[Return to the related issue of Nonviolent News]
Billy King gives us his monthly thoughts–
The Adolf Awards 2009 for Conspicuous Disservice to Peace
Yes, it is that time again, so sound the fanfare (the fare can be exorbitant - it can be very expensive for true fans to show their allegiance to their idol), roll on the drums (but make sure they’re strong enough to take your full weight before you do your acrobatics), sound the trum, pet and we’re away at a hack (poor journalists get a quare digging at times, don’t they) [Your puns are truly half-baked and painful – Ed] [Masochists of the world unite – pleasure and pain – Billy].
No, each year we have our truly glittering [twittering? – Ed] E-wards ceremony where we make presentations to some of those who have been most conspicuous during the previous year in their disservice to peace, human rights and the environment. Unfortunately there are usually too many candidates and nominations to choose from. And I do hope you have dressed up for the occasion, formal wear of course. However, with no more ado, and at vast expense in terms of brain power, we bring youse the 2009 Adolf Awards–
Environ-Meant to Do Something Else Award - Sammy Wilson, Norn Iron Environment Minister, for resisting progressive change on environmental issues and doubting global warming.
The George W Bush Perpetual Trophy for Inability to Learn from the Past – Presi-dent George W Bush, who, with the odd positive action or slight reflection, continued to the end in the old ways as a war-maker, friend of the rich, advocate of torture, and environmental deregulator.
The Cute Hoor Award for Polly Ticks– Bertie Ahern TD (Totally Depressing) for getting out while the going was good and before the shit hit the fan, or the fans were inclined to return the compliment.
Advancement of Politics Award -The PDs (Progressive Demo-carts), for disbanding. Choice may be a good thing but given that it is tearing up the rule books and reducing taxes which has the Republic in the mess it’s in today, not too many tears will be shed for this ex-political party.
The Unreconstructed Ian Paisley Award for Big-otry – Why, this is awarded to none other than Iris (Look into my eyes, look into my eyes) Robinson for her comments about gays. Maybe we should resist a crack about lilies in the field looking gay.
Financial Services Award (Boom, bang-a-bang) – To all those banks at home and abroad, and politicians who left them unchecked, who believed they were above the laws of boom and bust and financial rectitude – they certainly wrecked it, dude. Never was rhyming slang so accurate.
The Ploughshares Into Swords Award – The Israeli Government who decided that at least a hundred eyes for an eye was the correct ratio and that the way to win friends and influence people is by bombing them to hell.
The Adding Insult to Injury and Death Award (Crocodile Tears Division) – To Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who, in his ceasefire speech, concluded by saying to Gazans: “On behalf of the Government of Israel, I wish to convey my regret for the harming of uninvolved civilians, for the pain we caused them, for the suffering they and their families suffered as a result of the intolerable situation created by Hamas.” This was immediately after his army had just been responsible for the death of around 700 Gazan civilians out of a possible total of over 1,200 Palestinian deaths, and some of these include Palestinian police.
Horsemen of the Apocalypse Award – The government of Sudan for bringing eternity so much closer for so many of its citizens in so many ways.
Imperial Twilight Award - The USA – even USA intelligence recognises that US military and strategic power is on the wane, maybe not fast, but it’s no longer going to be the superpower.
Dinosaur of the Year Award – Rev Ian Paisley – consider his fate and then tell us you don’t believe in (political) evolution…..
Demotion of Democracy Award – To the EU, for not taking ‘no’ for an answer, failing to listen to its citizens, and giving the voters of the Republic two opportunities to say ‘no’ when most citizens of the EU did not even have one.
The Beam Me Up Scotty Award for Contribution to Global Warming – The British government for proceeding with a third runway at Heathrow airport, contributing to run(a)way global warming.
Multirational Multinational of the Year: Shell we award it to them again, or Mayo give it to someone else? Sea the media this year.
