06 April 2008

A Challenge

We have passed the five-year mark in Iraq and we still debate over whether or not the war was justified. And sorry to disappoint any readers who were looking for a debate, but I'm not going to get into discussions on justification. Nor will I allow any comments that start such discussions. That's not the point right now.

Instead, I want to look at the actions of Christian Peacemaker Teams and their operations within Iraq. For those who don't know, CPT has been in Iraq since October 2002. Among the team-members was Christian activist and author Shane Claiborne. I'm actually a really big fan of Mr. Claiborne, despite objections I have to some of his teachings. And I applaud CPT's work in Iraq as a means of achieving solidarity with Iraqis. But I can't help but wonder - why did they not go until 2002? CPT has been around since 1984. Why were they not in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was massacring his own people? Were Iraqis not worth saving until the US became the aggressor? Was Saddam Hussein not worth opposing?

No, the skeptic in me thinks it's something a little more logical. Non-violence is not as effective as they claim. Sure, it works when opposing rational nation-states. Non-violence worked (eventually) against racist institutions in the US, South Africa, and India. But did it work in Tiannemen Square? Did it work in Nazi Germany (Bonhoeffer, a pacifist leader, didn't seem to think so)? Did it work in Bosnia? Or Rwanda?

So now we sit here, five years later, and the CPT has a chance to show that they stand up to all evil, not just the violence of Western powers. Tibet is slipping into chaos as China cracks down on civil rights. CPT, according to their own principles, should be "getting in the way" of Chinese soldiers. If they truly think that non-violence always work, then they should be in Tibet.

Rock on.

Edit: Allow me a brief explanation of my stance on war: I, like all people, believe that war is bad, to put it quite simply. I believe that it is not a sustainable foreign policy, nor should it be resulted to in any but the worst situations, to include the prevention of genocides and other massacres and to end mass violence - known by some as peacemaking. I support self-determination until it leads to violence. As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness, but I also believe in helping others and cannot stand by and watch as others suffer.


John Spragge said...

OK, first, we all know very well that Western troops will never save Tibet. Won't happen. Western troops didn't save the students at Tiannemen Square or the people of Rwanda, and they didn't do much to prevent the massacres in Bosnia or even Iraq.

Second, an organisation with a shoestring budget and about two hundred people in total can only start the process of steering the world in a more positive direction. Nonviolent peacemakers can't hope to support any more than a fraction of the suffering people of this world without far more committed people and more resources.

I don't know if CPT should go to Tibet. I know that right now we don't have the people or the resources. I know that we'll only get them if people join and donate. And I know something else: the US Marines haven't stayed out of Tiber because CPT got in their way. If you want to stop massacres there, look to CPT, or Nonviolent Peace Force, or Peace Brigades, or Quaker Peace Teams. Because, as I suspect you may really know in your heart, nobody will attempt to intervene by force in a nuclear armed nation unless they have supreme national interests at stake. For the American government, the fate of Tibet doesn't come close. So if you want the people of Tibet rescued, you have to stand up in meaningful solidarity. You, and nobody else.

rocksalive777 said...

I'm not suggesting US military intervention in Tibet. You're right, the US would never get involved. We have failed miserably when it comes to preventing violence. We're not even willing to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, let alone devote money to the problem. And you're right, it really is up to grass-roots activists to put a stop to the problem, especially if it brought about international political pressure on the Chinese government.

I'm aware of CPT's logistical constraints. But I think if they are really devoted to peace, then they should be there. Or at least calling attention to the problem. Their website doesn't even mention the current problems (granted, it doesn't call attention to any problem areas without a CPT group).

I still want to know, though, where the CPT volunteers were during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Where were they during the 90s when Hussein was murdering the Kurds?

John Spragge said...

