In June, the Islamic Human Rights Committion convened a conference on liberation theology and the right to resist. Here we publish the keynote paper presented by DR SAIED REZA AMELI of the Institute for North American and European Studies, University of Tehran.
“That is why we decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul, without [its being guilty of] manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind…” (Surah al-Maidah, 32)
Palestine and resistance are two interconnected and central terms in discussing liberation movements in our age. Liberation theology is central to understanding why the resistance movement in Palestine is important and why people of the world identify with the oppression of Palestinian society.
Liberation theology is a theology of movement and resistance (Jeanrond, 1992). In contrast, ‘civil theology’ marked the parameters of a conversation or debate which rested on the shared assumption that there was some correlation between a society’s religion and its government (Kidd, 1999:1010). Liberation theology was an attempt to liberate people from poverty and oppression. It was also an attempt at desecularization in order to reinforce politics in the social aspect of religion. Liberation theology can also be defined as a religious response to socialist and Marxist liberation theory, which had a considerable influence in Latin American society in Nicaragua, Brazil and Chile. However, liberation theology in the Christian world was considered a leftist approach to God and Society (Dodson, 1979). Generally speaking, churches are not regarded as intended to function as political movements, but as spiritual agencies (Levine, 1989). The most effective limit upon their political capacity is the resistance of members to excessive political involvement (Wald et al, 1988: 534). The issue of religion and politics reflects the question posed by Marx and Weber: can traditional religious institutions be a source of energy for changing society (Silvert, 1967 and Smith, 1975)?
The social and political context of the time created a serious challenge for religious institutions, showing them as being detached from political and social reality. The Latin American movements emerged as solutions to these theoretical and practical demands. Liberation theology is a revolutionary vision that many theologians in the Christian world considered a rebellion, corruption and misinterpretation of religion. This was because, according to the Catholic doctrine of thought, religion should not become involved with politics and political power. But the church in Latin America came to a stage at which it either had to undertake some serious action for the support of poor and oppressed peoples, or lose its followers and leave the ground to Marxism. One can argue, therefore, that liberation theology was a ‘determinative choice’ for the Church.
On the other hand the sociology of liberation is also a consciousness-raising concept in an oppressed society. In fact, it is perhaps more than merely consciousness-raising, as it has moved the sociology of liberation to an activist discipline rather than an academic discipline of thought. That activity is not on behalf of the oppressed, but it is achieved by learning to see the world from their perspective and joining with them, adding sociological theories, methods and data to their anti-establishment arsenal. In the case under discussion, liberation sociology involves joining the Palestinian homeless, and the Palestinians who have lost their parents or children, in order to understand what homelessness in your own home means (Deutscher, 2002).
The power of liberation theology returns to its compassion for the poor and its conviction that Christians should not remain passive and indifferent to their plight. According to liberation theology, religion cannot be neutral, even if it is secular. Religion exists to give a safe life and to save people from deprivation and suffering. Religion has to solve individual as well as social problems, and should be dynamic and applicable to all social and political problems. However, from a sociological perspective, liberation theory is a response to public demand, the demand for justice and the demand for liberation from all injustice. It was not only a demand in a particular place, since the emergence of liberation theology has become a unique and permanent political movement throughout Latin America; from Mexico to Chile, from Nicaragua to Brazil, this movement has been politically effective in merging traditional religious values with a commitment to social activism on behalf of the “poor and oppressed” (Pottenger, 1989).
Liberation theologians believe that the orthodox doctrine of God tends to manipulate God in favor of the capitalistic social structure. They claim that orthodoxy has been dependent upon ancient Greek notions of God that perceived God as a static being who is distant and remote from human history. These distorted notions of God’s transcendence and majesty have resulted in a theology which thinks of God as “up there” or “out there.” Consequently most Latin Americans have become passive in the face of injustice and superstitious in their religiosity. Liberation theology responds by stressing the incomprehensible mysteriousness of the reality of God. God cannot be summarized in objectifying language or known through a list of doctrines; God is found in the course of human history. He is not a perfect, immutable entity, “squatting outside the world”; He stands before us on the frontier of the historical future. God is the driving force of history, causing the Christian to experience transcendence as a “permanent cultural revolution”. Suffering and pain become the motivating force for knowing God. The God of the future is the crucified God who submerges himself in a world of misery; He is found on the crosses of the oppressed rather than in beauty, power or wisdom.
