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Dom Hélder Câmara: Violence attracts Violence

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Dom Hélder Câmara: Violence attracts Violence
Photograph by Marcel Antonisse (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

No – one is born to be a slave. No – one seeks to suffer injustices, humiliations and restrictions. A human being condemned to a sub – human situation is like an animal —an ox or a donkey— wallowing in the mud.

Now the egoism of some privileged groups drives countless human beings into this sub – human condition, where they suffer restrictions, humiliations, and injustices; without prospects, without hope, their condition is that of slaves.

This established violence, this violence No. 1, attracts violence No. 2, revolt, either of the oppressed themselves or of youth, firmly resolved to battle for a more just and human world.

Certainly there are, from continent to continent, from country to country, from city to city, variations, differences, degrees, nuances, in violence No. 2, but generally in the world today the oppressed are opening their eyes.

The authorities and the privileged are alarmed by the presence of agents coming from outside whom they call ‘subversive elements’, ‘agitators’, ‘communists’.

Sometimes they are indeed people committed to an ideology of the extreme left who are fighting for the liberation of the oppressed and have opted for armed violence. At other times they are people moved by religious feeling, who can no longer tolerate religion interpreted and lived as an opium for the masses, as an alien and alienating force, but want to see it at the service of the human development of those who are imprisoned in a sub-human condition.

The authorities and the privileged lump the two groups together. For them, those who, in the name of their religion (whether they are clergy or laity), are working for fundamental reforms, for a change in structures, have abandoned religion for politics, are foundering in leftism or, at the very least, are innocents preparing the way for communism.

There are two main counter-arguments to this attitude. The authorities and the privileged pretend to believe that without the presence of ‘agitators’, the oppressed masses would remain with their eyes closed, passive and immobile.

Today, with all the means of transport and social communication available (including the transistor radio), it is ridiculous to think that one can prevent the circulation of ideas or the spread of information.

And secondly, monolithic and obsessional anti -communism is responsible for many absurdities. The prime one is maintaining injustices because tackling them ‘might open the door to communism’.

In those places where the oppressed masses have an opportunity for direct action they engage in more or less thoroughgoing, bitter and prolonged agitation.

When the masses have fallen into a kind of fatalism for lack of hope, or when a too violent reaction cows them for an instant, then it is the young who rise.

The young no longer have the patience to wait for the privileged to discard their privileges. The young very often see governments too tied to the privileged classes. The young are losing confidence in the churches, which affirm beautiful principles – great texts, remarkable conclusions – but without ever deciding, at least so far, to translate them into real life.

The young then are turning more and more to radical action and violence. In some places the young are the force of idealism, fire, hunger for justice, and thirst for authenticity. In others, with the same enthusiasm, they adopt extremist ideologies and prepare for ‘guerrilla warfare’ in town or country.

If there is some corner of the world which has remained peaceful, but with a peace based on injustices—the peace of a swamp with rotten matter fermenting in its depths – we may be sure that that peace is false. Violence attracts violence. Let us repeat fearlessly and ceaselessly: injustices bring revolt, either from the oppressed or from the young, determined to fight for a more just and more human world.

Extract from Spiral of Violence by Dom Hélder Câmara (1909-1999), Liberation Theologian and Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in the northeastern Brasilian state of Pernambuco.

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