It is wrong to think in terms of a “clash of civilizations”

In the address he gave at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin stressed that according to international law, “it is both licit and urgent to stop aggression through multilateral action and a proportionate use of force.”

Oct 09, 2014

In the address he gave at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin stressed that according to international law, “it is both licit and urgent to stop aggression through multilateral action and a proportionate use of force.” Some mainstream media are so used to interpreting the facts within a set framework that they immediately singled out those few phrases uttered by the cardinal, presenting them as a tacit blessing from the Vatican in favour of US intervention against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

In reality, the Italian cardinal talked about a number of other things. His lengthy address gave an authoritative and frank overview of how the Holy See sees the state of world affairs today. It shows a clear understanding of complex historical processes that are currently unfolding. Many parts of his speech show that the Holy See’s mindset is light years away from certain crude Western ideological frameworks that have been conditioning the interpretation of the facts in recent years.

The Holy See’s renewed appreciation of the UN

In the opening part of his speech, Parolin stressed that Francis seconded his predecessors’ “
esteem and appreciation for the United Nations as an indispensable means of building an authentic family of peoples.” None of the key passages in the text mention the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s scathing condemnation of the Catholic Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis. Instead, Parolin spoke about the “apathy”, “synonymous with irresponsibility” shown by the UN, which “remains passive in the face of hostilities suffered by defenceless populations.”

He spoke about a “new form of terrorism” which is a phenomenton of globalisation. “
We are seeing a totally new phenomenon,” Parolin said. This should not be seen so much as a disease that is common in certain human environments, but rather, in terms of its global dimension. It is no longer countries or political groups that are using terrorism as an instrument, the Vatican Secretary of State said, referring implicitly to the Islamic State’s jihadists. For the first time ever, it is a terrorist organization that is “threatening all States, vowing to dissolve them and to replace them with a pseudo-religious world government.” It uses global communication tools to recruit proselytes, “attracting from around the world young people who are often disillusioned by a widespread indifference and a dearth of values in wealthier societies.”

The “clash of civilisations” claim is a red herring

The man Pope Francis chose as his Secretary of State rejected outright any ideologies brandished about by influential Western circles as keys to understanding the geopolitical events of the last 15 years, dismissing them as misleading and harmful. After the September 11 attacks, Parolin told the UN, “
some media and “think tanks” oversimplified that tragic moment by interpreting all subsequent and problematic situations in terms of a clash of civilizations. This view ignored longstanding and profound experiences of good relations between cultures, ethnic groups and religions, and interpreted through this lens other complex situations such as the Middle Eastern question and those civil conflicts presently occurring elsewhere.” “At times, unilateral solutions have been favoured over those grounded in international law.” “The methods adopted, likewise, have not always respected the established order or particular cultural circumstances of peoples.” The clash of civilisations mindset “play[ed] on existing fears and prejudices,” leading “to reactions of a xenophobic nature that, paradoxically, then serve to reinforce the very sentiments at the heart of terrorism itself.”

No “policing”

Given the global nature of this new form of terrorism “
which knows no borders, is precisely why the framework of international law offers the only viable way of dealing with this urgent challenge. This reality requires a renewed United Nations that undertakes to foster and preserve peace.” The UN is called to act on its “responsibility to protect” defenceless populations in accordance with its statutes. In this context and referring back to statements made in the past by the Holy See’s Observer to the UN, Parolin stated: “My Delegation wishes to recall that it is both licit and urgent to stop aggression through multilateral action and a proportionate use of force.” Referring to the UN’s principles and membership conditions, the Vatican Secretary of State showed no sign of support for the US’ military intervention in Syria and Iraq. Referring to specific articles in the United Nations Charter, Parolin recalled that “the active and passive participants of such a system are all the states, which place themselves under the authority of the Security Council and who are committed not to engage in acts of war without the approval of the same Council.” “Since there is no juridical norm which justifies unilateral policing actions beyond one’s own borders, there is no doubt that the area of competence lies with the Security Council.” Actions that take place under a UN mandate require “the consent and supervision of the state in which the use of force is exercised,” otherwise “such force would result in regional or international instability.” This would suggest that according to international law, air strikes against jihadist strongholds in Syrian territory, is only legitimate if Syria consents to it.

No “a priori political models”
The fundamental objective of the UN Charter, Parolin stressed in his address before the General Assembly, “is to avoid the scourge of war for future generations. The juridical structure of the Security Council, for all its limits and defects, was established for this very reason.” “Innovative strategies” are needed in order to address the new emergencies triggered partly by global terrorism and reactivate the “mechanisms used by the United Nations to prevent war, stop aggressors, protect populations and help victims.” “What is needed is a far-sighted political approach that does not rigidly impose a priori political models which undervalue the sensibilities of individual peoples,” Parolin was keen to point out. Parolin said the Holy See is in favour of a “multilateral approach” and added that any strategy that focuses on imposing North-Atlantic cultural models on the rest of the world, does nothing to help foster said approach. “It is not the role of international organizations or states to invent culture, nor is it possible to do so. Similarly, it is not the place of governments to establish themselves as spokespersons of cultures, nor are they the primary actors responsible for cultural and interreligious dialogue.”

The fight against “financial terrorism” is also crucial
It is not just the UN’s “responsibility to protect” the defenceless in the face of terrorism and natural disasters, Parolin said in the final part of his speech. Similarly, people must also be defended against other kinds of aggression “which are less evident but just as serious and real.” Even when he was a cardinal, Bergoglio spoke about an “economic and financial terrorism” that emerged as a result of massive speculation. “A financial system governed only by speculation and the maximization of profits, or one in which individual persons are regarded as disposable items in a culture of waste, could be tantamount, in certain circumstances, to an offence against human dignity. It follows, therefore, that the UN and its member states have an urgent and grave responsibility for the poor and excluded, mindful always that social and economic justice is an essential condition for peace.” -- La Stampa

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