Just before Lent began, we heard Jesus bless peacemakers and urge us to make nonviolence and reconciliation our own. As Lent began, protesters demanded change in Libya but the country slid into civil war very quickly; now the opposition forces are relying on a no fly zone and multilateral military assistance which escalates the violence there even further. Pax Christi USA is saddened by the fighting in Libya, and regrets that the U.S. and other Western governments intervened militarily, adding to the violence. We take hope from the successful nonviolent movements in Libya’s neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia. Whatever the eventual outcomes of the movements for change across these three North African states, Pax Christi notes the growing desire for representative government and guaranteed human rights across North Africa and the Middle East and urges all national governments and multinational actors to support nonviolent action in preference to military options.
Egyptians and Tunisians studied nonviolent action and engaged in years-long efforts to train themselves and others with international support. This did not happen in Libya, where initially peaceful protests quickly devolved into armed conflict. Long-term preparation for nonviolent action has powered nonviolent change in many circumstances, but leaders conditioned to view military intervention as the best way to defend human rights and spread democracy do not understand nonviolence easily, nor does nonviolent action lend itself to sensationalist news coverage. Outcomes in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria remain unclear, although the steadfast nonviolence of demonstrators in Bahrain and Yemen witnesses to the viability of nonviolent training and action as a means to redress injustice.
From a policy perspective, the U.S. intervention in Libya is risky and inconsistent, despite the justifications offered by our political leaders. While intervening in Libya, the U.S. and its NATO allies sit on the sidelines watching the King of Bahrain, assisted by the King of Saudi Arabia, violently suppress nonviolent demonstrations; similar situations in Syria continue to play out without significant U.S. involvement. Now, CIA officers are operating in the shadows in Libya, but no one seems to know what the Libyan rebels actually want for the future of their nation.
The demonstrators in nations across North Africa and the Middle East prove there is a hunger for change in favor of human rights and more responsive governments, but how well do Western leaders understand these movements? And how prepared are they to risk instability in nations which possess most of the world’s oil reserves? No one yet knows what sort of government or society will result from a revolution born in violence and assisted by foreign powers. Reality is more complex than the simple narratives constructed to promote wars, and real problems require complex solutions and grass roots initiatives. As people of faith, hope and charity, Pax Christi USA supports the movements for human rights and democracy spreading across the Arab world and stands ready to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Libya and other countries in the region. Pax Christi USA urges all people of faith to advocate for, practice and promote nonviolent action in these and similar circumstances, and to abjure the superficially easy solution of military intervention.