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What's new

Nonviolence News February 2017

Children and Conflict poster series

Editorials: Northern Ireland political swamp, Holding the nerve

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Through the prism of narratives

Readings in Nonviolence: Refugee stories by Máiréad Collins

Billy King: Rites Again

 

 

 

Editorials

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

Number 176: February 2010

Barracking Obama

While one year of Barack Obama being president of the USA has been insufficient for him to make any great achievements – and his health care reforms at home are at risk through a Republican gain of what had been Teddy Kennedy’s seat – it has been enough to judge how he is setting out his stall. Unfortunately, in terms of world peace the judgement is not particularly favourable. Sending thirty thousand more US troops to Afghanistan is not the answer that country needs, though it would seem that communication and negotiations with the Taliban are not necessarily (and rather late in the day) ruled out either. His escalation of a military response to Iran and its nuclear ambitions is also an unfortunate development and, while nuclear non-proliferation is desirable, even more so is nuclear disarmament, and we find it illogical that nuclear weapon states can demand that other states – however dodgy their politics may be - do not acquire what is already possessed by the complainants. Obama’s administration has also been unwilling to make the necessary moves to push Israel into giving the West Bank back to Palestinians.

It did seem strange that Obama should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace so early and with so little under his belt – though he had mentioned his intention to do something about nuclear weapons - but then the Nobel Peace Prize is given for many different reasons, presumably in this case to encourage him on his way after the break with the woeful international record of George W Bush. Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech, however, was a disappointing one with some good points but many bad and unsupportable ones. He acknowledged that the USA is involved in two wars, one of which is ‘winding down’. His anthropological take on the origin of war is arguably very dodgy; to say that “War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned…” is simply impossible to prove. It is likely, then as now, that many of early humanity rejected violence and highly probable that there were whole societies who did not live by it.

President Obama also skipped straight to the (Christian, though not named as such by him) concept of ‘Just War’ without referring to the early Christian teaching of nonviolence, accepted for the first couple of hundred years of the Christian church. Some concepts of ‘Just War’ predate Christianity but Augustine (in the 4th and 5th centuries CE) and Aquinas gave the theory a particular Christian flavour; it is a theory which, as Obama noted, “for most of history….was rarely observed.” If ‘Just War’ theory was itself a departure from early Christian thinking, how far a departure then was it to not even observe this? While referring to the fact that “The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible”, Obama does not refer to this issue.

Obama attributed his presence at the Nobel award ceremony to being a “direct consequence of Dr King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence” – to which the answer must be yes and no, no when as Commander in Chief of US forces he orders the escalation of war in Afghanistan and risks military confrontation with Iran. While he carefully spoke of some of the negative aspects of war, he also justified war in situations where it would be very difficult to justify. The ‘need’ for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is unproven; because they happen and are backed by big powers does not demonstrate more than the principle that ‘might is right’.

His grasp of history was either woefully inadequate or wilfully misleading when he said that “America [sic] has never fought a war against a democracy.” The nineteenth and twentieth centuries are full of examples where the USA was involved in the overthrow of democratic and populist regimes in Central and Latin America because the policies being followed did not fit the USA’s interests, and where they were not ‘democracies’ they were probably fulfilling the ‘popular will’ for them to get overthrown at the behest of US interests. This quoted statement is as grossly arrogant and untrue as anything George Bush could have come out with; Obama may interpret ‘war’ in the conventional sense, but was the overthrow of Allende’s government in 1973 not an act of war by the USA? It was an act of extreme violence in the international sphere with the US protecting its own interests, but hidden under support to Chilean fascists. Obama went on to say in the same sentence that “our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens” – this might imply that Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan are not ‘close friends’ of the US. The assertion that “America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal” also flies in the face of truth; at the time ‘the world’ demonstrated against going to war in Iraq, the USA and its allies went to war, wilfully ignoring universal voices

In talking about fear, and fear leading to conflict, Obama talks about the Middle East. He does not, however, refer to the financial and other underpinning which the USA provides to Israel so that the latter feels able, and justified in, grabbing Palestinian land. He does go on to attack the idea of Holy War – but this could equally apply to the neo-liberal fundamentalism of the Bush era and regime as much as Islamic extremism.

At the end of his speech he said “Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he’s outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.” That mother could be in the USA. That young protester could, with the addition of the words ‘abroad’ after ‘government’, be in the USA. And that soldier could be facing weapons made in the USA, could even, conceivably, be fighting against forces supported by the USA.

