January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial
The death of John Paul II after almost 27 years
as Pope has removed an enormous figure from the world stage,
as reactions to his death have indicated. It is difficult
at this point to give a balanced measure and assessment of
the man without either seeming on the one hand eulogistic
or disappointed on the other, and so we will not be trying
to make that overall assessment. But some comments are due.
He certainly did not believe that the medium was the message
but, a former amateur actor, he used all his charm and skill
in the emerging global, public arena where he spoke forcefully
against war, for economic justice, and against tyranny. As
such, he raised the profile of those who suffered from war,
economic injustice and tyranny, and put down some forceful
markers. At times those markers assisted a process of transformation
(as with his native Poland) and at others were ignored by
the rich, the powerful, and even those relatively powerless
(the IRA ignored his call during his visit to Ireland in 1979
to stop violence). On the continuity and change scale John
Paul was seen as conservative on many matters but he was a
consummate communicator who spoke forcefully for a world that
would respect human dignity.
Stalin is meant to have asked "How many
battalions has the Pope?" as a way of pointing to the
powerlessness in certain situations of an institution like
the Catholic Church. But in fact the battalions of ideas,
concepts and beliefs are, over time, more powerful than armaments.
The pen, or the word, is more powerful than the sword, again
Some Christian churches, and some parts of many,
have got themselves into a muddle of a holy huddle. Looking
inwards, and to their own salvation, they have denied the
needs of their neighbours and the world. John Paul II, as
leader of by far the largest Christian church for a full generation
has challenged some of the rich and powerful while others
have found a way to live with unpalatable teachings. John
Paul himself had many contradictions - welcoming political
action by the church in Poland under the transformation from
communism but opposing liberation theology and theologians
in Latin America, to name but one.
Jesus was not a political radical but he was
a radical in what he asked of his followers. Loving your neighbour
as yourself is difficult even in western suburbia - how can
it be done when your neighbour is a Latin American or African
peasant or an Asian factory worker? And the 'historic peace
church' understanding of Jesus' teaching and the necessity
of nonviolence for Christians asks for a very different way
of relating to the world than that usually exercised by governments
and rulers, but, arguably, something which fits with the mould
of the early Christian church.
As the Catholic Church moves on to the election
of a new Pope, and as Christians as a whole move well into
their third millennium, the challenge is to see the difference
their faith makes. Christians, in their search for their own
heaven before or after death, can make it hell on earth for
others. We look forward to the positive contribution which
the Christian churches can make for all on this globe. And
we look forward to the positive contribution which the Pope's
battalions of believers can make to human dignity. That indeed
would be a fitting epitaph to the life of John Paul II.
As Gerry Adams calls on the IRA to commit itself solely to
political and democratic means (in a carefully worded and
cleverly nuanced statement), there are many questions in the
air. Eleven years after the ceasefires of 1994, and seven
after the Good Friday Agreement, most people expected such
issues to be dealt with long ago. Except that they haven't
been dealt with, for a variety of reasons not least being
the reluctance of some within the IRA to finally and decisively
abandon armed struggle for the political process. Those within
the 'republican movement' who have tried to move the political
process along have also tried to keep everyone in the IRA
on board. But, subsequent to the Robert McCartney killing
and the Northern Bank raid, the IRA is increasingly a liability
to Sinn Féin, a millstone around its neck in developing
its vote and influence further.
Gerry Adams would probably not have made the
call he did - in the context of the start of an electoral
campaign for both seats at Westminster and for local elections
- unless he felt sure of a reasonably successful outcome.
But that does not mean there cannot be defections to the smaller
republican groupings who wish to continue armed struggle.
How that scenario will work out we will just have to hold
our breath for a long time to wait and see.
But if the IRA should disband then so should
the UDA, the UVF, the LVF, and a few others beside. The issue
of criminality - money - from paramilitarism is a very real
one but it usually cloaked by fear and political considerations
which mean that even the worst of the paramilitaries are fairly
immune from repercussions. And loyalist paramilitaries have
been relatively free from political pressure to disband because,
unlike Sinn Féin, they have not been knocking on the
door of government.
However, a word of perspective is necessary
here. For politics to move forward in Northern Ireland we
do need to get paramilitarism 'out of the way' to a considerable
extent. But when it comes to killing, Northern Ireland's paramilitaries
are only amateurs. When it comes to killing lots of people
from the West, the governments and state armies are the professionals;
pre-war sanctions on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands, and
US and British forces in the illegal war on Iraq killed tens
of thousands more, and set up conflicts for decades to come.
Militarism has more blood on its hands than paramilitarism
here can even dream of.
with Larry Speight
A guidebook describes the ancient graveyard of Caldragh on
Boa Island (Co Fermanagh), where the Janus figure stands,
as a sacred site. This is the feeling I had when I visited
it. The place, with its weathered gravestones, rich wildlife
and quietness has the aura of not being part of the modern
world. Its serenity invites one to linger and contemplate
the meaning of the figure, and its smaller companion The Lusty
Man which originally hails from Lusty Beg Island. With its
dual watchfulness the figure could be considered as a guardian
of the natural world, a mentor asking us to look at the bio-richness
that once was and the desolation that almost certainly lies
ahead. Its message might well be that if we are to make any
real headway in protecting and rejuvenating our damaged Earth
we need to extend the idea of the sacred to include the whole
of creation. The practice of this can be as simple as following
the Country Code and not leaving our litter behind when we
visit a wood, lake or beach, thus conserving what we like
In this regard it is helpful to keep in mind
the purported words of the North American Indian, Chief Seattle
"Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.
Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in
it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."
This understanding of the wholeness and
interconnectedness of all things provides a guide as to how
we should interact with nature. Perhaps a few moments contemplating
the bio-richness of the past and our likely eco-future will
inspire us to adapt a more inclusive sense of the sacred.