the institutions
of Western civilisation: constitutional government, international
commerce and a civilian-controlled military. … [The
suicide bombers] opposed the US and its allies not for any
sins of commission or omission on our part, but for what we
are: liberal, secular, pluralist and tolerant. We cannot pacifiy
al-Qaeda without surrendering our values, and even that would
be insufficient. A movement driven by violent millenarianism
may engage in political tactics, but does not have negotiable
Politicians and religious leaders are sometimes
quick to assure us that religion has little share of the blame
for the terrorist campaigns. But, Oliver McTernan in Violence
in God’s name (2003) argues that unless this mindset
is changed the world will never eliminate the threat of faith-inspired
terror. He says: ‘It is time to acknowledge that religion
has a hidden potential for violence. Tolerance is a wholly
inadequate response to the terror that now increasingly perpetrated
in the name of God. The current crisis demands something more
from Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders:
the proactive and vigorous defence of the right of others
to believe and act differently.
The religiosity of US society is also an issue
here. According to the standard, social-scientific theory
of advanced, knowledge-based societies, the US should be following
Europe in becoming more secular but this is not the case.
Quite the contrary. Evangelical Christians are now playing
a significant role in encouraging a militant response to terrorism
and the countries that support them. In The last crusade:
religion and the politics of misdirection (2005), Barbara
Victor suggests that such Christians are ‘blithely creating
a world fit for Apocalypse’. Some even warmly anticipate
‘a holy nuclear war’ which will exalt Israel,
crushing its enemies before going on to dramatise the Apocalypse.
In his recent book, God’s politics: why
the American Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t
get it (2005), Jim Wallis makes a scathing indictment of the
way that right-wing evangelicals in the US ‘who have
hugged their bibles, worn their flag pins and self-righteously
attempted to co-opt any discussion of religion and politics,
while at the same time ignoring the very values they profess
of pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-environment etc. which they
profess to defend’. He campaigns for a Christian involvement
that both addresses injustice and stresses personal responsibility.
The US administration’s response to 9/11
was shaped by its neo-conservative doctrine, the changed military
capacities after the Cold War, and domestic support arising
from the scale and unexpectedness of the attacks. These factors
combined to place direct military intervention at the core
of the response, at the expense of more productive and internationally
acceptable approaches. This has also been associated with
other developments including the greater restriction of public
freedom, imprisonment without trial and torture. Two books
are particularly valuable here: Helena Kennedy (2004) Just
law: the changing face of justice – and why it matters
to us all (2004), and Philippe Sands Lawless world: America
and the making and breaking of global rules (2006 edition).
Last weekend, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu launched
an attack on President Bush, saying his administration’s
refusal to close down the Guantanamo Bay camp reflected ‘a
society that is heading towards George Orwell’s Animal
farm.’ He urged the UN Human Rights Commission to take
legal action against the US – through the US courts
or the International Court of Justice – should it fail
to respond to a report, by five UN inspectors, advising that
Camp Delta should be shut immediately because prisoners were
being tortured there. Other leading figures including Kofi
Annan and Desmond Tutu have made similar appeals.
This week’s Dispatches programme (Channel
4) presents the case that, in the wake of the London bombings,
the government has rushed through anti-terror policies that
are largely motivated by the desire to avoid being criticised
by the popular press, to make the Labour party appear more
authoritative and strong against terrorism and to gain an
edge in the run up to the next election. It suggests that
introducing stringent regulation is a win-win situation for
the government because if the regulations are ruled against
in the judicial process, the law would carry the can for any
failure in the prevention of terrorism.
The failure to deal effectively with al-Qaeda
in Afghanistan and the debacle of Iraq, not actually linked
directly with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, are now etched
on our minds and only need a mention here as a prelude to
discussing the role of the Churches and the just war doctrine.