This paper aims to discuss the conceptual aspect of Liberation Theology, together with its contextual background, so we can try to address two major questions: firstly, is this theory, as a leftist Christian theology which claims to have been initiated in Latin America, applicable to a global problem such as ‘global poverty’, and to the “Palestinian Liberation Movement” as aglobalized local issue? And secondly, how can liberation theology be reconstructed so that it can solve ‘global and local problems’, despite its association with a particular religion, race or ethnicity? In other words, how can liberation theology become a universal force for resolving the clashes, conflicts, poverty and deprivation of our day?
Many date ‘Liberation Theology’ from the emergence of the Latin American liberation movement, in which Latin American pastors were confronted in the latter half of the 20th century by the fact that most of their parishioners lived in grinding, abject poverty, and that the Church represented the only viable community organization in their world. Out of this awareness came a new understanding of the very meaning of the Church’s work. The movement that came to be called “Liberation Theology” began with the awareness that it is blasphemous to care for people’s souls while ignoring their needs for food, shelter and human dignity. As Jesus participated in the suffering of the poor, and proclaimed to them the good news of justice and freedom, so must today’s churches engage in the struggle for justice in this world (Gutierrez, 1973 and 1974, Greenberg, 2000 and C. Boff and L. Boff, 2004).
For this group, the images that immediately come to mind with liberation theology are those of 1960s-style antiwar, anti-establishment priests such as the Berrigan brothers or, more recently, Bishop Samuel Ruiz García and his obvious sympathy with the downtrodden Indians and Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. Many social scientists try to interpret and confine liberation theology as a Marxist theory of class and dependence. For example Dodson (1979:206) stated that the ‘clergy radicalized by direct involvement with the poor required tools for explaining the social relationships they encountered, and for justifying some form of political action to ameliorate those conditions. Hence, liberation theology evolved as an amalgam of Marxist social analysis and reinterpretation of the prophetic tradition in Christianity.’ For Jim Tuck (2005), liberation theology began not with the Berrigan brothers or Bishop Ruiz, but back in the 15th and 16th centuries. Then, a remarkable man, Las Casas, devoted the greater part of his 92 years on earth to ameliorating the lot of non-Caucasian people who lived in the vast Spanish empire. First initially as a protector of Indians, he also became a defender of black Africans who had been brought over by the Spaniards as slaves.
Liberation theology puzzled many academic theologians. In the formal theological sense, it rejected many tenets of European and North American liberal theology, both Catholic and Protestant, because they had accommodated the social and political assumptions of imperialism and bourgeois culture. As Gutiérrez put it, while liberal theology sought to speak tononbelievers and saw its challenge as the skeptical “modern mind,” liberation theology addressed itself to “nonpersons.”
According to Cox (2005) three coexisting social, religious and philosophical changes caused the emergence of liberation theology in Latin America. First the worsening social and economic conditions of most people in Latin America in the 1950s created a desire for and expectation of change. Secondly, the structural causes of poverty were addressed in Latin American dependency theory, and class-based inequities were identified in Marxist critiques of capitalist systems. By the late 1950s a revolutionary climate was apparent in the region, exemplified by the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The third important macro change came with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Pope John XXIII opened the Council by expressing the hope that the Catholic Church “might become once again…the church of the poor.” Then, in 1968, the Conference of Latin American Bishops (Consejo Episcopal Latino Americano, or CELAM) held the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellín, Colombia, where the bishops discussed how to apply the Vatican Council’s resolutions within their own troubled communities. Among the theological advisers to the bishops was Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian priest who had worked in the poorest sections of Lima, Peru. His thinking substantially shaped the Medellín document, which became the manifesto of the liberation theology movement (Harvey Cox, 2005).
