‘Condemning Violence’ by Joe McVeigh

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There are two schools of thought in the Catholic Church about how to tackle tyranny. The traditional one is that it is justified to take up arms to defeat tyranny in certain circumstances. The other school of thought is that it is preferable to take the course of non-violent resistance.

The debate about the justification for armed insurrection will go on for as long as there are human beings with grievances or perceived grievances. It has been going on within the Catholic Church for centuries and it will continue to be a huge moral issue for many.

For some the answer is cut and dried. The use of armed force in any circumstances is always wrong.  The Fifth commandment makes it clear. The people who take this view tend to take the moral high ground and lecture and condemn those who see no alternative to armed insurrection to end oppression. They usually belong to the comfortable class who are not directly affected by the oppression or injustice and who have been favoured in some ways by those in power.

The Catholic Church many centuries ago introduced the notion of the Just War and this was followed for many years, offering many in positions of power a way out of the dilemma about killing. However, ever since Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that theory has been almost abandoned within the Catholic Church. There can never be justification for the use of nuclear weapons by the powers since in this context the use of weapons of mass destruction would lead to the annihilation of the whole human race.

The Just War theory is no longer acceptable in Catholic theology as a way of dealing with disputes-international or otherwise. With the rise of Muslim extremists this debate is more sharply focussed. How are western countries, mainly Christian, to respond to the advance of the Muslim extremists like ISIS? Can an armed response be justified?

It would seem that Pope Francis is coming to the view that the use of violence is always wrong.

Sometimes,  I read about a deceased politician or churchman: “He condemned violence on all sides’. It sounds good and reflects well on the deceased but as far as I am concerned the statement means nothing. It says nothing about the core convictions of the said person -nor does it show that he was a pacifist.

Condemning violence ‘on all sides’ does not mean that the condemner was making any kind of meaningful intellectual contribution to the debate about how to end violence and war. This kind of condemnation does not make any contribution to a better understanding of the context and background to the use of violence. Condemning violence ‘on all sides’, without making any distinctions, means equating the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the State. That is a complete distortion of the truth. You cannot equate the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor. To do so is to allow the oppressor off the hook. The oppressor will always have more easy access to the media to put forward their propaganda and to offer their excuses for using violence against those who are often described as ‘the men of violence’.

Condemning ‘the violence of both sides’ might of course endear one to the media especially the Dublin-based media. It does not make one a pacifist , that is one who is actively working to bring about justice and equality. Issuing condemnations of the violence of both sides from the pulpit or from the bishop’s house makes no contribution to the creating of the circumstances for a just and lasting peace. They sound good to those who are not involved and they are even acceptable to the oppressor, but they do not alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. Nor do they point to a way of breaking the cycle of violence in this country or in any other country.

In our context it was only when some courageous people began to take the IRA seriously and stopped condemning them that political progress was made in bringing about a cessation of armed struggle. It was only when leaders like Gerry Adams and John Hume showed courage and started talking that the possibility of a cessation of violence seemed possible. Of course, many wanted to jump on the bandwagon and claim credit. Many now choose to forget the key role played by Gerry Adams in opening the channels of communication.

Throughout the recent history of the world I admire those who courageously tackled the cycle of violence, and intervened to bring about a ceasefire and an end to repression -Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Bishop Helder Camara, Ernesto Cardenal, Monsignor Romero and Daniel Berrigan. These and others have made a huge contribution to securing peace and justice in our world.

They achieved what they did by taking a more nuanced approach to violence and recognising the historical and political causes of violence. They realised that it was a last resort when some people took up arms to overthrow tyranny, and they were honest in defining the primary and secondary violence. Honesty is always the way to go in trying to bring about the end of conflict and a peaceful situation. The next time I hear that he or she condemned violence ‘on all sides’ I will try to find out whose side the writer is on.


9 Responses to ‘Condemning Violence’ by Joe McVeigh

  1. giordanobruno September 5, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    The teachings of Christ are so clearly against violence I cannot see how there is any room for doubt
    We are told to turn the other cheek,do good to them that hate you,,recompense to no man evil for evil, etc.
    For a supposed follower of Christ to be equivocal about the use of violence is baffling.

  2. Antaine de Brún September 5, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    Two interesting questions here. How are western countries, mainly Christian, to respond to the advance of the Muslim extremists like ISIS? Can an armed response be justified?

