Holy Disaster: Pope Alienates Indigenous Peoples
Posted: May 17, 2007
by: Editors Report / Indian Country Today
''Arrogant.'' ''Disrespectful.'' ''Poorly advised.'' These harsh words were not aimed at an unpopular president; not this time. They are the criticisms by Indian leaders in Latin America of Pope Benedict XVI, who again made headlines for culturally insensitive and historically inaccurate remarks.
About this time last year the pope stirred international controversy when he characterizing the Prophet Mohammed as having spread Islam by the sword in an ''evil and inhuman'' manner. On May 15 he declared that the Roman Catholic Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Pope Benedict continues to stir up controversy wherever in the world he lands. But this particular papal idiom cannot be attributed to or excused as simple ignorance. There is an element of intent in the pope's recent remarks that should anger, and mobilize, indigenous people throughout the world.
In a speech at the Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, the pope characterized pre-contact Indians as ''silently longing'' for Christianity and stated that ''the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.''
It may be the most blatantly erroneous statement about the Christian legacy on indigenous cultures ever uttered.
Not only did the pope's comments exhibit an ever-increasing general arrogance that aims to deny the rights of indigenous peoples around the world but, in this rare case, they came straight from the source. Millions of tribal people died as a result of the institution of the 15th century Inter Caetera papal bulls that provided legal justification for European colonization of the Native people of the Americas (including Brazil where Benedict spoke) and Africa.
Then, Indians were slaughtered, enslaved or exposed to deadly diseases. Now, Native survivors of Christian colonization efforts suffer its traumatic generational effects: a diminished ability to relate to and practice traditional life ways, social exclusion and learned sexual abuse. If this does not qualify as an ''imposition'' on the culture of indigenous peoples, what does?
Last year's controversy was sparked by the pope's suggestion at the University of Regensburg in Germany that Islam was spread through violence and that it was ''contrary to God's plan.'' It seemed fair at the time to give him the benefit of the doubt for misspeaking. ''He could clarify that the inherent rationality to which he referred ... is a property of all humanity, not solely of Europeans,'' we stated. ''We have no doubt that this was the true intent of his remarkable lecture.
But if he is through apologizing to Muslims, perhaps he could now explain himself to the indigenous peoples of the world.'' It is certain that our charitable view of that situation did not serve the legions of indigenous people who are now offended by suggestions that cultural decimation is considered ''purification'' by the Church and its most revered leader.
The Vatican has for years largely ignored the valid request by indigenous peoples and their representatives to rescind the papal bulls and the ''doctrine of discovery'' they inspired. And just days before his visit to Brazil, the country's Indians appealed to Pope Benedict to express solidarity with them and acknowledge their struggle against the government's encroachment upon their territories.
They referred to a ''process of genocide,'' which no doubt began with the arrival of European Christian crusaders. It is agreed then that the pope is fully aware of the indigenous position on the lasting legacy of Christianity as a colonizing force. Ignorance is no excuse.
The comments were more an indication that the Church's knowledge of indigenous cultures has not evolved much since the days when Natives were thought by Catholic monarchs to be heathens empty of a guiding spiritual force, in need of enlightenment.
It may be futile to demand an apology from the Church's highest leader, but it is imperative that the indigenous voices continue to rise in protest after the controversy dies down. The public display of outrage (and credible threats of violence) by the Muslim world last year garnered a mea culpa by the pope, who said he was ''deeply sorry.''
It is now time the Vatican, as a religious authority and political nation-state, acknowledges the cost of Christianity on the indigenous people of the world. Perhaps a statement from Pope Benedict recognizing the inherent sovereignty of Indian tribal peoples as reiteration of this theological tradition would be a good, first step toward making amends.
Is Direct Action The Correct Action? Labeling 'Terrorism'
Although Direct Action wakes up the conscious of the mass media and gives powerful attention to an activist point of view, it has its repercussions in the law and now the government. But to label this incident as an act of terrorism is simply ridiculous!, especially crimes by its own citizens!
I would not condone such acts as to put others in harms way for a cause, but some do not think! ...or recognize how this would affect others with important causes and all the work they do as part of freedom of speech, civil rights, and more importantly environmental, and animal rights. Please read the article below and send your opinion to the Oregon legislature and congressmen. Jeanne Bedell
By Brad Knickerbocker,
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Fri May 18, 4:00 AM ET
Ashland, Ore. - When law-enforcement agencies arrested 10 animal rights activists and environmental radicals 18 months ago, it was a major breakthrough in the fight against what officials call "ecoterrorism"
Among the crimes solved were a string of arsons and other attacks across five Western states totaling more than $40 million in damage. Targets of the group calling itself The Family had been timber companies, meatpacking plants, an SUV dealership, a Colorado ski resort, and the University of Washington Horticultural Center.
Now, with all defendants having pleaded guilty because of the weight of the evidence against them, including an informant who wore a recording device, prosecutors are seeking "terrorism enhancements" to their sentences.
"This is the first time in the history of the US that the federal government is seeking this enhancement for property crimes that did not result in injury or death to humans," said Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore.
In their 148-page sentencing memorandum filed last week in federal court in Eugene, prosecutors argued that "although the government was not a direct victim, it was nonetheless a federal crime of terrorism because of the offenders' motivation."
Intimidation, coercion, and retaliation aimed at the conduct of government, prosecutors said, deserves "enhanced" punishment under federal antiterrorism laws. The ecosaboteurs' goal, according to prosecutors, was to retaliate for certain federal policies related to natural resources and animals, and they were attempting to coerce government agencies into changing those policies. Federal sentencing guidelines in such cases can add up to 20 years to a sentence, and this can also mean being sent to a maximum security prison.
The defendants and their attorneys point out that those charged made special efforts to avoid harming people. Prosecutors say this makes no difference, especially when it comes to arson attacks.
"This was a classic case of terrorism, despite their protests of lofty humane goals," Assistant US Attorney Stephen Peifer told US District Judge Ann Aiken in court Tuesday. "It was pure luck no one was killed or injured by their actions."
In recent years, the USA Patriot Act and other legislation have broadened the application of antiterrorism laws and punishments to include radical environmental and animal-welfare activists.
After years of unsolved crimes acknowledged to be the work of the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, the use of informants has broken up several cells, including The Family.Still, "direct actions" claimed by these shadowy groups with no apparent central leadership continue, experts say.
"Vandalism occurs on a regular basis," says Oren Segal, who tracks extremist groups for the Anti-Defamation League in New York. "The harassment of employees of companies that either animal test or work with companies that animal test also occurs on a daily basis. New groups have formed, and new leaders have emerged.
"Moreover, the movement's violent rhetoric increasingly justifies targeting humans to save the lives of animals," says Mr. Segal. "It was not surprising when ALF took credit for leaving an incendiary device at the home of a UCLA primate researcher in the summer of 2006. Although the device failed to ignite, arson investigators said it would have made escape difficult or impossible had it functioned properly."
Mainstream environmentalists and animal-welfare advocates decry such violence. But they're concerned that branding it as "terrorism" threatens legitimate activism as well.
"When everyone is a terrorist, no one is," says Ms. Regan. "The further we broaden the language of what a true terrorist is, the less security we really have. If a monkeywrencher is the same as Osama bin Laden, where is the distinction drawn?"
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