Cairo – This time 50 years ago, specifically in the summer of 1967, the papal seat issued a document called the Populorum Progressio (“the development of peoples”), which was adopted by Pope Paul VI. Had the people in power at the time paid attention to it, they may have had the chance to overcome the terrorism and fundamentalism that our world is currently suffering from.
These phenomena are products of social issues and people of the world have to pay the price of reforming them. Terrorism can be traced back to the lack of real social justice, especially among people who are struggling to escape the claws of famine, despair and diseases and are yearning to be part of modernity.
The papal document was not written at a time when terrorism preoccupied the world, but it was instead focused on the Cold War between east and west. Whoever reads the document however realizes that it explains the reasons for the emergence of fundamentalism.
Terrorism is born when man is stripped of many of his humanitarian traits. This leads him to seek lethal vengeance, especially since this person sees death as a means to live. The document believes that people these days seek to escape despair and reach stability in work, health and their daily lives.
The document reflects this view by demanding that all people are “invited to work more, learn more, own more and become more humane.”
Terrorism finds its footing when entire peoples, most notably the youth, find that they cannot achieve these goals. This is most evident in nations that have recently achieved their independence. They realize, along with the political freedom, the importance of economy in order to ensure for their people complete openness that allows them to be part of the people of the world.
We should here ask: To what extent did social injustice in third world countries lead to the emergence of fundamentalism and later terrorism?
It is certain that the peoples that this document speaks of did not find meaning to their lives in wake of military occupation and later the capitalist economy. This is why they turned back to the past. Some resorted to armed violence as a way to reach a balance between the purposes to live and the motives to die.
The Populorum Progressio is surprising because it presented a frank Vatican declaration of the role colonialism and colonialist states played in the lives of people that the West now accuses of being a source of terrorism. The document acknowledged that the colonial countries were primarily seeking their interests and grandeur. Their demise in one fell blow often left behind an economic situation that led to major poverty and hatred towards the other.
Colonialists therefore gave violence and terrorism that spirit of revenge and excuses that could be seen as noble in the eyes of the avenger. This is demonstrated in Europe among the sons of northern Africa and terrorism in France and Belgium.
Some observers believe that terrorism and violence were born among generations and people that did not experience famine or economic crises. It is curious that the papal document noted that the development of people should be comprehensive in order to succeed. This should include all people and this means that there should be no distinction between the economic and humane aspects. The document encompasses all people without discrimination.
It explained that economic prosperity could have taken place at the expense of spiritual, social, cultural and intellectual development, which leads to violence and terrorism.
Fifty years ago, Populorum Progressio addressed fierce capitalism, which destroyed human values and opened the doors wide for calls of isolation and greed. Pope Paul VI believed that the individual and popular growth will be endangered if they became stripped of their values. It is not a crime to want what is needed and working towards achieving it is necessary, because whoever does not want to work will not get to eat. Enjoying too much of life’s material delights could lead to greed, which leads to the pursuit of more power. Stinginess among individuals and families will create a form of concealed selfishness.
It is interesting to read Populorum Progressio in wake of the developments of the modern Arab and Muslim worlds. The document realized that social injustice is bound to create an implosion if millions of people are living in pain, diseases, hunger, fear and poverty. The gap of how some peoples advance, while others stagnate and even meet their demise is constantly growing.
This leads first to violence and then to revolutions.
We should examine the Arab world of the past six years that followed the so-called “Arab Spring”. Our countries witnessed historic revolts, not democratic ones, said the fox of American foreign policy Henry Kissinger. The first form of revolt only leads to destruction and more violence and extremists. Democratic revolts are the ones that yield positive results and achieve peace.
Populorum Progressio did not simply diagnose social problems, but it proposed solutions to them. The divisions today are wide and the cures are costly. The current situations should be dealt with boldness and oppression should be resisted and defeated. Rising above these issues requires bold transformations and immediate reform should be introduced without delay. Each human being, especially those in power, should do his part generously.
The development of peoples and shutting the door against hatred, terrorism and fundamentalism requires methodical planning. Reform should not focus on the individual, but on the masses. It should stipulate the purposes and means to achieve them.
The best way to combat violence and terrorism today lies in serving man, regardless of his race, color or religion, and not in security and military means that historic experience have proven to be short-term solutions.
Focus should be turned to the productivity of society and bridging the gap between the haves and have nots. Man should be allowed to be responsible for improving his financial standing and his spiritual openness. The best way to combat terrorism and hate lies in development and social and economic progression. Man should not be viewed as simply a body without a soul.