It is generally agreed that liberation theology encompasses three overlapping levels (L. Boff & C. Boff, 2004):
According to universal liberation theology, there is a fourth level, related to the popular level, that of the ‘Global Network and Popular Movement’. This type of liberation theology is about the people’s involvement in the construction of justice and caring for poor people. The global level of liberation theology, although it originated from divine religions, is not manipulated by a particular faith group. Muslim, Christian and Jew stand for liberation of the poor and oppressed peoples because this is the most recommended principle in all the divine faiths. They care about oppression, because for them oppressed societies are the only chosen society for which everybody should feel responsible. From this angle, the oppressed people are poor creatures of God, for whom everybody – no matter what their faith– should care. Here the paradigm of ‘one is equal to all and all are equal to one’ is completely alive, therefore their sympathy is extended to every single oppressed person in the world. Sometimes they react globally for a single person who has been discriminated against, and sometimes they stand for the rights of the collectively deprived, such as the homeless refugees of Palestine, its children and civilians, who do not have any means of self-defense except stones.
Many of the opponents of liberation theology claim that the Latin American theology of liberation is too Marxist. However, for Kee (1990) it is not Marxist enough. It is continuously criticized for its unquestioned acceptance of Marx.
Criticism of liberation theology began immediately after the Medellín conference. The movement was growing rapidly, but conservative forces within the Latin American church tried to stem the tide. More traditional Catholic thinkers accused it of being unduly dependent on Marxism, and Vatican authorities and conservative bishops criticized its base communities as a dangerous parallel church outside the hierarchy of papal authority (Harvey Cox, 2005).
Meanwhile, liberal theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, accused the movement of ideological bias and weak scholarship. Feminists, blacks and some indigenous leaders criticized it for emphasizing economic forms of oppression at the expense of gender, racial and ethnic discrimination. Even feminist theology, which is committed to the struggle for justice for women and the transformation of society, considered it critical that the theology of liberation engage in the reconstruction of theology and religion in the service of this transformation process, specifically in the many contexts in which women live (Grey, 2004: 89). The liberation theologians themselves responded vigorously to these criticisms, wrote hundreds of books and articles, and made liberation theology one of the most provocative and original progressive movements of the second half of the century (Cox, 2005).
When the bishops’ council of Latin America convened for its Third General Conference in 1979 in Puebla, Mexico, opponents within the Church were determined to issue a stern warning against the movement and condemn the base communities outright. They did not succeed, however, as bishops sympathetic to the movement prevailed. Nothing was said about liberation theology in the final document, and base communities were actually endorsed. Nevertheless, Pope John Paul II, while issuing statements in support of the poor, clearly signaled that he disapproved of a people’s church and of liberation theology. One by one, bishops who supported base communities were replaced upon their retirement by churchmen antagonistic to them (Cox, 2005).
The opposition mounted by military regimes and paramilitary death squads was more immediately crushing. Authoritarian governments feared the critical ideas of liberation theology and the activism of the base communities, especially after the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, who were directly influenced by liberation theology, successfully overthrew their country’s dictatorship in 1979. Priests, nuns and catechists were arrested, tortured and murdered throughout Latin America. The most vicious repression occurred in El Salvador, during the country’s civil war (1979-1992). In March 1980 a paramilitary death squad assassinated Archbishop Romero, one of El Salvador’s most outspoken critics of the government, while he was conducting a church service. Then national guardsmen raped and murdered four American women—three nuns and a lay worker—in December of that year, attracting further international attention to the violence in El Salvador. Liberation theologians themselves also came under attack: in November 1989, an army unit invaded the Jesuit-run Central American University of José SimeónCañas, where such noted liberation theologians as Ignacio Ellacuria and Jon Sobrino taught and wrote, and murdered six of the Jesuits as well as their housekeeper and her daughter.
Other factors also reshaped liberation theology. The replacement of military regimes by civilian governments in Latin America meant that community churches were no longer the sole bases for opposition. Unions, universities, political parties and social movements began to play that role as well. In addition, criticisms by Latin American feminist theologians such as IvoneGebara in Brazil and by black theologians such as James Cone forced the largely male and white liberation theologians to reconsider their lack of emphasis on gender and race. The spectacular growth of Pentecostal Christianity in the 1980s and 1990s led many Latin American liberationists to wonder whether their approach had been too political and analytical, and not sufficiently spiritual and emotional. Meanwhile, the Vatican under Pope John Paul II actively resisted secularization in the Church and opposed direct political participation by priests (Harvey Cox, 2005).
