Peace and Reconciliation on the southern border
José Antonio Benítez cmf
Unfortunately, in their various historical forms, peace is continually beset by opposing forces such as violence, intimidation, fear, or provocation. Peace is one of the most sought-after treasures of humanity and, at the same time, one of the most fragile; it is the most longed-for and most threatened; it is an ideal that we strive to achieve, but it seems ever more distant. Everyone wants peace and to reach agreements, but these give way to hostility everywhere.
On the other hand, we are called to Reconciliation, even if we are told that this mission is goodwill that gives wings to xenophobia. And although many think this way, peace needs to be completed and consolidated by Reconciliation, which is the soul of peace. And, it is necessary to remember that a reconciliation that does not recognize, compensate and help the victims will be flawed at its roots.
In the same sense, Reconciliation has its foundations in the full fidelity to the central ethical principle, which is the human person above any other principle and/or motivation. No ideology, political project, devotion to the homeland, or reason of State can come before life, physical integrity, conscience, or moral dignity of the human person. Murdering, truncating, martyring, snatching, harming, and corrupting a person has no moral justification under any circumstances. No human claims power over the life and death of his fellow man. To arrogate this power to oneself is twisted, ungodly, and obscene. For a believer, it is to supplant God, the only Lord of life and death.
Unfortunately, and not infrequently, on the Southern Border of Europe, human dignity has been tarnished. Still, it has not been the only one, “the truth” is one of the many victims of this violent confrontation. On this border, as on the other boundaries of this world, barbarism is practiced without light or stenographers. The truth of the facts has been disfigured with absurd and sectarian apologies born of an inhuman and detestable ideology. The deficit of truth has sometimes consisted of the fact that certain injustices have not existed because they do not exist legally, and they do not exist legally because they are not wanted to exist. In the words of Jon Sobrino, truth is essential to respond to reality, not only as a way to overcome ignorance and indifference but also in the face of and against the innate tendency to subjugate truth and positively take a detour in front of reality (cf. Spirituality and the Following of Jesus).
Secondly, to bet on this Reconciliation, as we pointed out above, it is obligatory to put an end to the situation of injustice that our borders experience and that has its origin in the structural injustice experienced by the peoples and countries of the South, and that is usually accompanied by repressive violence, in all its forms. The latest example of this is the massacre that took place at the Melilla fence. This structural injustice is the original violence, constitutes the first and fundamental form of violence, and is one of the most important roots of the other formats of violence that we feel on the Southern Border.
In short, I believe that it is in these coordinates of historical conflict generated by structural injustice where the problem of peace and Reconciliation in the Southern Border should be addressed in all its complexity and where we should ask ourselves about its construction. To do otherwise would be cynicism, naivety, or evasion.
Let us never lose sight of the fact that true peace is never separated from justice. Without the performance of justice, peace is not possible. This is the prophetic conception that runs throughout the Bible. The peace that Jesus announces and realizes does not remain in mere tolerance, in simple kindness, or calmness but is translated historically in the powerful denunciation of the causes of the deep division between human beings and in an option for the poor and oppressed and against the oppressive structures. This attitude of solidarity with the cause of the poor constitutes its most profound and existential option, rooted in the mystery of the God who reveals himself on the margins of history (J. Sobrino/I. Ellacuría).
Genuine Reconciliation is thus irreconcilable with injustice, and all those who suffer its consequences have a right to justice. From this point on, we can speak of peace at the frontiers. Humanity needs to take care because impunity discredits the moral and legal order and, therefore, invites new transgressions. But justice demands that it be applied in due proportion and without partiality to all crimes. The scarf that covers the eyes of the goddess justice does not allow her to condemn some crimes and excuse others. No ideological initiative should poison the exercise of justice. As Jon Sobrino states, if we wish to cure the reality that fertilizes injustice and violence, we must commit ourselves to dismantling the ideas that justify it, the situations that foster it, the structures that perpetuate it, and the behaviors that embody it. Justice reinforces Reconciliation to be lucid, subtle, and legitimate.
Therefore, the most violent and unjust borders, caused by the constant and continuous violation of the inalienable rights of individuals and peoples and by the multiple discriminations of a racist, sexist and religious nature, are those geographical and political borders, such as the “Southern Border of Europe” that mark the difference between dignity and misery, the guarantee of fundamental rights and their despotic disregard, hope and frustration, life and death. When so many people lose their lives every year drowning on the routes of death (so far in 2022 already, more than 800 people have died and 30 boats have disappeared), leaving behind wars and famine, no great analysis is needed to interpret what the God of the beatitudes is calling us to.