The 2003 Iraq war stands out from other modern
wars for several reasons. The media, particularly in the US,
played a crucial role from the beginning in justifying and
portraying the war. For the first time, journalists from participating
nations were ‘embedded’ into the military machine
and brought the war from the battlefields directly to our
television screens, although of course under strict censorship.
This was also the most widely resisted war of global reach.
The UN, representing the nations of the world, and vast numbers
of people around the world, including millions in the participating
nations (the US, the UK, Spain, Italy and Australia) were
actively against it. Then, since the Iraqi military tried
to avoid conflict, the war simply degenerated into an unopposed
But more than this it is now becoming clear that the war was
devised and promoted by a group of politicians who may well
have grossly abused their power. Details are still emerging
and their full ramifications are still not clear. Whatever
the legal interpretations, it is clear that the politicians
did not decide to go to war on the basis of a logical evaluation
of the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s intentions
and an ethical assessment of the options available to them.
The intelligence and ‘facts’ were fixed around
their chosen policy which was to attack Iraq. This meant that
any public consideration of whether the jus ad bellum criteria
were met was at best distorted and, at the worst, a useful
device for war propaganda. (Dilip Hiro’s book, Secrets
and lies: the true story of the Iraq war (2005) sets these
issues out clearly; and James Risen’s State of war:
the secret history of the CIA and the Bush administration
(2006) gives an insider view of what happened.)
The Church of England’s resistance to
the 2003 Iraq war was clear. In October 2002, the House of
Bishops made a submission to the House of Commons Foreign
Affairs Select Committee’s on-going Inquiry into the
Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism. In the
light of the UK Government’s own dossier on the threat
posed by Iraq, the submission reckoned that threat to be ‘growing’
rather than ‘imminent’ and concluded that to ‘undertake
preventive war’ against Iraq at this juncture would
be to lower the threshold of war unacceptably. The importance
of maintaining the credibility and authority of the UN was
The submission made a distinction between pre-emptive war
and anticipatory self defence on the one hand, and preventive
war on the other, arguing that the first had long been permitted
by just war doctrine, whereas the second would ‘undermine
the need for war to be used as a last resort and would prejudice
alternative efforts at conflict prevention and resolution’.
We are uneasy about such definitions when they are not underpinned
by clear rules and note that in a later submission to Government
by the Church’s Public Affairs Unit (June 2003) also
made reference to this need.
Other churches were generally of the opinion
that Iraq did not present an immediate danger, although they
showed a range of different understandings as to when force
would be justified.
All in all the Church of England’s response,
in the context of the just war doctrine, was well judged in
the circumstances. Although my organisation, the Anglican
Pacifist Fellowship would naturally stand with the Quakers
and other peace churches in saying that pre-emption cannot
be a just cause for a military attack.
The just war criteria were invoked, often by
the media and non-Church agents, and many churches in the
US and UK made public statements against the decision to attack
Iraq. But at the same time, much of the national leadership
and a considerable section of Christians in the US saw no
contradiction between their faith and the actions undertaken
to disarm Iraq and remove its leadership. Here in the UK,
there was more concern generally, but Parliament did sanction
the invasion and, despite the millions who marched against
the war, there was a slide towards acquiescence in the body
politic as the events unfurled. The churches made few statements
about jus in bello beyond some calls for discrimination and
Such developments have been all too common in
human history and we should by now recognise the signs of
militarism. It seems that any country with a large military
capability, needs only a group of ideological and self-possessed
leaders in power, and a compliant or uncritical national media
to whip up the national tendency to patriotism and wage an
Any assessment of the value of the just war
doctrine is bound to depend critically on its capability to
resist such a danger, although other criteria remain significant.
The value of the transatlantic dialogue should be judged in
The just war doctrine and the transatlantic
dialogue: The price of peace: just war in the twenty first
The disquiet and controversy surrounding the
Iraq War has led the Church of England to review the just
war doctrine and examine the appropriateness of its various
criteria to 21st century warfare. Part of this is a transatlantic
dialogue, The price of peace, set up with the Catholic Bishops’
Conference of England and Wales. It is an academic review,
involving US and UK theologians, ethicists and legal experts.