- - - - -
Most of us have people that we look up to in our field, who have travelled some of the same road – perhaps partly before us – who we respect for what they represent, their commitment and integrity, their wise responses to issues at hand. They are not necessarily a guru figure to us – and I’m not particularly into gurus, and in any case such people are much too human and down to earth for that. Rev Dr John Morrow, former leader of the Corrymeela Community, who died on New Year’s Day aged 77, was such a figure for me. Our paths crossed from the day I went to college and continued to cross in the years since then, when he was a college chaplain, as Corrymeela leader, through the Northern Ireland Peace Forum, the Irish School of Ecumenics, and latterly and literally, periodically meeting him while he was out for his constitutional walk in Botanic Gardens in Belfast, close to his home.
The story I am going to tell about John is a splendid example of his commitment to talking and exploring ideas with people from the time he was Presbyterian chaplain in Queen’s University Belfast. One day I was in the Students’ Union at Queen’s where a student decided I was definitely in need of evangelisation and saving and proceeded to try to put me on the Right Path. John Morrow wanted a word with me and came across and effectively joined the conversation. Some time later I had to get away for another appointment and tried to allow John an out, but he was already too engaged – so, as I departed, I left the chaplain of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland being evangelised by one of his students! John allowed himself to be open to even this.
I can see the scene now. It is the Pearly Gates and St Peter welcomes John in with a warm, indeed effusive, handshake and the greeting that he is expected, plus an instruction to make himself at home. St Peter beckons to John where he should go and makes to move on to the next new arrival but John fixes him with a warm smile, the hint of a chuckle, and states firmly - “There are a few issues I have been meaning to discuss with you...”
John Morrow fostered understanding and peace in his dealings; may he now rest in that peace.
I have previously shared the odd incident where I have responded to incidents, for example, confronting public racist comments. So it is only fair that I should mention a case I handled badly, in this case of violence, and reflect on how I should have handled it.
It was a couple of days after Christmas and holiday time. There weren’t a lot of people around and about but I was visiting the local supermarket to stock up on supplies. There were roadworks or pipelaying works nearby and just the other side of this there was an altercation going on involved four adult men, three of whom were on one side and another, looking scared, on the other. It was during daytime and fully light. A car with a couple of other men was making a speedy getaway – I assume the occupants were all associated in some way with the single person being held – his age might only have been around twenty, two of the other three looked a similar age or just a few years older and one, a possible leader, thirty or early thirties. What was going on, and whether those involved were tanked up on legal or illegal substances, I could not tell, but given the holiday period I thought this was quite possible. The guy being held looked scared and the others were holding him and shouting abuse and accusations – I could not hear what about.
Instead of going into the supermarket I decided to monitor what was happening. I was trying to be seen looking but not to go so close as to be fully engaged in the situation or at risk of attack myself. None of the other people coming in and out of the supermarket seemed to notice what was happening – admittedly the number of customers was fairly low but still there were a number passing in and out who either did not see or refused to see what was happening. I did not challenge or seek to challenge this collective refusal to see.
The situation continued for a minute or two as I watched. The three men holding the other guy then frogmarched him away, past the supermarket. I did not intervene effectively. I was scared that they might attack me. The best I managed was fairly pathetic, an injunction to “Remember the spirit of Christmas” to which one of the gang of three responded “No worry”. I was trying to find a way to connect with them but failed.
I let this man down. I don’t know what, if anything, happened subsequently to him, whether he was further abused or beaten, or what the dispute was about but I should have responded more boldly. Part of it was probably the improbability of such violence happening in daylight beside the local supermarket, and also my fear.
What could I have done?
1) Rallied bystanders to jointly monitor what was happening – “Look, there is a man being held/threatened…..”
2) Asked for assistance in the supermarket though the security man there would probably have considered it outside his remit since the action was happening on the public footpath and not on the supermarket premises.
3) Intervened directly, asking for the man to be released, and, if possible, escorting him to the relative safety of the supermarket.
4) If all else failed, phoned the police.
I did none of these things and let down a fellow human being. I would have expected myself to have done better, and that hurts. However I hope I have learnt a lesson in dealing with the thoroughly unexpected.
