In a week when US President Barack Obama has announced new air strikes on Islamic State in Syria by a coalition of the US military and several Arab nations, Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger and the denomination’s Office of Public Witness have reiterated a commitment to nonviolent means of change in Syria and Iraq.
In related news, Church of the Brethren member Peggy Faw Gish who serves with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraqi Kurdistan also has published reflections on the military campaign in Iraq.
Ecumenical groups urge nonviolent means of change
Noffsinger was one of the religious leaders who have held three international ecumenical consultations on the crisis in Syria over the past months, organized by the World Council of Churches. He also was one of the American church leaders to sign an ecumenical letter to President Obama in late August urging the United States to lead out in nonviolent measures in Iraq and Syria.
“Stop US bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability, and the accumulation of grievances….” headed up the letter’s list of eight nonviolent ways the United States and the international community may engage with the crisis. The letter, reported in Newsline on Sept. 2 (see www.brethren.org/news/2014/us-religious-leaders-wcc-statements-on-iraq.html ) suggested “better, more effective, more healthy, and more humanizing ways to protect civilians and to engage this conflict.”
The list continued with seven more items: to provide “robust” humanitarian assistance to those fleeing the violence; engage with the UN and all political and religious leaders in the area on “diplomatic efforts for a lasting political situation for Iraq” and “a political settlement to the crisis in Syria”; support community based nonviolent resistance strategies; strengthen financial sanctions against armed actors in the region through measures such as disruption of the Islamic State’s oil revenue; bring in trained unarmed civilian protection organizations; uphold an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict; and support civil society efforts to build peace, reconciliation, and accountability at the community level.
Noffsinger reaffirmed the letter this week, saying, “As a historic peace church we have to evaluate the situation very carefully. This is about the wellbeing of the whole planet, not just about American interests.” He reported continuing contacts from ecumenical colleagues, church leaders in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, who are standing by the ecumenical commitment to seek the wellbeing of the region through nonviolent means.
In Washington, D.C., the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness continues to work on this issue with the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, which helped organize the letter that Noffsinger signed. Director Nate Hosler echoed Noffsinger’s perspective.
“Here in Washington, lawmakers are debating how much the United States should get involved without appearing to give much thought to the long-term consequences of such an intervention,” Hosler said. “While the situation is certainly dire, intervening militarily in Iraq and Syria not only affects today’s reality, but sows the seeds for more violence and instability in the future.”
CPTer issues hard-hitting commentary on military action
Gish titled her reflections on the US air strikes in Iraq, “The new military intervention in Iraq–on not repeating what has not worked.” The hard-hitting commentary was originally posted on her personal blog, and was published by CPTNet this week.
Acknowledging that many Americans feel President Obama is “finally doing something” and that many people in Iraq are generally hopeful that the bombing campaign will stop the militant fighters calling themselves the “Islamic State,” she stated a warning that “I believe Obama’s plan will not diminish global terrorism; it will only expand and strengthen it.”
She noted that the Islamic State’s ability to capture areas of Iraq “was possible because the US had destroyed its society and supported the Shia government that excluded Sunni populations” and that “the US and Iraqi forces bombed and destroyed whole neighborhoods and cities in the name of anti-terrorism, generating more anger toward America,” she also noted that “the US failed to support the progressive, mostly nonviolent, uprisings, around the country, against government abuse and corruption.
“Throughout the years of occupation, it was clear to us that US military actions in Iraq were not really directed at protecting the Iraqi people, but for protecting American personnel and US economic and military interests in Iraq and the Middle East,” she wrote, in part. “Each time the US puts forth an alarmist scenario, and tells us there is no other way but military action to stop an evil force, intelligent people–who know that our wars have been robbing our society of money for human needs and giving it to corporations–are once again seduced by fear.”
Her list of “strong non-military measures” echoed much of the list in the ecumenical letter to President Obama, including urging to stop the airstrikes, “since they serve to strengthen the extremist movements”; deal with underlying problems that fuel extremism and terrorism; develop political solutions to the crisis such as pressuring the Iraqi government to “reverse years of anti-Sunni sectarianism” and in Syria, to “push the UN to restart real negotiations to end the civil war, bringing everyone involved to the table–nonviolent activists, women, refugees, armed rebels, and regional and global players,” among others.