By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
Bishop Dowling (CNS/Bob Roller)
WASHINGTON (CNS), Sept. 24, 2014 -- Expanded airstrikes on Islamic State positions in
Syria serve as little more than a recruiting tool for the extremist
group and place more innocent people in danger, the leadership of Pax
Christi International said.
The three top leaders of the Catholic peace organization also called
upon the world, particularly the United Nations, to work together to
seek nonviolent alternatives to stop the Islamic State's expansion and
influence in Iraq and Syria.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, and Marie Dennis, Pax
Christi International co-presidents, and Jose Henriquez, the
organization's secretary-general, suggested several steps that they
believe will bring lasting peace to the violence-prone region during an
interview Sept. 23 with Catholic News Service hours after a U.S.-led international coalition attacked Islamic State forces in Syria.
The Catholic peace leaders proposed alternatives to war such as
wide-ranging diplomacy, including direct talks with Islamic State
leaders, and economic actions aimed at limiting the group's access to
millions of dollars in oil revenues that fund weapons purchases.
"We believe that especially the expansion of bombing is more likely to
create significant recruiting bonanza for some of the extremist groups,
ISIS included," Dennis told CNS.
"The Islamic State, ISIS, is very well funded and steps must be taken to
identify the sources of their funding and to stop them," she said.
The United States and several Middle East nations struck Islamic State
positions in Syria Sept. 23 with war planes and cruise missiles. Attacks
on Islamic State strongholds in Iraq have occurred for several weeks.
In the United States for a Pax Christi program on international
peacemaking at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Sept.
23, Bishop Dowling said the violence that began with the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq in 2003 has resulted years of and discord along
religious and ethnic lines. He said little was done to include voices
representing local and minority communities in planning for recovery and
rebuilding after the invasion, which toppled Iraqi leader Saddam
"Here we have a situation where going in there and investing so heavily
in war and violence has not solved the situation. We are now reaping the
fruits of the fact that there wasn't an inclusive political, social
response," Bishop Dowling said.
"It's this inclusive dialogue and nonviolent way of bringing people
together, of facilitating understanding, that's what has to be done.
Otherwise, we simply perpetuate a situation where people's only thought
is, 'We've been violated, so we will take revenge, and to restore our
sense of dignity, we have to respond to violence done to us.'
"But that doesn't achieve anything either. So we've got to find other ways, nonviolent ways, inclusive ways," the bishop added.
Henriquez called for the United Nations to lead the way in finding a
settlement to the crisis the Islamic State poses. "That has, to my
understanding, not been totally explored," he said.
Dennis was among 53 religious leaders and organizations to urge
President Barack Obama to seek a nonviolent response to the ISIS
incursion into Iraq. An Aug. 27 letter to the president cited a deep
concern to protect people from violence, but that military action would
compound the plight of average citizens in war-torn regions.
The letter outlined a several steps the U.S. and its partners could take
including providing "robust" humanitarian assistance to those fleeing
the violence; wider diplomatic efforts including involvement of the
U.N.; seeking a political settlement to the crisis in Syria, where ISIS
emerged; supporting community-based nonviolent resistance strategies;
strengthening financial sanctions against the armed actors in the
region; upholding an arms embargo on all parties in the conflict;
investing in professionally trained unarmed civilian protection
organizations; and supporting Iraqi civil society efforts to build
peace, reconciliation and accountability at the community level.
Such efforts are among those being undertaken in parts of Africa and
Asia to ease conflicts and improve understanding among varying ethnic
and religious communities, leading to long-term prospects for peace
because people's voices are being heard, the three leaders told CNS.
Unfortunately, they said, such work gets little attention from
governments or the media.
For true peace to be achieved, "it has to be, like in the church,
through the principle of subsidiarity," Bishop Dowling said. "The issues
have to be informed from the grassroots, as seen an analyzed by the
affected people. The agents of transformation are not those at the top.
They're the people engaged at the community level."
In Gaithersburg, Bishop Dowling told an audience of 75 people that his
work for peace was influenced by his ministry as a young priest in a
black township of South Africa. Seeing people struggle for basic human
dignity shaped how he views the world and the need to seek peace from
the bottom up rather than have it imposed by peace treaties that ignore
or fail to promote justice among ethnic and religious communities.
He said he saw people facing the same challenges when he visited South
Sudan, where despite a negotiated treaty that ended hostilities with
Sudan and led to the birth of a new nation in 2011, the differences
among ethnic groups were ignored and led to new armed fights in December
"Sustainable peace has to include action on all the issues and all the
problems and all the causes that led to war and violence," he said. "And
sadly in the push to end wars and violence, not enough attention at all
is paid to the fact that if we are going to sustain this peace beyond
signing a peace agreement, then we are going to have to deal
systematically with all these core issues.
We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.