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What's new

Nonviolence News July 2017

Editorial: Northern Ireland - Wrong deal, no deal

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Lessons from Grenfell Tower

Readings in Nonviolence: Alternatives to Violence Project impact

Billy King: Rites Again

Editorials

These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Afghanistan

The ongoing war and violence in Afghanistan is a nonsense. The fig leaf that foreign forces there were bringing stability and democracy has been crudely and brutally crushed by, respectively, increasing deaths of foreign soldiers and the debacle of the so-called democratic election which was anything but that. Military resistance to occupation tends to be on a local and nationalist basis and not part of some Taliban grand plan. The British and US talk in terms of half a dozen years before the situation can be ‘stabilised’.

The war in Afghanistan began as a revenge attack on the Taliban for their alliance with al Qaeda. Ignoring the many lessons which history provided, the USA and its allies, including former colonial occupier Britain, rushed in where the Soviets had been the last to tread and subsequently retreated home – the current occupiers will eventually do the same. The spotlight then turned to Iraq and that whole escapade which may have resulted in a million deaths, and where still news develops about the results of the war, such as the great increase in birth defects in Fallujah due to toxic military materials. But the more general war situation in Afghanistan lingered on and is now the major military test for Western military forces.

Of course, as with Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has made ‘the West’ less rather than more safe, a situation which US security assessments in the past have made clear. A side result is that Pakistan has been destabilised and innumerable people radicalised against the Western powers. Many people in the USA, who more than most countries have a poor grasp of international realities, may still buy the idea that such wars are making their streets safer but people in Britain no longer believe this garbage, as some do not in the USA itself. In a November 2009 survey in Britain (London ‘Independent’ 11/11/09), almost half of those interviewed (46%) said they believed the presence of British forces in the Afghan war increased the risk of attacks on or in Britain while only 21% believed that British troops in Afghanistan decreased the threat of terrorism in the UK. People are beginning to see the reality of the situation and, tragically also, the sight of the coffins of British soldiers coming home.

President Obama has, until now, been going in completely the wrong direction. Of course getting out of such a war is far more difficult than getting into it, and the easiest time for him to have started to disengage was when he arrived in the White House. The sensible thing for him to do, as soon as he can, is to start serious negotiations regarding military disengagement. Unfortunately the big military powers tend to think, as they would until realities teach them otherwise, that power grows simply from the barrel of a gun; the power that grows in this way is limited, and in a country like Afghanistan, with local people generally hostile in one way or another to occupation or important aspects of it, the power is severely limited. Obama has some difficult choices but as yet there is little indication that he will do the sensible thing and begin the process towards military withdrawal, whether he provides tens of thousands of new troops or not in the short term (and it looks like he will). People with some sense in the administrations concerned are now talking about bringing ‘moderate’ Taliban into the process; it is never too late to talk to people.

If the current western occupying powers in Afghanistan cut loose militarily, as they should, they should not run away from the current situation which they have helped create. Negotiating in a situation like Afghanistan is very difficult but there should still be a commitment to human and economic development aid, and, where appropriate, seeking guarantees for certain human rights, especially those of women. The countries involved in the current occupation could be real friends of the people of Afghanistan in the future by providing civil assistance for a small fraction of the military cost of the current war. This would help to make friends of their current enemies and, aside from military disengagement, would be of considerable assistance in assuring people in Muslim countries that ‘the West’ is not always a destructive force (the largest factor here, of course, would be helping to establish a viable Palestinian state).

Regarding Afghanistan, Obama and Brown have inherited foreign policies which do their countries great damage, aside altogether from the major turmoil and death in Afghanistan itself. It is also ironic that Britain should once again have responsibility for a drugs empire (opium poppy production in Helmand province). It may not be possible to get out while the going is good but, if they have any sense, they will get out before the going gets a whole lot worse. Building progress in Afghanistan clearly cannot be done through a gun sight.

Floods of tears

The trauma of your home being flooded and most of its contents destroyed is very significant. It may be on a different level to losing a loved one but to see so much of what you have worked for, and things of sentimental value, destroyed can be hard to bear – and difficult and time consuming to sort out, as well as financially costly and extremely inconvenient. The current floods in various parts of Ireland, and elsewhere, with the Shannon well above the highest recorded mark, are a small tragedy for those affected.

The extent to which you can say global warming is responsible is difficult to say but it is probably safe to conclude that it is certainly a factor. There is no way that this is a ‘once in a lifetime’ event, unfortunately, and some models of global warming certainly show increased winter rainfall for us.