President Obama did talk about striving for justice. His concluding remarks included that “We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.” The question here is who will be fighting that war and who will be building that peace. On this showing, President Obama will be fighting the war first and acting about peace second.

A normal crisis

Whether you consider it ‘normal’ or not, the recent crisis in Northern Ireland politics over the devolution (or not) of justice and policing powers was ‘normal’ for a divided and often dysfunctional society. As before, a crisis point was arrived at but in this case there was only a slippery pathway set out to some sort of resolution of the issues in hand, and the result in extra time still leaves some matters to be sorted. Some had thought that Sinn Féin would have the advantage following the Iris Robinson scandal (her obtaining money from property developers and not declaring it); no one thought to tell Peter Robinson, and it was clear he was trying to make a strong stand which would help to re-establish the DUP’s credentials with its voters, apart from any other considerations. There was considerable opposition by DUP Assembly members to a deal; the ‘sack me or back me’ approach by Peter Robinson at the end, along with the threat of Assembly elections where they would have to face the TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) may have swung it eventually.

It is time that policing and justice issues were handled in Northern Ireland. Whether politicians have the maturity to handle these issues effectively remains to be seen, but they deserve a chance and DUP justification for its reluctance to jump on board was posited in terms of ensuring that everything was sorted out properly, referring to the mess which the transfer system from primary to secondary schools has ended up in. David Ford (Alliance Party leader) would certainly be a ‘safe pair of hands’ as justice minister, if indeed that comes his way in April, and nothing is certain – including how ‘the devil in the detail’ works out in trying to get an agreed way forward on parading. However there is a problem when necessary change is seen as being ‘for them’ with the DUP seeking to get the removal of the Parades Commission as its quid pro quo for Sinn Féin ‘getting’ the devolution of justice and policing (the Parades Commission remains in place until there is a new agreement on the issue). It would be far better if such issues were seen from a human rights perspective and the last thing Northern Ireland needs is the return of the parades issue as a battleground – which is a danger in liberalising who can parade where through unwelcome territory. But encouraging local agreements can only be a good thing.

The political system in Northern Ireland will need to evolve, in due course, from some of the strictures of the Good Friday Agreement. How the North can arrive at a mature political system which gives some real choice to voters while at the same time guaranteeing the rights of different groups – small minorities as well as ‘the minority’ which is almost a majority – is, or should be, the accessible and achievable Golden Grail of Northern Ireland politics. On the recent showing we are not going to arrive there anytime soon and there will be more crises down the road. The British prime minister and Irish Taoiseach may not have made their last urgent visit to Hillsborough. Justice and policing may seem to be ‘the last hurdle’ in terms of the evolution of devolution under the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements but further evolvement of politics in Northern Ireland is necessary in the medium and longer term. To think that this is the ‘last crisis’ in Northern Ireland is akin to believing in ‘the end of history’.

Fortunately or unfortunately, watch this space.

Raytheon: Death dealers desert Derry

Jim Keys, Helen Harris and Rose Kelly of FEIC, Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign, spoke to Rob Fairmichael about the decision of Raytheon to close their presence in Derry –

Rob – The news that Raytheon is leaving this part of the world is pretty phenomenal. You must be so pleased with what you have achieved – how long have you been working for this?

Rose - 10½ years.

Rob - 10½ years in FEIC or in general?

Rose - 10½ years in FEIC. FEIC came out of a conference in Derry on the victims of the arms trade, organised by Afri and Children in Crossfire. It had just been announced that Raytheon were coming to Derry and there was a slot where Raytheon had been invited to come along, or the politicians who brought them here, to justify their coming. Neither the politicians nor Raytheon turned up. In the vacuum there was a round table and people decided they wanted to form an organisation which would campaign against Raytheon but for ethical investment in Derry. The group didn’t really gel and come together until the following January, that was January 2000, we had out first meeting up in the Children in Crossfire offices.

Rob – It’s a long haul though a very successful one. What have you been doing for ten years?

Helen – I wasn’t involved in the very beginning but we were finding different ways to highlight the presence of Raytheon, whether it was through vigilling outside the plant, and drawing attention to the fact they were there, also street theatre in town, using visual aids to bring home the reality of war. We organised a citizen's jury which found Raytheon was not welcome in Derry, lobbied the council and got them to adopt a progressive anti-arms trade policy, painted murals in the city centre and the back of Free Derry Wall.

Rob – Do you think the vast majority of people in the city were aware of what Raytheon was up to?

