Magazine article The Christian Century

Balkan War Challenges Nonviolence Stance

Magazine article The Christian Century

Balkan War Challenges Nonviolence Stance

Article excerpt

Quaker Michael Simmons spent 30 months in jail for refusing to fight in Vietnam. "Nonviolence," he said, "gave me a sense of dignity." But Simmons, passionately pacifist his entire adult life, finds himself in what he calls "a political, moral and philosophical quandary" these days. The reason: Bosnia.

The horrors of the war, especially the violence unleashed against civilians by the Bosnian Serbs, has drawn Simmons - against all his personal background and professional commitments - toward the once unthinkable: sympathy, if not yet approval, for lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia so its Muslim-led government can better defend itself against Serb aggression.

"The thing I find troubling is their [Bosnian Muslims'] inability to defend themselves," commented Simmons, director of a Quaker project that works with war victims and antiwar activists in the former Yugoslavia. "If, as [the Bosnian Muslims] argue, `access to a gun would give me some dignity, would give us the resources to defend ourselves,' I find that a very hard argument" to counter, Simmons said.

Simmons's dilemma is emblematic of the moral Catch-22 in which many religious and peace groups find themselves. While still committed to nonviolence, they are wondering whether the use of armed force against the Serbs may ultimately be the only way to save innocent lives in Bosnia and bring about some semblance of justice. "There is a lot of soul-searching going on, like there was with regard to Haiti," noted Ken Sehested, executive director of the Memphis-based Baptist Peace Fellowship. He was referring to the debate within the peace movement over whether U.S. military might should have been used to restore democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The Bosnian issue is a confusing one, and frustrating for those trying to reconcile their moral and religious beliefs with the realities of the Bosnian war, Sehested acknowledged. But he went on to say: "I find it a little odd, given the long and complex history of the peace movement's involvement - where we've made suggestions, where we've done actions - [that] suddenly . …

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