This is timely given the changed nature of military conflict
since the end of the Cold War. But there is a sense that this
dialogue is limited in ecumenical scope and fails to include
a sufficiently broad Christian peace perspective to deal properly
with the issue. The dialogue has also created some disconcerting
media comment, and informal reports from participants suggest
that agreement on key issues will be difficult to achieve.
The Atlantic, it seems, is quite a wide ocean when it comes
to the ethics of war.
Before discussing the issues, a comment on the
pacifist position view of the just war doctrine is helpful.
Although this position is at odds with the just war, pacifists
are still concerned that the Church should not modify the
doctrine and stumble on the journey towards its aim of abolishing
This aim is implicit in a statement by the 1930
Lambeth Conference and echoed by some later conferences: ‘War
as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible
with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
The Catholic Church’s position has moved along similar
lines to John Paul II’s condemnation of war as a ‘totally
unacceptable’ means of settling international disputes.
Some might question why pacifists would wish
to comment on the detail of a review of the just war doctrine.
But one should remember that it is the ultimate horizon of
personal sacrifice which actually distinguishes the pacifist
and just war positions. This horizon, where the pacifist may
be called to suffer (or even die) rather than kill, is not
reached until all the other possibilities to witness to God’s
peace have been exhausted.
The just war doctrine may be seen as a methodology
which helps us to comprehend the nature of war and the violations
of justice that can take place in a time of war. It cannot
ever validate a war. As Oliver O’Donovan (2003) points
‘History knows of no just wars, as it
knows of no just peoples. Major historical events cannot be
justified or criticised in one mouthful; they are concatenations
and agglomerations of many separate actions and many varied
results. One may justify or criticise acts of statesman, acts
of generals, acts of common soldiers or citizens, provided
one does them from the point of view of those who performed
them, i.e. without moralistic hindsight; but wars, like much
large-scale historical phenomena present only a great question
mark, a continual invitation to reflect further on what decisions
Furthermore, the course of wars and their outcomes
are always uncertain and the worst atrocities tend to be committed
towards the end.
Another dialogue of theologians and military
experts (Anthony Harvey in association with the Council for
Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament, 1999) did
include pacifists. In the report entitled Demanding peace,
I emphasised that a pressing responsibility for the pacifist
is to work to prevent wars. To achieve real change, it is
often necessary to compromise and assist in interim steps
towards the overall aim. We must reach for the possible as
is shows itself. By the same token, there is a need to jealously
guard any successful steps towards the abolition of war taken
by the global community.
The aim of the transatlantic dialogue is ‘to
investigate and renew the just war discourse in the light
of the moral tensions that are involved in the recourse to
and conduct of war’, which it is said ‘have been
crystallised by the war against Iraq’. On the face of
it, this is fine, although one might suggest that it would
be sensible to investigate the just war doctrine first and
then, if appropriate, consider renewing it. But this is a
quibble since the just war doctrine is simply a framework
and able to accommodate new aspects, except pacifism of course!
The serious question, though, is why the immorality
of the 2003 Iraq war should be thought to have crystallised
the moral tensions. Should we not say that the war was wicked
because of the political deceit and obfuscation involved and
draw a line under it? After all, the doctrine assumes that
the politicians involved will not set out to mislead.
Although held behind closed doors, the dialogue
has slipped into the public domain surprisingly quickly.
Christian peace organisations were perturbed
by an article in The Times of 31st May 2005 where Ruth Gledhill
reported that one insider said: ‘We were trying to seek
a way that we can use them [the just war criteria] against
weapons of mass destruction, rogue regimes and terrorism.
It is one of the most important ecumenical initiatives that
have taken place in a long time. All the peaceniks will have
heart attacks’. This suggests that the intention is
to loosen the restraint provided by the just war tradition,
and well as extend its remit.
