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CCADD International Conference
16 – 20 September 2002
Venue: Jesuit Retreat House, Faulkner, Md., USA
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, were a signal for many nations of the world to concentrate their minds on terrorism. Terrorist groups operating within and outside states had, of course, for years been blighting the lives of whole populations in many other parts of the world – Sri Lanka, East Timor, Chechnya, Northern Ireland and Colombia, for instance. But when the hallowed, seemingly impregnable heart of Manhattan was blown to smithereens by low-flying suicide pilots, suddenly we all had to start taking the phenomenon seriously. The subject was a natural for the 2002 CCADD International Conference, held, appropriately, in the United States.
Did Christians have anything relevant to say, adding to the welter of views and comment on every aspect of the terrorist threat, already clogging the media? Would we be just a talking shop, or could we find some kind of Christian consensus, shedding light rather than fanning flames? The problem for me has always been this: what, if anything, is specifically Christian about our approaches to defence and disarmament – or, on this occasion, to terrorism? Was our gathering any different from any other meeting of informed, thoughtful seekers after the Truth? We all have important points of reference. Roman Catholics, for instance, have the doctrine of the Just War, and numerous papal documents, in particular Justicia et Pax. Quakers, on the other hand, have firm views on issues of war and peace that seem unrealistic to many soldiers and politicians. In the end, I suppose, we have to settle for the original vision of the founders of CCADD, expressing our convictions in a spirit of mutual respect and Christian community, learning from each other and marrying work with worship.
At past conferences I have often felt that those (almost exclusively male) who are at the centre of power, or consider themselves to be so, come not so much to listen and learn as to speak amongst themselves. This time I was struck by an openness and receptivity that reflected our genuine desire to pool resources, and to deepen our Christian understanding in the face of a new and deeply disturbing threat.
Conference participants – the majority from the USA, and with Belgian, British, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Slovak and Slovenian delegates – were welcomed by the self-effacing Conference host, Vic Alessi, with great efficiency and generous hospitality, to the comfortable Jesuit Retreat House beside the Potomac River, in Faulkner, Maryland. The US delegation was slimmed down, since some high-level members of their team were involved in urgent discussions at the White House. Those who made it to Faulkner helped us to maintain the high level of debate that characterises these gatherings. Our excellent opening address by John Langan, on “Christian Ethics and International Politics in 2002”, laid a solid foundation for our discussions. Two lively Bible studies led by James Walsh S.J. left me longing for more time than two half-hour sessions to mull them over and respond.
The conference focussed on different aspects of terrorism. “Nationalism versus multilateralism in the war against terrorism”, drew a scathing attack by Anatol Lieven (U.K.) on the US, “an indirect empire”, exercising, in his view, military and economic intimidation. He contended that the US had little sense of responsibility and an agenda that involved spending millions of dollars on warfare, whilst remaining largely indifferent to its effects, and showing reluctance to meet international targets for overseas aid. Michel Rouge (France), maintained that the US usually got its way in international fora, for instance the UN, simply on the principle that “might is right”. Multilateralism held little appeal for a nation of indisputable power.
On the theme “The economic, social and political roots of terrorism”, Paul Schulte (U.K.) walked us through some of the causes and perceptions leading to the rise of both state and anti-state terrorism, ranging from global inequality and mass poverty to the fashionable ‘clash of civilisations’ theory, leading to attacks on ‘occidental’ bourgeois liberal industrial society. Or, as George Bush would have us believe, an outburst of sheer evil, motivated by hatred of American freedom. All this helps the withdrawal from public space into the murderous self-absorption of the terrorist project, largely independent of members’ economic positions or social origins.
Gordian Meyer-Plath (Germany), a member of his government’s intelligence services, had a very hands-on approach – “The intelligent response – what intelligence services can and must contribute to the war against terrorism”. He drew our attention to such practical challenges as training camps for terrorists in Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance, and to the relative ease with which terrorists could melt into communities such as universities and mosques. Col. Cyriel DeSmet (Belgium) reminded us that we have no theory of just espionage, nor much understanding of other cultures. As we identify and isolate extremists, an equal priority must be the elimination of injustice.
A fascinating visit to the Catholic University of Georgetown included a masterly lecture by Michael Quinlan (U.K.) on “The future of nuclear weapons”, with particular reference to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the frustrations involved when some nuclear states – including the US – refuse to sign up to it. At the Catholic Bishops Conference Headquarters we had the privilege of being received by and listening to Cardinal McCarrick. He, too, emphasised the issue of injustice, drawing our attention to unresolved problems that provide fertile ground for the growth of terrorism, from tensions in Israel/Palestine to the desperate need for sustainable development in poor countries. Lay Christian groups, CCADD amongst them, should, he told us, take responsibility for social action.
“Terrorism: how to respond” was tackled by Michael Wheeler (U.S.), concentrating on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, and whether the unilateral or the multilateral approach was the more appropriate. The issue of human rights and civil liberties was emphasised by Chris Joyner (U.S.). In our final sessions, Dr. Brad Roberts spoke on the “U.S. nuclear relationship with Russia and China in the new arms control environment”, and Karel Blei asked “Religious Freedom – is it the solution or the problem?”
“Whither CCADD?”, we asked on the last day of the conference. I can summarise the discussion quite simply: onwards and upwards! Plans were laid for next year’s conference in Belgium, and the participants, several kilos heavier than when we arrived, expressed heartfelt thanks to Vic Alessi and his faithful team of helpers. We agreed that our perceptions had been deepened by a raft of thoughtful and thought-provoking speakers, and by the many discussions and conversations they stimulated amongst us. We had no definitive answers, but opening up the issues proved to be a valuable resource in pondering, praying and taking action.
West Linton, Scotland