The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols spoke on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ programme this week, calling for peace and reconciliation in Syria in the run-up to the vote in the US Congress. He referred testily to those who speak of limited military action, by saying “What nonsense! What military action has every been really limited? It just escalates from one step to the next!” Such logic fails to confront the reality of the relentless despot, the crazed fanatics that wreak havoc to concoct power in their own model, and the need to deal with such people, for whom dialogue is almost worthless. The world’s history is indelibly defaced with memories of such characters; their notoriety is such that there is no need even for me to refer to them by name.
On Monday last, Pope Francis tweeted “Numquam plus bellum! Numquam plus bellum!” echoing the words of Pope Paul VI before the United Nations General Assembly in 1965, when he observed “ […] never again one against another, never, never again! Is it not to this end above all that the United Nations was born: against war and for peace?” (http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pope/UN-1965.html) After two world wars the Church of Rome clearly hoped that somehow differences would be resolved within the United Nations. How wrong they were. Far from being visionary, this sentiment simply exposed the overly romantic view of the then Pontiff. The same is true of Pope Francis’s sentiment: It is not just the actors in a civil war that have irreconcilable differences: getting the UN to agree is an insurmountable task, given the conflicting interests of each member of the UN security council. Therefore, is the Pope’s tweet a reworking of the plea for peace or a repetition of the same mistake that his predecessor seems to have made? It seems that the church is yet again indulging in Utopian fantasy, as it is difficult to see how the two sides in the Syrian conflict could ever achieve reconciliation given the wholesale, barbaric slaughter that has taken place, especially against the Sunni rebels and the lives of those not belonging or aligned to the ruling Alawite, Shia community. The reality of religion and power rears it twisted, ugly head again.
Pope Francis implies that war is always the enemy of humanity, but I would ask him and anyone else that takes the same position: is that truly how the victims of such inhumanity feel? Did those in Libya and Tunisia really lay down their lives needlessly to wrest their countries from state sponsored terror and slaughter? Was the allied military action in Libya so disastrous and are the efforts and sacrifices of the Syrian rebels and their families to free themselves from a similar bloody oppression really too inhuman to support?
nota bene: My tweet to Pope Francis said: I believe you should visit Syria to persuade Bashar Al-Assad to share his political power. Perhaps you will be more realistic when you fail in your endeavour. Corrections in translation will be gratefully accepted!