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Mercy Calls for Nonviolent Alternatives to Address ISIS

September 15, 2014

The Sisters of Mercy are committed to nonviolence and peace-making and therefore want to elevate concerns regarding the strategy that President Obama outlined in his national address on September 10, 2014 to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Despite much criticism, we appreciate that the President took time to cautiously and carefully craft an approach to the unique and very serious threat that ISIS poses to the region and to the world. However we believe that extensive reliance on a U.S. military strategy could worsen the situation. Our commitment to nonviolence does not mean we believe in passivity in the face of barbaric aggression. Instead, we support giving serious attention and engagement with proven and effective non-military approaches to interrupt the spiral of violence in the region and to protect communities from harm.

Like President Obama, we recognize the importance of bringing this threat to world security to the United Nations General Assembly. Women religious in the region who have witnessed and experienced many atrocities committed by ISIS have called for, among other things, the international community’s involvement led by the United Nations. But the President’s engagement at the U.N. should not become a platform for a further justification of U.S. military escalation in the Middle East, and instead call for a true multilateral partnership to develop humane, nonviolent and effective responses to this serious threat. Relying solely on a U.S.-led coalition for military action could lead to longer-term U.S. military engagement and an ongoing war in the region, as well as fuel greater anti-U.S. sentiment.

Prior to 2003, the Sisters of Mercy publicly and consistently spoke out against U.S. military action as well as the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. We called for troop withdrawal and for political solutions to the conflict there in the years following. Many analysts and historians now believe that U.S. military engagement and occupation in Iraq contributed to the current sectarian divides and extremist ideologies, including the growth of ISIS. As a nation, we cannot neglect the root causes of this crisis when determining how to respond to the recent events in the region.

This is why we encourage our national leaders to step back from a rush to military action and carefully develop a plan of nonviolent action that: (a) works in concert with regional partners and the U.N.; (b) acknowledges the potential and predictable consequences of an aggressive military response; and (c) engages a broad range of proven nonviolent alternatives, such as preventing the sale of ISIS oil on the black market, direct diplomacy and reducing arms in the region.

We recognize that pursuing nonviolence and peace-making is difficult and requires prayer, reflection and creative actions. The Sisters of Mercy will continue to pray for religious minorities who are being targeted and for all the people caught up in the violence erupting in Iraq and Syria. We also will pray for wisdom for legitimate world governmental leaders as they consider options for responding.

Resources: by Phyllis Bennis, IPS
Analysis of how U.S. invasion led to current situation
Reports from Dominican Sisters in the regions

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