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The Catholic Church Can Save Zimbabwe

Filed under: Africa

"The structures of sin [are] rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people's behaviour."

Pope John Paul II wrote the above in 1987 on the cusp of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Western leaders of liberty Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were driving home a campaign to hasten the evil empire's demise from abroad, but the Pope had something unique that they couldn't have hoped to match: a direct connection with the more than 90% of people who were professed Catholics. Besides the fact that he himself was Polish, the church itself could connect with people in a way that even the ideas of freedom coming from Western leaders never could. Religiosity can transcend borders, fear, and even death itself.

What matters most is that by the 1980s, Catholicism and the church's organizational structure had completely permeated Polish civil society. The Pope's message of resistance -- his identification of the inherent evil in the totalitarianism of the Soviet-sponsored state -- passed through the ears of the cardinals, from their mouths to the ears of the archbishops, and so on to the ears of the laity. For example, significant support had been given to the Solidarity movement, which was crucial to filling its ranks.

The Church was also instrumental in preaching non-violent struggle; using its organizational structure to ensure compliance with this tenet. Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the unofficial spiritual adviser to Solidarity who became a martyr following his murder by state security officers, constantly urged millions of believers not to be goaded into violence. Doing so would only recreate the same structures of inhumanity that they currently lived under, whereas mass non-violence would ensure a peaceful transition from oppression.

Do not struggle with violence. Violence is a sign of weakness. All those who cannot win through the heart try to conquer through violence. The most wonderful and durable struggles in history have been carried on by human thought. The most ignoble fights and most ephemeral successes are those of violence. An idea which needs rifles to survive dies of its own accord. An idea which is imposed by violence collapses under it. An idea capable of life wins without effort and is then followed by millions of people.

The fight against foreign communist occupation was one such wonderful and durable struggle, and it succeeded in transposing that regime with new, democratic one based on respect for human rights and dignity. This was able to occur precisely because of the doctrine of non-violence. Its adherence by both the leaders and people of the new Poland created a new structure from which opportunity and freedom could flow rather than corruption and destruction. An idea capable of life grew out of the people who had created the new structure.

Even the security services, whose very nature was based on the violent protection of the previous regime, would not fight the millions of countrymen, neighbors, and families who stood in their way. The price of participation had become too high, and it dissolved away.

In Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe has ruthlessly oppressed his own people, religiosity has begun to take on an increasing light in the social sphere. Whatever is left of civil society takes place very often in the sanctuary of the country's churches. With nearly a quarter of the population identifying with Roman Catholicism, and many more clamoring for spiritual leadership against oppression, the church is in a significant position to lead the people of Zimbabwe in their quest for freedom.

Church involvement in Zimbabwe has been going on for quite some time already. But as the country reaches the height of its crisis, its organizational outreach has also sought new levels.

Over the Easter holiday, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, which includes the nine archbishops and bishops of the country, released perhaps the most condemning pastoral letter since the struggle for independence. Titled, "God Hears The Cry Of The Oppressed", it was posted to congregation bulletin boards, distributed roundly, and read aloud all over Zimbabwe, with people scrambling to know its content. In the letter, the bishops call Mugabe's regime exactly what it is, using the same quote by Pope John Paul II above. Additionally, it relates the current struggle to another that all Zimbabweans know dearly: the one for independence.

Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle. It is the same conflict between those who possess power and wealth in abundance, and those who do not; between those who are determined to maintain their privileges of power and wealth at any cost, even at the cost of bloodshed, and those who demand their democratic rights and a share in the fruits of independence; between those who continue to benefit from the present system of inequality and injustice, because it favours them and enables them to maintain an exceptionally high standard of living, and those who go to bed hungry at night and wake up in the morning to another day without work and without income; between those who only know the language of violence and intimidation, and those who feel they have nothing more to lose because their Constitutional rights have been abrogated and their votes rigged. Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another.

The people are growing in their revolt. Even the security forces, loyal to Mugabe only because of the paychecks, are torn in their actions. Underneath the oppressive regime is the development of an alternative structure to supersede it. This structure must continue to be nurtured and led, with a focus on mass non-violence, so that Mugabe's replacement does not follow his lead.

For this reason, the Catholic Church at the highest levels should become involved. Generally, it has yielded to protecting its flock, which at times has meant forgoing resistance under the threat of a severe crackdown. At other times, such as in Poland, it has resisted when its flock comes under the great pressure of totalitarian or atheistic ideas.

The time for that resistance is now. In his "Urbi et Orbi" Easter address, Pope Benedict XVI spoke all too briefly of the impending crisis: "Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the Bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward."