The Blood of the Irish
I hope you may have caught the two-parter on RTE, The Blood of the Irish, during January. The first programme was partly a scene setter, so much so that a reviewer in the Donegal Democrat said that it made their blood boil, ho ho, get the pun. However, I felt that for a major channel to be showing quite clearly that we are all African, or at least coming out of Africa 65,000 – 70,000 years ago, was valuable. If we, in homo sapiens (how sapiens is another matter), are in essence African, what is the point of racism? But I agree that the first programme was a bit of a tease, linking brown bear bones from Ireland with the Iberian peninsula but not dealing with us humans (how those bears got to Ireland remains a mystery, and also how they managed to get here with the bear necessities of life).
The second programme established that the base genetic population in Ireland is also associated with the Iberian peninsula, with Basques being the closest link. The programme did not explore how people came from this region to Ireland – directly, or via other areas and the island to the east of Ireland – merely that this is where the original post-glacial settlers of Ireland came from. This is perhaps not too surprising given that this region of western Europe was the furthest north habitable (without ice) during the Ice Age, so, if people spread north and west as the ice retreated, it is not surprising this is where they came from. Photos of Basque faces certainly could have been of your typical Irish, and the further west you went in Ireland (the Republic), the higher proportion of people with these genetic markers.
The programme also took DNA from the bones of a young girl who died three and a half thousand years ago, found in a cave in the Burren, Co Clare and compared this with a group of young children from families today who have a history in the area. Out of a group of twenty or so, three children had the same genetic markers as the girl from three and a half millennia ago. It would seem at least some of their antecedents are there a long, long time.
Despite the fact that this kind of modern scientific analysis also makes racism a nonsense – we all come from somewhere else, except maybe for some people around the East African Rift /Great Rift Valley whose ancestors might have stayed put (I don’t know whether this happened) – there is a danger that this kind of programme can make out that some people are purer something than other people. Most of us are curious about our ancestors. There is nothing wrong with that curiosity so long as it is part of enriching our understanding of where we come from and not attempting to impoverish other people by putting them down. We all have equality from our African Eve.
Well, I hope you’re hanging on, and not too grimly, to whatever job you have and it’s an ill wind (and a cold one at the moment)…..I see Norn Iron is getting another 150 Social Security jobs to deal with the growth of new jobless – hopefully good news for those 150 anyway. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a society where the cake stops getting bigger has to make the size of the slices fairer….perhaps this recession will help in pulling some of the mighty from their seats.
On to important cultural matters. I listened to Dancing at Lughnasa on RTE radio which was re-broadcast for Brian Friel’s 80th birthday. I got to musing as to whether the writers of Father Ted, Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan, called the character played by Frank Kelly, the permanently drunk and obnoxious Father Jack Hackett, after the ‘Fr Jack’ in Dancing at Lughnasa (which came out five or so years before Fr Ted hit the TV screens). Brian Friel’s ‘Fr Jack’ is scatter-brained if not senile and has ‘gone native’ while a missionary in Africa to the extent of embracing African indigenous religious beliefs over Christianity – clearly the cause of his being returned home. So I wonder if ‘Fr Jack’ Hackett is, consciously or unconsciously, given the same ‘Christian’ name. That’s this Colm all over, always making earth-shattering cultural links and discoveries.
Speaking of cultural figures, I was sad to see the death of English radical and poet Adrian Mitchell in December. At a time when I was young [were you ever? – Ed] searching for cultural figures I could identify with, he was one light at the end of my personal tunnel, talking about the ‘liberal Christ who had no blood to share’ (“The Liberal Christ Gives a Press Interview”) and so on. A letter in the ‘Guardian’ newspaper summed up his philosophy (and, given its attribution, “I seem to remember…”, it may not be an exact quote): “My brain socialist, My heart anarchist, My eyes pacifist, My blood revolutionary.” A quick computer search will bring up some of his work.
Oh, moving on to drugs, I was quite pleased this month to come up with the coffee equivalent of the saying about alcohol, ‘In vino veritas’ – it’s ‘In café insomnia’. I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with that but there you go.
Yours until March and spring is nearly springing - this Irish tradition of spring beginning at the start of February, well, I’m afraid I don’t quite believe it, St Brigid and her day is fine but the idea that her feast day marks the start of spring is rushing things somewhat – d’ye get it, Brigid’s Crosses, ‘rush’ing things…. [I think I’d rather I didn’t, I might get a rush to my head – Ed] – Yours as ever, Billy.
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).