Tuesday 21. September 2021
#211 - January 2018

Europe: peace is first and foremost a struggle

For Bernard Phillippe, there is an urgent need to challenge religious traditions, to illicit from them what they might bring to the service of conflict resolution and the building of more active coalitions which serve peace.

The decision taken by the United States to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move their embassy there has at least one merit: it forces us to emerge from our amnesia. Downplayed if not forgotten, we cannot allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be confined to history books. It has always represented a major inflection point in the destabilisation of the Middle East, and its symbolic significance remains unparalleled. It is therefore urgent to do everything possible to ensure that this conflict does not now feed off religious conflict, worsening it further. Acceptance of peace by the respective populations requires the formulation of a religious language, certainly innovative, but which soothes tensions and truly serves the cause of peace. This situation is forcing Europe to think differently about the true requirements for peace in the Middle East.


By dint of having kept religious references simmering in the background, in a strictly private place, we Europeans are helpless. We are all the more so as we are now in direct competition, perhaps even in conflict with groups such as Islamic State, as well groups in Turkey, America, Russia, and of course Israel, whose spiritual dimension and therefore profound mode of operation, we have misunderstood.


Politics and religion: emerging from autism

Several avenues deserve to be explored in order to reduce the autism that isolates our political work from our theological work, thereby reducing our ability to interpret ourselves and the world.


The first avenue concerns the necessary deconstruction of ideologies. In order to better understand the issues that the Middle East poses to Europe, we need to acquire a better understanding of the religious positions involved. This is especially true of religious fundamentalism of an Islamic State variety which has become a modern form of totalitarianism and whose ideology is of a deeply religious nature. It is equally true of the relationships between Shiism and Sunnism, the source of the main fracture dissecting the Middle East. We also need to acquire a better understanding of Messianic terminology within Judaism which serves to justify the occupation of their neighbour’s land. Finally, we need to better understand the theological foundations of American evangelicals who justify the appropriation of the Holy Land in order to hasten the return of the Messiah.


That said, our reading of religion cannot be reduced to seeing it through the lens of violence. Beyond the disruption and hardening of attitudes, it is urgent to challenge religious traditions, to illicit from them what they can bring to the service of conflict resolution and the building-up of more active coalitions which serve peace.


How is this to be done? By drawing on the invitation of Judaism to atone for the world, recognising the acute sense of mercy that weaves itself throughout the text of the Koran, and the notion of forgiveness at the heart of the Christian theology of salvation. For Hannah Arendt, forgiveness, even if it comes from a very specific religious tradition, must be made available to all, without distinction. According to Arendt this is the key if we want to live together and remain free agents and start anew. Hence the urgent need to participate together in this reconstruction work to facilitate the confluence of these three traditions towards the same essential content: the search for peace.


Seeking and imagining peace for the future

Europe must also remember that peace is first and foremost a struggle. Whilst sustained by common values, Europe knows that this struggle is not an easy path. In particular, reconciliation between the Germans and the French, who used to see each other as eternal enemies, did not fall from the sky. They have had to overcome old hatreds. They also had to overcome a perception that violence is inevitable. And over and over again, to imagine, and above all to promise themselves, an alternative future. In addition, the reconciliation between Poland and Germany, as an epitome of the relations between western and eastern Europe, needs to be completed. Similarly, countries on the periphery of the EU such as Syria, Iraq and especially Libya, require greater imaginative solutions, commitment and courage from Europe.


Europe has not finished its search for peace. Its political effectiveness will be multiplied only if it exploits the strength of the spiritual dimension of political interests. In addition to dealing with its own crises, Europe must pursue this path. It is imperative to return to the very essence of its creation, namely the pursuit of the common good, which is non-other than the search for peace. We therefore arrive at a certain irony of history: the future of Europe can only be written in light of its past.


Bernard Philippe

Auteur avec le rabbin David Meyer de « Europe et Israël : deux destins inaccomplis - Regards croisés entre un diplomate et un rabbin ». Editions jésuites Lessius, novembre 2017


Translated from the original text in French


EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.