Friday, February 12, 2016

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Syrian children wait to receive aid from humanitarian agencies in refugee camp.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, 
for they will be called children of God.”
Matthew 5:9

It is not much.

But the United States and Russia have announced an agreement to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian cities suffering starvation after years of civil war. And the delivery of aid would be followed by a temporary halt to the carnage.

Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry repeatedly cautioned that the agreement only exists on paper. “What we have here are words on paper, what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground," said Kerry.

The BBC reports five major components of the plan:

To try to immediately step up aid deliveries to besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria.
For a US/Russia-led task force to work to achieve a "cessation of hostilities" across Syria beginning in one week's time.
"Cessation of hostilities" will exclude action against so-called Islamic State group, jihadist group al-Nusra Front and other UN-designated terrorist groups.
To work towards an eventual ceasefire and implementation of a UN-backed plan for political transition in Syria.

The agreement does not include ISIS. U.S. allies will continue to bomb ISIS forces. And the cessation of hostilities will not take place for a week, if it takes place at all. As Secretary of State John Kerry observed, “The real test is whether all parties honor those commitments.”

The United Nations has announced its determination to use the temporary (and incomplete) truce to deliver as much aid as possible to besieged cities and towns. And the hope is that this brief respite will be an opportunity for further negotiation aimed at a settlement. Speaking for one segment of the rebel coalition, told reporters, "If we see action and implementation on the ground, we will be soon in Geneva," referring to the Swiss city where the United Nations hopes to broker peace talks between the rebels and the Syrian government.

The cost so far has been staggering. In the almost five years of civil war over 250,000 people have been killed and another 13.5 million refugees have been displaced.

And even in a region known for complicated alliances and allegiances, the Syrian civil war is a special case. Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator who has used chemical weapons on his own people, but he is also part of the Alawite minority and the protector of the Alawite people against the Sunni majority. The rebels who oppose him include many fighting for democracy, but the opposition also includes ISIS and those who sympathize with their goals. Assad has the support of Iran and Russia, both claiming to be fighting ISIS, but their major efforts seem directed toward propping up Assad.

The good guys are hard to find, but the suffering is everywhere.

Peacemaking is always difficult. It is especially difficult in the Middle East, where hostilities and antagonisms have been nurtured over centuries. And even by the standards of conflict in the Middle East, the Syrian civil war is in a class by itself.

And the difficulty of peacemaking is compounded because violence always seems so uncomplicated. As one presidential candidate declared with regard to ISIS in Syria, “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

Jesus called peacemakers the children of God. He also made it clear that those who waged peace would routinely be slandered and ridiculed. 

When peacemaking fails, we call it naïve. When violence fails, as it has in Syria and throughout the Middle East, we call for more deadly force.

If peacemaking fails, it is evidence that we need more violence.

If violence fails, it is evidence that we need more violence.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Luke 19:41-42

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