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Billy King: Rites Again

 

 

 

 

Billy King

Issue 139: May 2006

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Well, it’s an ill wind, as they say, or more specifically “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”. The ill wind of March and early April was a cold wind from the North or north-east and it did make it colder than normal for the time of year. But one benefit was that the daffodils/narcissi and other spring flowers have lasted much longer than normal. And that I found really pleasant because I do like them, and sometimes a warm spell when they’re starting to flower sends them into decline very fast. But what will survive climatic change as Ireland gets colder with the Gulf Stream slowing, I don’t know. Now isn’t that an irony or ironies; the rest of the world gets warmer and we, already in a cool wet climate, get colder. But we can’t say we weren’t warned, and we won’t be warmed either.

So when is a liar a liar?
I had what you might call an energetic debate (raised voices but not in anger) with my partner on when someone telling an untruth is a liar; do they need to be know they are spinning a yarn, telling an untruth, to be a liar? I was saying that they did not necessarily need to intend to deceive to be a liar; the commoner dictionary definition does indeed indicate intentionality, but another one simply indicates ‘to convey a false impression or practise deception’. I think both senses are common. But I also think if someone simply goes with their prejudices and makes statements without checking the facts, then they are not only a liar in the non-intentional sense but close to being a liar in the intentional sense as well. Wilful negligence to check whether something or not is true contributes to being an out and out liar, I believe. And I am talking about facts here, not interpretation of facts.

The specific person we were thinking of was Ian Paisley (see my column in NN 120) and by my definition above and the facts which I previously related then I feel he is without doubt a mighty liar. By my partner’s reckoning he is simply someone who may not always tell the truth, but not a liar. But in any case I find it totally sickening the way some of the Northern Ireland media (specifically the Newsletter and the Belfast Telegraph) are cosying up to him now that he is leader of the largest political party, portraying him as an elder statesman, and treating his 80th birthday as some big celebration. Yes, maybe he has mellowed slightly but given that the lies which I previously quoted from him are from as recent as the year 2000, not so long ago, I think to look up to him as some kind of example is totally misplaced. And to use Christian language, I think he has some repenting to do.

Black Shamrock
Trust those clever people in Derry to come up with an instantly recognisable, and soon to be ubiquitous, symbol of opposition to the war in Iraq and such neo-colonial ventures. As well as badges I’ve already seen it stencilled on a wall in Dublin, you may have seen it or see it down your way soon (you can always make your own contribution). The main political parties in the Republic saw it as right and fitting to support the US-British venture in Iraq through the use of Irish airports and thought they were doing their bit for western ‘civilisation’. Well, unfortunately for them, and more catastrophic for Iraqi people, they can see western ‘civilisation’ at work in Iraq today – near civil war and sectarianism and sectarian killings rife. Meanwhile there was one third of a million US troops through Shannon last year! This makes the Republic one big US aircraft carrier. Even now our political elite, and their bosses Bush and Blair, refuse to admit their mistakes. While the suffering goes on they deserve to be reminded of it at every available opportunity; so plant a black shamrock today. St Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; the black shamrock’s leaves today could be said to represent death, destruction and deceit by all the B’s – Bush, Blair and Bertie.

For the good of the cause
“Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” was a First World War recruiting poster for the British army, trying to make men feel anterior guilt if they did nothing for the war effort. I’m not sure when this was first satirised but it certainly was by the 1960s and 1970s, showing a man being asked by his child exactly that question and having a flashback to what really happened (and presumably the mayhem, brutality and atrocities of whatever war he fought in). ‘Doing time for the cause’ could be an equivalent concept in Irish republicanism, brilliantly satirised in a 1970s Belfast political comic as “Doing time for the cause? Yes, six months in jail for blessing himself provocatively when an Orange parade passed.”!

Using the term ‘struggle’ for the political cause(s) we are engaged in usually sounds somewhat grandiose, somewhat old left or Che Guevara fighting in the jungle. But not always – Rossport Solidarity Camp website is at www.struggle.ws/rsc/ and my feeling would be, yes, that deserves the term. But while there is massive support for the Rossport/Shell to Sea campaign, the fact of the matter is sometimes our causes are a struggle because public support is hard to garner and the political elite, as always, wants to avoid real issues that entail change. Banging our head against a brick wall could seem like light relief. But actually labelling our particular cause as a ‘struggle’ in any sense is usually a step to far; either it’s going to give us a hard, old left image or make us look like we’re about to hand in the towel because the going is so rough and difficult that we don’t have a snowball in hell’s chance of being successful.

It’s a truism that peace and other political movements are not very good to celebrating our successes, partly because things are not necessarily clear cut and sometimes have messy endings where defining what was achieved and how it happened is not so simple. This was the situation with the end of the Cold war and the fall of the Iron Curtain. Reaganites and neo-neo-cons in the States were able to claim the fall of the ‘Evil Empire’ (Reagan on the USSR) was due to their activities whereas I would put much more of my money on peace and civil society movements in both west and east showing a different way was possible. This is just one of the reasons we need an understanding of the stages social and political movements go through (cf Bill Moyer’s ‘Movement Action Plan’ material, a short version of which is on the INNATE website under ‘Workshops’, see ‘Workshop on strategising’). If we know what to expect, and where we’ve been, we’re much better placed to deal with what is thrown at us currently and at the next stage.

