If one surveys a magazine of opinion, such as ModernDiplomacy.eu, among others, it will not take long before one encounters a tirade or a rebuke against religion in general or Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular.
The five phenomena which allegedly inspire the attack, coming usually from secularists and positivists are: 1) The suppression of knowledge and obscurantism, 2) the required celibacy of its priests resulting in pedophilia and homosexuality, 3) the Inquisition, 4) Witch hunting and burning, 5) the Crusades. These are phenomena which go back to medieval times which in themselves are usually declared as dark times (confusing the dark ages with medieval times in general) and therefore undesirable in our modern, scientifically advanced, “enlightened” times. Often enough a recommendation is freely and egregiously offered: the Church should simply disband itself after asking for forgiveness for its crimes and hanging its head in shame, and everybody will be much better off afterward. Enlightenment and peace, transparency and liberty and integrity will then arrive on the scene and will reign supreme: a sort of Utopian Garden of Eden. If any quarter is granted to any form of Christianity in this highly Utopian world free of corruption and sin, it will be for a reformed Church, that is to say, the Protestant Churches.
I have already dealt at some length with the first three historical phenomena. At times it has given rise to reactionary spirited counter-positions on the matter, sometimes those positions have degenerated into a diatribe. That is of course undesirable. At the risk of renewing such a diatribe, and in the more positive interests of free speech and truth, I’d like for the moment to tackle here the fifth of the above mentioned phenomena, the one on the Crusades and some of their assumptions and implications. I suppose the first thing that should be said about all those phenomena within Christianity is that they are historical and cannot be denied as existing at one time. To deny that is to make a dialogue impossible. But on the other hand we should remember well the fact of their historicity, that all historical phenomena are subject to an interpretation which may turn out to be correct or perhaps misleading. That an historical interpretation of an event cannot be made outside its historicity by 20/20 hindsight; its narration has to be kept within the period one is describing. I should mention here that to insure that such was the case, I have drawn for inspiration and historical correctness from an excellent book on the subject by Jonathan Riley-Smith, titled What were the Crusades?
Before we attempt an answer to such a question let us situate the Crusades within historical time. They took place within a span of approximately two centuries within middle Middle Ages, that is outside of the Dark Ages (500-800 AD) and before the higher Middle Ages: between 1096 to 1270. There were seven of them and only the first was successful as a military mission. It should be kept in mind that the Moslems, the new religion on the block attempting to overrun the whole of Europe, were already in Palestine some 450 years earlier. The unintended but more beneficial consequences were a unification that occurred among different nations and people in Europe, the economic and cultural exchanges between East and West that occurred in the defense of a common cultural heritage, Christianity.
Since those Crusades had the Church’s blessing the question arises: had the Church reversed its attitude toward violence and war in general. The myth has been propagated that it did. But in fact, as the just war theory of St. Augustine and its principle of proportionality proclaims, Christianity, since its beginning, had never been absolutely pacifist. It did consider war as a last resort to be avoided whenever possible but at times preferable as a lesser evil. Even Jesus never condemned soldiers for being soldiers. This is an important consideration at a time such as ours when once again men go around in Palestine decapitating and committing all sorts of atrocities are dreaming of Sharia law in the Vatican, while others talk of “a clash of civilizations” and an alliance of the West which some have called a call for a new Crusade to defend the West’s values.
Which brings us to the second crucial question. Who were the aggressors? Some do not hesitate to say that the Christians were the imperialistic aggressors. But wait a minute. The conflict between Islam and Christianity began not with first Crusade but with the birth of Islam in the 7th century A.D. when the Muslim conquest began encircling the West on the Western front with the conquest of Spain and the Byzantine Empire on the Eastern front. A very good case can be made that the aggressors were the Muslims, even if at first it looks as if it were the Christians who went looking for trouble and adventure in the Middle East. No historian has ever condemned Scipio the African for moving the Roman army to North Africa to finally defeat Hannibal in North Africa. All one has to do is to remember that Hannibal had already defeated the Romans three times in the Italian peninsula. The same applies to Western Europe which saw an outpost such as Vienna threatened by the Turks.
That that there were atrocities committed during the Crusades is undeniable but here again we need to keep in mind that atrocities usually go together with any war. The crusades had their share of heroes and villains, saints and sinners. The Church never approved the Sack of Jerusalem and Constantinople. The Pope at the time (Innocent III) said of the incident of Constantinople “No wonder the Greeks call you dogs,” and he excommunicated those responsible. The anti-Jewish pogrom were also in direct violation of a Papal decree protecting Jews. The children’s crusade was never approved by the Church.
