January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
The election of Barack Obama represents a certain triumph of hope over fear in the USA, and we wish him ‘all the best’ as he attempts to get to grips with the myriad problems which that country faces, not least poverty, lack of affordable health care, decaying infrastructure, and a crumbling economy. George W Bush, in his dying days as president, showed he had learnt nothing as he continued to deregulate environmental controls, so Obama certainly cannot fail to be a better president.
We have often enough pointed out the myopia with which the most powerful country or countries in the world are afflicted. The misplaced idea of themselves is something which goes with being an empire, and the USA certainly is an empire – not in the old sense of the word of visible, direct rule but in how it perceives its role in the world, and the number of military bases it possesses. Intervention in other countries, even to the frequent overthrow of democracies not known to favour the USA and its interests, has often been the norm rather than the exception. We hope that the USA can learn that there is a different role to play in creating economic justice worldwide and overcoming the crisis of global warming.
How the USA (and other countries involved including the UK) can honourably discharge themselves from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq remains to be seen. If the level of deaths in Iraq has declined markedly, what has actually been achieved, compared to the latter days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, is a good question to which they have no easy answer. If you look beyond the façade of democracy to questions of human rights – for women or for independent political thinking, for example – the answer must be ‘not much’. And this ‘not much’ (and in some cases ‘less than nothing’) has been achieved at an incredible human and economic cost. Afghanistan, meanwhile, has continued to do what it has always done; provide a graveyard for invaders. And the British patrol the source of most of the world’s heroin.
What President Obama will do on the world stage remains to be seen. Pressure from the USA is essential, under how the world currently operates, for a solution to the Palestinian issue; despite speaking of the suffering of Palestinians, Obama’s comments have generally been more pro-Israeli, e.g. talking of the need to isolate Hamas while they support terrorism, and supporting Jerusalem remaining undivided (so no Palestinian capital there). The USA with its massive financial support for Israel is quite capable of nudging it to make the moves needed to start to get a viable Palestinian state up and running. At the moment, Palestinian control, even in the West Bank, is probably less than that of an Irish county council, with massive Israeli control and strangulation which is totally stultifying.
All empires come to an end – a point we have frequently made before. The US empire is not about to hand in its boots but, even in US strategic thinking, the writing is appearing on the wall. A report from the USA’s own National Intelligence Council predicts that by 2025 the US will be less dominant in the world, no longer an unrivalled superpower (as it has been since the end of the Cold War) but rather a ‘first among equals’ which will leave the USA unable to act alone militarily, restricting its ‘freedom of action’. That is no bad thing given the use of US military power in Iran and Afghanistan, and the interventions throughout the 20th century in Central and Latin America, and elsewhere. The report also foresees, surprise, surprise, the return of resource wars and a shift in wealth from west to east, as well as making the point that the spread of western democratic capitalism cannot be assumed. It recognises that a transition from oil and gas to cleaner fuels is inevitable – a significant change from its last report four years ago.
The USA is a huge and fascinating country, and beyond the imperialism and rampant capitalism the people have a creativity which is second to none. We hope that Obama will assist in taking the US in a positive direction so it can indeed be a nonviolent force for positive change in the world and not one of the biggest problems itself. That is a tall order for a country which has been an economic and military superpower for longer than any of us can remember. We live in hope that the destiny of the USA can be defined in how it helps to create economic justice, peace and human rights and not how it subverts them.
The coming devolution to the Northern Ireland Executive of oversight and control concerning justice and policing is an important development, a key stage in the development of ‘local’ government in Northern Ireland. It was also the cause of a quiet crisis; the Executive could not meet without Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin refused to meet until the issue was sorted. Perhaps we cannot be so pleased with the manner in which it was all sorted, horse-trading between the two largest parties (the DUP and Sinn Féin), but in the end the deal was done and justice and policing will ‘come’ to Northern Ireland next year. It also enables ‘normal’ business to resume.