I suppose another personal mantra I would have is to allow people to define their own involvement, i.e. the polar opposite of the “come to our meeting and you’re elected chair/secretary at the first meeting”. This is difficult when people are not usually queuing up to look after the finances and fundraising. There are always tasks no one particularly enjoys and I suppose sharing those out across the board is the fairest way, when possible. It’s also a matter or using people’s strengths and helping them, myself included, avoid inflicting our weaknesses on others. If we’re in for a long haul them we have to take care of each other, we’re the best asset we have, and balancing the enjoyable and the less so is part of this.

The extent to which we actually make ‘sacrifices’ for the cause is debateable. Are some of us martyrs for the cause because we enjoy it? Or because we realise (are fixated with?) the importance of the issues we’re dealing with? Or can it be a complex mix of reasons, personal, political, psychological and so on? And what is a ‘sacrifice’? When ‘the cause’ interferes with our normal lives? Affects our relationships? Our working lives and careers? Keeping up our campaigning work and leading a balanced life is a tightrope balancing act; it needs much skill, it can be energising and exciting, but if we fall, we can fall hard.

And sometimes it is not ‘we’ who make the sacrifice but our partners, families, loved ones and so on because we’re too busy to do the other normal things ‘normal’ people do. Working that out and through can be tortuous – it can also lead to divorce or a truncated life and lack of relationships (because ‘we’ are impossible to live with). ‘We’ may be doing what we feel we have to do, what we feel called to do, what we feel impelled to do; our loved ones may wonder what is more important than human relationships. Which is a pretty good question. Seeing bigger pictures can make life pretty difficult.

Support is flagging
It’s an amazing sight in my neighbourhood in Belfast, the massive Union Jack flying on the Orange Lodge flag pole, sometimes looking like it stretches way over the road, up there 365 days a year. I’m not sure of the dimensions of the flag but it looks 3 metres long or more but I’m not an expert at measuring things a few stories up [but you’re good at making stories up – Ed]. As our Arts Correspondent, Anne O’Front, revealed in her review of the “Wind-driven Textile Installation” in Northern Ireland (NN 101) it is “Reminiscent of a starburst design, it is not strictly speaking symmetrical….the whole comes across as an advanced design of overlapping crosses and triangles in red, white and blue”. Actually I find it quite pretty. However I am not of that political persuasion and I think the appropriate expression about the flying of flags (whether Union flag or Tricolour) in Norn Iron is that they do protest too much. It’s not, of course, that I don’t think people should express themselves or are not entitled to the political orientation of their choosing but that the flying of flags in this way is a) intimidating to people not of that persuasion, and b) indicates how uncertain people are of their identity that they feel they have to proclaim it, usually at every lamppost (thus having a remarkable similarity with the local dogs). This applies to both communities. Also ironically, the area with this massive flag is one of the most mixed in Belfast and a majority of people, if asked would probably say ‘Take it down’ or ‘Only fly it on a few special occasions a year’ or ‘Only over the Twelfth fortnight’.

The Union flag was recently celebrating 400 years of existence [flags can’t celebrate! – Ed] [they can certainly have a good flutter – Billy] [I was just trying to wind you up – Ed] [Jack of all trades and tricolour of none – Billy] though of course that predates Irish incorporation into the United Kingdom at the point of bribery and force in 1800/1801 and so “Saint Patrick’s” cross wasn’t there originally. The BBC website said “The union jack dates back to 1801, when Ireland joined Great Britain in a single kingdom” – which makes a tawdry and sorry affair sound like coming together at a polite tea party. Even more telling is that what is arguably England’s first colony, Wales, is not represented on the flag at all. The flag originated with the incorporation of Scotland under the same crown as England in 1603. United Kingdom?

The Irish tricolour includes orange but, the way it is used in Norn Iron, you wouldn’t usually know it. The aspiration represented in the flag is the unity of orange and green, of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, but the way it is used is usually to rub unionist noses in it. It may make the flag flyers/wavers feel good about themselves; it does nothing to persuade anyone else to feel included.

Northern Ireland has made strides on flags and emblems and the increasing public unacceptability of paramilitary flags has been a matter of both community and police attention. If I didn’t see any flags flying for a decade I would be the first not to complain. But then it wouldn’t be Northern Ireland where proclaiming your politico-religious identity is seen to be a civic right, nay duty, but also effectively a right to put up a barrier against others.

Britain and Iraq
It was good to hear Milan Rai speak on the subject of his latest book “7/7 – The London bombings, Islam and the Iraq War” (Pluto Press, ISBN 0-7453-2563-7) at a Justice Not Terror Coalition meeting in Belfast early in April. As always, he blends painstaking research and the assembly of known and new facts with original interpretation and clear analysis.

