Truth and freedom: a just peace paradigm shift
In light of the continuing political uprising throughout the Middle East, American leaders are reported to be recalculating their approach to the Muslim world.
Politico's Ben Smith wrote this week that the Obama administration "clearly sees an opportunity," signaling "that they're hoping the changes in Tunisia and Egypt spread, and that they're going to align themselves far more clearly with the young, relatively secular masses" in countries like Iran, Algeria and Lebanon.
Is this a new moment for American relations with Muslim countries? Is freedom a religious or secular idea?
When members of the commentariate comment that President Obama lacks a well thought out, coherent foreign policy, they betray their ignorance of just peace theory. When they say that President Obama and members of his administration lack clarity or consistency in their responses to demands for freedom sweeping through the Middle East at this moment, they show they are not paying attention. President Obama enunciated an Obama doctrine of foreign policy in his Nobel lecture.
He is a just peace president, and the beating heart of just peace, the breath it breathes, the spirit it embodies, the truth it tells is that the inherent human dignity of every human being ought to be respected.
This imperative is stated in secular declarations of many nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document adopted by the United Nations. The respect for the inherent dignity of humanity is also born of the belief that humanity carries the image of God stamped upon body and soul. When believers believe that they are created in the image and likeness of God, when they follow the teachings of the various sages, visionaries, prophets ,the a/theistic humanist traditions, and for Christians the Son of God /Son of Man, they connect to a transcendence that speaks not only of freedom but of justice. And, after justice come peace. Thus, freedom is both a secular and a religious idea.
Like a tree planted by the rivers of waters, the Obama administration is rooted in universal human values as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the UDHR. The leaves and the branches may blow this way or that, depending upon circumstances. In one instance, the administration may choose to gently encourage an old friend to relinquish power and in the next sternly name the hypocrisy of a troublesome foe who will not allow the rights of free speech, free assembly or participation in fair and genuine elections for its people. But, the common denominator is the importance of universal human rights. At the end of the day, the president and his team stand firmly on the side of the people who are insisting upon freedom.
This is a new moment in America's relations with autocratic regimes, Muslim or not. A foreign policy based on a short-term, simplistic calculation of American interests that requires stability at the cost of justice is not only morally bankrupt, but it is also obsolete. The willingness of ordinary people at the grassroots of countries in the region to fearlessly take to the streets and to face the violence of their own government has shifted the paradigm. There is no long-term or true stability outside of the just and righteous aspirations of people who will not rest until they are free.
We have seen this determination before. In the United States, we have seen people face down biting dogs, fire hoses, police brutality, the jeers and sneers of their fellow citizens to march for, to sit down at lunch counters for, to go to jail for, to take a beating for their civil and human rights. We have seen enslaved Africans in the United States layer slave songs with multiple meanings to sing of freedom in this world and in the next. Singing "Steal Away to Jesus" often meant an act of courage to run away from slavery to freedom. The "great camp meeting going on in the Promised Land" was not only a heavenly home, but a call to attend secret worship services where enslaved preachers told their enslaved audience that, like the children of Israel in the Bible, God intended them to be free.
Very often, the bravery to face what one has to face, to do what one must do to be free, comes from religious faith. It comes from the God within that is an echo of the transcendent God. Biblical wisdom teaches that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. The spirit of Divine Love transforms us from glory to glory. Theology becomes ethics when the divine and the human intersect in the impulse that understands fear of any human being or any human institution as idolatry. "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7)
Jesus taught a discipline of radical love that leads to a liberating truth. This truth is one that insists upon social and economic justice. It requires us to take care of the weak and the least among us. The Koran teaches us to put our trust in Almighty God, the Merciful. God requires righteousness and justice. It is our moral obligation to seize our own freedom that allows us to do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. This is a new just peace paradigm that is both religious and secular.
(For more on recent events and just peace theory visit my site here.)
Valerie Elverton Dixon
February 17, 2011; 5:32 PM ET
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