Skip to comments.Liberation theology and the Iraq War
Posted on 09/27/2003 10:27:19 AM PDT by EsclavoDeCristo
Liberation theology and the Iraq War Seamus Murphy SJ, draws on the theology of liberation developed in Latin America in the 1960s and asks how it might be applied to the war in Iraq.
In Latin America in the 1960s, there emerged a way of doing theology known as the 'theology of liberation'. Its focus was the poor and the oppressed, its starting-point was their experience, and its inspiration was the God revealed in the story of the people of Israel.
God, the merciful and the compassionate, is a God of justice on the side of the oppressed, and his plan of salvation unfolds in their struggle for liberation. The people of Israel came to know God through the Exodus experience of liberation from slavery. Later, prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah called the people to repent their infidelity to God, reflected in violence and injustice crushing the poor and the powerless. Through Isaiah, God says he is bored by fasting in sackcloth and ashes, adding: 'Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?' (Isaiah 58: 6).
Mary's Magnificat praises God for overthrowing the mighty and raising the lowly (Luke 1: 46-55), and Jesus identifies his mission with Isaiah's prophecy about the one who brings liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). He associates with the poor, condemns the violence-breeding lust for power and wealth, and, like the prophets, tells us that God demands that we feed the hungry and free the oppressed.
Liberation theology focuses on the story of the people of Iraq, rather than on abstract philosophical and legal categories. Bearing in mind Jesus's prophecy that 'the last shall be first and the first, last', the telling of the story gives preference to the voices of the Iraqi oppressed.
Since 1968, Iraqis have lived under a brutal dictatorship where the oppression and fear is far worse than any reported from Latin America, as UN and Amnesty International reports show. Since 1979, some 200,000 Iraqis have been murdered in prison. Far more have been tortured. Children's eyes have been gouged out in front of parents. Prisoners have had limbs burned off, been lowered slowly into acid baths, and been raped. Saddam's reign of terror could be symbolised by a pain-wracked face mouthing a silent scream: in 2000, the regime decreed that even minor criticism was punishable by having one's tongue torn out.
Since 1991, to keep biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs, Saddam has defied UN sanctions, thereby inflicting hunger on his people, and manipulating that hunger for propaganda. UN food for the hungry has been diverted and sold abroad to enrich his extended family and supporters.
While liberation theology does not encourage violence, it acknowledges the right of people to defend themselves against murderous repression. Uprisings by Kurds and Shi'ites in 1987-89 and in 1991 were put down in large-scale massacres, sometimes with chemical weapons. If they were to rise again, they would have the world's sympathy. Liberation theology would say that the Lord, who breaks the rod of the oppressor, was with them. But unaided rebellion would have no prospect of success, and our bystander sympathy, our distant indignation (if we even noticed) would not prevent it being crushed with great slaughter.
Yet amazingly, when their liberation rides on the probable success of US arms, much of the world is totally opposed. As the prophet Isaiah recognized in Cyrus the Persian Ð Israel's hope of liberation from Babylon Ð so today Iraqi exiles cannot wait for the US to overthrow Saddam's regime. But, sadly, Christian solidarity with them is overwhelmed by pacifism, neutralism, and anti-Americanism.
Pacifism absolutises peace at the expense of justice, and neutralism turns fence-sitting into moral superiority. Anti-Americanism, like Saddam's torturers, drowns the cries of the victims and silences the tongues of the exiles. To wonder whether there is sufficient justification for war is not unreasonable. But to claim, as have some senior clerics, that there is no justification at all is to close one's eyes to the historical record and one's ears to the victims. Liberation theology would say: God is with the victims, and failure to stand in solidarity with them is a betrayal of the Gospel.
The people of Iraq want peace and an end of oppression. They want neither Saddam nor war. But given Saddam's addiction to war (against Israel in 1973, Iran in 1974 and 1980, Kuwait in 1990, and near-misses with Syria in 1976 and Kuwait in 1994), he is likely, if left in power, to provoke more wars. That, coupled with the oppression and terror, far outweighs the burden of the US/UK invasion. At worst, the US/UK invasion is the lesser evil, at best a liberation. So say Iraqi exiles and those protected in the 'no-fly zones'. Liberation theology says: let their voices carry more weight in our moral discernment, for theirs is the voice of the voiceless, the voice of God.