As neither of the two largest parties would trust the other with the portfolio, the minister will be someone with more neutral credentials, who it will be remains to be seen and the Alliance party had previously indicated a lack of desire to join the other parties in the Executive ring because of a wish to provide some meaningful opposition in an ‘include all’ system. The governmental system under the Good Friday Agreement is a transitional one, although not stated as that; in the long term the system will evolve to a more common western model but with certain safeguards still built in. As the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland gets slimmer and slimmer (a majority of primary school children come from a Catholic background), expect the unionist parties to start developing the language of human rights as they look to defend their position. Continued opposition from many unionist groups over recent years to the best possible human rights legislation has been bizarrely short-sighted.
Of course 50% + 1 ‘Catholics’ in Northern Ireland does not make for a ‘United Ireland’ since some Catholics would vote for the non-sectarian unionist Alliance Party – and in any case a ‘United Ireland’ is certainly not necessarily a ‘united island’. Simple majorities are a very poor way to decide business since the strength of feeling needs to be considered and taken into account. This is where consensus voting and decision making mechanisms (some of which are included in the Good Friday Agreement structure) come into play. More use could be made of such mechanisms, North and South, particularly in public voting, and those who want to learn more can easily visit http://www.deborda.org for information. About consensus in general and in small groups you need look no forward than this, INNATE, website where our material is top of the Google ‘define consensus’ charts (look under ‘Group work and dynamics’ in the Workshops section of the INNATE website).
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column
Climate change, loss of flora and fauna, and other environmental catastrophes caused by ignorance and greed require that we adapt a new concept of what it means to be human. If we don’t then our civilization will, as with others in the past, simply cease to exist. The reason is because the depletion of resources, the degradation of ecosystems, and the consequences of climate change, will make civilization, with is mass urban settlements and dependence on global trade untenable.
The type of person our civilization values, in fact depends upon is one who shops in an attempt to achieve self-realization. Shopping, in the absence of need, is a religious experience in which the shopper believes themselves to ingest the qualities of the things they buy. It is thus not surprising that the main religious festival of the year, Christmas, is also a shopping festival in which people binge buy, and eat more than what is healthy for them.
Another trait valued by our civilization is not questioning the orthodoxies. These include the idea of a free market, that technology will solve the scarcity of resources problem, and that ‘the now’ is all that matters.
In other words, the type of people our civilization values the most are those who do most damage to the planet, and have allowed their critical faculty to atrophy. This means that our civilization values all who most undermine it, which shows how irrational many of our pivotal taken for granted rationalities are.
If we are to avoid the collapse of the biosphere, and what this will mean for humankind, we need to consider the long-term, wide ranging, consequences of all that we do as embodied in the idea of the precautionary principle. The principle is rooted in a non-acquisitive, nonviolent and compassionate way of life. It asks us to treat our human and nonhuman neighbours with reverence and respect, even those who have hurt us in some way.
The climate challenge demands the unorthodox, a radical reduction in our levels of consumption. This is the last thing business people, politicians and the mass media want us to do. The argument is that if there is no consumption, there will be insufficient jobs, low tax revenues and little or no public services. This may be so as pertaining to the present economic model, but is a flawed argument, a Peter Pan fairy tale, for it is simply not possible for any species to live beyond its ecosystems’ carrying capacity.
Never-ending shopping, never-ending growth will result in people living in caves, or more likely, in shacks built of materials recovered from landfill sites, not the alternative of living in an eco-sustainable and equitable way. Eco-sustainability means that we do not cross the line in which eco-systems cannot regenerate themselves. Equity means an end to mass poverty in which the majority of humanity lives in utter misery.
The challenge of climate change is that we become more compassionate, and see our long-term well being as one and the same as that of nonhuman nature.
by Sol Santos
Coordinator, Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines
Quezon City, 30th November 2008
Before 2008 is gone, I have to tell this story about a postcard we in the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) designed for the 19-30 May 2008 Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions. The postcard was meant to be (and was) distributed to participants there with a message to support a cluster munitions ban treaty this year, which is also (to commemorate) the 50th anniversary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) AND its Ban-the-Bomb symbol which later became the more broadly meaningful Peace Symbol.
