Moral Criteria for Struggle Against Terrorism

Interview with Professor at John Paul II Institute in Spain

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VALENCIA, Spain, MARCH 2, 2003 ( What does the social doctrine of the Church say about a possible military attack against Iraq?

José Alfredo Peris Cancio, professor of law at Valencia’s John Paul II Institute, responds to the question.

Q: There has been talk of the “just war” in this conflict. What does the social doctrine of the Church say?

Peris Cancio: A clear summary of this doctrine is found in Number 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In total harmony with the papal magisterium of the 20th century, the catechism reduces the legitimacy of a just war to assumptions of legitimate defense with very strict conditions.

In the first place the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; in the second place, absence of all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; in the third, place, there must be serious prospects of success; in the fourth place, the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

I don’t think that the Iraqi case has these four requisites, because rather than certain, the aggression is imputed — there are allegations that Iraq is connected to international terrorism that are far from guarantees of a criminal charge of responsibilities; because diplomatic means can still be used to avoid the aggression; because with it the neutralization of international terrorism is not guaranteed — rather, one could expect its revival within the Islam that up to now has been manifestly more moderate; because the blood of the innocent who might die in Iraq — which would probably be justified as the effect of “collateral damages” — would cry out to heaven like the blood cries out of the victims of international terrorism.

If a war is not just, it is unjust, and then there is no difference between legitimate force and illegitimate violence. When this occurs, terrorists have succeeded, paradoxically, in their greatest objective: to vitiate the moral legitimacy of their critics. This must be avoided at all costs.

Q: Among those who oppose the war, there seem to be two different positions: on one side, pacifism, especially among leftist groups, which seems to be more an anti-American political posture — they condemn the United States, but they have never condemned a Milosevic or a Fidel Castro, for example — and on the other the Church. Could you clarify what the peace-making function of the Church is, and whether it is related to the pacifism mentioned earlier?

Peris Cancio: I think it is absolutely pertinent to make this distinction.

A certain naive manipulating and self-interested pacifism simplifies the roots of the conflict. It does not keep the threat of international terrorism sufficiently in mind. It promotes a demagogic and unjust anti-Americanism, and is highly complacent with some dictators who advocate a philo-Marxist ideology.

This pacifism has had in its favor the desire for peace rooted in the heart of every man by the loving plan of God, legitimizing all efforts to stop the war. If this has contributed to greater reflection and care on the part of those responsible for the common good, it has rendered humanity a good service.

However, the Church’s peace-making task is much more profound than this pacifism, and it corrects its ideological errors. Perhaps it also provides that breath of spirit that is lacking among those who for moral reasons uphold the need for war. The Holy Father says “no” to terrorism and no to war, and a total “yes” to life and peace.

To combat terrorism with a greater sense of international law, of solidarity among peoples, of the dignity of each human being in any place in the world, and of the collaboration of spiritual communities responsible for spreading the culture of peace, is not to embrace an impossible utopianism but to go deeper into the roots of the best of the political culture in which we participate.

Q: Given the threat of international terrorism, do you think that the war against Iraq would help to end this threat or, on the contrary, would increase it?

Peris Cancio: A war without moral legitimacy would increase resentment and the logic of terrorism. To reduce the culture of death, to put an end to it, the hegemony of the logic of life, of solidarity, of law must be shown.

A new face of mercy must appear in the international sphere. Force must be exerted without the seduction of hatred and the temptation of vengeance.

When attempts are made to justify the war, one must also see the effect this has in people’s hearts. Usually, the most direct effect is fear, which leads to thinking that the world is not called to peace but to violence, and that only intimidation is effective.

The Good News of Jesus Christ introduces another dynamic in history, in which the exercise of power does not deny man’s most original vocation to peace. To repel the aggression of the unjust without causing violence proclaims with clarity that evil does not have the last word on the world. Today’s apparent defeats proclaim tomorrow’s victory.

In national political communities we have given up individual vengeance and have trusted justice. This has made us less violent. The same thing must happen among nations, because nations are made up of people and it is people who make decisions on behalf of nations.

To trust arms more than people would increase the terrorist danger. To trust people more than arms, to trust that human intelligence will provide itself with institutions for peace would be the deathblow of the terrorist’s logic.

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