Seamus Murphy lectures in philosophy at the Milltown Institute
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This is why one would have thought the left would be all for ousting Hussein.
It seems that "liberation theology" loses quite a lot of its appeal if the President doing the liberating has (R) after his name. Which means that most on the left aren't attracted to "liberation" theology so much as (D) theology.
My feelings on the 'declare Victory and come home' crowd are far less than kind. To me, they seem to be motivated by laziness, selfishness, and cowardice fortified by a strong dose of stupidity. If we left now, what the world would end up with is a pre 911 Afghanistan the size of Iraq with oil money like Saudia Arabia....and we would be (rightly) blamed for it.
Oh well, at least they're still good for a laugh.
The case for a just war against Saddam
CATHOLIC thinking about war (so-called 'just war' theory) operates on two levels. At the universal transcendent level of ideals, the issue is simple: war is evil. Justified or otherwise, war always involves slaughter and destruction. Intentionally or otherwise, wars always kill the innocent.
Another ideal is also simple: injustice and aggression are evil. The world cannot ignore them. It is at the practical political level in particular situations that ideals have to be balanced and implemented. Moral goals include finding ways to avoid war, while being ready to fight to maintain the rule of law and deal with aggressors.
Catholic thought holds that peace and justice must be pursued jointly, that the state's duty to protect its citizens from crime extends to protecting them from foreign aggression, and that as a result war may sometimes be the lesser evil. To argue that it would be wrong to go to war with Iraq because war involves killing would be to confuse the two levels, losing sight of the practical level. It represents a fundamentalism which sees peace as simply the absence of war and as the only moral value at stake. Two of the conditions for a 'just war' are right intention and proportionality. Right intention is to promote peace and justice prudently, i.e. in a realistic political way.
The philosopher Clausewitz noted that war is meaningless apart from the political intentions underlying it. Accordingly, a government cannot have a right political intention unless it has grasped the other side's intention and is responding accordingly. The 'right intention' condition can be violated, not just by aggression, but also by a naive utopianism in denial about hard realities or by a legalism demanding an inappropriate standard of proof (the "beyond-all-reasonable-doubt" standard in criminal trials) of hostile intention before acting. Clausewitz's point also explains why focusing on Saddam's weapons cannot decide the issue. If the UN inspectors find no more weapons of mass destruction, doves will say that it proves Iraq doesn't have them and hawks that it shows how well they are hidden.
But if a lot more are found and destroyed, doves will say that it means Iraq is now safely disarmed and hawks that it proves how determined Saddam is to get such weapons. The real issue is Saddam's intention in trying to acquire them, particularly nuclear weapons.
Through 16 UN resolutions over 12 years, the international community has repeated that Iraq must surrender such weapons. To no avail: Saddam has repeatedly made it clear that he is determined to acquire them. While the UN's political determination (i.e. its right intention) has steadily weakened, his determination has not weakened at all. Given his past record of starting wars there is a well-founded fear that he intends to use those weapons someday.
Such aggressive intent must be confronted by a right intention, namely, a prompt and determined intention to overcome and if possible forestall that aggression. This can only be done by a change of regime. Unfortunately, right intention is scarce in public opinion. The 'proportionality' condition requires that the goods at stake be worth fighting for and that the suffering war brings be not out of proportion to them. The benefits gained or evils avoided by going to war must be at least equal to those resulting from not going to war.
A government must always weigh the consequences of not going to war, including the possibility of a far more destructive war later. Sanctions on Iraq are increasingly ineffectual, so the suffering they cause violates proportionality and is unjustifiable. While war now would have large costs, not going to war would be costly too in terms of greatly increased prestige for a dictator, continued repression of Iraqis, and loss of UN authority with huge consequences for future efforts to deter aggression elsewhere.
There are important values here which ought not be lost. Besides, there is a better than even chance that Saddam will go to war in the future, and at a time of his choosing, using nuclear weapons to deter UN military opposition. War would be far costlier then. It is precisely because Iraq probably does not yet have nuclear weapons that the proportionality condition can still be met.
Overall, the option that most nearly meets the proportionality condition is for the UN to go to war now, at the time that gives the US army the best chance of a speedy victory.
Seamus Murphy SJ teaches philosophy at Milltown Institute. He is a Jesuit.
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