The other myth or gratuitous charge against the Church is that it granted indulgences for evil. The crusades were not for the purpose of converting the Moslems. In that sense they were not, strictly speaking religious wars. More properly they were an armed pilgrimage. Moreover this pilgrimage, a holy act, was often subverted by “crusaders” with economic or political personal agendas. Blessed Urban II, the Pope who called the first Crusade never promised indulgences to all crusaders, only to those undertook the crusade for devotional purposes. Each crusader made a vow, signified by the wearing of a cloth cross, and he (or she) was rewarded with the grant of an indulgence and certain temporal privileges. A distinguishing feature of crusading was that the cross was enjoined on men and women not as a service, but as a penance, the association of which with war had been made about a decade before the First Crusade. While holy war had had a long history, the idea of penitential war was unprecedented in Christian thought. It meant that a crusade was for the crusader only secondarily about service in arms to God or benefiting the Church or Christianity; it was primarily about benefiting himself. He was engaged in an act of self-sanctification. Those were the precondition for earning indulgences or commuting of the time to be spent in purgatory for one’s transgressions. On the contrary, it was the Muslims who promised unconditional and instant Heaven to all their war dead.
The figure for the Muslim dead, which used to range from ten to seventy thousand on the basis of accounts written long after the event, ought to be revised downward. A contemporary Muslim source has been discovered that puts the number at three thousand. Three thousand men and women is still a lot of people, of course, but it is low enough to make one wonder why the Western eyewitnesses, who gloried in generalized descriptions of slaughter, felt the need to portray a bloodbath.
On the other hand, Smith points out that “the behavior of the crusaders in the East cannot be considered to have been quantitatively worse than that of those fighting in any ideological war, the behavior of the crusaders in Europe could sometimes be abominable, even by the standards of the time. Before heading off to the Jerusalem crusades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some Europeans ‘prepared themselves’ through violent outbreaks of anti-Judaism in France, Germany, and England. During the crusades launched against fellow Christians or heretics, the most unpleasant examples of loss of discipline and control took place (the sacks of Constantinople in 1204 and of Béziers in 1209 spring to mind). If we are going to express contrition for the behavior of the crusaders, it is not so much to the Muslims that we should apologize, but to the Jews and to our fellow Christians.”
The politically correct position nowadays is to apologize for past atrocities. But the question arises: should we be apologizing at all? No crusade was actually proclaimed against the Jews. As far as crusading itself is concerned, most Muslims do not view the crusades, in which they anyway believe they were victorious, in isolation. Islam has been spasmodically in conflict with Christianity since the Muslim conquests of the seventh century, long before the First Crusade, and the crusading movement was a succession of episodes in a continuum of hostility between the two religions. In the late nineteenth century, however, they began to regard the West’s monopoly of commerce and colonialism as a change of tactics, in which everything the crusaders had lost to them was being more than regained. The crusades are merely symptomatic of a much longer-term competitiveness.
It is the Church’s subjective act of repentance for past sin that matters. How useful is it to condemn wars that were supported by great saints like Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, John of Capistrano, even possibly Francis of Assisi? Ought we not rather challenge the widespread sentimental and unhistorical assumptions that genuine Christianity is an unambiguously pacific religion? The consensus among Christians on the use of violence has changed radically since the crusades were fought. Only in the sixteenth century did the nearly universal conviction that the use of violence depended on Christ’s direct or indirect authority begin to be undermined. Now violence can be justified only in terms of the needs of the “common good,” defined in relation to accepted earthly laws.
Smith says in this regard that “Just war arguments thus moved from the field of moral theology to that of law. The Encyclopédistes referred to the crusades as ces guerres horribles — but although they agreed that the use of force nearly always had evil consequences because of the suffering that accompanied it, they still regarded violence itself as being morally neutral. No one had yet taken the second step necessary for the emergence of “modern” just war theory, the conviction borrowed from pacifism that force is intrinsically evil — though conceding that it can nevertheless be condoned as a lesser evil.”
Our just war theory has become so embedded in our thinking that we forget that it represents a relatively short-lived departure from a much longer-lasting and more positive tradition. The founding of the League of Nations and then the United Nations and the judgments at the Nuremberg trials encouraged the revival of concepts of natural law, manifesting themselves in the notion of crimes against humanity and an insistence on judgment by international tribunals. So, the coalition assembled by President Obama is not a coalition of Crusaders out to impose their religion and values but a coalition buttressed and justified by humanitarian aims. This development subordinates international law to natural law and reintroduces ethical judgments to just war theory. Could it be that the restoration of Christ to the position of an authorizer of violence, which was a feature of the militant Christian liberation theology in the 1960s and early 1970s in Latin America and elsewhere, was part of this process of change?
