12/16/2003, 00.00
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Terrorists and governments: Convert to justice and love

by Bernardo Cervellera

After 25 years serving his pontificate and 35 years sending Peace Messages, this pope really amazes us: he is the only man to have taken the world's problems to heart and tried to resolve them. 

The amazing thing is that his Message's prime interlocutors are not only Catholic believers, churches, and parishes but also heads of nations, jurists, educators and even terrorists who, in choosing violence, compromise "their very cause" at "its core". The pope says to everyone that peace is possible and that it is even a duty.

The violence and death, which we watch like some horror film, have increased in our hearts an ingrained sense of fatalism, a feeling of that we are incapable of making an effect upon society. Proof of this is found in our disinterest in national and international politics, an apathy we have for things far and near to us. Combined with this fatalism, is our warrior-like promethean spirit, a desire to "attack" as shown by countries and individuals. In economics, politics, conversations, newspapers, all is highly polarized. Each interlocutor sees himself as Christ on earth: who is not with me is against me. And their adversaries get crushed. The "law of force" has become the means to resolve each and every situation.

However, we have fundamental and inherent rights, those which are "which are prior to and superior to the internal law of States" (n.5). We need to return to these and educate on them, so that peace has the chance to grow.

John Paul II uses the very United Nations as an example. Despite having made great efforts toward advancing education, its members have not been able to put an end to the many conflicts still being waged in the world.

Thus it is necessary to reform international law, indeed to raise it "to a level higher than the current international order". Recalling the wish he formulated in 1995, the pope asks the UN to "rise more and more above the cold status of an administrative institution and to become a moral center, … to be a family of nations."

John Paul II does not blaming anyone, but points out that the international situation has worsened not only because of violent people, but also due to the behavior of state governments. It is the "failure of (UN) members" (n.7) that jeopardizes international law.

If one thinks about the UN Security Council and its members with veto powers (e.g. USA, China, Russia, France, and Great Britain), the pope's Message is a serious examination of conscience for the rulers of these countries.

Just yesterday China issued a list of Muslim organizations in Xinjiang that it deems "terrorist". Many of these organizations are merely groups of Muslims seeking administrative autonomy and freedom in educating others in the Islamic faith. This list, however, serves as a cover for the government's own violations of human rights. What are we to say then about the violations of freedom of speech, of enterprise, and of religion occurring in China and which Peking considers "internal issues"? The pope, without naming any country in particular, condemns "those government leaders who violate with impunity human dignity and rights while hiding behind the unacceptable pretext that it is a matter of questions internal to their State." (n. 9) The same statement could apply to Russia and Chechnya, and the list could extend to almost of half the countries in the world.

And what can we say about terrorism after the attack on the Twin Towers? The pope explicitly speaks of  "the deadly scourge of terrorism" which has "produced brutal massacres which have in turn put even greater obstacles in the way of dialogue". He says that force "is necessary". But in addition it is necessary to eliminate "the underlying causes of situations of injustice which frequently drive people to more desperate and violent acts". Here we return to the problem of the Anglo-American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the long imprisonment of suspected criminals in Guantanamo, justifiable only if the fight against terrorism is true. Yet it is for this very reason that "international law" must be respected: "the use of force against terrorists cannot justify a renunciation of the principles of the rule of law." (n. 9) And with even greater emphasis we return to the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, veritable mire in which state security rights sink, in which pacts are ignored by both parties and international fatalism and violent protagonists take center-stage.

To cross this sea of pain, of trampled upon rights, and of reciprocal violence there are few paths to choose from. The pope indicates only one: law must be fused with morality so that the law of the strongest, the most advantageous politics and economics prove not to be the winner. How much did France's attitude toward Iraq depend on such economic advantages, interests and agreements or how much on true love of international law?

With this Message the pope has the courage to seek from countries, heads of nations, and terrorists only one thing: their conversion. It is a conversion found in action ("there nothing left now but to act" – n. 3). It is an action that puts both law and love into effect. Just and love are not "antagonists", but "two parts of the very same reality." And love supposes the possibility of forgiveness. Christians and men of good will can expedite love's victory.

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