She began the article by saying that: ‘The
plans had grown out of a concern among bishops that they have
lost the initiative to the Government and that the churches’
opposition to the war in Iraq weakened a traditional role
of providing advice at a time of crisis’. Although it
is wrong to read too much into these words, they suggest that
politicians are not much interested in the views of the churches
except to support their policies: advice which cautions against
war is not too welcome.
We have also been told informally by some participants
in the dialogue that the discussion between US and UK participants
was very difficult at times. Bishop Richard Harries (also
a participant in the dialogue) confirms this in his Guardian
article of 25th June 2005. He wrote:
‘There were strong differences of opinion
between the dominant US perspective and the dominant European
one nowhere more marked than in attitudes towards the United
Nations. The dominant American attitude at the meeting was
that the UN was corrupt, ineffective and liable to be manipulated
by states hostile to US interests. There were predictions
about its total collapse in the review later this year. It
was only with difficulty that I extracted from one critic
the admission that, on basic Christian just-war principles,
even if the present UN is inadequate, there is a moral imperative
to create something better and stronger.’
This is consistent with statements made in the
US national security strategy document of September 2002 which
suggests that, in future, the overriding consideration should
be the US national interest - a view in contrast to the US
desire in the immediate postwar world to collaborate with
other nations and build stable international institutions.
A theological challenge from US ethicists was
not unexpected if one considers the views of the so-called
‘realists’ in the just war debate.
Following the first Iraq war, George Weigel
of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Centre (and
also a participant in the transatlantic dialogue) wrote a
paper entitled ‘War, peace and the Christian conscience’
where he was highly critical of the way some of the US churches
had responded to the war. He refers to their ‘functional
pacifism’ and says that ‘the leadership of the
mainline/oldline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic
Church abdicated its teaching responsibilities and showed
itself incapable of providing the kind of public moral leadership
it had traditionally exercised in American society’.
In his recent book, Just war: changing society
and the churches (2004), Charles Reed makes a similar point
about the UK churches. He argues that they were reluctant
to conclude that the war provided a clear case of a just war:
‘The churches’ confused and mixed
response to the First Gulf War was indicative of a tension
between a Christian realist and a Christian pacifist understanding
of the just war tradition. By taking the issues of proportionality
and last resort out of their natural theological context,
a significant shift in balance and emphasis occurred within
the just war tradition. This inversion of the just war tradition
amounted to a form of functional pacifism best defined as
‘just war pacifism’. Prioritization of ‘last
resort’ echoed the claims of many Christian pacifists
who argued that alternative methods of conflict resolution
needed to be tried before recourse to war. The abandonment
of sanctions in favour of military action naturally raised
the issue of right intent and the motives of those countries
that used force against Iraq. As a result much of the churches’
criticism of the Government’s handling of the Gulf Crisis
appeared to be veiled in a shroud of anti-Americanism.’
Weigel speaks of a charism (favour specially vouchsafed by
God) giving responsibility to the lay authorities.
But it is a later paper by George Weigel entitled
‘Moral clarity in time of war’ (2002) which is
more relevant here because of the assertions he makes. Both
Archbishop Rowan Williams (Lecture to the Royal Institute
for International Affairs, 2003) and Richard Harries (open
meeting of the Council for Christian Approaches to Defence
and Disarmament (CCADD) (2003)) have commented on these.
Richard Harries examined some of Weigel’s
assertions as follows.
He challenged Weigel’s assertion that
right authority for political and military action lay with
the lay authorities, who, had their own special ‘charism’.
He added (1) there is a factual basis of action which is not
confined to politicians, except in so far as they may have
intelligence unavailable to others; and (2) politicians are
always liable to ‘spin’ such intelligence to suit
their own case. Furthermore, some groups know things which
the government does not.