He pointed out that three-quarters of British people linked the London bombings with the Iraq war, something which Tony Blair had denied – and only 8% of Londoners agreed with Blair on this lack of linkage; British intelligence, the Home Office and the Foreign Office all saw a link between an aggressive foreign policy and the risk of terrorism in the UK. Furthermore, Tony Blair had been warned before the war started in Iraq that such a war would increase the numbers and risk of terrorists wanting to attack Britain. You could say that Blair’s protestation of lack of connection was extremely disingenuous.

Milan Rai went on to share some of his analysis of the British Muslim community and the 7/7 bombers. His talk’s conclusion was that we can carry on with policies of injustice and aggression or change and behave more humanely.

Tony Blair also knew so much better than all those millions or people who demonstrated against the then forthcoming Iraq war both in Britain and around the world, and those who had struggled [there you go using the word you rejected earlier! - Ed] to oppose the war for a long time before it started. He had the advantage of British intelligence reports in his assessment of the situation (if he didn’t believe his own administration’s interfering with these for public consumption) . And still he made a complete hames of it. History will not be kind and the way the history of political polls are going he’ll be a footnote in the not too distant future when the British Labour Party realises he’s a complete liability.

We’re just…
The well dressed gent in the large, four-wheel drive type car was irate. I presume he was a senior manager at Thales Air Defence at Alanbrooke Road, Castlereagh, Belfast. He was trying to drive in the front entrance of Thales and there were these ‘’dead’ people and ‘blood’ lying on the ground. The protesters were badly mistaken he said, their missiles were purely defensive and didn’t kill people, ‘we’ should do our research better. In a brief exchange which I did not try to extend (there are no winners in heated conversations of this nature) I informed him that we were quite well aware of the nature of the products produced and they were part of the war machine without which other attack would be impossible.

In war there are two or more sides – that’s what makes it a war. ‘You’ try to destroy your enemy’s weapons and forces. Thales’ Starstreak missiles, for example, can be used ground to air, air to air, or ground to ground. Without such equipment an attack on Iraq, or Iran, would be incredibly difficult. These are weapons of war – and they do kill people. They are not simply ‘defensive’ and in a war any such notions are out the window anyway. In a much more ‘passive’ way, Bishopscourt Radar Base in Co Down, at which there was a peace camp from 1983-6 (before technology made it redundant – the RAF radar base I mean, not the peace camp!) was part of the UK’s early warning system which in turn was necessary if there were to be military or nuclear attacks by the UK, and that made it a weapon of war. The ‘well dressed gent’ at Thales is deceiving himself to think that the products there are simply ‘defensive’ – and they can be used in a war of aggression.

Of course the other aspect of it is who these weapons are sold to, and while the truth will eventually out, Thales have as yet refused to name the fifty or sixty countries they have exported to. But we can be certain it includes corrupt and undemocratic regimes whose people could have badly used the money squandered on missiles.

The man’s response reminds me of a cartoon [everything reminds you of a cartoon – Ed] on crucifixion. One man cuts down the tree and says “I just cut down the tree”. Another cuts it into pieces, “I just cut it into planks of wood”, and so on until the final person says “I just put the nails in” (to the hands of the prisoner). So everyone ‘just’ does their bit. And feels ‘justified’ because they don’t do the other bits of the process. But together they are part of a brutal and inhuman process. There must be a lot of hand-washing going on in a firm like Thales (some of it, as with yer man, perhaps unaware or unconscious of their hand washing), nearly six hundred people ‘just’ going about their daily jobs, there to get paid and support themselves and their families, ordinary decent people like you and I, but together producing weapons of war (and profitable ones too – Thales Air Defence in 2005 made £15.3 million profit before tax on a turnover of £88.9 million – 17% profit to turnover ratio).

During the protest some workers in overalls called out to those involved in lying in the ground in the die-in that they should be careful or they’d catch their death of cold. They were about twenty-five metres away inside the premises but coming out of a building. I called back immediately that it was better to do that than to be responsible for the death of other people. I wasn’t sure about responding because in this situation it is better not to risk people feeling more resentful than they may do anyway by people questioning their livelihoods. I thought it better to make a response so that they knew we had arguments and views, and humanity, and not just bodies lying or standing around, an alien species, and my reply wasn’t to ‘get one over’ on them by a smart retort. They did not respond further. Maybe, just maybe, one or two workers at Thales will start to think further about the nature of their products as a result of this Justice Not Terror Coalition demonstration and hopefully some more of the public will know just what is made in the anonymity of a suburban industrial area.

See also the report at http://www.indymedia.ie/article/75707

- - - - - - -

Well, here we are, already in May and the summer just around the corner – which usually means a couple of my busiest months, between one thing and another [what’s between one thing and another? – Ed] [between pillar and post – Billy]. Before the greater relaxation of summer it’s necessary to get all sorts of things out of the way, and maybe end up in queer sorts on the way. So, keep a firm hand on the tiler, as the man said who was trying to get his kitchen floor finished. Bye for now, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2014