A stance that justifies a “humanitarian” war on moral grounds has placed itself at least in the same field as that once occupied by crusade theorists. As Smith aptly writes: “The language that demands that our ancestors be posthumously anathematized is not too distant from that of the men who wanted the corpse of Pope Boniface VIII to be exhumed and burnt. We may be entering a period of conceptual uncertainty about the most difficult of all society’s dilemmas — when or when not to use force — and we need not emotion, but cool heads and an objective analysis of the past.”
To return to our initial argument: it seems that those who go around casting aspersions on religion in general and Catholicism in particular in the name of “enlightenment” without employing in their analysis the historical perspective, advocating peace at any cost, may ultimately be creating more confusion and shadows than light. Even Plato, after an admirable description via the myth of the cave of the condition of those who dwell in a dark cave chained to their misguided assumptions and seeing their shadows and appearances on a wall illumined by fire, asks if any of us can be sure of being out of the cave under the light of the sun and seeing reality as it really is. His wise answer is “only God knows.”
Note: this article, slightly modified, has already appeared in Ovi Magazine.
Human Rights Council election: 5 things you need to know about it
The United Nations General Assembly held secret-ballot elections for the Human Rights Council (HRC) on Friday. As of 1 January next year, the 18 newly-elected States will serve for three years on the UN’s highest inter-governmental body, mandated to protect and promote human rights worldwide.
While the institution has been the subject of controversy since its creation in 2006 – culminating in the withdrawal of the USA this past June – UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated that it plays “a very important role” in the UN’s human rights architecture.
1. First of all… how does it all work?
Elections to the Council happen annually, with countries serving for three years on a rotational basis, as some of the seats expire on 31 December every year. There are 47 seats, equitably distributed according to five regional divisions.
Countries need a minimum of 97 votes to get elected, and everything happens by secret ballot. This year, 18 seats were up for election: five for Africa, five for Asia-Pacific, two for Eastern Europe, three for Latin America and the Caribbean, and three for Western Europe and other States.
2. So… who’s in and who’s out?
After Friday’s election, here’s how the Council will look from 1 January:
IN, elected this year: Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, India, Italy, Philippines, Somalia, Togo and Uruguay.
IN, continuing their terms: Angola, DRC, Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Australia, Iceland, Spain, and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
OUT, because they didn’t apply for a second consecutive term: Belgium, Burundi, Ecuador, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Panama, Slovenia and Switzerland.
OUT, because after two consecutive terms, they’re not eligible for re-election: Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Germany.
3. What does the Council actually do?
In a nutshell, the HRC is a multilateral forum to discuss anything relating to human rights issues around the world.
In addition to launching fact-finding missions and establishing commissions of inquiry into specific situations, it meets three times a year to review the human rights records of all UN Member States, in a special process designed to give countries the chance to present the actions they have taken, and what they’ve done, to advance human rights. This is known as the Universal Periodic Review.
This video explains it all in a simple way:
4. How come some countries accused of human rights violations still serve?
The HRC was created in 2006, following a proposal by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In a report titled “In Larger Freedom”, he noted that the Commission on Human Rights, created in 1946, was suffering from “declining credibility and professionalism” and was “in need of major reform”. Subsequently, based on his recommendations, the Human Rights Council was established by the General Assembly to replace the Commission and several measures were put in place to try and avoid the same problems that eventually arose with the Commission.
For example, as it is understood that the Council can only be as effective as its Member States, the election process was placed directly in the hands of the General Assembly, the only UN organ where every one of the 193 countries has equal voting weight.
In addition, the geographical group divisions and seat allocations are meant to prevent disproportionate focus on just a handful of regions and countries, and ensure that every country has a chance of fair consideration.
Finally, during the elections for each regional group, the General Assembly allows extra blank slates: this should theoretically ensure there are more candidates than available seats, enabling a competitive process. However, if – as was the case this year with 18 candidacies for 18 available seats – no extra countries apply, then no competition occurs, and whichever Member State applies, is likely to get elected.
5. So does the HRC make a difference for human rights worldwide?
Although human rights have always been a very sensitive matter for Member States, the Human Rights Council remains an essential part of the UN’s human rights architecture.
