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There can be no peace without justice

By Pat Power 

Anyone who is relaxed and comfortable about the proposed anti-terrorism legislation might care to read Chapter 23 of Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus is dragged before Pilate accused of sedition. The trumped-up charges are laid but Pilate returns a “not guilty” verdict. The accusers become more insistent, so the cowardly Pilate orders a review, sending Jesus the Galilean off to be examined by Herod. The new trial simply shows up the shallowness of Herod’s character. The upshot is Jesus’ eventual crucifixion and two old enemies, Pilate and Herod, becoming good friends. It is amazing how anti-terrorism measures bring together unlikely allies!

It often occurs to me that the greatest enemy of love is not hatred but fear. There is no denying the climate of fear currently so prevalent in Australia and many other parts of the world.

It is in this climate that our country is facing a range of anti-terrorism laws which have wide-ranging, yet quite unclear, ramifications. Such is the atmosphere of secrecy that Jon Stanhope, ACT Chief Minister, is reprimanded for sharing with his constituents some of the details of the proposed laws.

Proper scrutiny of the legislation is inhibited by the unseemly haste with which it is being presented. This has been the objection of Jon Stanhope and the concern of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and many other thinking Australians. “Act in haste and repent in leisure” is their warning.

It is not enough for the Prime Minister to say “Trust me” and expect the rest of the population to commit itself to serious limitations on our human rights.

Nobody questions the need for measures to be taken to guard against terrorist attacks. What is questioned is the way we seem to be going about it.

The Jubilee Year 2000 heard the call for debt-relief for poorer countries locked into impossible burdens preventing them from providing their people with the basic necessities of life. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals present a further program which would enable the people of the world to share more equitably in its resources.

In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, I argued strongly that we should be talking more about a war on poverty and less about a war on terrorism. I am even more convinced today that it is only by showing that it cares about the welfare of all people of the world, that the West will persuade its “enemies” that it is serious about world peace.

Much of the U.S. approach is one of threatening and bullying (talk of “axis of evil” etc) and it is little wonder that so much hostility is generated towards the Americans. Clearly Australia needs a robust relationship with the U.S. but we also need to distance ourselves from the extremism emanating from that quarter.

James Dunn, former Australian diplomat and Consul to East Timor has some sound advice. He advocates for “better diplomacy in relation to the root causes of the (terrorist) threat. By subordinating ourselves to the Bush Administration, we have become targets for many of its enemies. If Australia were to work more through the UN and regional security forums, we could become a lesser target for extremists, win more respect as an independent caring people, and at the same time play a more effective role in dealing with the causes of the terrorism that is troubling our world.”

Pope John Paul II frequently reminded us that there can be no genuine peace without underlying justice. We can hardly lay claims to living in a just world where there is such disparity between rich and poor people. Being serious about reducing that gap is surely a positive step towards harmony among peoples. In such a climate, terrorism becomes less of an issue.

Pat Power is the auxiliary bishop of Canberra-Goulburn.


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