At the same time, however, liberation theology began to flourish in other regions of the world and in other religions. Books and articles developing Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim liberation theologies appeared. In South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, a movement developed, largely under Latin American influence, called minjung theology (Korean for “ordinary people”). In Germany, when the pastors who led the nonviolent marches in Leipzig that contributed to the toppling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 were asked about what had influenced them, they mentioned Martin Luther King Jr., the German resistance pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Latin American liberation theology. In the US, Roman Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter on the economy, “Economic Justice For All,” which explicitly credited the Latin American church for contributing the preferential option for the poor to their thinking. Bishop Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders in South Africa were also inspired in part by the movement, and a specifically black South African school of Biblical interpretation has emerged in scholarly works such as Itumeleng J. Mosala’s Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa (1989). Recently, Asian liberation theologian Tissa Balasuriya’s Mary and Human Liberation (1997) drew sharp criticism from the Vatican, and Balasuriya was for a time excommunicated for his views (Harvey Cox, 2005).
In Latin America and the Caribbean, some observers have suggested that liberation theology is in decline. Another, and perhaps more accurate, view is that it is going through a period of transition, enlarging and refining its perspectives and continuing to influence similar movements in many parts of the world. (See, for example,”Black Theology in Latin America and theCaribbean: An Interpretation”, Harvey Cox, 2005.)
The important question to ask is why liberation theology emerged. The answer is related to the characteristics of theological approaches in the academic sphere and within religious organizations such as the Church and missionary schools. Theology gradually became an abstract clerical debate because of two significant isolations: the isolation of theology from public and everyday life, and the isolation of people from the social products of religion. These two isolations arose from two interrelated social contexts; firstly, the result of the frustration of social and political spaces resulting from a useless and selfish interference of the Church in the arena of power, and secondly, the result of a false understanding of religion.
The isolation of religion from public life and politics turned religion into a phenomenon which turned out ‘museum types of ideas’. Then religion – particularly in the process of secularization – lost its power in significant areas of societal life and, one can further argue, that religion lost its cultural influence. Therefore, it seems to me that liberation theology is a response to two important local and global nostalgias; firstly, and most importantly, the nostalgia for justice, and secondly, a nostalgia for metaphysical values. Both justice and metaphysical values are universal and have strong potential for turning any social action into universal practice. However, the universality of any social and political values requires popularity among the masses. What can convince an individual logically can convince every single member of human society in the world—these are universal values that were recommended by every divine message in the past, but have perversely been degraded to local and community values.
Liberation theology requires three major elements to work as a universal force, and hence be applicable to the Palestinian problem and other ‘global and collective problems’ that are related to oppressed societies even if they have different religions and even belong to different national and ethnic groups:
The first is a return to God: we are all far from God whether we are Muslims, Christians or Jews; if we are not fair to God, we cannot be fair to ourselves and we cannot be fair to others. To liberate the Palestinians, we need to see them as creatures of the same God and members of their own community. To do this other followers of faith must be liberated, and force “the International Community” to liberate the concept of God from any sense of belonging to a “Chosen Community”. The only “Chosen People” are the oppressed and the poor. This is why Palestinians should today be considered “The Chosen Oppressed Community.”
The return to God has two important elements. The first is the fact that we will all encounter our Lord in the final reckoning. This must guide our conduct on this earth, with ourselves and with others: “So whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him act righteously, and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord” (al-Qur’an 18:110).
The second is the universality of the perception of God. People’s perceptions of God have been fragmented to many Gods; Muslims, Jews, Christians and followers of other religions have divided God metaphorically into a variety of ‘God’s communities’, which effectively means that “My God is different to your God.” This is indeed consciously and unconsciously affects our relations with other creatures of God. As a result the universality of mercifulness, the universality of sympathy and the commitment to the pain of people becomes dependent on whether we regard them as a members of ‘God’s community’ or not. According to all divine messages there is no difference between people except by their level of closeness to God: “O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identity with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the mostGodwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-aware” (al-Qur’an 49:13).
