COVID-19: Toward authentic security rooted in nonviolence

The following reflection was written by Marie Dennis, a member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative executive committee and senior advisor to Pax Christi International‘s secretary general. She served as co-president of Pax Christi International from 2007-2019.
The coronavirus has upended communities around the world, threatening livelihoods and lives, forcing a previously unthinkable change in daily routines, helping everyone to recognize the fragility of life and the deep injustice that leaves too many people, communities and countries vastly more vulnerable than others. At the same time, the impact of the pandemic is being universally felt as it crosses political, geographic, economic, social, religious and cultural boundaries, powerfully illustrating the reality of global interdependence and calling into question our basic assumptions about security and the politics of fear and division.
Perhaps this pandemic will help us to recognize the critical need for a transformative shift away from violence in our values and priorities. Some reasons that such a shift is urgent are clearly visible:
• Those who are living on the margins, exposed by war and forced displacement, poverty and environmental disruption, are the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s ravages. The violences of economic injustice and ecological devastation are intensified by this global crisis. National and international priorities must be shaped by and meet the needs of the most vulnerable communities.
• The experience of radical social-distancing has helped us to recognize the centrality of relationships in our lives and the importance of community. Even in cultures where individualism is held as a high value, as the coronavirus isolates us, we are building safe bridges, many of them virtual, to care for each other and those most at risk.
• The coronavirus does not respect political borders, physical barriers or cultural differences. Responding effectively to transnational threats requires respectful global cooperation to promote the well-being of the whole earth community rather than xenophobia and nationalism.
• Spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually on weapons and preparations for war has not given us the tools to address a global pandemic. In fact, military spending steals resources from providing for healthy, resilient communities across the country and around the world that can slow the spread of disease and more quickly recover from serious threats like the COVID-19 pandemic.
This time of crisis is urgently calling for a new understanding of security that is based on diplomacy, dialogue, reciprocity and a multilateral, collaborative approach to solving very real and critical global problems. Nationalism and unilateralism undercut the cooperation necessary for addressing disease, including COVID-19 and ebola, as well as climate change, hunger and poverty, resource depletion, war, the forced displacement of millions of people, terrorism, weapons proliferation and other threats that transcend national boundaries.

We are grateful for the words of Pope Francis, who gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on 27 March: “The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. … In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.”
Authentic security in which the whole earth community can thrive will emerge only from a globalization of solidarity rooted in nonviolence that engages diverse nations and peoples from across difference in promoting sustainable communities based on economies of “enough” and fostering inclusive human security based on social, economic and ecological justice.


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