The Usual Suspects* joined this week with a host of Roman Catholic pacifists to issue a fatwacalling on President Obama to stop opposing genocide, rape, slavery, and murder in Iraq:
As religious communities, leaders, and academics, we write to express our deep concern over the recent escalation of U.S. military action in Iraq. While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.
We understand and deeply share the desire to protect people, especially civilians. However, even when tactics of violent force yield a short term displacement of the adversary’s violence, such violence toward armed actors is often self-perpetuating, as the retributive violence that flares up in response will only propitiate more armed intervention in a tit-for-tat escalation without addressing the root causes of the conflict. We see this over and over again. It is not “necessary” to continue down this road of self-destruction, as Pope Francis called the hostilities of war the “suicide of humanity.”
The disregard for human life found in this statement is extraordinary even by the standards of the Christian left. Incapable as they are of understanding the kind of evil that ISIS embodies, or the kind of danger they pose to the Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds of northern Iraq (not to mention the countless people they’ve slaughtered in Syria), these people dismiss “short term displacement of the adversary’s violence” as if it were of no consequence, when in fact it could easily mean the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of people. There is something genuinely despicable about safe and comfortable Westerners dismissing the deadly peril of terrified people on the ground while they play their abstract academic game of “Who Wants to Be Secretary of State.”
Of course, being the kind of deep thinkers for whom the real world of blood and death is just an annoying, fleeting image on a TV screen, they are full of suggestions for how to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq:
There are better, more effective, more healthy and more humanizing ways to protect civilians and to engage this conflict. Using an alternative frame, here are some “just peace” ways the United States and others can not only help save lives in Iraq and the region, but also begin to transform the conflict and break the cycle of violent intervention. To begin, the United States should take the following steps:
•Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence among its supporters.
•Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence. Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.
•Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq. Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel-back some of the persons joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with influence on key actors in the Islamic State.
•Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full participation in the process.
•Support community-based nonviolent resistance strategies to transform the conflict and meet the deeper need and grievances of all parties. For example, experts have suggested strategies such as parallel institutions, dispersed disruptions, and economic non-cooperation.
•Strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region by working through the UN Security Council. For example, disrupting the Islamic State’s $3 million/day oil revenue from the underground market would go a long way toward blunting violence.
•Bring in and significantly invest in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection organizations to assist and offer some buffer for displaced persons and refugees, both for this conflict in collaboration with Iraqi’s and for future conflicts.
•Call for and uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. U.S. arms and military assistance to the government forces and ethnic militias in Iraq, in addition to arming Syrian rebel groups, have only fueled the carnage, in part due to weapons intended for one group being taken and used by others. All armed parties have been accused of committing gross violations of human rights. Along with Russia, work with key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to take independent initiatives and meaningful steps towards an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict.
•Support Iraqi civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level. Deep sectarian and ethnic divisions have long been exacerbated by various factors, including the U.S. military intervention in 2003. Sustainable peace will require peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts from the ground up.
I could critique each of these ideas, but there’s no need to deal with them one by one. They are all based on the same willful ignorance of the nature of the enemy and the nature of the current conflict. The fact is that Islamic fundamentalism is the third great totalitarian challenge to Western civilization in the last hundred years, and ISIS is only the latest and most brutal version of it. What the signatories of this statement refuse to understand is that Islamic fundamentalists do not want reconciliation with civilization, do not want a “place at the table” (as another eyes-wide-shut academic put it recently), do not want to live in peace with their neighbors, do not want an “inclusive” Iraqi government or more economic development. They want total control over aspect of life. They want everyone to either convert or die. They want complete submission to their insane god. They want war, suffering, pain, and death inflicted on all who do not hold to their views. And they are willing to do pretty much anything, no matter how barbaric, to achieve their goals.
The best thing that can be said about this statement is that it will be paid no attention whatsoever outside of the black hole that is mainline Protestant and Catholic left leadership, except perhaps in some segments of that other bastion of hyper-unrealism, the academy. The worst thing that can be said about it? Your tithes and offerings–if you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, or the Quakers–may well be helping to keep the titles behind the names of these enemies of human flourishing.
*You know who I mean: Gradye Parsons of the PCUSA, the new head of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, the American Friends Service Committee (headed by the appropriately named Shan Cretin), the Global Ministries agency of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, the head of the Church of the Brethren, and the execrable Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite. Oddly enough, no participation from the Episcopal Church, Mennonite Church, or ELCA.
PS–I should add here that I was surprised that the National Council of Churches didn’t sign on to this, since it is currently being led by the man who’s name would have been on it but for having moved from the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society to the NCC. But as it happens, James Winkler and friends manage to echo the language of this revolting statement in one of their own on the NCC web site:
While the NCC commends the US Administration’s desire to end this aggression, it is hesitant to endorse the military campaign underway that is intended to do so. As NCC president and general secretary, Jim Winkler, said, “There is no true military solution to resolving the crisis in Iraq. But as it is necessary to halt the assault of ISIS on the Iraqi people, and to help the displaced return to their ancestral villages, it would be better for the United Nations to undertake this task. The world community is horrified by this violence; the world community must share the burden of ending it.”
Even with the present need to end this particularly insidious extremist aggression, moving forward the continual reliance on military action as the default solution to conflict must be called into question, and alternative, more far-reaching solutions to the vicious cycle of violence must be found. As we reflected on the war in Iraq eight years ago, “we believe that freedom, along with genuine security, is based in God, and is served by the recognition of humanity’s interdependence, and by working with partners to bring about community, development, and reconciliation for all.”