Saddam Hussein committed his greatest outrages against the Kurds during the 1980s, well before CPT had the staff or the resources to mount a project anywhere. By the 1990s, the British and Americans had the Kurds in Northern Iraq under their protection. By the time CPT had the resources to mount peacemaking projects, the organization had specific invitations from other communities under threat. I cannot speak to exactly what determined the choice of projects during that period, but I can think of a few possible factors. CPT only goes where we have a trusted welcoming body. Other factors included the lack of Arabic speakers in CPT, and the difficulty and expense of operating in Iraq; between 1995 (the year CPT started project work) and 2002, the fit between CPT resources and needs meant that other places to work simply made more sense.

In a larger sense, though, this "challenge" has an element of unreality. The real question we have to face here concerns the question of whether recourse to violence to solve international disputes can ever really succeed on a small planet with nuclear-armed nations. If you believe violence can work, at a morally acceptable cost, then CPT and its sister organisations have no real moral relevance, and accomplish nothing better than wasting the time of a few starry-eyed idealists. If, on the other hand, you accept the weight of evidence that suggests violence no longer works to solve international disputes, then any disagreements you may have about specific decisions CPT makes have to pale in comparison to the role that non-violent activism plays in a process which leads to the development of a substitute for war in international relations.

rocksalive777 said...

I do accept that violence can work at an acceptable cost. In certain situations. I also accept that there are times in which non-violence works. And I do think that the China/Tibet situation may be one of those times.

As I have said, I respect the work CPT has done in Iraq (even if I don't agree with the reason for their presence). I also think that many African nations would benefit from a CPT presence.

It's funny that you mention starry-eyed idealists. All of my colleagues here in the School of Public and International Affairs see me as the idealist.

rocksalive777 said...

Oh, and Saddam's abuse of the Kurds lasted well into the 90s; his abuse of any and all opposition ended didn't end until late March 2003. But as I said, this isn't about Iraq.

Anonymous said...

If the CPT were to get involved in Tibet, it would only be because the Communist Party gave them permission to in the first place. If they go there and "get in the way" of Chinese soldiers, it would be like biting the hand that feeds them.

That being said, I do believe your comparison of Beijing with Nazi Germany is out of line. Like I've said before, I'm a fascist. I have no loyalty to the CCP and I strongly detest some of their policies(the Cultural Revolution, their poor environmental record) but comparing them to Nazi Germany? China is not even taking up a "master race" philosophy of national socialism. Second of all, the state actors there ARE rational, despite not making China the big democratic state all Westerners seem to want it to be. If they were irrational, they'd still have China closed off from the rest of the world like North Korea and they'd be committing even worse crimes against their own people. I'm pretty sure you've heard at least once or twice before in your IR classes that irrational people can never hold on to power for long but it's the truly rational people who can maintain their grip on power. CCP-run China isn't irrational, far from it.

I'm a Christian as well and I also detest suffering. But there comes a point where I realize that some fights are just not mine to fight. And that sometimes, getting involved in other people's drama in order to "help" them can sometimes make things go from bad to worse(Vietnam, Korea, the Iraq War, etc.). US involvement in almost all these cases have resulted in disastrous outcomes. Even in a case as seemingly innocent as Cuba, the US actually strengthened the resolve of Communism by their Bay of Pigs invasion. Che Guevara even sent a letter to Kennedy telling him that before, the movement was a rag-tag group of misfits but that after US intervention, their resolve was made much stronger.

No single man can save the world but there are instances where he can make it a lot worse by trying.


rocksalive777 said...

My comparison of China to Nazi Germany is not concerned with the racist nationalism of the Third Reich. To make such a statement, as you put it, would be out of line.

And I will concede that China's human rights abuses are not as severe as those of the Nazis. However, the oppression of even the most basic civil rights and meeting protests with violence is present in both situations. This comparison is apt.

You're right, the US does have a history of making situations worse - though I would argue that Korea was not an example of this. I'm not calling for US involvement in any form but a boycott of the Beijing games. I am, though, calling for the intervention of a non-state actor, namely CPT.