|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial:
Was the Green Party correct in entering coalition government with Fianna Fail, along with the rump of the Progressive Democrats and some independent support? If politics is the art of the possible, and of compromise, were they ‘compromised’ or did they get as much as they could? And even if they got as much as they could, did that justify a deal? These questions will continue to haunt the Green Party for some years, up to and possibly even after the next election. It is the old dilemma of purity versus pragmatism, and the lines on this are not always easily drawn.
With Fianna Fail clawing back support in the last couple of weeks before the election, and the result being much tighter than anyone expected, all bets about alternative coalitions involving Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens were off. In this situation, the Greens went for it, and eventually made a deal. That deal included a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 3% annually and a revenue-neutral carbon tax, unspecified, during the life of the current Dáil. One third of electricity is to be from renewable energy by 2020 and there is to be a climate change commission. But changes they did not get included an end to US use of Shannon (the cop out was that UN-sanctioned operations will be permitted, the UN having given carte blanche to the US/UK coalition after the first phase of the Iraq war). The M3 route beside the Hill of Tara motors on. And the co-location of private hospitals on public property will go ahead.
Was the deal worth it? With global warming being the biggest challenge we all face, it was courageous to walk into Bertie’s den and see what they can do. Of course some of us might wish that greens, socialists and progressives of all sorts were able to form a government themselves but the reality in Ireland is far from that with two dominant conservative parties in the Republic. They did not achieve an end to US use of Shannon airport (the only facility the USA wanted from Ireland) and thus the Republic continues to contribute to the US/UK war in Iraq, and other US military endeavours. This is despite 58% of the population being opposed to US military use of Shannon (independent survey commissioned by PANA). But with the Green Party in the Dáil consisting of 6 TDs, and Fianna Fail keen to continue backing the US to the hilt (an appropriate metaphor seeing it refers to a sword), this was going to be a very difficult one to crack. Apart from the wider issues, affecting millions of people in Iraq and elsewhere, one big domestic problem for the Greens then becomes collective government responsibility - the extent to which they are obliged to stand over issues they do not agree with (e.g. on hospital co-location).
The Greens probably were right to cut the deal given the stark challenge of global warming (though it will not be a comfortable ride with Fianna Fail). But then the electorate will be right in five years time to judge them then on what difference they have or have not made to what otherwise might have continued as a solely centre-right government. The price of public disapproval for smaller parties in government, as the PDs have found, is near extinction; the Greens in government will be only too aware of this possible fate. Political fealty in terms of loyalty to one party is not wise for the general public; let people judge next time out on what they have done and what their manifesto is then.
The expectation that Tony Blair will join the Catholic Church, having stepped down from being British prime minister, is of no particular significance beyond the fact that he felt constrained to wait until he was no longer in that position. The British ‘constitution’, unwritten or unassembled as it may be, still has the vestiges of anti-Catholicism firmly wedged into parts of it, and these anachronisms should be speedily dumped on the scrap heap where they belong.
What is of more significance than Tony Blair’s religious denomination is what effect his religious belief has had on him as prime minister, and particularly on his foreign policy. Blair felt compelled to back George Bush on the war in Iraq despite the fact that he was well aware (contrary to statements and impressions he made at the time) that US preparations for post-war Iraq were woefully inadequate, and despite the large majority of people in the UK, and around the world, being opposed to the war.
It would seem that Blair felt called to deliver a military blow for ‘peace’ and ‘freedom’. Dodgy dossiers listing non-existent threats from Saddam Hussein’s regime were part of preparing the public for that war. Tony Blair pushed forward regardless of all these things. The end result has been sectarian bloodshed on what is, even in the Irish context, an unimaginable scale; the worst day of the Northern Irish Troubles would be a good day in Baghdad alone, let alone the rest of Iraq. And the end result, on a world scale, has contributed significantly to replacing the Cold War with a new division -“the line in the sand” between Christians and Muslims. The 7/7 bombings in London, as well as more recent car bomb attempts – a direct consequence of British involvement in Iraq – brought that divide home in Britain itself.