He also argued that Weigel’s cynicism
about the UN was not justified, even though the Security Council
is an arena of competing interests. It is precisely from that
arena that international authority comes. Legality alone is
not enough to justify war: if there is no consensus at the
UN then there is no authority (other than self-defence under
Article 51 of the Charter).
On the issue of just cause, Weigel writes that we cannot always
wait for a state to launch its weapons before we go to war;
the mere possession of (say) weapons of mass-destruction is
evidence of aggressive intent, except when they are in the
hands of stable states. Harries disagreed with this: Grotius
was right to insist that the danger must be present and ready
to fall upon us. Mere probability is not enough.
(Taken from a transcript of the talk on the CCADD website.)
Rowan Williams also dismisses the concept of a special politicians’
‘charism’, emphasising that the just war tradition
is for everybody, not especially for those engaged in statecraft.
There is much sense here and we trust these
points will be heard during the international dialogue. They
are consistent with the conclusions of the Demanding peace
report referred to above. The report also points up the fact
that the key elements of the just war doctrine (particularly
‘just cause’ and ‘lawful authority’,
along with the religious and humanitarian consensus that the
innocent must be protected, are embodied in the UN Charter,
and that this now provides a guide to the Christian conscience
which replaces both. Indeed, the duty to support the UN and
its agencies and to adhere to the Charter is laid on all who
are committed to work for peace. This does not mean, of course,
that the UN is above reproach or can claim ultimate authority
over the conscience of individuals.
The report also suggests that ‘the time
may be ripe for the church leaders to initiate a broader debate
on this issue, a debate which might eventually lead to pacifism
becoming the norm for the churches instead of a minority movement
within them.’ Now it seems we shall have to wait until
the current realist challenge has been resisted!
It is also important to consider some of the
broader issues surrounding the just war discourse.
The discourse is complicated, involving serious
theology, legal considerations and much insider knowledge.
Consequently, the churches have a responsibility to explain
to Christians, in simple terms, what is actually going on.
They should try to avoid the disconcertingly legalist feel
to the just war doctrine, ticking off the principles one by
one, as it were. The key issue is to say clearly whether the
conflict can be brought within the scope of the authority
on which governments may normally call and be undertaken in
such a manner as to establish justice.
In doing this, they should exercise the authority
of their spiritual teachings rather than analyse the geo-political
system and give alarms about the likely success of failure
of a war – this, one assumes is the realm of politicians
and military men.
The responsibility of individual Christians needs to be emphasised.
Oliver O’Donovan (2003) states this well. He says:
‘Let us also remember that we are responsible
before God in relation to other members of society who, of
course, have their own differently responsible positions.
The decisions are ours and cannot be thrown off because we
have elected representatives (let us call them ‘politically
responsible deciders’), yet they are not ours exclusively
but only in relation to these deciders, among whom we have
to deliberate sympathetically and collaboratively.’
‘In particular God’s peace is a
practical demand laid on us. We must deny any ‘right’
to the pursuit of any claim on a part of a people that it
may sacrifice its neighbours in the cause of its own survival
or prosperity. For the Gospel demands that we renounce goods
that can only be won at the cost of our neighbours’
good. Belligerence is a crime against peace.’
Jim Wallis (2005) makes the same point but in
rather a different way saying that the value of faith is that
it encourages us to face the ‘big things’, the
problems which seem intractable. War is clearly one of these.
In our new leaflet, Movement for the Abolition of War points
out that each step for humanity begins with a vision: not
only that it is desirable but that it is possible. We work
to uphold and spread the vision that we can abolish war’.
Two quotes are included:
‘War must cease to be an admissable human
institution. The abolition of all war must be our ultimate
goal’. (MAW’s founder president Joseph Rotblat.)
‘War doesn’t deliver; we’re
now using maximum force and getting minimum results.’
(Martin Bell, MAW’s vice-president.)
