I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.
The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.
-Pope Francis, Letter to the UN Secretary General on the Dramatic Situation in Northern Iraq
Yes, yes, I know that Pope Francis did not explicitly or outright call for a Crusade. However, we can agree that he does call for some sort of armed response to what is happening in Iraq.
But that is not what interests me. What is of interest to me is this particular line, “protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes“.
Let us pause here to consider the part in italics. Pope Francis is calling for an armed response, not only to safeguard the lives of the refugees and minorities, but also to establish them in their native homes and cities and guarantee their place there.
I have a slight problem with this. But let me lay out my understanding of the principles of a just war from this post.
That war is the collective infliction of death and bodily destruction in aid of certain ends is true by definition. But if this is so, then there is one justification and only one end which would justify the infliction of death and bodily destruction: the lex talionis principle (an eye for an eye). Thus, the only justification for setting aside the Sixth Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) is the immediate and direct threat of bodily death and destruction to oneself whereby one may repay with an “eye” and defend oneself using an equivalent means.
As far as I can see, a collective armed response is justified in saving the lives of the refugees. Thus, I have no problems at all using violence to prevent them from getting killed and evacuating them to safety.
However, Pope Francis is not only calling for their evacuation. He is calling also for them to be restored to their homes and cities. In other words, he wants to use collective armed violence to secure their native home and lands.
It is very easy to see that this principle can spiral out of control very easily. Do we all have a right to live in our native land and is collective armed violence used justly for us to secure it? This is not self-evident to me. One should not forget that this was one of the many justifications used for the actual Crusade, to secure the homes of the Midde Eastern Christans there against their Muslim overlords.
Furthermore, the implications of Pope Francis call for the refugees to be returned to their homes would entail justifying armed violence to remove the power that be there which evicted or exiled them in the first place, i.e. the ISIS.
Does Pope Francis truly want to return to the old Papal role of old in judging and legitimising regimes? Does he want again to take up both swords and claim the right to dispose and raise kings?
There is no doubt that the ISIS is truly despicable and a horrendous regime. However, the Pope might want to think twice before he attempts to wield the civil sword again.
Perhaps more prudent would be this advice by James Monroe:
Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the Government de facto as the legitimate Government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy; meeting, in all instances, the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none.