The Council has the power to adopt resolutions, launch fact-finding missions and investigations, and establish commissions of inquiry. In particular, the HRC can appoint independent experts on specific issues. At the moment, there are 44 thematic experts and 11 country ones appointed to monitor and report on human rights issues as requested.
All these mechanisms allow for grave violations to be highlighted and brought up on the global stage for examination, discussion and, whenever feasible, action.
Unilateralism Vs Multilateralism
During the 73rd sessions of the general assembly at the UN, the crunch of unilateralism and multilateralism between US and China kicked off, in which Trump’s unilateral visualization of the world likely to hurt the US, but it might undermine his presidency. As the competitions between unilateralism and multilateralism are viewed inversely. According to the international relations scholars, unilateralism has defined an approach in international relations in which states act without regard to the interests of other states or without their support. Unilateralism is usually contrasted with its opposite approach, yet multilateralism is acting cooperatively with other states. Though unilateralism is often used in a negative way, experts agree that there are positive aspects to occasionally acting unilaterally, such as in issues of national self-defense.
Some politicians and international experts support unilateralism, at least for certain issues. An example of a unilateral action is the U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. The Paris Climate Accord was actually negotiated and approved by nearly 200 nations around the world, and the issue of climate change is impossible to be handled significantly without united efforts of all the countries, particular the major ones. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, saying that it hurt American jobs and American interests as well. Trump’s decision was opposed by many experts and average people around the world including the United States.
Nevertheless, it is believed that unilateralism is a policy of dealing with affairs that may be violent, regardless of the will of other countries or nationals. Given this, the most prominent feature of multilateralism is the negotiation since it can pay close attention to the shared interests of the majority and take practical and reasonable measures to deal with affairs in international affairs. The U.S. adopts unilateralism as a kind of closed rather than open behavior. Self-interest is the American priority mentality that Trump previously reiterated, and this approach seems to be a good way to safeguard the interests of the United States, but in fact, it is inconvenient for American nationals, and for the United States. Conversely, politics, diplomacy, and trade all have disadvantages and this disadvantage can be a hindrance to domestic investment, risk from political changes negative influence on exchange rates, higher costs, economic non-viability, expropriation, negative impact on the country’s investment, modern-day economic colonialism and etc.
From this point of view, it can be said unfavorable to Americans. The reason why the United States has become strong from a dispersed federation compared with the confederation is mainly between states. Improvement of politics and other status has enabled the United States to develop and be strong because of a strong government. If the United States 1787 Constitution was originally formulated by the founding fathers’ generation, and then adopted unilateralism and did not negotiate, it is unimaginable that there would be a powerful United States today. So now Trump adopts unilateralism, which is contrary to the spirit and method adopted by the U.S. Constitution. The threat to his presidency is great because unilateralism is difficult to promote the cooperation and development of national economies. The interests generated by the United States are very short-lived, but they pose great threats to their long-term development and the long-term interests of their citizens. Therefore, when dealing with state affairs or international affairs, multilateralism should be adopted and negotiated. The problem is that we can better safeguard the interests of all parties, maximize the benefits, and promote the development of countries and their own economies.
In conclusion, it is important to understand the evolution of China’s concept of multilateralism, because one has to begin with China’s particularly humble experience with multilateral institutions e.g. it’s being kept out of the United Nations (UN) and its institutions during its preliminary decades as also for it is being the target of UN criticism and sanctions (for Korean War) during those years. The things were to begin to change following the Sino-US rapprochement and China’s entry into the UN and other multilateral institutions from the 1970s. Another crunch change to overlap with the late 1970s was the rise of Deng Xiaoping to power in China. Deng’s economic reforms and openness become the driving force behind China’s conclusive shift toward multilateral institutions.
According to Zhang Baijia, expert at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central School, numerous internal and external developments during the first half of the 1980s were to expressively influence Deng’s strategic thinking in three major ways: (a) Deng aborted the long-held view that world war is inevitable’ and instead stresses on ‘peace and development’ as central theme for China; (b) Deng acknowledged that the contemporary world is heterogeneous in nature and that conflicts coexist with cooperation and competition with interdependence; and (c) Deng maintained that independence does not equal isolation and self-reliance does not mean rejecting all foreign things as had been the case during Mao’s times. Change in Deng’s worldview was to result in the change in China’s approach towards international institution and towards the whole idea about multilateralism.