Thus has been disproved, if such were needed, the concept that global warming could be cost free for Ireland. Increased storm damage will be another cost, and, just down the road or should we say beach, rising sea levels threaten many coastal parts of our island, both rural and urban. Our way of life is living on borrowed time. We have already editorialised about Copenhagen (see NN 174) which now seems certain to be a failure in terms of reaching agreement. If, however, it is a stepping stone through the raging waters to attain wider global agreement very soon on extensive carbon cuts then it will be worthwhile. We cannot wait very long or we will all be swept, metaphorically, into a raging torrent.

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Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Human Story

The stories we tell our children usually have happy endings. In the stories hardships are overcome, hurt is healed, love is requited, riddles are solved, and justice is done. Our children fall asleep in their warm beds feeling that all is well with the world and in their wakening they are optimistic that they, their family and friends will triumph over the trials of the day. Many traditional tales contain seasoned truths such as imagination, persistence and solidarity will likely see us through in the end.

That said many unhappy situations are so structured that a satisfactory resolution is unlikely. Severe poverty is such an example. One billion people do not have food to eat, decent housing, sanitation and access to basic health care. In moderately wealthy countries such as India, Mexico and Brazil hundreds of millions live their entire lives in poverty as vividly illustrated by Oscar Lewis in his classic 1969 novel A Death in the Sanchez Family.

In the story of humankind we are at the part where it is not yet clear what the end will be. Will we soon share the fate of the 99.9% of species that once existed and have now become extinct? Or will we demonstrate that we have the imagination and persistence to find solutions to the multitude of problems that face us and thereby extend our existence into the indefinite future?

The decision we face is whether to continue to abide by our culture’s principle edict as described by Victor Lebow in 1955 or live by a philosophy that reverences life. Lebow famously wrote: “Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption ... We need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

This edict, which is embraced by people of different religions and nationalities, amounts to an assault on the life-support systems of the planet as evidenced by the 60 billion tons of raw materials extracted from the earth and 26 billion tons of carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere every year. This, together with deforestation and the death of the seas, is causing the mass extinction of species. The magnitude of the extinction was described by Richard Leakey in 1996, as quoted in The Observer, 8 November 2009. “Homo sapiens is poised to become the greatest catastrophic agent since a giant asteroid collided with the Earth 65 million years ago, wiping out half the world’s species in a geological instant.” The evidence suggests that we are likely to be the cause of the Sixth Mass Extinction.

It takes insight, compassion and courage to buck trends as our culture pressurises us to conform. It seems we have a basic inclination to be the same as everyone else. This inclination, or herd instinct, which is the cause of much destructiveness, could be used in the service of a reverence for life philosophy. Each of us has to find the leader in ourselves and begin the transition to an environmentally friendly way of living. This involves not only saving energy but buying food we will actually eat, rather than at present throwing one third into the bin. It involves writing to trend setting celebrities and politicians, head teachers and clergy urging them to promote environmentally friendly living.

We are the scribes of the human story and we determine whether it ends in death or redemption.

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'People Crying Out for a Platform'

Corrib Ruling Shows Need for Civic Platform

A press release from Afri, 16/11/09

The recent Bord Pleanala ruling in favour of local residents in the ongoing Corrib Gas pipeline dispute highlights the need for new avenues of civic participation, according to a national peace and justice NGO, whose international patron is the distinguished Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Afri Coordinator Joe Murray says that the ruling vindicates the struggle of the local community over the past 10 years but also brings into question why they have had to endure intimidation, jail, beatings and media demonization for much of that time.

"The Corrib gas dispute in many ways tells the story of modern Ireland, where big business has colluded with soft democracy, trampling the rights of ordinary Irish citizens to fair and just treatment. The result has been an erosion of civil liberties and the emergence of corporate rule where multinationals appear to have greater rights than Irish citizens," according to Mr. Murray.

Examples of this include the jailing of the ‘Rossport 5’ for 94 days in 2005 for attempting to prevent preparatory work for the laying of the high-powered pipeline, which An Bord Pleanala now accepts would pose an unacceptable threat to the health and safety of the local community. The project would also represent a monument to fossil fuels, a retrograde step in light of the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit which will attempt to address the singular threat posed to our very existence by climate change.