The Christian responsibility is not easy to
assume because there is always a temptation to make a once
and for all judgement about the justice of a particular war:
indeed, the just war doctrine tends to encourage this. Yet
we know that rumours of war and the waging of war have their
own language and momentum. So how do Christians speak truth
to power in such circumstances in the most difficult time
when military action is imminent?
Here the words of Ched Myers (of the Bartimaeus
Cooperative Communities in the US) at the 2004 Greenbelt meeting
‘Freedom bound’ are so relevant (published in
the October 2004 (4.4) issue of The Anglican Peacemaker).
Ched Myers emphasised that the Christianity
should be grounded in the real world and in the life and passion
of Jesus. He argued that we have a responsibility to question
the way things are with a vision of the way they are supposed
to be. In the Gospels we see Jesus challenging the nationalism
of his own people and is driven out of town; challenging the
unequal wealth and being arrested; challenging the myth of
retributive justice with a vision of love of enemies. To follow
his example obliges us to monitor the way wars develop in
future because we (and the churches) keep getting caught by
surprise. He says:
‘If we wait for the drums of war without
figuring out how the last war affected us, we will just roll
over. This is because war time is the worst time for Christians
to determine their position of war. So much so that the politicians
can soften us up by the propaganda give timelines for the
ending of hostilities and grand visions. If we are not clear
most of us will not be able to swim to the vision of a world
without war against the undertow of inflamed public opinion.
In our Christian world, there are few denominations which
carry out discussion and reflection on justice and war issues
on a regular basis as part of their spiritual life, when a
crisis develops we always seem to be starting from scratch.
War surprises us.’
‘We should be saying ‘What does
Jesus have to say about war?’. This is the system where
countries prepare themselves to carry out massive and systematic
slaughter of enemies. Christian should stop talking about
war as though we were preparing for a joust. We must talk
about the new realities. It is about fragmentation bombs,
technology targeting water and electricity plants and the
torture of prisoners.’
In this regard, the long period of talking about,
working up to and positioning around the recent war against
Iraq could have been used by the churches to school their
members, and all people of good will in the relevance of the
just war doctrine; and to rehearse them in approaching decisions
that may need to be made soon as they face their Christian
responsibilities. The churches have tended to be disinterested
in doing this.
The help that the just war doctrine provides
is, of course, meant not only for political leaders. The Bishops
may speak as authorised representatives from the Christian
community to the state, or they may speak as pastors to the
Christian community. But either way, the priority must be
to communicate the moral posture of those who recognise their
responsibilities in Jesus Christ. Such an approach is important
because a deliberating public would elicit a more conscientious
performance from its representatives, political and military.
Towards the end of 2005, the Church of England’s
House of Bishops published Countering terrorism: power, violence
and democracy post 9/11, which touches on some of the same
issues as the transatlantic dialogue, and is critical of American
foreign policy and the influence of religious fundamentalists.
The report reasserts the importance of the just war doctrine
and its role in dealing with terrorism, although it emphasises
the preference for finding political responses to terrorism
rather than using military force.
The report states that: ‘Religion is now
a major player on the public stage of the world in a way that
few foresaw two decades ago. We believe that the churches
have an important role to play, not simply in urging the importance
and applicability of Christian principles, but in a proper
awareness of the role of religion, for good as well as ill,
and initiatives it might take towards reconciliation between
adversaries.’ No-one can doubt this.
The report also examines the United States’
sense of ‘moral righteousness’ and questions the
way some American Christians have used Biblical texts to support
a political agenda in the Middle East. The bishops argue:
‘There is no uniquely righteous nation. No country should
see itself as the redeemer nation, singled out by God as part
of his providential plan.’ The report calls for a strengthening
of the United Nations as ‘the legitimate authority for
military intervention” and opposes democracy being ‘imposed
on any other country by force,’ saying it must be adopted
by a nation ‘in culturally appropriate ways’
In a case study, annexed to the report, the authors examine
the current controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
While recognising the West’s legitimate security concerns
the report suggests: ‘Tehran might forgo a nuclear weapons
capability, if the EU-3 delivered a suitably attractive incentive
package’. The report thought it ‘disappointing’
that ‘the EU-3 did not use the Framework Agreement to
offer more security assurances’. The authors also say
that the arguments against nuclear proliferation need to be
made more compelling. ‘If certain countries retain their
nuclear weapons on the basis of the uncertainty and potentially
violent volatility of international relations, on what basis
are the same weapons denied to other states?’