While in the age of globalization, the trend for ‘endness’ has become the ‘archetype’ for the presentation of all ‘new ideas’, it seems society needs and expresses a desire for a return to human origins to remove the impurities have come to dominate all life.One of these ‘returns’ is the return to an involvement of religion in politics. Liberation theology was considered as a turning point for the repoliticization of religion and an act towards the desecularization of politics (Levine, 1990:229). While the first amendment to the constitution of America emphasized that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ (Kidd, 1999:1007), this amendment became the cause of much conflict, raising objections among clerics such as Thomas Curry and other conservatives. Social situations also helped hinder the expansion of religion’s role in society. However, it was not possible to draw a precise line between religion, politics, culture and economics.
Selflessness, the minimization of personal desires and dogmatic attachments to nationality, ethnicity and even religion, is another major requirement for caring for the oppressed and poor people. This entails avoiding all those who are ‘selfish’. ‘Self’ here is not only a person, but it can cover all ‘collective centralities’ such as Eurocentrism, Americocentrism and Zionism, which ultimately require the destruction of ‘others’ to support the ‘self’. Selflessness is a divine and mystical quality in all divine religions, which brings God’s spirit to all aspects of life. In this situation, the Palestinian problem becomes a global issue for all human beings who care about ‘others’; this is where’all become equal to one and one becomes equal to all’, and where one can observe unity within diversity and diversity within unity.
Berofsky argues that “the self is formed through interactions with others” (1995:236) . It depends on what our understanding about ourselves is, and what we understand about others. Those who see ‘self’ and ‘others’ in the same level of existence, without making any priority and advantage for a particular gender group, race or even religious group, enhance their social vision and their social practice.
The third essential element for the empowerment of the ‘Universality of Liberation Theology’ is the centrality of justice and the decentralization of ethnicity. This is the position which advocates the sociological approach to the liberation of Palestine According to Christianity, equality is not to admit either individualism or collectivism, for it is an equality of dignity which excludes the slavery of some or all, and involves the notion of the equality of men (Drummond, 1955:2).
In the Islamic interpretation,’justice’ is used in contrast to ‘selfishness’ or ‘sinful desire’. That is why Imam Ali (ra) said that “justice is destructive of enthusiastic and selfish desires”, and that “Justice is the master force for all human rights” (Gorar al-Hekam, 386); without justice, all religious orders are meaningless. He also emphasised that ‘the core of life is justice’ (Goraral-Hekam, 247).
Justice is about power and it is indeed the point of engagement which links religion and politics. The relationship between power and the Church or Islam and politics is at the core of many important researches and historical challenges in the past (Misztal & Shupe, 1992, Percy, 1998).
The universality of liberation theology needs a strong proactive social system which motivates people towards support for all oppressed and needy people. Proactive social systems are usually activated by ethnicity, race, religion and in many cases arise through affiliation to power. Zionist Jews consider themselves a chosen nation who should dominate all over the world, not only in the economic and political arena but also geographical arenas. This proactive system will cause risk to lives and trouble for the rest of the world. Such motivations can create serious conflicts and even global war.
With time, theology gradually became a clerical debate abstract from ordinary life. It created parallel isolations; the isolation of theology from public life, and the isolation of people from the social products of religion. These two isolations indicated that religion had become manipulated in a historical context and its ideas outdated rather than expressing practical, social and political values. Liberation theology is a reactive attempt to bring religion in a practical aspect of life in social and political directions. According to Christian principles, liberation theology’s emphasis on the poor gives the impression that the poor are not only the object of God’s concern but the subject of salvation and revelation; only the cry of the oppressed is the voice of God. Everything else is projected as a vain attempt to comprehend God by some self-serving means. This is a confused and misleading notion. Biblical theology reveals that God is for the poor, but it does not teach that the poor are the embodiment of God in today’s world. Liberation theology threatens to politicize the Gospel to the point that the poor are offered a solution that could be provided with or without Jesus Christ.
In Islamic theology, respect and support to the poor is also a positive value, indeed a privileged principle. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) addressed that, saying “Indeed God supports this community because of the prayer, worship and purity of the weak.”