Afri is also arguing that the failure of democracy in relation to The Corrib Project is reflected by serious human rights violations. A report by the Global Community Monitor, a US-based NGO, for example, notes ‘evidence…of youth, women and the elderly being pushed and beaten by Gardai without provocation’. Local farmer and Goldman Environmental Award Winner, Willie Corduff, was seriously beaten in a professional manner by masked men within a Shell compound in April 2009 and fisherman Pat O’Donnell had his boat boarded and sunk by unidentified armed men around the same time. This is a shocking catalogue of abuses in a country that trumpets its democratic credentials, according to Afri.

Further examples, of how the voices of ordinary people in Ireland are ignored are provided by the continuing use of Shannon Airport for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite widespread public opposition to these wars, and by the way in which the rich and powerful, who have created the current financial mess, are seen to be getting away with it while the poor are being asked to pay the price.

Internationally, Afri notes that the exclusion and marginalisation of people is even more extreme and the priorities even more skewed and immoral as 1.2 billion people suffer from hunger while military spending runs at an obscene $1400 billion annually.

According to Afri, the time has come for a mobilisation of people in the true spirit of active citizenship. "The conditions are right for people to become more actively engaged in the decisions that affect their lives. Traditional sources of authority have proven ineffective and people are crying out for meaningful platforms and forums in which to participate in the running of their lives and their country”, said Mr. Murray. Afri intends to launch a campaign for the development of active citizenship in the New Year and is inviting support from like-minded groups.

Further information from Joe Murray 086 3946893 or Andy Storey 087 6543872

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Glencree 2009 Summer School report
by David Bloomfield:

“What the South needs to hear; What the North needs to say”

It was a real sign that we are back in the swing of things: after a lapse in 2008, the Glencree Summer School was once again a major event in the calendar.

So many of our participants told us that they had sorely missed the School last year, and were delighted to be back at last. Their support for Glencree was really heartening. Politicians, prisoners groups, victims groups, women’s groups and many more from North and South filled us full to bursting in one of our biggest attendances for years. It was a real pleasure to welcome old friends back to Wicklow, and to greet many new friends too.

But it wasn’t just fun and friendship. There was a really serious engagement among panellists and participants around some of the most pressing issues in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in some cases statements were made that would have been unthinkable ten years ago, and impossible even five years ago in front of the audience gathered at Glencree on 29-30 August. It was timely to remember, amid all the remaining challenges and problems, just how much progress has been made in Northern Ireland since the Agreement.

Our panellists brought us right up to date on the current state of play in the North on a range of subjects – transitional justice and victims issues; the changing role of women in communities; the transformation process for prisoners and ex-combatants; and the topics facing politicians in the coming year. They left us with a rich agenda for our future peacebuilding work, and encouraged us to get back to work to assist the peace process.

Politically, of course, the big issue is policing and justice. But this is also the year when broader justice issues regarding past violence and victims’ needs are rightly to the fore, and we were left in no doubt about the strength of feeling and the crucial importance of addressing this area. We gathered much food for thought about our work with victims groups, past and future. Former paramilitary representatives from opposite sides engaged in truly forthright and constructive dialogue, and demonstrated how far they each have travelled in transforming their organisations, and how they have begun to make common cause on behalf of their communities. And a wonderful final panel of women inspired us all with the importance – and the effectiveness – of working steadily on the ground to build partnerships, friendships and peaceful relations.

Nuala O’Loan did the impossible by drawing all our various topics and conversations together in an inspired after-dinner speech. And Tommy Sands rounded the evening off beautifully by putting a smile on every face.

Our profound thanks to all our panellists and participants for helping us re-establish Glencree’s relevance in the peacebuilding landscape in Northern Ireland.

Panellists and presenters: Declan O’Loan (SDLP), John McCallister (UUP), Peadar Toibin (Sinn Fein), Peter Weir (DUP), Reatha Hassan (SAVER-NAVER), Mark Thompson (Relatives for Justice), Avila Kilmurray (Community Foundation NI), Frankie Gallagher (Charter NI), Pat Sheehan (Coiste), Cliodhna Geraghty (South Armagh Rural Women’s Network), Mary Kelly (Ardoyne), Irene Williamson (Cregagh Community Centre), Tommy Sands, Nuala O’Loan (DFA).

David Bloomfield

CEO Glencree

This report appears in the October 2009 edition of the Glencree Newsletter. Contact geraldine.fitzgerald@glencree.ie to be added to the mailing list for this PDF publication. See also news item this issue on a lecture and a seminar with David Bloomfield.

Copyright INNATE 2014