As a result, the whole of the 1980s witnessed extraordinary qualitative and quantitative changes as China gradually involved itself in not only international organizations in the political domain but also expanded its participation in economic and security types of multilateral forums. As regards China’s future vision on multilateralism, it has been motivated primarily by China’s felt need (a) for undermining the basis of United States’ unilateralism and its global power profile and (b) for making efforts to become acceptable as the benign rising power amongst its immediate neighbors and amongst the world at large. By far these two remain China’s most important foreign policy challenges through its rise as a major power has already been accepted as a given reality in general. The conditions have also been facilitated by external dynamics, especially following the collapse of former Soviet Union which has shifted the focus of international relations and led to the widening of the whole understanding of security and strategic calculations amongst major players therefore moving the dynamic of international power politics beyond two superpowers to include new actors like China.
Strengthen UN, Implement UN Charterer in true spirit
Humanity is suffering everywhere whether it is Syria or Yemen, Afghanistan or Libya, Iraq or Myanmar, Palestine or Kashmir. The one who are being killed are human beings, irrespective of his or her race, color, religion, nationality, its human lives which are being lost. Last couple of decade, around 2 million people have been killed, 6 million have been made refugees in their own country or forced to migrate to other countries. Threats and tension is felt in Iran, Turkey and North Korea, Ukraine, and many other parts of the world. If one switches on TV or read or listen to News, it is all about War, Killings, Blasts, hate and suppressions. People are fed-up of bad news all the time. Everyone is suffering with mental torture. Geo-political situation is deteriorating rapidly. The world is less safe than few decades ago. Insecurity feelings are rising exponentially. What is new world order? On the name of World new order, we have made this world more hostile and fragile. Who is suffering, humanity! Who is the beneficiary, end of the day, no one will be winner.
United Nation General Assembly is busy in its 73rd session. Leaders from all over the world are meeting each other and making speeches one after another, but what will be the out-come or result?
United Nation was founded on 24 October 1945, just after the World War II, in replacement of League of Nations. Its head quarter is at New York, USA. The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote international co-operation and to create and maintain international order. The charter of UN was very well drafted and very comprehensive. Its charter was formulated on justice and equality. It was hard work of genius people.
But with the passage of time, it is losing its effectiveness and failed to maintain world order. Some nations became so strong that, they put aside the UN and act unilaterally. Some nations are so stubborn, that they violate UN charter openly and feel no guilt. Some countries are so feeling-less that the whole world condemned them but they keep criminal silence.
Should we stay calm and just became spectators and watch what so-ever will happen? Should we leave all the issues to our next generations to suffer? Should we close our eyes and do not acknowledge the issues? Can we escape? Can we be ignorant? Can be we so cruel to our kids and leave them to be humiliated?
I believe, it is time to think and raise our voice, and struggle for a better tomorrow, better tomorrow for everyone, better tomorrow for my kids, better tomorrow for your kids, better tomorrow for our next generation, better tomorrow for everyone. We should struggle to make our tomorrow better than our yesterday. Think positively, act smartly and be optimistic.
We demand, respect of the UN , we demand for implementation of UN charter, We demand for justice, We demand for equality, We demand for fair-practices, We demand respect for human kind, We demand for a stoppage of killing, we demand stoppage of violence, We demand for protection of weak, We demand for uniformity etc.
It is natural, when we live together, the differences may rise among us. It can be among individuals or nations. It is very much normal and was happening since ages. We quarrel with our kids, brothers and sisters, parents, spouse or friends, boss or subordinates or colleagues. It is understandable. But we live in a civilized world. There are mechanisms to resolve the differences. In our day to day life we are over-coming on many issues and resolve with each other. The same approach may be followed to resolve the differences or misunderstanding among nations. UN is the right platform, UN charter is the proper guidelines for resolving the issues. Diplomacy is the weapon of civilized world. We all must respect UN, and its charter and resolve all issue through peaceful manner and dialogue. No one should have the right to by-pass UN or impose its decisions unilaterally.
I suggest, the International Community may join hands and strengthen UN and implement its charter in true later and spirit. UN may investigate the history of almost 7 decades and point out all the violators and let them declare responsible for their wrong doings. Force them to rectify their mistakes, compensate their wrong doings. UN should strengthen to the extent that any country how strong it might be, should not dare to violate UN charter. Any sanctions without UN approval may be declared null and void. Any military action without UN approval may not be recognized and declared criminal acts. They must be punished for their heinous crimes and war like crimes.
Let us struggle to make this world a place of “Peace, Harmony, Justice, Equality and Prosper” place for our generations to come. We may sacrifice but our next generation may enjoy Peace, Harmony and Prosperity.
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