He also said: “Shall I let you know about the kings of Heaven? Every powerless deprived.” According to Islam, the future is in the hand of those who have been kept powerless and deprived. It is stated in the Book that: “And We desired to show favour to those who were deprived in the land, and to make them Imams, and to make them inheritors” (28:5). Conversely, oppression is considered the most damaging sin. Oppression is destructive because it causes deprivation, marginalisation and the muting of the voices of the people. Oppression becomes positively damaging when it happens against those who are alone, poor and without any support. Imam Ali said: “Oppressing the poor is the worst oppression” (NahjalBalagha, Book 31). For Imam Ali (ra), oppression was considered the mother of all sins (Goral al-Hekam, 804). He also emphasized that “Oppression is a destructive force” (Gorar al-Hekam, 6).
According to universal liberation theology, the distinctive boundary between ‘us’ and ‘others’ is symbolically related to the concept of justice and injustice. ‘Us’ is globally inclusive and extends so that all people of the world can be considered as insiders and members of the family of ‘truth’. Us is exclusive only when it comes to oppressors who individually or collectively destroy the ‘right of the people’. According to Islamic liberation theology, in this respect ‘one is equal to all and all are equal to one’. There is no difference between males and females, black and white, poor and rich. Injustice is dreadful regardless of whether it takes place against Muslims, Christians or even those who don’t believe in God. Injustice is destructive no matter whether it is turned against poor or rich; and all other factors, such as nationality, race, gender, social position and anything else related to man’s status, are meaningless. That is why, from an Islamic theological perspective, the only particularity that exists is that of ‘oppressed society’. They are the chosen society which demands sympathy and the drive for liberation.
Colonialism and the occupation of land by force is regarded as the most painful deprivation. It was a political tradition in Europe that if a European state had power, it should overwhelm others’ territory. That is why in the 1930s, following almost five centuries of European overseas imperialist expansion, colonies and ex-colonies covered about 85 percent of the land surface of globe. Such a historical and geographical sweep makes generalizations impossible and the theorization of the formation of colonialism—namely, how the political, economic and cultural systems of Europe overpowered overseas territories—disputable. The nature of colonialism varied enormously within and among different European empires in different times (Dixon and Heffernan, 1991; Loomba, 1998). The occupation of Palestine was the result of an ideological Zionist global domination, which was stimulated by the British colonialist experience. For nearly 50 years the Anglo-Jewish community sent mixed signals to successive British governments about the land of Palestine as an ideal land for the Anglo-Jewish community (Zakeim, 1999).
The occupation of Palestine, overtly and covertly, is of particular global significance because it stands as an example of new colonialism at the time of general decolonization; it should be seen, therefore, as neocolonialism by force and military action. Palestine has become the central symbolic icon for oppression, deprivation and injustice. The people of the land, deported unjustly with violence and force, became homeless without any recompense. Palestinian refugees comprise 18 percent of all refugees worldwide.
According to Universal liberation theology, one can articulate the role of globalization on the applicability of a liberation approach in the global level. We are living in the age of globalization. Globalization is about more connectivity and communication, rendering time and place almost meaningless. This means it does not matter where you are; wherever you are, if you are liberated and seeking the liberation of all abandoned, neglected and oppressed people, then you can be with them. Your hand can be with the Palestinians, regardless of whether you are physically in Palestine or far away from the land of resistance. Everywhere is Palestine and all people of the world can feel fellowship with the community of Palestinians.
The emergence of the second world (i.e. the virtual world) has given an instant opportunity for resistance, for support and for opposition to oppression. Liberation Theology here means freedom from all the barriers that caused the fragmentation of truth, and it provides a global platform for a campaign for justice for all.
Palestine is not only a tragic example of homelessness, it also provides a typical example of poverty, life-insecurity, health-insecurity and food-insecurity. Over a million Palestinians are food-insecure, and another 975,000 are at risk of becoming so. This food insecurity is caused primarily by Israel’s policy of closures of the occupied territories and restrictions of movement, which have resulted in massive increases in unemployment and underemployment (up to 30% in the West Bank and 40% in the Ghazzah Strip). (Source: Humanitarian Practice Network).
