'In Middle East, First Dialogue. Last Resort, Military Force'

Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, Archbishop Tomasi, Explains How to Conduct an Intervention by the International Community Without Resulting in a “War of Religion ” or a “Western Crusade”

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It is an intricate and difficult situation, which requires a strong and concrete answer on the part of the international community. This is the picture of the Middle East drawn by the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

In this interview with ZENIT, the Vatican official hopes also for a direct involvement of Muslim countries against the terrorist threat underway, in order to avoid an eventual military intervention of the West that might be perceived as meddling in the affairs of the Middle East or as a clash of religions. Naturally, explains Archbishop Tomasi, the action must be done with the backing of the United Nations.

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ZENIT: Thousands of Christians and other minorities have been expelled from or killed in Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries by the militias of the Islamic State. A dialogue with the terrorists, in fact, is impossible and with governments, it is also difficult. What can be done then?

Archbishop Tomasi: We are faced with a fluid situation where a variety of problems are intertwined, which spark irrational answers. Until it is possible to bring around a table those who represent political and military interests in this part of the world, all attempts will be useless. If we don’t succeed in establishing a dialogue, we cannot imagine putting an end to the violence and persecutions. In our multilateral activity, and the joint statement of March 13, which is an example of this, we are seeking a convergence of interests and an encouragement of action, by all the political representatives in the complex picture of the Middle East. A direct dialogue is difficult: lacking is an interlocutor of reference. There are several forces that seek to interact at the political level, at the cultural level and at the religious level, but without clear and effective coordination.

ZENIT: Through films of collective decapitations and other brutalities, it seems that the Islamic State wants to provoke at all costs a reaction from the West. How can we intervene without this being considered a “Western Crusade”?

Archbishop Tomasi: To avoid a simplistic reading which could frame the situations as a war of religion, we must take into account the Holy Father’s wise words during his visit to Turkey last November, when he reminded us that “an important contribution can come from interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue, so as to banish every form of fundamentalism and terrorism, which gravely humiliates the dignity of all men and instrumentalizes religion.” The Holy See always seeks peace through dialogue. International military intervention in defense of threatened minorities is a doctrine that was developed be it in International Law, be it in the social teaching of the Catholic Church. To avoid an eventual military intervention being seen as meddling by the West in the affairs of the Middle East, or as a clash of religions, the Muslim countries of the Middle East must be directly involved. Naturally, the action must take place under the aegis of the United Nations. To proceed otherwise, would open the way to worse evils. The UN machine is certainly slow and often seems not to have the answer at the useful times. It is, however, a guarantee of impartiality and the pursuit of the common good.

ZENIT: Up to what point is the use of force licit?

Archbishop Tomasi: The ideal is never to have to use force. Realistically, however, emergency situations occur when innocent lives must be saved. In the 2000 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II gave a sort of guideline which is also valid for the present situation: “Evidently, when civilian populations risk succumbing under the blows of an unjust aggressor and the political forces and non-violent instruments of defense are not adequate, it is legitimate and even right and proper to commit oneself with concrete initiatives to disarm the aggressor. These, however, must be circumscribed in time and precise in their objectives, carried out in full respect of International Law, guaranteed by a recognized authority at the super-national level and, in any case, never left to the mere logic of arms.”

The right to defend oneself, namely, the use of force by the international community in defense of those that are unable to exercise their fundamental rights, is a consolidated doctrine, be it in the United Nations, be it in the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church. In fact, the obligation exists for the International Community to respond and halt in particular, any type of genocide. We do not want to find ourselves in a few years listening to the usual ex-post processes where the international community questions itself about the lack of an intervention.

ZENIT: Therefore, how should an eventual intervention by the international community unfold?

Archbishop Tomasi: In the aftermath of the atrocity of World War II, the international community gave itself rules and instruments to address humanitarian emergencies. In particular,  the Security Council is there to determine the way and the times of an eventual intervention. The position of the Holy See has always been to facilitate dialogue for a peaceful solution of  crises and to encourage the international community to act united, in particular to halt the sort of genocide that Christians and other communities are suffering in the Middle East. Naturally, the way of dialogue is difficult with a group that has no respect for International Law and no desire to dialogue.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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Sergio Mora

Buenos Aires, Argentina Estudios de periodismo en el Istituto Superiore di Comunicazione de Roma y examen superior de italiano para extranjeros en el Instituto Dante Alighieri de Roma. Periodista profesional de la Associazione Stampa Estera en Italia, y publicista de la Orden de periodistas de Italia. Fue corresponsal adjunto del diario español El País de 2000 a 2004, colaborador de los programas en español de la BBC y de Radio Vaticano. Fue director del mensual Expreso Latino, realizó 41 programas en Sky con Babel TV. Actualmente además de ser redactor de ZENIT colabora con diversos medios latinoamericanos.

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