Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Structural Violence: RELIGION AND CONFLICT - Luc Reychler - Introduction: Towards a Religion of World Politics? - 1997 - The International Journal of Peace Studies

3. Structural Violence
Several religious organizations also support structural violence by endorsing a centralized and authoritarian decision-making structure and the repression of egalitarian forces. Churches have sympathized with authoritarian government. The concord of the Vatican with Portugal in 1940, the agreement with Franco in 1941, and the support of authoritarian regimes in Latin-America were clear statements. Recently, the Vatican disapproved the candidacy of Aristide for President in Haiti. On the contrary, it recognized the military regime.

4. Cultural Violence
One of the major contributions of Johan Galtung to the understanding of violence is his exposure of cultural violence or the ways and means to approve or legitimize direct and indirect violence. Cultural violence could take the form of distinguishing the chosen from the unchosen, or the upper-classes being closer to God and possessing special rights from the lower classes. John Paul II, opening the Santo Domingo meetings, warned the Latin American bishops to defend the faithful from the "rapacious wolves" of Protestant sects. His language dealt a blow to 20 years of ecumenical efforts (Stewart-Gambino, 1994: 132). Cultural violence declares certain wars as just and others as unjust, as holy or unholy wars.

The peace price given to Radovan Karapi¦, the Serbian leader in Bosnia, by the Greek Orthodox Church, for his contribution to world peace could easily be labeled as cultural violence. In July 1994, Kurt Waldheim was awarded a papal knighthood of the Ordine Piano for safeguarding human rights when he served with the United Nations. His services in the Balkans for the Nazis were seemingly forgiven. Both were made religious role models.

It is clear that the causes of religious wars and other religion related violence have not disappeared from the face of the earth. Some expect an increase of it. Efforts to make the world safe from religious conflicts should then also be high on the agenda. Religious actors should abstain from any cultural and structural violence within their respective organizations and handle inter-religious or denominational conflict in a non-violent and constructive way. This would imply several practical steps, such as a verifiable agreement not to use or threaten with violence to settle religious disputes. It must be possible to evaluate religious organizations objectively with respect to their use of physical, structural or cultural violence. A yearly overall report could be published. Another step would be furthering the 'depolitisation' of religion. Power also corrupts religious organizations. In addition, depolitisation of religion is a major precondition for the political integration of communities with different religions.

Very important is the creation of an environment where a genuine debate is possible. Extremist rhetoric flourishes best in an environment not conductive to rational deliberation. Needless to say, extremist rhetoric is very difficult to maintain in a discursive environment in which positions taken or accusations made can be challenged directly by rebuttal, counter propositions, cross-examinations and the presentation of evidence. Without a change in the environments of public discourses within and between religious organizations, demagogy and rhetorical intolerance will prevail. In his latest book Projekt Weltethik, Hans Küng rightly concludes that world peace is impossible without religious peace, and that the latter requires religious dialogue.

Religious Bystanders
Religious organizations can also influence the conflict dynamics by abstaining from intervention. As most conflicts are 'asymmetrical', this attitude is partial in its consequences. It is implicitly reinforcing the 'might is right' principle. During the Second World War, the Vatican adopted a neutral stand. It didn't publicly disapprove of the German atrocities in Poland or in the concentration camps. To secure its diplomatic interests, Rome opted for this prudence and not for an evangelical disapproval. The role of bystanders, those members of the society who are neither perpetrators nor victims, is very important. Their support, opposition, or indifference based on moral or other grounds, shapes the course of events. An expression of sympathy or antipathy of the head of the Citta del Vaticano, Pius XII, representing approximately 500 million Catholics, could have prevented a great deal of the violence. The mobilization of the internal and external bystanders, in the face of the mistreatment of individuals or communities, is a major challenge to religious organizations. To realize this, children and adults, in the long run, must develop certain personal characteristics such as a pro-social value orientation and empathy. Religious organizations have a major responsibility in creating a worldview in which individual needs would not be met at the expense of others and genuine conflicts would not be resolved through aggression (Fein, 1992).

Peace-Building and Peace-Making

Religious organizations are a rich source of peace services. They can function as a powerful warrant for social tolerance, for democratic pluralism, and for constructive conflict-management. They are peace-builders and peace-makers.

1. Peace-Building
Religions contribute to peace-building by empowering the weak, by influencing the moral-political climate, by developing cooperation and providing humanitarian aid.

(1) Empowering people
In the last quarter of this century, religious actors have been a major force for social justice in the Third World and a movement for peace in the industrial countries in the North.

People can be empowered by offering support to protest movements, for instance, the God against the bomb action in North America and Europe. In both East and West, churches issued a declaration in the 1980's supporting the goals of the peace movement. The ecumenical peace engagement was particularly important in creating a mass constituency for peace. The pastoral letter 'The Challenge of Peace is God's Promise and our Response', issued in May 1983, challenged the very foundation of U.S. nuclear policy and opposed key elements of the Reagan administration's military buildup (Cartwight, 1993).

People can also be empowered by providing them with theological support against injustice. In the Third World, many varieties of theology have been developed which are critical of structural violence. The best known are the Liberation theology in Latin America and the black theology in South Africa. These theologies speak for putting an end to suffering caused by physical, structural, psychological and cultural violence. The existence of a Christianity of the poor is a powerful social force, confronted with repression and exploitation. Hundreds of church workers, catechists, priests and bishops have undergone death threats, have been tortured or murdered while working on the abolishment of poverty and injustice (Lernoux 1982).

The Journal of The International Peace Research Association

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