I’ve spent four years of my life participating in the peace precesses of two different 40-year-old armed conflicts in the Philippines. I’m no expert in peacebuilding, but I’ve been pro-active in hearing peoples’ stories, trying to understand root issues, and serving people who are in need. From what I’ve experienced while peacebuilding in the Philippines, I offer my take on how we, as followers of the Prince of Peace, can effectively respond to global conflicts, such as the ones right now in Gaza and Iraq.
In the southern Philippines there is a land-based conflict between Islamic indigenous people, called Moros, and the Government of the Philippines. The largest Moro independence movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Office of the President on the Peace Process are finishing the details of a peace agreement 12+ years in the making right now; so peacebuilding has worked! There was ongoing armed conflict during the 12 years of negotiation and we lived in the Philippines for four of those years.
I spent a year bridging the gaps between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and between Christian and Muslim leaders while I was an intern with PeaceBuilders Community a Mennonite peacebuilding organization. For example, we partnered with a Muslim community in the heart of the armed conflict to support their fishing industry and participate in a fact-finding mission. (See this powerful story here).
They would hear gunshots and if the shots were coming close instead of leading away from the house, they would hitch up the Carabao
Learning about Armed Conflict
I learned a lot about armed conflict by working in the field that I couldn’t have learned in my middle class Canadian neighborhood. My close Muslim and Lumad (Indigenous People in the Philippines) friends told me stories of running for their lives every few months during intermittent fighting. They would hear gunshots and if the shots were coming close instead of leading away from the house, they would hitch up the Carabao (water buffalo) to their evacuation carts, which was always prepared in the yard.
Military intervention is not going to solve the root problems and often only creates more.
Pursue a Culture of Peace
As Christians in the Philippines and globally, we need to learn how to promote a culture of peace and reconciliation. We first need to be aware of the complexities that lead to armed struggle, including factors such as broken relationships, unjust economic systems, perceived scarce resources, and power imbalances between ethnic groups. In our approach, we need to be understanding of the root issues and address all aspects of the conflict. With a better understanding of conflict, we can read the newspaper more critically and recognize some effective solutions to support. Military intervention is not going to solve the root problems and often only creates more.
I’m aware that everyone has limitations on our actions to effect extreme armed conflict: our location, resources, talents, motivation and knowledge. So we all need to appreciate that some people can be twitter & t-shirt activists while others will step out and move to on-site peace and reconciliation work and everything in between. Both have value if honest and informed advocacy shapes a global culture of peace. If the church intends to have a positive impact in transforming conflict, we need to understand the complexity of conflict and know how to react when conflict (of all sorts) arises. We need to practice solving conflict peacefully and creating a culture of peace in order for true reconciliation to take place- whether thats in our own communities or supporting peace initiatives in a war-torn country. Forgiveness and healing between brothers and sisters is essential to the Gospel. Let’s pursue a culture of peace and reconciliation as we follow Jesus.
When we work towards peace and reconciliation the stories we hear and tell fuel the constant small steps of healing broken relationships, national, local and personal. These are powerful sparks of hope.
How should Christians effectively work for reconciliation in armed conflict situations?
First, financially support local organizations, Christian or non-Christian, who have a record of commitment to non-violent peacebuilding solutions. Peacebuilding is a long process and certainly not as sexy to sell as war is. It’s not powerful and attention grabbing. But it is a process filled with hope. When we work towards peace and reconciliation the stories we hear and tell fuel the constant small steps of healing broken relationships, national, local and personal. These are powerful sparks of hope. Hope is the most powerful tool of peacebuilders in the context of armed conflict. The majority of people seem to believe the lie that violence can stop violence (the myth of redemptive violence) and that non-violent peacebuilding is unrealistic. But, we peacebuilders in areas of conflict know that another world is possible. We carry a lot of hope as we take practical steps to build peace. So financially supporting local peacebuilding efforts when a conflict breaks out is one of the most effective response. Local leaders understand the culture, root causes and have the passion to directly intervene in the conflict on the ground. Don’t underestimate the ability of local organizations to transform armed violence.
When sitting down with a Moro friend after a basketball game he said, “You know, I’ve thought hard about joining the fight for our land. We’ve been here for hundreds of years longer than Christianity! The military killed my grandfather so, my father joined the fight. Then the military killed my uncle, thats why my cousin joined the fight. This fight is about land and self-determination but it’s also about justice for our relatives!”
My experience with the lie of redemptive violence
Secondly, while working with Peacebuilders Community in 2008-2009 I spent most of my time with Muslims in the southern Philippines. They have deep convictions about the Moro (Musilm) people’s right to self-determination. They have been fighting to hold on to their land for 400 years since the Spanish colonized the Philippines (named after King Philip of Spain). Since then the wars between the southern Filipino Moro’s and Spain, the USA and the Republic of the Philippines continued violently. The colt .45 caliber was developed to kill in the southern Philippines. Wikipedia – Colt .45
When sitting down with a Moro friend after a basketball game he said, “You know, I’ve thought hard about joining the fight for our land. We’ve been here for hundreds of years longer than Christianity! The military killed my grandfather so, my father joined the fight. Then the military killed my uncle, thats why my cousin joined the fight. This fight is about land and self determination but it’s also about justice for our relatives!”
How was I, as a follower of Jesus, going to respond to this?
Violence against my friend’s family motivated a reaction towards violence. Did he see another option? Sure! He knew I was working towards forgiveness and was inviting him to join our movement. He also knew of Muslim movements in the pursuit of reconciliation that other Muslim friends have chosen. But, understandably, he still struggles with that choice. I have infinite respect for him. Violence has a short term effect, but working for peace and reconciliation is a long painful road.
If my Muslim friend with dead family members struggles with the use of violence, why aren’t more Christians struggling with the choice between using violence or working for peace and reconciliation? In light of all the complexities of conflict, how can thoughtful Christians feel like violence is the only option?
This article is part of a Synchro-Blog by the MennoNerds to express responses to the violence in Iraq, specifically answering the question: How do non-violent, peace-making Christians respond to the violence in Iraq both by ISIS and by the nations attacking ISIS. Go to http://mennonerds.com/mennonerds-on-isis/ to read all the articles.