This is perhaps more timely now on the eve of the 2-3 December 2008 Oslo Signing Conference for the new Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) which comprehensively bans them as a class of weapons. When we made the postcard before the Dublin conference, such a comprehensive ban treaty was not yet a certainty. After the successful treaty negotiations at Dublin, the treaty is now in Oslo about to become a reality in international law. We are also close enough to the next Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony in Oslo on 10 December (Human Rights Day), this time to Finnish peacemaker Martti Ahtisaari, just as it was to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in 1985 and to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1997, among others.
Through the main motifs in black and yellow orange on the front of our postcard (see the visual), we wanted to show the continuing relevance and link, from left to right, between the oldest (A-bomb) and the newest (cluster) bomb ban advocacies, and implicitly all that came in between 1958 and 2008. Thus, there is here an element of historicity or a historical continuum of 50 years of bomb banning and peace advocacy, as well as an element of solidarity with and reaching out to other (generations and causes of) peace activists, especially those who have advocated nuclear disarmament.
The postcard was meant to recall and honour those who were several generations ahead of the current Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and paved the way for humanitarian disarmament campaigning. As ICBL veteran campaigner Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan put it, “it would help to remember that we got here due to hard and unfinished work by activists over the past 50 years, many who did not have it as easy as we do today – i.e. being accused of treason, offices ransacked, etc.”
The cluster bomb motif provided by CMC also indicates, aside from a cluster bomb itself, a victim’s hand and upper arm as if signalling “Stop!” or “No!” That seems simple enough in its origins or conceptualization. That was not the case with the peace symbol originally designed by British anti-war activist-artist Gerald Holtom in 1958 for an Easter weekend protest march to an A-bomb research facility in Aldermaston, U.K. In his own words explaining it 15 years later in 1973: “I was in despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it….” In Holtom’s original design, the lines were not so cleanly straight as they have been in more recent years (as adopted in our postcard) but instead were curved outward on both sides of the lines where the hands palm outstretched, the head and feet of the despairing figure were supposed to be.
Almost like an afterthought, Holtom also saw that the symbol represented a composite of the semaphore signals for letter N (someone holding a flag in each hand stretched outwards and downwards) and D (a single flag held vertically above the head) – thus Nuclear Disarmament. So, in those earlier years in Britain, it was known more as the “disarmament symbol,” “ND symbol,” or “CND symbol.” Holtom himself was said to have regretted the connotation of despair and wanted the sign inverted to instead connote something more like hope, resurrection or elation. Also, the inverted image of a figure with arms stretched upwards and outwards represented the semaphore signal for U – Unilateral, as in unilateral action as the key to nuclear disarmament. But the original symbol is what stuck and caught on.
Bayard Rustin, an American activist in the 1958 march, took the symbol back to the U.S., where it eventually became the Peace Symbol, in fact globally. From a symbol of despair, it came to acquire near universal significance as a symbol of peace and protest, especially of the anti-war sort. As the TIME magazine feature on its 50th anniversary said: “But events have conspired to keep giving the peace symbol fresh life. The arms race rumbles along, wars keep happening, and it continually comes back into circulation as, well, a peace symbol. The war in Iraq [and elsewhere] has created all kinds of opportunities for it at rallies and demonstrations.”
Our story does not end here. At the back of our postcard we indicated in the upper left the occasion and venue: “DUBLIN DIPLOMATIC CONFERENCE ON CLUSTER MUNITIONS, 19-30 May 2008, Croak Park, Dublin, IRELAND” with the Irish shamrock symbol to the immediate right of this. We had misspelled the name of historic Croke Park, based on faulty pre-conference information given us. We also indicated in the lower left what we already explained earlier: “In honour of the Peace Symbol at 50 Years, Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines.” Because the venue was Ireland, we wanted to use the Irish colour green for this text, but decided to stick with black just to economize on production costs with ink colours.
