By Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

From time to time I have been invited to write a book review and have often enjoyed doing so, but I don’t ever remember being as unexpectedly engaged and inspired as I was on reading Eli McCarthy’s treatise on the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking. His virtue ethic assessment of nonviolent peacemaking, compared to rule-based and strategy-based assessments, was compelling without being dismissive of other approaches.

McCarthy writes well and with exceptional clarity.  His interesting proposal for a virtue based assessment of nonviolent peacemaking is presented with humility and care and he includes regular summaries of his theses and proposals that are very helpful as he works his way through complex analysis and tests his conclusions.

Because I have seen so often – from a place of relative security and privilege –  the horrific consequences of systemic violence, repression and war, I have always believed that my own commitment to nonviolence had to be shared with utmost respect and sensitivity. Who am I, for example, to criticize the mother of a child abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for wanting the military to stop the marauding of the LRA after decades of unrelenting abuse?  Who am I to tell those engaged in liberation struggles against repressive regimes that they have no right to pick up arms?

Without  judging others’ motives, McCarthy makes a compelling case for nurturing the virtues of nonviolent peacemaking and including some aspects of human rights discourse to enable a more effective practical application of nonviolence, including to a fundamental renegotiation of U.S. foreign and national security policy.

He explores the rich Judeo-Christian, Hindu and Muslim contributions to the practice of nonviolent peacemaking, reflecting in depth on the examples of Jesus, Gandhi and Abdar Ghaffar Khan, who made the practice of nonviolence real, even in extremely difficult circumstances.

He also identifies what he calls paradigmatic practices that correspond to the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking and attempts to apply them to the very challenging situation of violence and mass atrocities in the Sudans. In particular he suggests that a focus on restorative justice, training in nonviolent peacemaking, constructive practices (creation of new employment opportunities, including for former soldiers, education , health services, land rights etc.) and attention to religious and spiritual factors could be useful in Sudan and South Sudan.  He cites the work of Nonviolent Peaceforce there as an example of a possible response in such situations where armed intervention seems unavoidable.

I was particularly interested in this example, given the long term presence and peacemaking experience of Pax Christi in Sudan/South Sudan and our collaboration there with visionary religious leaders like Bishop Paride Taban whose Kuron Peace Village so powerfully exemplifies the kind of approach McCarthy suggests.

McCarthy’s admittedly rudimentary effort to apply virtue ethics thinking to the practice of nonviolent peacemaking in Sudan is useful.  At the same time,  a deeper examination of traditional practices and well-tested nonviolent strategies there yields rich additional material for the practice of nonviolent peacemaking – especially if the reflection includes input from grassroots communities most affected by, and responding nonviolently to, violence and abuse.

McCarthy’s analysis also offers language and concepts to more adequately describe  the reality many of us have long observed – that the U.S. as a nation has made a fundamental option for violence that determines and in turn perpetuates our national priorities as expressed, for example, in our federal budget.  In response to U.S. torture, extraordinary renditions and targeted assassinations, militarized foreign policy, unjust trade policies, etc. many of us have already been asking “Who are we becoming as a nation – and who ought we become?”

McCarthy clarifies those questions and claims that if who we are becoming is to be made more coherent with who we claim to be – especially as people of faith, we need to re-root our culture in the virtues of nonviolence and emphasize the development of moral agency.  Among the virtues of nonviolence, he includes conciliatory love (as opposed to enemy-making), truth, solidarity, humility, hospitality, mercy, empathy and calmness under provocation … much food for thought.

I urge you to read this interesting and deeply challenging book – not because it has all the answers, but because it has opened some extremely important questions and suggests some possible practical steps toward the inclusive, sustainable peace and right global relationships we all seek.

Marie Dennis is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the Co-President of Pax Christi International. 

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