Skip to comments.Liberation theology and the Iraq War
Posted on 09/27/2003 10:19:16 AM PDT by EsclavoDeCristo
Liberation theology and the Iraq War Seamus Murphy SJ, draws on the theology of liberation developed in Latin America in the 1960s and asks how it might be applied to the war in Iraq.
In Latin America in the 1960s, there emerged a way of doing theology known as the 'theology of liberation'. Its focus was the poor and the oppressed, its starting-point was their experience, and its inspiration was the God revealed in the story of the people of Israel.
God, the merciful and the compassionate, is a God of justice on the side of the oppressed, and his plan of salvation unfolds in their struggle for liberation. The people of Israel came to know God through the Exodus experience of liberation from slavery. Later, prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah called the people to repent their infidelity to God, reflected in violence and injustice crushing the poor and the powerless. Through Isaiah, God says he is bored by fasting in sackcloth and ashes, adding: 'Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?' (Isaiah 58: 6).
Mary's Magnificat praises God for overthrowing the mighty and raising the lowly (Luke 1: 46-55), and Jesus identifies his mission with Isaiah's prophecy about the one who brings liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). He associates with the poor, condemns the violence-breeding lust for power and wealth, and, like the prophets, tells us that God demands that we feed the hungry and free the oppressed.
Liberation theology focuses on the story of the people of Iraq, rather than on abstract philosophical and legal categories. Bearing in mind Jesus's prophecy that 'the last shall be first and the first, last', the telling of the story gives preference to the voices of the Iraqi oppressed.
Since 1968, Iraqis have lived under a brutal dictatorship where the oppression and fear is far worse than any reported from Latin America, as UN and Amnesty International reports show. Since 1979, some 200,000 Iraqis have been murdered in prison. Far more have been tortured. Children's eyes have been gouged out in front of parents. Prisoners have had limbs burned off, been lowered slowly into acid baths, and been raped. Saddam's reign of terror could be symbolised by a pain-wracked face mouthing a silent scream: in 2000, the regime decreed that even minor criticism was punishable by having one's tongue torn out.
Since 1991, to keep biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs, Saddam has defied UN sanctions, thereby inflicting hunger on his people, and manipulating that hunger for propaganda. UN food for the hungry has been diverted and sold abroad to enrich his extended family and supporters.
While liberation theology does not encourage violence, it acknowledges the right of people to defend themselves against murderous repression. Uprisings by Kurds and Shi'ites in 1987-89 and in 1991 were put down in large-scale massacres, sometimes with chemical weapons. If they were to rise again, they would have the world's sympathy. Liberation theology would say that the Lord, who breaks the rod of the oppressor, was with them. But unaided rebellion would have no prospect of success, and our bystander sympathy, our distant indignation (if we even noticed) would not prevent it being crushed with great slaughter.
Yet amazingly, when their liberation rides on the probable success of US arms, much of the world is totally opposed. As the prophet Isaiah recognized in Cyrus the Persian Ð Israel's hope of liberation from Babylon Ð so today Iraqi exiles cannot wait for the US to overthrow Saddam's regime. But, sadly, Christian solidarity with them is overwhelmed by pacifism, neutralism, and anti-Americanism.
Pacifism absolutises peace at the expense of justice, and neutralism turns fence-sitting into moral superiority. Anti-Americanism, like Saddam's torturers, drowns the cries of the victims and silences the tongues of the exiles. To wonder whether there is sufficient justification for war is not unreasonable. But to claim, as have some senior clerics, that there is no justification at all is to close one's eyes to the historical record and one's ears to the victims. Liberation theology would say: God is with the victims, and failure to stand in solidarity with them is a betrayal of the Gospel.
The people of Iraq want peace and an end of oppression. They want neither Saddam nor war. But given Saddam's addiction to war (against Israel in 1973, Iran in 1974 and 1980, Kuwait in 1990, and near-misses with Syria in 1976 and Kuwait in 1994), he is likely, if left in power, to provoke more wars. That, coupled with the oppression and terror, far outweighs the burden of the US/UK invasion. At worst, the US/UK invasion is the lesser evil, at best a liberation. So say Iraqi exiles and those protected in the 'no-fly zones'. Liberation theology says: let their voices carry more weight in our moral discernment, for theirs is the voice of the voiceless, the voice of God.
Seamus Murphy lectures in philosophy at the Milltown Institute
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