Then the report sets out some Christian principles for addressing
a world characterised by power and violence.
1. Politicians are accountable to a power higher
than any human assembly.
2. Respect for human dignity is the underlying
moral principle for relationships between states, as well
3. States should take the interests of other
states into account when pursuing their own interests in the
4. Conflicts, therefore, need to be understood,
first of all, in political terms, which must also have theological
underpinning and ethical imperative. The winning of hearts
and minds is absolutely fundamental in countering terrorism.
5. The just war tradition, appropriately applied
to the conditions of modern warfare, including counter-terrorism
remains an indispensable tool of moral analysis. The UN needs
to be strengthened as the legitimate authority for military
6. Morally permissible pre-emptive military action is that
which is directed against the threat whose seriousness and
emergence are sufficiently clear, and where no effective non-military
alternatives are available. It must be clearly distinguished
from preventative war where military action is premature.
7. Democracy cannot be imposed on any other
country by force.
8. Religion can exacerbate or mitigate conflict.
It is important to take into account the tendency of religious
views of the world to absolutise issues. Religion, including
the Christian church, can only offer insights about world
order on the basis of a recognition that it itself is caught
up in the compromises and conflicts of humanity.
9. The Church has a gospel of peace to proclaim.
It impels the followers of Jesus to act as peacemakers, by
prayer for the world and its leaders, by working for reconciliation
between contending parties, and by seeking to establish that
justice whose fruit is peace.
10. Churches have a particular responsibility
in the area of reconciliation, in articulating the faults,
wrongs, and inconsistencies of all parties to a dispute, including
those of the country to which the Church belongs.
11. Christians will be alert to the politics
of fear and how a heightening of the fear factor can lead
to an erosion of civil liberties. It is important to set these
threats within a biblical perspective of trust in God.
12. The tendency of religious groups, both Christian
and Muslim, to give an over simplistic reading of current
events is harmful. Our understanding is limited.
13. The debate on nuclear weapons needs to be
conducted with much greater honesty and consistency.
This is a good report and very well researched. Its weakness,
though, is that it is principally concerned with disputes
and reconciliation and hardly mentions the other factors that
can encourage terrorism. The church could do more, for example,
to promote demilitarisation and the introduction of more stringent
arms trade control.
The just war tradition (point 5) provides the
justification for militarisation and all that follows. If
a powerful military exists, there is always a temptation to
use it, particularly when commercial interests come to bear.
Similarly countries threatened by military force will develop
and enhance their own military capability.
There is also a serious issue over truth and
integrity. These are necessary for any sensible debate on
the just war which requires that national governments are
honest and rationale and not manipulated by other interests,
for example the military-industrial complex or corruption
in the international arms trade. Such interests benefit from
war and rumours of war and have immense power related to the
size of the military expenditure.
Although not a major feature of the House of
Bishops report, the press latched on to the suggestion that
‘the church should apologise for the war against Iraq’
arguing that politicians are unlikely to do so. The press
misinterpreted the point to some extent because it simply
suggested ‘a public gathering at which Christian leaders
meet with religious leaders of other, mainly Muslim, traditions,
on the basis of truth and reconciliation, at which there would
be a public recognition of at least some of the mistakes made
by the West’. The report also acknowledges the difficulties
involved in doing this. The suggestion has some merit and
should be developed further.