Tony Blair made some big mistakes in his thinking. Number one could be said to be his belief in the redemptive power of violence; the idea of using violence to achieve a positive end result is a dodgy one. It may be the dominant position in most strands of Christianity but if we look at even the ‘Just War’ theory (see here on the INNATE website) it is clear that this was not, and could not be, a ‘just war’ in even conservative Christian thinking (let alone more radical peace church interpretations). It was not a war of last resort, it was not – despite fig leafs being pulled in all directions – called by the legitimate authority (which in these days would approximate to the UN). Nor did the ongoing war take care to avoid killing non-combatants. As for a balance of good over evil being achieved, well, over time it seems to have worked generally the other way around. In Christian thinking this was clearly an ‘unjust war’ – as many Christian clerics and lay people pointed out. Catholics were prominent in opposing the war (and Christians in Iraq have suffered since through being identified with the US/UK-led invasion); Tony Blair may have been taken to task by Pope Benedict on their recent meeting for a variety of things, one being the war in Iraq.
But danger No. 2 would seem to be that Blair’s religious vocation – and he clearly has one – was part of justifying all these ruses to get to war. He believed he was serving a greater cause. So did Oliver Cromwell (or indeed Ian Paisley in opposing rapprochement in Northern Ireland for four decades – but at least, and at last, he saw sense). Clearly Blair thought he was doing a good deed for the people of Iraq. Clearly also he did not take history into account which shows disastrous British involvement in the region over the last century or more.
Of course we should all be guided by our moral, ethical and religious beliefs, and obviously different people’s can be incompatible with each other. But the ‘golden rule’ in religions the world over (treating others as you would like to be treated) is not missile or WMD science, it is the very basis of getting along together in a world which has too numerous causes for conflict to count.
Blair had the opportunity to show his mettle as a Christian statesman, in opposing the war and having nothing to do with George Bush’s megalomaniac enterprise, but what he did was embrace the war enterprise as firmly as he could. George Bush is another Christian who got it all wrong but he was in thrall to the military-industrial complex in a way that would not have been expected of Blair. It may seem a bit trite to dig up the old ‘WWJD’ (‘What would Jesus do?’) question but for a devout Christian Blair does not seem to have been very well informed – on faith or politics. As a result he has debased both religion and politics.
Various roles were floated for the post-retirement Tony Blair. Being an envoy in the Middle East regarding Palestine for the ‘Quartet’ of the US, EU, UN and Russia is a challenging role and different commentators have made the point that there is no one so ill-suited for it. Perhaps, however, he can redeem himself there (more possible Christian imagery). He did achieve certain things in the UK, including an improved but not out of the woods National Health Service, and his role in Northern Ireland has been in general very positive, contributing significantly to the peace and political process (whether he deserves the Irish government sponsored chair of Irish studies in Liverpool University being named in his honour is another matter). In Northern Ireland he did work hard to bring everyone in to a process, very different to his approach to Iraq and the Middle East to date. Seldom has a British politician been so wrong for so long as has been Tony Blair in these matters.
Unfortunately Gordon Brown does not promise a very different international policy for the UK, which still seems to suffer from post-imperial delusions of grandeur, with one obvious resultant policy being Trident. Brown has included some Iraq war sceptics or criticisers in his government but that does not necessarily entail a real change in policy; he has also promised to give to parliament the role of declaring war but what this means remains to be seen (since there are wars and ‘wars’ – i.e. declared and undeclared wars). It is hard to remember – in more ways than one - Tony Blair becoming British prime minister a decade ago and promising an ethical foreign policy. From massive bribes to Saudi princes to ‘buy British’ armaments, through to a really dreadful Iraq war, the reality has been an ethical nightmare; Britain may have once ruled the waves but certainly still waives the rules.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
“We assume the planet belongs to us – it doesn’t. We share it with a vast number of species. It belongs to them too and they too have a right to live.” David Attenborough, The Sun, 25 June 2005
Last week after visiting a school in Limavady I drove a few miles to Benone Strand to enjoy some quiet time among the sand dunes. At seven miles in length they are the longest stretch of dunes in Ireland. I ignore for the purposes of this article the presence of the British Army base at Magilligan/Benone, which is another issue (even if dear to INNATE’s heart). My hour long visit was composed of two contrasting experiences. Although the strand is a recipient of the European Blue Flag, I was frankly horrified to find the soft golden sand and the well-developed dunes littered with plastic snack wrappings, sun cream and soft-drink bottles, aluminium cans, broken glass and cigarette packages. I saw quite a few local people walking their dogs, taking exercise and having picnics and wondered how they could allow such a beautiful setting to be so contaminated. Did they not find the litter an affront? I wondered how long they would tolerate a similar mess in their own garden. Perhaps the locals are so accustomed to the blight that they consider it a given part of life in the early 21st Century. I mused that if minded the regular beach users could organise to clean the strand and dunes up, and have a rota of volunteers to keep it that way. The Council, the Tourist Board, businesses, the local media, and a range of community groups could be persuaded to lend the necessary support.
