By María José Alexander
On Tuesday 18, Fr. Patrick Devine presented to the participants of the AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa)’s General Assembly the work done by Shalom in recent years. During his presentation, he highlighted the relational dynamic that exists between a tolerant society and other that ends up in terrorism; moving from fundamentalism to radicalism, to non-violent extremism, to violent extremism and finally, to terrorism.
The General Assembly’s focus was on integral human development and the efforts done by the Church in this part of the world towards the assurance of the protection of human dignity. However, the presentation of Fr. Patrick was a milestone in the middle of the debate on human development.
In the world in which we live today, and especially in East Africa -where conflict is one of the major issues that hinder development – it is not only right but also imperative to focus the debate on the prevention of violent extremism. And mainly, to focus it on our duty as Catholics, Christians, and people of all faiths, to contribute to peace-building processes within societies. It is crucial to address why peace is a necessary condition towards development, and to understand that peace does not only mean the absence of conflict.
Much is said about the security-development nexus, as it is widely understood that security provides peace, but rarely the world focuses on the peace-development nexus. Though, the reality is that security may prevent conflict -thus enhance a proper environment for development- this does not necessarily contribute to the construction of peace.
I believe that, as members of the Church, and ultimately members of religious institutions or Catholic NGOs, we must contribute to the construction of peace between ethnic groups, clans, and religions. We cannot continue only with a discourse of tolerance. Rather, we should scale it to a dialogue of mutual understanding.
Out of the presentation exposed by Fr. Patrick, I highlight the following points:
- The core message of religion must sharpen our work. The Gospels -and the entire Bible- constantly call us to reconciliation -with God, with others, oneself and nature. Likewise, Islam has components that call its followers to peace and tolerance. We should highlight the root message of religion, working on the transformation of people’s hearts, and in their spirituality, focusing on our similitudes rather than our differences.
- Related to the first point; we should address conflict transformation from a personal and spiritual level. Let us say, by talking about integral human development we are definitely in the right path, but we should direct the discussion towards a perspective of building peace and forgiveness. This involves addressing issues at the relational, institutional, and cultural levels to counter the root causes of conflict and delegitimize the use of violence in an absolute way.
- Dialogue with religious and political leaders must lead us into the non-politicisation of religion and the non-religionisation of political institutions, which can eventually lead to intolerance. Also dialogue cannot just remain at the level of continuous dialogue or the circuitous dialogue about dialogue but urgently needs to professionally engage in DIA-PRAXIS. This is essential for those engaged in dialogue from different religions such as Christianity and Islam. The dialogue must take on appropriate agreed activities centred on peace, justice, truth and mercy in the substantial care for all people, particularly the deprived and vulnerable struggling to meet basic needs who are unable to realise their integral human development potential.
Finally, the presentation invited us to reflect on how well we are prepared to face these challenges. FBOs and humanitarian workers should be trained to be able to detect ‘signs of the times and objectively understand the times of the signs’ – such as grief and grievance- that could lead to violent extremism and radicalisation. And also, we should all improve our knowledge of peace-building processes and reconciliation, so we can work better and in a more effective way to construct peace in the region. There is a need to apply more and more professionalism in respect to analytical skills on the root causes of violence and terrorism, in tandem with qualified human capacity insertion into the conflict zones providing the peacebuilding techniques, to overcome negative radicalisation. ‘If we continue to do what we have always done we should not be surprised if we get what we have always got. It is up to us to decide and do something in and through a process of enlightened dia-praxis’.
María José Alexander
Tel.+253 77 366976 / +253 77 104 944