|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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At the recent British Labour Party conference, Tony Blair
famously refused to apologise for the war in Iraq or for toppling
Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately the two things went together
and have left Iraq in a mess which even US intelligence sources
are becoming despairing about. Iraq may be further from establishing
'democracy' than ever - even under Saddam Hussein.
No one interested in justice is going to mourn
the toppling of Saddam Hussein but it is how it happened that
people resent. Blair thought he knew better, of course, than
the many million people who came out to demonstrate against
the war (two million in the UK alone). But it is clear that
he knew nothing - nothing about how 'terrorism' could really
be defeated. 'Terrorism' is defeated by tackling the causes
rather than by military means - the latter can win temporarily
but the many-headed creature will raise its head again. Blair
also seriously misled people in the UK and elsewhere over
weapons of mass distraction (sic) and the reason for going
And of course in Ireland Bertie Ahern does not
appear to have had any second thoughts about backing the US
military effort in Iraq with the only facility the USA wanted
- Shannon Airport. In the annals of political cowardice and
moral turpitude, this must rank in the top class. Ireland
is so beholden to the dollars invested in Ireland that independent
thinking and independent political action seems to be out
the window. Some of the founders of what was once an anti-imperialist
party, Fianna Fail, must be spinning rapidly in their graves.
So how do you overcome tyrants and instil democratic
values in a situation like Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Slowly,
waiting for opposition forces to build up. The time would
have come for popular resistance and nonviolent civil disobedience.
But the shortcut of war rarely works. Meanwhile Saddam Hussein
was so constrained that he was no threat to anyone externally
and much less a threat than he had been internally. But Bush
and Blair thought they knew better and have created a situation
where 'terrorism' can really flourish.
It is to be hoped that Bush, Blair, and Bertie
get their come-uppance from the citizens of their respective
states when they voice their opinions by voting. Of course
there are many other issues of concern in their respective
societies and it would be wrong to judge them solely on Iraq;
but the betrayal of trust was so massive that it is important,
in whatever way possible, the electorates say "here is
payback for betraying our country and the world".
A recent report in the Republic (the second report from the
Strategic Task Force on Alcohol) provided some hard facts
on alcohol use and abuse, alcohol being the drug of choice
for most people on this island. Consumption has risen astronomically
as wealth has increased (doubling from €3.3 billion in
1995 to nearly €6 billion in 2002, which means everyone
over 15 is spending €1,942 on average on alcohol a year.
Binge drinking has risen dramatically as part of the overall
picture; according to the report 58% of drinking sessions
end in binge drinking for men (defined as taking six or more
standard drinks) and 30% of drinking occasions for women.
And it would be wrong to blame 'young people' for the phenomenon
because they are simply copying what is the cultural norm
and the example set by their elders.
The link between alcohol and harm to others
or self-harm is very considerable. . Alcohol is a considerable
factor in the overall level of violence in our society, including
domestic violence. Post-pub and club violence, fights, beatings
and kickings are quite common. The lack of positive identity
for many young, and not so young, men is one major issue in
this context. This picture is probably as true of the North
as the Republic. Alcohol is a depressant used as a stimulant
and among other things it depresses is common sense and the
instinct for self-preservation
There are no easy answers to what is a complex
interaction between the alcoholic drinks industry, advertising
paid by them, consumers, popular culture, and the government.
Most of us enjoy a couple of jars and a chat with our friends,
relations and loved ones. But the line is a very thin one
from enjoyment to harm to self or others.
The Irish government has the opportunity
to take a wide variety of measures which will help people
and society to take a more measured approach to alcohol. Part
of this should be the initiation of a multifaceted and long-term
campaign to change popular culture so that drunkenness is
less acceptable, even if the form the drunkenness takes is
jovial rather than aggressive. The culture has already been
changed in such a way on drink driving. Part of it will also
be providing stimulating facilities and activities for young
people so that alcoholic stimulation loses some of its attractiveness;
this has considerable financial implications but the Republic
is now a rich society by any European standards. Above all,
inaction is not an option and it will be a long haul. To arrive
at a healthier and less violent society it is vital that steps
are taken and the power of the alcoholic drinks industry is
This month's poem from Lothar Lüken:
A soul's incarnation as a human on earth
Must be madness or penance or error.
Homo sapiens, lacking wisdom from birth,
Soon gets mired in man-made terror.
The world's poor are cheated of their share
For Western bellies, accounts and whims,
While men sniff girls' used underwear,
And some drive their cars to cycle in gyms.
With nuclear overkill, child porn, pollution,
Botox, liposuction and booming crime,
We, the crown and tail-end of evolution,
Are a last wave drowning in sands of time,
And know it's over, there tolls our bell,
- but would we be any worse in hell?