Columban staff and interns met with Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, Tuesday afternoon to discuss the spirituality of peace, the power of non-violence, and ways to get involved in conflict transformation. Through Marie’s inspiring words and vast knowledge, we were able to witness the work of pacifist minds around the world.
During our discussion, Marie asked an important question: Why do we prefer non-violence as a method of resolving conflicts rather than the use of weapons to force peace on other nations?
The evidence is clear. Violence is not effective in reaching permanent peace because it only deepens hatred, trauma, and destruction. The US-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, for example, did not bring about societal reconciliation and reconstruction but years of discord along religious and ethnic lines. To quote South African Bishop Kevin Dowling, co-president of Pax Christi International, "Here we have a situation where going in there and investing so heavily in war and violence has not solved the situation." Marie also informed us that increased joint military actions to counter the Islamic State forces in Syria not only provides a recruiting tool for the extremist groups but also places more innocent people at risk.
When people persistently remain peaceful in times of hardship and war, it is inspiring and creates a ripple effect. Deep down, as human beings, we long to find meaning and beauty in life. We crave for opportunities to feel loved and nourished. Amidst confrontations and faced with insecurity, it can be hard to challenge the status quo, but it is not impossible.
Linda and Yves Aubry, a Polish couple in Calais, France, took in 20-year-old Sayid from Syria when he showed up desperately at their door. They explained in The Guardian, “But I’m just normal. I’m just doing what I had to do. He was hungry, he was cold, he couldn’t carry on – what else could we do? If I found myself in the same position, I would do the same thing again. I wouldn’t even hesitate.”
The desire to be free, safe, and follow dreams is also evident no matter which side we are on in a conflict. Bassam Almohor, independent writer and photographer based in Palestine, recorded in +972 a brief exchange between a Palestinian biker and an Israeli policeman that he overheard. During the exchange, the two men from conflicting backgrounds share a moment of kinship as they discover their mutual passion for riding bikes. They also discover how the conflict between the two groups hinders the other’s ability to do what they love most. The Israeli man shares that he is not allowed to ride through beautiful Palestinian villages that he has dreamed of because he is an Israeli police officer. The Palestinian man shares that he cannot buy a bigger bike to take his son on rides with him because the Palestinian importer can only bring in certain types of bikes.
At the end of their conversation, the Palestinian man says, “Unfortunately it’s going to stay like this for a long time. I’m not happy with it.” The Israeli man replies, “Unfortunately. But at least we had a nice conversation.” Before the Palestinian rides away, he says, “Yes, have a lovely day, man! I hope to see you while on my motorcycle, not in uniform.” As the Palestinian and Israeli man truly got to know each other through their mutual passion, their conflicting identities disappeared and all that was left was their humanity. Had they not come from different backgrounds, perhaps they would have even gone on a biking trip together.
Violence cannot guarantee security. Instead, we need to reclaim the idea of achieving peace through non-violence, justice, and understanding. The goal is not to ignore painful historical memories of oppression and violence, it is to discontinue cycles of violence and injustice by creating spaces where there can be a mutual understanding of what the other group has gone through. Non-violence allows us the chance for solidarity and reminds us that we all deserve a chance to live a life free from violence and inequality.
Copyright © 2019 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.