My positive experience was when I climbed over a wire fence beside the wooden walkway that meanders through the dunes and walked in the direction of the wooded hills. Here I found a treasure trove of plants and insects which I examined and photographed. I found the dune ecosystem utterly beautiful and fascinating. I saw beetles, butterflies, bees and moths. I was enthralled by my first sighting of the Five-Spot Burnet moth, a creature with five red spots on metallic blue green forewings. I also saw many brown backed beetles, which I could not identify in the Collins Irish Wildlife book. Among the flowering plants I came across were the Dog-Rose, Red-Clover and Yellow-Rattle. The backdrop of indigenous woodland provided the get-away from modernity setting that I needed to rejuvenate the wild, spontaneous, generative part of myself. When it was time to go I crossed over the wire fence and walked once again among the debris of peoples’ unconcern for the other beings we share the planet with.
Ireland is well endowed with places of outstanding natural beauty and fragile ecosystems that are threatened and defaced by litter and inappropriate use. In a society where people are gorged on consumer goods they are bored with, and are searching for something to give their lives meaning and significance, one way for them to realise such would be to take up the challenge of protecting and enhancing the natural world around them. They could, either alone or with others, become self-appointed guardians of a river walkway, a patch of woodland, or a set of sand dunes, picking up the litter, observing and documenting the biodiversity, reporting to a voluntary agency or their Local Council any threats to their adopted area of concern. Parents who want a legacy for their children could do no better than regard nonhuman nature as that legacy, as well as use the natural environment as an educational resource.
The Church and Peace network met recently at the Corrymeela Centre, Ballycastle. Church and Peace is an ecumenical network of Christian communities, churches and organisations in Europe committed to the peace church vision. We publish here first of all the statement which was adopted at this conference, followed by a short account by Timothy Huber:
Church and Peace International Conference on Vulnerability and Security, Corrymeela, Northern Ireland, 14-17 June 2007
At the Corrymeela Community Centre in Northern Ireland more than 100 participants from some 13 different nations and many different church traditions and faith communities gathered for the 2007 international conference of Church and Peace.
The theme of our conference was: “Not by might, nor by power…but by my Spirit (Zech. 4:6) – A Conference on Vulnerability and Security”.
During our meeting we explored pathways to true security and visited church-related cross-community peacebuilding projects in the torn and broken Northern Irish society. These projects proved to be a real sign of hope!
What have we learned?
• that security is a gift of God which calls for a way of life in solidarity with all people and that requires the acceptance of some level of vulnerability;
• that we live on God’s earth and are entrusted with responsible stewardship;
• that in our world a child under the age of five dies from hunger and malnutrition every five seconds;
• that 1000 people are killed every week by small arms, most of which are owned by civilians;
• that 95% of the victims of war and armed conflict nowadays are civilians;
• that we have lived uncritically with a false sense of security, and having been aware of the suffering have done too little to relieve it;
• that in a divided society suffering from violent conflict, true peace requires the transformation of relationship. This takes courage, the sharing of stories and the investment of our time and resources;
• that these conflict situations are deeply rooted in history and people’s emotions;
• that true security calls for breaking down both the inward or emotional and the outward or physical walls that separate us;
• that in the midst of conflict situations we are called to follow a vision that takes us beyond the “enemy experience” with its fear and feelings of insecurity and enables us to meet each other as fellow human beings;
• that in so doing we may be messengers of God’s peace and will be strengthened by the knowledge that we do his will;
• that true security requires us to work towards creating justice locally, nationally and internationally, so that in the words of the Psalmist, “peace and justice have embraced” (Psalm 85:10);
• that real security can come about only if we follow the call of Jesus to love our neighbours and even our enemies;
• that we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable in the living presence of God;
• that we need to continue to call on all Christians, churches and people of goodwill to mobilize for true peace. “Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give.” (John 14:27)
Adopted unanimously by the participants of the Church and Peace international conference at Corrymeela, 16 June 2007
Church and Peace Network Gathers in Corrymeela to Explore the Relationship between Vulnerability and Security
by Timothy Huber
More than 100 Christians from 13 countries across Europe gathered June 14 to 17 at the Corrymeela community on the northern coast of Northern Ireland for the 2007 biannual International Conference of Church and Peace.