We are called today, as the church and as Claretian missionaries, to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees in their transit, sharing bread with them, making their sufferings and struggles our own. At the same time, we work to transform a system that plunders the natural resources of the countries of the South, reinforces authoritarian regimes and fuels armed conflicts, and then closes borders and eyes to the millions of people who knock on our doors as a result of all this.
The cruel and painful wound it inflicts on the dreams of so many people at these borders is also reproduced far from the fences, the checkpoints of maritime stations and airports, or the wild spaces where people submit to the law of the strongest. We also discover it in areas close to the everyday life of welfare societies: in health centers where the right to be assisted is no longer considered a universal right; around the CIE, where thousands of people are deprived of their freedom as the first step to expulsion; and in the public debate in which migrants are always that “other” object of attention and discussion, and rarely subject to build a society in a shared way. And we are also urged to be in these spaces as the church and as Claretians.
Undoubtedly, peace, at this time, is deeply threatened by numerous silent war conflicts around the world, the one in Ukraine is destabilizing the “peaceful Europe”, and of course, its borders and consequences in a globalized world are yet to be defined. However, at the root of all these conflicts lies another danger, just as severe and destructive as those mentioned above and equally silenced and which I cannot go into in depth in this article: that exercised by the centers of economic power against the people and countries of the South, which generates hunger, poverty, death, and exploitation. It is structural violence, institutional violence, and even violence of injustice which, in addition to being a denial of life, constitutes an attack on peace.
In the prevailing climate of social tension, our response as followers of Jesus in this Southern Border is the peace of God as universal Reconciliation through the cross. The oppositions of the old world (male/female, slave/free, Jew/gentile) are not reconciled in the community of faith by keeping them in their former State or by casting a thick veil over them, but by eliminating them at their roots through the creation of the new man and the new society, where there is no longer any place for sexist, religious, racial or social discrimination.
Here it should be remembered that it is not only the supposed superiority of one creed over another that has unleashed violence. It has also been the superiority of one race over another, of one economic system over another, and one sex over another, which has sown inequalities, slavery, injustice, death… This supposed superiority in the areas mentioned above continues to be one of the main stumbling blocks to peace today.
The cause of peace entails making the cause of the poor our own, prioritizing the satisfaction of the vital needs common to all citizens. I refer specifically to the right to life, the most threatened, to a dignified life -authentically human-to work, food, clothing, housing, education, culture…
It is an indispensable condition for a pacifying praxis to critically identify ourselves with the roots and mechanisms that generate these situations of pain and suffering and to discover their casual character.
The problems of peace, justice, freedom, liberation, and ecology belong to the core of the Christian faith. In addition to its interpersonal dimension, the Christian fraternity possesses a critical-public character that is consubstantial to it and leads to the transformation of unjust and violent structures into just and reconciled ones. But this transformation does not take place automatically. It requires a practical contribution. And it is in this field where ecclesial and congregational realities in collaboration and networking with all those civil and lay realities are called to activate the “Gospel of peace and justice” through the ethical-prophetic denunciation, the announcement of the good news of the beatitude of the builders of peace and justice, of solidarity, of the presence in the movements that fight for peace and justice, nonviolence, the conservation of nature, and equality between the sexes and between races.
To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, peace on the frontiers requires a change of mindset. A shift in thinking that recognizes attempting to perpetuate the current status quo condemns future generations to violence and insecurity. A shift in thinking ceases to interpret human rights activists’ legitimate criticism of dehumanizing policies as an attack on the “establishment.” A shift in mindset that begins at home and spreads across communities and nations, reaching across borders and scattered throughout the world.
People united in pursuit of a just cause are unstoppable. God does not interfere in people’s affairs, expecting us to grow and learn by resolving our difficulties and differences on our own. But God is not asleep. Although the scriptures tell us that God has a preference for the weak, the dispossessed, the widows, the orphans, the foreigner, those who are discarded by the system, for immigrants and refugees, our God is the one who frees the slaves in the exodus to the Promised Land. It was the prophet Amos who said that we must let justice flow like a river. Goodness prevails in the end.
José Antonio Benítez cmf