Last week was disheartening for those who pray and work for peace.
We lost Shimon Peres, a former military commander and President of Israel. Peres had suffered the dreadful hatred and violence of anti-Semitism. He defended Israel as a military leader. Peres was also a man who worked for peace with dogged determination in times of discouragement and setbacks. He believed that sustainable peace required treating Palestinians with dignity and helping them to achieve their aspiration to be a nation state alongside Israel. He showed the world that one could be both loyal to Israel and an advocate of peace.
The ongoing violence in Syria reached a new height last week with the resumption of the bombing of Aleppo. The targeting of hospitals and supply convoys was heinous and evil. Jimmy Carter’s call to end the killing has gone unheeded.
Paul Rogers is a professor of peace studies in Great Britain. In a recent interview, he identified three main factors that drive young men and women to take up arms.
- There is growing disparity between the top 20% of the world and the bottom 80%. There are high levels of unemployment, even for university graduates, in both developed and developing economies. The lack of opportunities extinguishes the hope of ever catching up, or even of living with relative security.
- Climate changes is making life unsustainable in vast regions of tropical and semi-tropical countries. A prolonged drought in Syria led to massive population shifts from rural regions to cities. The poverty in urban areas led to the first protests that were about hunger and the cost of food. Last week I read that the second largest lake in Bolivia has gone dry. People are once again on the move. We do not have to wait for climate change. It is happening too fast.
- Citizens that express dissent are often met with suppression by the police and army. Dissidents are jailed, tortured, or disappeared. There a few ways to work for positive change in many countries around the world.
If Paul Roger’s is correct, or even partially correct, the military response to terrorism and violence will not address the root causes of why young men and young women take up arms. Our confidene that an armed response will create peace is dreadfully naïve.
Christians remember that the family of Jesus fled the murderous schemes of Herod the Great and lived as refugees in Egypt. Later Jesus began his mission in Galilee under the repressive regime of Herod Antipas. There were insurgent groups that espoused holy war against Rome. Eventually Jesus was executed as a political disturber. Yet he was consistent in rejecting violence and in teaching a difficult ethic of love for one’s enemies. At this time in history, followers of Jesus are challenged to pray passionately and to work for peace through sacrificial actions of mercy and justice.