The conference’s theme, “Not By Might, Nor By Power …” was taken from Zech. 4:6 and stressed themes of vulnerability and security – each intensified by Corrymeela’s work to bridge the religious and political strife in Northern Ireland.
“True security resists the temptation to be powerful,” Church and Peace director Marie-Nöelle von der Recke said, noting the gift of true security God gives requires accepting some level of vulnerability. “We decided to tackle a very burning question, and that is security.”
Conference events included an excursion to Belfast to see the city’s infamous murals, divisive “peace walls,” fortified police stations, and opportunities to hear directly from church-related projects working to unite communities.
In the evening, Community Relations Council CEO and former University of Ulster politics and history lecturer Duncan Morrow shared about conflict in Northern Ireland. The Community Relations Council is the primary Northern Ireland entity responsible for funding inter-community relations development.
“The answer’s not in education, politics, or sociology, or economics,” he said, citing Northern Ireland’s central location in the worlds of capitalism, democracy, and the world-ruling English language. “It’s in relationships.
“No amount of standing at the front and telling people what to think works, and so much of politics is telling people what to think,” Morrow added. “The problem of the politics of ‘Them’ is, we can do nothing, because the problem is ‘Them.’ ”
United Kingdom Baptist Peace Fellowship chair and Christian Peacemaker Teams participant Norman Kember shared about his experiences with “Them.” Kember was a member of the CPT delegation kidnapped in late 2005, of which American Quaker Tom Fox was eventually fatally shot.
“What happened to me is significant in my life, but it’s a minor tragedy when compared with what is happening daily in Iraq,” he said. “Really, you should have an Iraqi talk to you, not me.”
CPT peace delegations are intended to run only seven to 14 days.
“I could have gone to Israel/Palestine, but perversely I thought I could go to Iraq for two weeks,” he said. “I went to meet Iraqi people and to assure them millions of people in the world are opposed to the war.
The four delegates were kidnapped, handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to an apartment where four Iraqi men watched over them.
“They told us we were lucky to be kidnapped by that group, because if the Zarqawi group had kidnapped us, Tom Fox and myself would have been shot immediately, because we were American and British,” he said. “… We didn’t speak much Arabic, and they didn’t speak much English, but we learned they all had trauma in their lives, due to the occupation.”
One day Fox was taken, but it wasn’t until Kember and the other hostages were freed that they learned both of his death and the outpouring of international support.
Today he is faced with the question of how much he will allow himself to be involved in the upcoming murder trial of the four Iraqi kidnappers. Kember said he will most likely participate, but only if he can be assured the death penalty will not be a sentencing option.
“I think I have a responsibility to try to help those men in some way,” he said.
In his presentation to the conference on security strategies in the Bible, Friedelsheim (Germany) Mennonite Church pastor Alejandro Zorzin summed up the conference themes through a study of Isaiah 32 and the Sermon on the Mount.
“The attempt to achieve a biblical approach to security with the aid of some important Old and New Testament texts leads to an interesting result,” Zorzin said. “Security arises in direct connection with economic and social justice. Security is the harvest of practical nonviolence and solidarity, which heals vulnerability without being able to exclude it.”
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) volunteer Timothy Huber works as Office Manager and Counselor at the Military Counseling Network (MCN) in Bammental, Germany, an information and support service for US soldiers who are questioning participating in war.
- Church and Peace is at Ringstrasse 14, D – 35641 Schoeffengrund, Germany, ph. +49 6445 5588, e-mail IntlOffice@churchandpeace.org and web http://www.church-and-peace.org