    Let me pose another question, what is a Muslim extremist? I would suggest that some Christians to date have had no qualms about using one dictator to combat another, for example, alliances were often formed with Muslim-majority states in return for military bases in relation to intervention in Iraq, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

    Let me pose another question, is there any difference between human and degrading treatment and torture?

    Semantic differences were exploited in the north of Ireland, Cuba and Uzbekistan to engage in human and degrading treatment. Just a few short years ago, some world leaders had no problems dealing with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddfai or Islam Karimov in order to wage their wars on terror.

    No doubt Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Ms Clinton would still claim to have God on their side.

  3. Dominic Hendron September 5, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    What about when violent resistance is part of an almost sacred tradition?(

    • Dominic Hendron September 6, 2016 at 12:05 am #

      All Christ said was that those who live by the sword will perish by it. This was not a condemnation of those who chose the gun or the bomb to settle problems but a statement of the facts of where violence leads. Cahill Daley developed this point in one of his books when he said that people who took up the gun invariably found themselves doing things years down the line that they would never have dreamed of doing when they first took up arms. This was confirmed to me when a man who had manned the barricades in Belfast told how one day when a man raised a gun to shoot someone he pulled the mans hand down: If I did that now he said I would be shot too. Jesus didn’t condemn violence he just told people where it would lead to. When told how Pilate had mixed the blood of his countrymen with their sacrifices he said do you think these men were more guilty than anyone else and then went on to say unless you repent you will perish too. In this way he tried to raise peoples minds to higher truths. Martin Luther King and Ghandi would have been of the same view. It causes more problems than it resolves. Rationalizing violence and using language such as oppressed and oppressor is just being disingenuous and deceitful.

  4. jessica September 5, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    Violence is always wrong, it is wrong to ever try to justify it.
    That would be my opinion.
    Then again there are many things which I would consider to be wrong yet they happen anyway.
    Violence is part of human nature, and when faced with oppression, I consider it cowardice not to fight back, especially if others suffer over your failure to act.
    That does not equate to a just war however. Even in war, we must accept what we are doing is wrong but do it anyway.

    I would rather die fighting back than live in the knowledge that my family suffered and I did nothing to try and stop it.

    They say two wrongs don’t make a right, and I suppose that also makes sense.
    But given the level of violence which was inflicted by unionism on a peaceful civil rights movement and on the nationalist community by then, the security forces paid to protect us and by the British army, I fully support the good people in the IRA who chose to fight back and without whom many of us would not be here today.

    The greatest wrong was that the resulting conflict went on as long as it did.

    It should have ended in the 75 ceasefire. The Reavey killings and Kingsmill prevented that and there really needs to be a thorough investigation into these and more clarification on how that was allowed to happen. If as it is suspected, that British intelligence planned these to bring the SAS into the conflict and especially the UVF claim that they drew the line over British intelligence requests for them to murder a classroom of 30 catholic primary school children in south Armagh on grounds it would have started a civil war.

    Condemnation is pointless when there is no truth and honesty.

  5. Bridget Cairns September 5, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    Violence is not just the use of bombs, bullets, nuclear weapons, resulting in death. The question to be asked is “what is violence?”. Is the starvation of thousands of children every day, the clearance of shanty towns to make way for “progress”, the world wide injustices against the poor, the denial of basic human rights & so on. We could take the belief of a FG TD, Regina Doherty, in that “we brought it upon ourselves”. Now there is a justification for violence & yet this person pops regularly on our TV screens & was elected by a large number of people, some of whom may be “against all violence”. The people I have met who are against all violence are the biggest hypocrites I have met & are adept at squaring that circle.

  6. MT September 5, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    “The Just War theory is no longer acceptable in Catholic theology as a way of dealing with disputes-international or otherwise. ”

    Really? That’s quite a statement. Is there any authority to back it up?

    Or is this how Joe justifies to himself his support for the Provisional IRA?

  7. Wolfe tone September 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

    The first significant public figure Obama met when he became president was the Pope in the Vatican. Did he by chance advise Obama about violence then? I doubt it. The Vatican has a long record of speaking out both sides of its mouth. Unfortunately folk are still susceptible to falling for nice words whilst failing to notice actions. The Vatican should be shouting from its rooftops at those who practice violence and should be urging it’s billion or so flock to shun the violent types. Alas they are selective when it comes to condemning the people of violence I.e violent western governments are taboo.

  8. Sherdy September 5, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    Violence is wrong – especially when the other guy does it!