More can be done. The mantle of Pope John Paul II needs to be taken up. Pope Benedict is in the position to endorse the bishops of Zimbabwe, aid them, and speak to them and their congregation directly. He can fly in, preach resistance to a huge crowd in the middle of Harare, and even Mugabe wouldn't be able to touch him. (If he did, he'd really be in trouble).

The international community cannot be relied on, or trusted, to pressure Mugabe to leave power and dismantle his regime. Many countries driven by the ideology of freedom, such as the United States, simply do not have enough influence and organizational structure with the people of Zimbabwe. Other governments that are much closer and influential, such as South Africa, have proven that they do not feel the moral imperative to act on the behalf of simple human dignity alone; only proving that its leadership is of a similar kinship. Denying him would be denying themselves.

The considerable influence, not to mention moral and spiritual authority, of the Catholic Church and its leaders may be the only thing standing in the way of Mugabe. At this critical point in the country's history, these brave souls who are already in the thick of this struggle for freedom need all of the support and guidance that they can get. It is only right, indeed only moral, that the church's doctrine of resistance to oppression not lay solely on the square of the shoulders of the laity, but on those of pontiff as well.

There need not be martyrs, just the belief in the eternal righteousness of human liberty and the desire to see it made. In this, the church can help Zimbabwe save itself.

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A Gentler, Softer Iran

Filed under: Middle East

Now that Iran is planning to release the 15 captures British sailors, the blogosphere's post-mortem is already beginning. It's necessary to look back over the past few weeks and ascertain just exactly how this began, what was went wrong and right throughout, and especially what should have been done instead. Austin Bay, for example, takes a look at this in the context of the intelligence operations wars between the United States and Iran.

In fact, most people are looking at this entire affairs in those terms. The U.S. has taken a few of their guys, so they took some Brits. It's all a huge effort to humiliate us, and especially our governments, by testing just how pacifist they'll be in dealing with the situation. Given how long this dragged out and the response they received, I'm willing to bet that the mullahs are feeling pretty smug and snug right now.

Another benefit that Iran got out of this was the media attention. Austin Bay describes the entire crisis as a diversion from other pressing issues like UNSC sanctions and the developments of Tehran's nuclear weapons program. No doubt this is true, but more importantly, Iran knew what to do with this media attention. All cameras on the crew, Ahmadinejad worked the Western public.

While most people are adamant that the sailors were forced to confess and act happy on camera, or were just too unwilling to resist, unless they say otherwise in the freedom of their homeland I am absolutely convinced that the Iranian government treated them with the utmost respect and generosity. It only makes sense. Though the media is now redirecting attention to the hostage crisis rather than sanctions or nuclear weapons, Iran has been using the attention to convince the Western public that indeed Iran does not deserve such sanctions or treatment. While the British and American governments talk about the unacceptability of Iran's actions, people are seeing video confessions and smiles. Some people don't know what to think. On the one hand, according to our governments, Iran is the arch-enemy of Western civilization. On the other, it's all right there -- Iran is treating the sailors with great respect and their capture was just a mistake.

Unlike the Iranian government, the Western democracies are actually susceptible to public opinion. While at least a majority of people won't believe a word that Ahmadinejad says, there will always be the internationalist, anti-American Left that does. Furthermore, as the legitimacy of the Bush Administration and Tony's Blair's government continues to crumble as the war in Iraq continues, more and more doubters are likely to appear. Doubters of the West, that is.

The reason that sanctions have been steadily moving forward at the UN Security Council is because America has brought the Europeans on board. But if Ahmadinejad can convince enough of the European public that indeed the entire affair was a misunderstanding on their part and that the British sailors were treated well, then -- against all evidence of rampant human rights abuses in the country -- people will believe that Iran is not such a bad place. Why should we place sanctions on it, or consider it a renegade country trying to blow up the world with nuclear weapons? There will no longer be large support for it, and if we can use history as any precedent, the Europeans will quickly back away from any further action. Game, set, match.

There is no way to know what the now-released British sailors will say once they've been debriefed. But one thing is certain -- they will be the most sought after people in the media. Iran knows this. Do not be surprised if they tell all of Britain that they were not tortured, forced to confess, and kept in a jail cell. Do not be surprised if they tell us that they were treated with respect, fed well, and allowed to play games. Do not be surprised if they say that they freely confessed to crossing into Iranian territorial waters after being told that there is no clear agreement specifying the border. And last, do not be surprised if they think that Ahmadinejad is a pretty swell guy after they met with him.

It would be a lie if they didn't say that if it were true, because to them Ahmadinejad actually is a pretty swell guy and gave them a pretty leisurely accidental capture. That's their own personal story. But they would also be naive to believe that it is the overall policy of his government, that their treatment is the rule rather than the exception.

They are just pawns in a greater strategy to disarm Western civilization, not through nuclear weapons, but through the media.

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