Is there a realistic non-violent response to the violence in Iraq?

Earlier this week, I wrote an essay on Pope Francis’s comments regarding military intervention in Iraq and the Catholic just war principle. The reviews were mixed. While many agreed that we cannot practice quietism in the midst of the violence in Iraq, there were some who felt I mischaracterized Christian pacifism in the process.

This sentence caused particular consternation: “[t]o promote some kind of laissez-faire pacifism in Iraq is to be quiet and indifferent to the victims of the ISIS’s campaign of violence.”

I agree that I probably went too far in that broad stroke characterization. Those who even go beyond pacifism and into quietism are likely not “indifferent” to the suffering.

But my Catholic critique of pacifism isn’t without precedent. Pope Paul VI went further than I did in his message for the 1968 World Day of Peace: “Peace is not pacifism; it does not mask a base and slothful concept of life, but it proclaims the highest and most universal values of life: truth, justice, freedom, love.”

That being said, the church does acknowledge a place for pacifism within the faith tradition. The catechism, in particular, highlights the need to protect conscientious objectors who do not wish to participate in military action (2311).

And there also has been a history of non-violent resistance being effective. Within the past century, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II have shown us that good people can win a war without raising a hand. Jesus Christ himself in his life and in his teachings taught us how to outsmart and overcome those who commit violence and evil against our communities.

In his interview earlier this week, Francis said that the purpose of any intervention in Iraq must be the goal to stop the violence and nothing else. That limited and clear-eyed objective of stopping violence too must be of any non-violent intervention in the region.

To date, I’ve yet to encounter a realistic, non-violent approach to this potentially genocidal campaign against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. I welcome anyone or any organization to propose one. Military intervention should always be the last option, but until we can find another legitimate alternative, it might be the only option.

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