And so, that text and the Irish shamrock at the back of our postcard came out in black. When my wife colleague and I gave this postcard to Irish peace activist friend Clem McCartney and his Chilean anti-war activist partner Roberta Bacic on meeting up with them in Dublin outside the conference, they surprised us when they immediately commended us for its “black shamrock,” they themselves pleasantly surprised that we Filipinos seemed aware of the Irish “Black Shamrock” symbol of mourning and resistance. Huh, PCBL had inadvertently used an Irish protest symbol? And we had distributed this postcard to conference participants, including Irish government officials! I was then already thinking up of “good faith” defences in my head.
Clem and Roberta explained to my wife and me that the “Black Shamrock” symbolizes Irish mourning for all those who died as a result of Irish collaboration in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, for the loss of Irish Neutrality, and for the tens of thousands of lives lost as a result of the U.S.-led wars in which Irish leaders, south and north, were complicit. It was a symbol of Irish resistance and opposition to any Irish involvement, be it economic, strategic or logistical, in the unjust and illegal wars. It calls on Irish leaders to follow Irish and international law and immediately withdraw support for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
And so, one might say that our postcard was quite loaded with anti-war symbols, more than we had originally intended (like Holtom?) -- but we can accept the new symbolisms as our own. In fact, towards the end of the Dublin conference, we actually came across that “Black Shamrock” symbol again on the t-shirt of an Irish anti-war activist who participated in a side event to the conference, a Public Talk on “Achieving a Cluster Munitions Ban: Blueprint for an Ethical Foreign Policy?” with former Irish Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, sponsored by Action from Ireland (Afri). Here the exemplary Irish presidency of the conference with its successful result was praised and commended for being more reflective of Irish traditional foreign policy of neutrality, international humanitarianism, and renunciation of war, aside from its resonance with the Irish anti-war movement. Thus, the inadvertent “Black Shamrock” on our postcard for the Dublin conference on cluster munitions found its vindication.
Allow me one last serendipity. At the end of the conference when CMC campaigners were rushing about to wind down before leaving Croke Park, I chanced upon Finnish campaigner Jan Koskimies of the Peace Union of Finland/Committee of 100. He was wearing on his lapel a Peace Symbol pin of the original design of Holtom (see photograph). Seizing the moment, I asked Jan if I could buy (yes, buy) his pin. He said, no, he would give it to me since there was a lot more of it back where it came from in his organization. It turns out that the Committee of 100 was the more widely known successor to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) which had planned the 1958 Easter weekend protest march to Aldermaston. To somehow return the favour, I could only give Jan our postcard – maybe not the fairest exchange.
Exchange? Yes, let us learn the lessons from each other’s campaigning histories. Let us connect the dots among arms control, disarmament, humanitarian law, human rights, and peace. Let us invoke the spirit of the best in humanitarian disarmament and peace campaigning. And we may yet develop a new, more interlinked and holistic, humanitarian disarmament network
Sol Santos is a Filipino human rights lawyer, peace activist and book author. He wrote a ‘definitive’ article on the Dublin cluster bomb conference (choice of PDF or RTF formats).
A presentation by Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
at the Sabeel Seventh International Conference in East Jerusalem
I am very happy to be here with you and to be invited to speak to you. I want to take this opportunity to thank Rev. Naim Ateek, and all those who helped to organize this conference. I am deeply grateful to have the freedom to come here to East Jerusalem and the freedom to speak and meet with you.
In this the 2lst century many of us take freedom for granted, but not everyone has freedom here in Israel/Palestine. I realized this, yet again, when I told a Palestinian friend I was attending this conference and he told me that though he was born in Jerusalem he is not allowed to come into East Jerusalem. This brought home to me that East Jerusalem is indeed an integral part of the occupied territory of Palestine and many Arab people born here are not allowed into East Jerusalem. Many Arabs who do live in East Jerusalem live in fear of their homes being demolished or expulsion by the Israeli Government (such as the Al-Kurd family home in the Sheikh Jarab Neighbourhood of East Jerusalem where the Supreme court has ruled on the expulsion of this family from their home.) Since l967 almost 2O, OOO Palestinian homes have been demolished in the West Bank. The expulsions and demolitions continue almost daily, along with continuing development of illegal settlements for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem, and the West Bank. A few days ago I visited the site in West Jerusalem where the Israelis are building a Museum of Tolerance upon an ancient Muslim cemetery, where the bones of the Muslims’ ancestors are being exhumed. This is deeply painful to the Muslim people and I would like to appeal for this project to be cancelled. The Israeli Supreme court, whose role it is to uphold human rights and International laws, has agreed to this desecration of Muslim graves, and continues to rule in favour of many inhumane and illegal Policies, directed against Palestinians, and against those Jewish Citizens who have the moral courage to challenge this discrimination and destruction of Palestinian homes.