Speaking about the continuing threat of terrorism,
the report argues that Christians had to bear in mind the
biblical ‘Fear not’ principle. Being vigilant
and trying to prevent terrorism had to be balanced against
the loss of civil liberties. In the preface, Richard Harries
wrote: ‘The Churches have a particular message here,
based on biblical insights about fear and how playing on the
fear of enemies makes for unwise policies’. One might
add that the pacifist belief is invested in such considerations.
(And here I draw strongly on points made by Lee Griffith (2002).)
The current political perspectives on security,
freedom and humanity that are intrinsic to the war on terrorism
are inconsistent with human dignity and our biblical faith.
Human security is severely threatened by malnutrition and
infant mortality, by global epidemics of AIDS and other life
threatening illnesses, by greenhouse gases and poisoned waters
that respect no national boundaries. But to the militarized
consciousness of counterterrorism, security has nothing to
do with feeding hungry people, or treating the sick or caring
for the environment. In counterterrorism, security has to
do with the perpetual quest to acquire the sufficient level
of armed force to deter potential attack from armed force.
The Christian pacifist response stands against
such responses. Jesus renounced the dehumanisation on which
terror thrives. Where exclusion was the rule, Jesus violated
this in a number of ways but particularly by extended himself
in ministry to the expendable - lepers, demoniacs, prostitutes,
Samaritans, tax collectors, zealots. The politics of Jesus
was not based on any illusion that evil means might be utilized
in the pursuit of good ends.
Throughout church history, there has been a
faithful pacifist witness to the Gospel renunciation of violence
and the defeat of death in the resurrection of Jesus. This
is not to suggest that non-violence is an especially effective
instrument in the pursuit of political, social or economic
goals; indeed, non-violence is not an ‘instrument’
and is rarely judged effective by the common standards of
power politics. But as Lee Griffith says: ‘Non-violence
is a way of being in the world that interrupts the cycle of
terror and counter terror. The non-violent witness says in
effect, ‘The terror stops with me, I will seek reconciliation
rather than retribution.’
We have models for this in the lives of Gandhi,
Leo Tolstoy (love as the path beyond terror), Dorothy Day
(non-violent resistance as the path beyond terror) and Desmond
Tutu (reconciliation as the path beyond terror).
One of Gandhi’s many profound insights
was that the state cannot govern without some degree of cooperation
from the governed. Likewise, the violence of both terrorists
and counter-terrorists cannot grind on if common people resist.
We also have to realise that as individuals we can do something
and not leave it all to the principalities and powers.
There are a number of actions the pacifist can
take within this witness.
· We can resist the temptation to use
terror in our own lives.
· We can condemn terrorism in all circumstances.
Since terrorists and their supporters generally regard their
particular terrorism as justified, anything less than this
will give some encouragement to violence. Countries that support
international terrorist organisations must be condemned together
with the militaristic policies of the West.
· We can act to withhold our consent
- indeed we can act to express vociferously our dissent the
next time politicians tell us that there is one last manifestation
of evil in the world that needs to be met with military force.
When they tell us that justice, freedom, and the fate of the
planet require that we march to war, let us march for peace
· We can defend the rule of law. An effective
approach to combating terrorism with the rule of law must
be multifaceted, and the right balance set between liberty
and security. Most important, it must remain consistent with
core principles of legality and morality. We should argue
to remove incentives for terrorists, deter those who benefit
from terrorism (those who train and send the terrorists) and
incapacitate the apocalyptic terrorist in all legal ways.
· Finally, though it may sound trivial,
it is nonetheless true that a small pebble tossed into the
lake can produce ripples that travel from shore to shore.
It is in the simple acts of kindness and life-affirmation
that terror is renounced. We are not called to world-transforming
actions but to live humanly and faithfully, even in the midst
of apocalyptic terror. In the midst of terror, the survivors
can show compassion, bind wounds, share food, comfort children.
In such actions, terror is denied the total power towards
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