This was a short review of the catastrophic story of Palestine, the agony of which in the last fifty years has become increasingly damaging without any serious improvement or prospect of a resolution. Palestine is a land of disastrous effects on all age-groups, men and women, infants and elders, infirm and disabled. Homelessness and the lack of food can be seen a problem of a collectively oppressed nation, which potentially can affect all human beings. Therefore if one looks at the problem from the perspective of liberation theology, the extent of oppression, the level of poverty and multiplicity of tragedy can affect the ordinary lives of people all over the world. It is therefore appropriate to see Palestine as a millennial symbol (Ameli, 2003); it is indicator of the global pain and global struggle for human rights and human life.
According to Universal Liberation Theology, the issue of Palestine cannot be resolved unless world society collectively moves to change the situation. It seems there is a positive desire to overcome the pain and injustice in the solidarity of people against the ‘arena of power’—the political and economic institutions that seek domination over people’s lives in both the cultural and political arenas.
According to liberation theology, injustice is the master force for all pains and troubles in human society. Injustice is the main cause for all inequal distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘others’. Here we need to emphasis three central points.
The first is that centrality of ‘self’ or ‘community’, or even a particular race, nation or faith, is the main cause for all local and global challenges, and it is indeed the most significant example of injustice in social life. Here self not only reflects one person, but it can also express a collective ideology. Self-centrism, community-centrism and ethnocentrism are major forcesfor’injustice’ at the individual and social levels. The tragedy of Palestine is the result of racism, religio-centrism and community-centrism, ie. Zionism. Universal liberation theology’s emphasis, in contrast, is on ‘God-centrism’ and the decentralization of ‘self’, ‘community’, nation and even particular ‘faith’. From an Islamic point of view, ‘selflessness’ is a central source of establishment of ‘justice for all’ and reinforcement of the paradigm of ‘one is equal to all and all are equal to one’. More broadly, community centrism is an epistemological reason for the emergence of Americanism, Eurocentrism, Zionism and all selfishness that is the main cause of the mass disintegration of human society. So human rights should not only concentrate on individual and objective cases, but should emphasise the social context which causes destruction of ‘others’. If the genocide of Palestinian children increases and the number of refugees explodes, if Palestinians face serious threats to their lives because of food and health issues, and yet there is no serious response, these are all the result of the culture of self-centrism and community-centrism. In such a culture, the oppressed people of Palestine can easily be ignored. In such an environment, the poor children of Palestine, being Palestinian rather than (for example) European or American, can simply be ignored, as the mass destruction in Iraq has been ignored in sharp contrast to the reaction to the destruction in the US on September 11, 2001. But universal liberation theology views all life as important, no matter whose life it is, because all are equal in terms of our right to life.
Social injustice and social discrimination against individuals and nations are the main causes for the extension of global injustices and conflict. In other words, social discrimination against an individual creates the potential for social discrimination against collective members of a society. So, as a part of ‘global conflict resolution’, a wise society should think of demolishing injustice in all aspects and all levels.
Globalization has played a important role in reinforcing ‘individuality’. Individuality here means the ability to see, think and decide personally despite the dominant social, political and economic norms of the society. Here the concept of mass industry and mass culture is under serious question. The empowerment of individuality gradually results in the emergence of a ‘community without a state’, a community that feels responsibility for ‘oppressed society’. As a result of this detachment from collective ideological positions such as racism, and nationalism, we see the instinctive reaction of the masses against injustice all around the world. For this community, boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘others’ become meaningless. All the oppressed, of whatever nationality, religious order or social group, are considered as the ‘home community’. Therefore they react to injustice anywhere, and they stand for the rights of all. Here, extensive sympathy is and will be observable for support of Palestinian and all oppressed peoples in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish world. This sympathy is even applicable to those oppressed people who don’t believe in any particular religion.
We can be hopeful, therefore, that the construction of universal liberation theology can reduce pain, suffering and oppression, or even, being optimistic, that they can disappear from human society. Caring and compassion for others become the central motivations for people around the world, without any gender, racial, national and religious boundaries. We can hope to see the replacement of ‘self’ and ‘community’ centrism by the realization of a ‘common message’ of all divine religions which will stand for the reduction or elimination of pain from human life and more focus on the poor of society and oppressed people.
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