Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I asked for peacemakers and no one came...

The rooftop of the small monastery in Sulaimani
Over the last month  Christian Peacemaker Teams has received requests from at least two communities asking for CPT accompaniment. My colleague Tim Nafziger wrote in his blog about these requests ( article here). CPT has sent people to these areas, but is asking for reservists to continue the  support.

These requests strike me hard right now, especially as Tim mentions Syria in his article. Several weeks ago team mate Pat and I sat down for tea in the small monastery in Sulaimani with a Chaldean priest from Syria. Father Paolo Dall'Oglia has been living and working in a monastery in Syria called  Deir Mar Musa al Habashi for 30 years. I wrote a couple of posts about Mar Musa last year.(here and here).

Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is an Italian cleric with a Ph.D. in comparative religion and Islamic studies. He championed Christian-Muslim dialogue for three decades in a region where the line between state and religion is often blurred. He did it from his monastery some 80 kilometers north of Damascus. “I have worked to  create a monastic community dedicated to the service of harmony between Islam and Christianity,” he says" (taken from Micah Café blog here ).

Mar Musa (near Damascus, Syria) taken by Andres Rump

The community at Mar Musa has also walked the journey of practising and teaching non-violence. In September  2011 as the conflict in Syria was heating up they  called for a week of "spiritual jihad, through fasting, prayer and sakina (God-inspired peace of the soul) for reconciliation between the children of Mother Syria.". They implored for " reconciliation between citizens, on the basis of a common option for non-violence as the only method able to ensure sustainable reform and to avoid the slide into civil war and the vicious circle of revenge."

The people at the monastery pleaded for reconciliation and dialogue. They asked for two things. First, for the freedom of the international press in order to create objectivity though plural sources of media. Second,  they refused to accept military might as a way to supress the conflict. They suggested that " the Syrian government invite the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as other impartial international humanitarian organizations (such as the global movement of scouts, Gandhian movements or nongovernmental organizations for the defense of human rights) to cooperate with Syrian nongovernmental organizations".


As we sat with Father Paolo that day he expressed that he had a deep affection for the Mennonites. But he hesitated to talk about non-violence. Soon we found out why. After the week of fasting in 2011 they published a document asking for 50,000 unarmed nonviolent  activists of the  global civil society. Dall’Oglio travelled and pleaded with international agencies to send these people to use the window of opportunity. But as he said, "no one came". (In an interview in April 2013 he does say that one group sent 100 peacemakers and another 300, but this was far from enough.. here.) The conflict escalated. Now he is advocating for an armed response on behalf of the opposition. "..Now we should assist the Syrian people in their right to defend itself. A no-fly zone would be the minimum of responsibility. All the modern weaponry is being used against the Syrian people."


Pat and Father Paolo in Sulaimani

I asked him at which point he changed his mind. He said that it was more like an evolution. After the peacemakers did not come the artillery of the regime began to kill the sons of all the people that he had grown to love. Then he felt the time of nonviolent intervention was past. He has received a lot of criticism for his new plea, but he is firm in it.

As I sat there I had many thoughts going through my head. I did not feel equipped to lecture him on the apologetics of nonviolence. He knew them very well and  I have never ever been close to the situation that he has witnessed.  He was expelled from Syria by the regime for his ideas and support for the opposition.

  I thought back to the speech made by Ron Sider  in 1984 that provided some of the impetus for the birth of Christian Peacemaker Teams. He said,
 "What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully...  Together the Christian church could afford to train and deploy 100,000 persons in a new nonviolent peacekeeping force. The result would not be utopia, or even the abolition of war. But it might tug our trembling planet back from the abyss. (Ron Sider, 28 July 1984)"
The community at Mar Musa asked for 50,000 unarmed nonviolent  activists of the  global civil society. If we, as Mennonites or Christians and others who believe in nonviolence,  had managed to meet the challenge of Sider then there would have been 50,000 peacemakers left over for the conflicts that are happening in other regions of the world- for the Mikmaq nation in New Brunswick and the community of Las Pavas in Colombia and many more. 

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