In spite of all this, I myself have great hope for change in the Middle East. I have hope because for almost a decade now I have been coming to Palestine/ Israel and in that time I have met with many deeply committed people who have dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful, just solution to what is one of the longest running conflicts in the world. To all these people I offer my support for your non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy. I know that all occupations, and violent conflicts, sooner or later come to an end and that here in this part of the world, occupation will end, justice will reign, and reconciliation will flourish between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
But before peace can flourish, its roots of freedom, equality, justice, must be nourished with courage and truth. It takes courage to speak truth to power when the consequences are often suffering. The truth shall indeed set your spirit free, but in this oppressive occupying power, the truth will also be physically, emotionally and in other ways very costly. But we must challenge not only Israeli state injustice, but also challenge Palestinian armed militant insurgency groups to reject violence and use non-violent civil resistance – a political strategy which is not only morally right but in our Northern Irish experience does work. Still there have always been people in history, willing to tell the truth at great personal cost to themselves, and it is to such people we, the human family, remain indebted.
We are indebted especially to all those who continue to tell the truth of Nakba. In this the year of the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes.
Today, the occupation continues also with the wall annexation of more Palestinian land, and the building of an Apartheid Racist system by the Israeli Government.
Another great injustice is currently being perpetrated upon the Palestinian people by the Israeli Government, with their blockade of Gaza. Recently, I went with the Free Gaza Movement by boat from Larnaca to Gaza to help break the siege of Gaza. This siege is a policy of collective punishment of one and a half million Gazans by Israel because they voted for a Hamas Government. Collective punishment of civilians is against the Geneva Convention. The people of Gaza have been closed off completely from the world for two and a half years now, and their community and infrastructure is slowly being destroyed. There is a shortage of medicines, food, electricity and the basic necessities of life. But perhaps the worst form of torture for any human being is being unable to hold and touch the people they love, and the people of Gaza are not allowed to go across the now closed borders to be with their families. Hundreds of wives are parted from husbands in the West Bank, over 700 students cannot get out to go abroad to take up their positions in Universities, Sick people cannot get out to get hospital treatment, over 8O% of the children are suffering from malnutrition, and they have no milk for the children. Gaza is like a huge prison except the Israeli Occupiers’ policy is depriving the inmates of sufficient food and medicines for survival, in this the worlds largest open-air prison. The International community and UN, should resume economic assistance as they have a responsibility towards the civilian population of Gaza, which is not dependent on whether Hamas satisfies the political conditions set by Israel or whether ceasefires hold.
In the face of all this injustice perpetrated upon the Palestinian community, The EU, European Governments and much of the world community, have not only remained silent but have connived with this injustice by cutting off financial aid necessary for the Palestinians’ survival, and are thus complicit with these ongoing crimes against humanity.
I was shocked and saddened by the suffering I witnessed, but I took hope from the warmth and resilience of the people of Gaza. They want dialogue and unity with other Palestinians in the West Bank, and dialogue with the Israeli Government based on justice and equality. After meeting with Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyah and speaking at the Hamas Parliament, and at a meeting with over 100 political representatives, of all the political parties in Gaza, including Hamas and Fatah, I took away with me real hope that more and more Palestinians recognize that Palestinian National Unity and non-violent civil resistance is a political strategy that will work and give them great strength. Increasingly they are recognizing that divided Palestinian people, armed struggle and militarism will not solve their problem. I hope that all those of us who want Peace in the Middle East, will support the rightful struggle of non-violent civil resistance of Palestinians for an end to Occupation, a Free Palestine, and the upholding of all UN resolutions including the UN resolution 194 - Right to return of Refugees. As part of this non-violent civil resistance struggle, I support the Divestment/Disinvestment Campaign and the Campaign to end USA’s military support ($10 million dollars per day) to Israel which helps funds the military occupation of Palestine, and other moves for Boycott. I also believe the Swiss Government, as repository for the Geneva Convention, should convene its members to discuss Israeli non-compliance of its obligations under the Geneva Convention. Also the Assembly of the United Nations should move to suspend Israel from its U.N. memberships, until it complies with all UN resolutions required of it.
