Freedom Fighters — What Right do They Have?
Every day we are confronted in the press with reports on the activities of various "liberation movements" which seek to free their people or country from oppression and exploitation. Often these activities are of a "terrorist" nature; that is, they are meant to intimidate and pressure citizens and foreigners alike who want no part of the fight.
There are basically two kinds of liberation movements. The one seeks to overthrow the existing government and establish a more "democratic" regime which will restore the rights of the people. We see such movements, for example, in Chile, Nicaragua ("Contras versus Sandinistas"), and South Africa. When these "liberators" are successful, the result, as shown for instance in Cuba, is not always as "democratic" as was first claimed.
The other seeks to establish an independent homeland and is not satisfied with anything less than national independence. I think here, for example, of the Sikhs in the Punjab, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Basques in Spain, the Irish in Ulster, the Khurds in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, and also the Palestinians in Lebanon.
Even if we might sometimes sympathize with the goal of such "freedom fighters" and agree that their cause may have legitimate aspects, the methods employed by these self-styled liberators is often dubious or outrightly to be rejected. The important question is, "How are we to regard such 'liberation movements' in a Biblical light?"
Right to Self-Determination?
To legitimize their existence and activity, these "freedom movements" often appeal to the United Nations' Charter of Rights. This manifest includes, besides the principle of "equal rights," also the right of all people to "self-determination." This means that the people themselves have the right to determine which form of government they prefer, which persons they want to govern them, and even by what principles they wish to be governed.
The theory of self-determination1 is an important one, for it has had quite an impact on the political developments in this century. We can distinguish between "internal" self-determination by which a people within a country decides which government it wants, and "international" self-determination by which people from various countries unite to form a new nation. Every people, it is said, has the right to determine its own borders by uniting with those who have the same historical background, race, customs, and language.
This idea of a "national people's state" would eliminate the need for war. All people would be free, united with their own kind and culture, and there would be no reason to fight. According to this theory, the cause of war is that one people is dominated by another. But if all people could freely determine their own nationality and government, there would be no war!
Dangers of Self-Determination
It cannot be denied that the overall acceptance of the theory of self-determination has had positive effects. It smoothed the way, for example, to more rapid decolonization in the years following the Second World War. It should also be noted, however, that this very same theory did not prevent, but actually facilitated, the outbreak of several wars.
Using the same idea of a "national people's state" comprising all Germans, Adolph Hitler proceeded to annex large parts of Europe and set the stage for a major world confrontation. The same theory has led to many uprisings and civil wars, or to disintegration of existing states. I think here, for example, of the violent conflict in Nigeria and Biafra.
The greatest danger in this theory is that it is based entirely on the revolutionary idea of "the sovereignty of the people." The will of the people has become supreme; no place is given to God's norms and commandments. The sovereign position of the Lord Jesus Christ is not recognized. It is the lack of "righteousness" which time and again leads people to battle each other within their own country and outside of their borders!
The Principle of Self-Determination
The above does not mean, however, that there is no merit in the principle itself. I would rather not speak of the "right to self-determination," but I do see the validity of the principle of self-determination. It is indeed a positive thing that people of the same historical background, culture and language may be united as one nation. It is a good thing that a people is involved in the election of its own government and that a government has a responsibility to its people.
Every people has its own history and character. When different peoples are artificially forced to live together in one nation, and a minority is exploited by a majority, the stage is indeed set for trouble.
Here we come to a key issue. The principle of self-determination, although valid, should not be pursued through violent means but in a peaceful way. It can be done via a referendum and international consultation. It must be done within the existing political framework and not by overthrowing the established order!
We must come to recognize "that under God's providence, the world has been divided into many peoples and states, all placed by God under various governments."2 The method must therefore be one of peaceful consultation and not violent confrontation. This is especially true in countries where the government and system of government has already long been established.
The Principle of Romans 13
We find in the letter to the Romans certain instructions regarding obedience to the government. We find there, "For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (emphasis mine, C.S.). In his commentary on Romans, Dr. S. Greijdanus explains that the verb used here "points to a set situation." The apostle is not speaking of a situation in which there is no established government or where anarchy rules. The phase of struggle has gone by; there is an established order. Under God's providence, the situation has grown so that there is an established government. It is not so very important how this government initially came to power or how it exercises its mandate; the point is that this government is established.
In such a situation, obedience is required. Wrongs should be corrected not by revolution but by reformation. Commenting on the unstable political situation in Surinam, Aad Kamsteeg recently also referred to Romans 13 and agrees that the word which Paul uses includes "an element of stability."3 Kamsteeg correctly warns that one may not use the Bible for "simplistic schemes," but he argues that there is a difference between a situation where there is political confusion and instability and one in which there is a fully established government.
I feel also that Romans 13 indeed speaks about a situation where a certain government has become entrenched and where a specific order has been established. Then, indeed, obedience is required to what "God has appointed" (Romans 13:2).
It should be added that even in a situation of political chaos and confusion, one should not resort to violence to achieve one's goal. We must always use the way of peaceful consultation and dialogue to achieve political goals. Much more so, then, with respect to an "instituted" government.
Striving and Method
From the above we may draw some conclusions which may be helpful in determining our position towards many "freedom movements." While we may, indeed, sympathize with the purpose of some of these movements, their methods are to be rejected, especially so when they seek to create chaos in a peaceful society which has an established government and a democratic process in place. I do not speak here about the right of a minority to defend itself against the attacks of a cruel majority, as could be the case in Sri Lanka, but I do mean especially the attempts of any group to force its will upon another. This includes the Sikhs, the I.R.A., the Basques, and any such group that employs violent methods to reach its goal.
Whenever an ethnic group within a country seeks independence, this goal should be realized in the political arena, if need be with the assistance and help of other nations which are able to use means of peaceful persuasion.
A people may take up arms only when they are called to do so by a lawful government, to defend against aggression and intrusion. And especially so when this aggression violates freedom of religion and conscience. In most places where we see "freedom fighters" operating, this is simply not the case.