It is to be hoped now that the Israeli Government will recognize too that Militarism, occupation and repression only feeds the violence and they will enter into serious dialogue and negotiations with Hamas and other Palestinian leaders, as the democratically elected voice of the Palestinian people. These negotiations should be within the framework of international law, particularly international humanitarian law and human rights law, and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and Security Council resolutions.
This year also the State of Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary. I recognize the right of all people including the Jewish people to a peaceful existence. I also recognize the state of Israel but believe many of the Israeli Government’s domestic and foreign policies are racist and uphold an apartheid system. I believe such policies do not reflect the profound wise Jewish values of justice and peace. In an interdependent, interconnected world, where countries are made up of multi-ethnic, multi-religious, groups, we are challenged to build Government structures which reflect the plurality of all citizens and whose laws are inclusive of all members of that society. Governments cannot marginalize nor have second class citizenship for whole sections of the population, as such injustice will result in violence. We learned this lesson in Northern Ireland, and are now moving towards a power-sharing all inclusive Government. I believe to have genuine peace, the Israeli Government needs to move from a Jewish state to a power-sharing democratic state which is equal and inclusive of all its citizens and not just its Jewish citizens.
There is great hope for peace in Israel/Palestine, as this is a political problem with a political solution and the Israeli Government and USA, by treating Palestinians on a fair basis, and with real political will can help solve this historical conflict which has resulted in this inhumane occupation. I recognize there is a deep fear of ethnic annihilation amongst many Israelis, but we, as the human family, must all learn to deal with our fears non-violently, and realize our best hope for human security is not in occupation but in implementing just and equal policies for all the people, and making friends with our enemies.
Our security as the human family does not lie in militarism, nuclear weapons or war. Another courageous voice who reminded us of this is Mordechai Vanunu. Mordechai told the world Israel had nuclear weapons. He was concerned that possessing such weapons endangered Israel as it too could become another Hiroshima. For his act of truth telling he was punished by the Israel Government and continues 22 years later to be held in East Jerusalem unable to leave Israel or speak to foreigners or foreign press. For those of us who work to see a Nuclear Free Middle east, a nuclear free world, we remain indebted to Mordechai for his sacrifice on all our behalf, and we hope that Israel will uphold it International obligations to human rights and let Vanunu’s go free, and give leadership in the Middle East by abolishing its Nuclear weapons.
We are all challenged to move from a Culture of violence, to a Culture of nonviolence. Last year the Nobel Peace Laureates launched a Charter for a world without violence, (copies available in English/Hebrew/Arabic.) in which they endorsed the words of the WHO ‘Violence is a preventable disease’. I would encourage you to study this and campaign for your Governments, religious Institutions and NGO’s to consider endorsing this Charter.
The nonviolent message in this Charter is not new. 2,000 years ago Jesus said ‘Love your enemies, do not kill’. The Cross is for me the greatest symbol of non-violent love in action, and in the words of the late Fr. McKenzie ‘you cannot read the bible and not know that Jesus was totally nonviolent’. Also to remember the words of one of the early Christians ‘I am a Christian, I cannot be a soldier’.
What a great contribution we can all make to the world in helping bring peace, if we only take the message of love and nonkilling seriously and live by it. Then we could with our brothers and sisters of all faiths and none, build a no killing, Non-violent Middle East and world together.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom, Shanti,
19th November, 2008
Holy City of Jerusalem