Helen – I think over the years we got good local press coverage. I think most people would have been aware of it. They would have been aware of our position in a passive way.

Rob – One question I wanted to ask was how Raytheon and the people who were supporting it get away with lying about the fact, when it was stated that there was no military contracts. How did they get away with that, and when it was proved that they were doing military-related work?

Jim – I think you’ve got a situation where ‘democracy’ works on the basis that most people are satiated by their consumer rights being delivered. You don’t need to tell them very much through a clever way to answer a particular question or avoid answering a particular question. And then people’s attention goes on to something else. Quite often their lives are under pressure as well so they focus on getting enough money for their holiday or whatever is going on. It’s quite easy to pretend that “Leave it up to us and we’ll sort this out”.

The gift of Raytheon coming to Derry was that it gave us a chance to talk about the fact this is not an acceptable way for us to build peace, it’s supporting wars –

Rob – Or an economy.

Jim – We want to extend the peace process through the way you build your economy and live your life.

Rob – Raytheon are putting a brave face on their departure, talking of restructuring, but I presume no one believes that Raytheon would be leaving if it hadn’t been for the campaigning on the issue.

Jim – I was at a talk there, we showed as part of the Bloody Sunday Programme, we showed the ‘Not in our name’ DVD about the Raytheon 9 intervention. I was quite interested in what Colm said there, he felt that FEIC and others had been campaigning and them as well, in a nonviolent way, as Helen said, using the arts and creative intervention to highlight the presence of Raytheon. They felt that this could go on and on and on and they should do something notably different but they knew that in doing that that they would put themselves on the line a little bit, but they were very happy with the way that it went, they got off. But according to the reports they have heard, and press releases have shown there was a Freedom of Information request by the Londonderry Sentinel, that show part of the reason Raytheon were leaving was that they didn’t have legal cover here, that the courts in letting the Raytheon 9 off meant anything could happen,. There’s people here today [FEIC nonviolent action training workshop] were part of the Raytheon 9 women who went in later on, and they went in with the intention of stopping Raytheon’s operation, that if they could do it they had to do it. And Raytheon feel it could be open season on them.

Rob – In terms of success, it was very much a collective success, the educational work that you did, the actions done by yourselves and Derry Anti-War Coalition.

Jim- When they went to court there were very many things they could draw on to show that there had been the exercise of democracy through peaceful means systematically to the point where they felt, in all conscience, they had to do something more. Derry City Council had the most advanced, most progressive policy on the arms trade probably of anywhere in the UK or Ireland and yet Raytheon were still here. All that history could be drawn on in defence of those are people coming from a democratic position, saying that we are opposing the war, particularly when it was killing individuals that we are able to see on the internet pictures of these people we were killing, and that we can’t in all conscience sit and ignore that that’s happening, and that this plant is up the street.

Helen – I would add a note of cynicism about local politicians. We finally did manage to get them to adopt policies but they didn’t implement them, they just fudged it, that’s my personal opinion.

Rob – And that’s all the local parties?

Helen – Well, a couple were clear that they didn’t support our position at all.

Rose – Some people are saying they’re leaving here but, sure, they’ll go somewhere else. That’s true, they’re going to be somewhere else but it’s as much about making our side clear that we here are against the arms trade, are against war, in solidarity with the people who are directly in the firing line, and people caught in cross-fire. So, there is that message alone, they’re not welcome here. And from that position, from all that campaigning on Raytheon, the years and years that we spent campaigning around it, it’s a springboard, for a positive, ethical life-giving actions and employment.

Rob – Well congratulations to all the people in Derry for a remarkable result.

Jim – What our action over the years, and our educational actions, succeeded in doing over the years was removing the cloak of respectability from the presence of Raytheon in the town. You wouldn’t have known there was anything sinister going on in that building. It had all the endorsements of the political elite in this country and yet they were involved in, and complicit in, the killing of innocents across the world.

ECO-AWARENESS ECO-AWARENESS

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Copenhagen Agreement

It is reasonable to say that humanity had hoped that the climate change talks in Copenhagen would result in a resolution of the conundrum of saving the biosphere and thereby civilization while allowing us to continue with our unsustainable way of living. This did not happen.

The hope was unrealizable and we probably knew this in the same way children of a certain age know that a Santa Clause who visits every home in the world in the course of one night by way of a sledge pulled by reindeer that fly through the sky does not exist while fervently hoping their reasoning is flawed. Although we are an ingenious species our way of life is based on a Santa Clause-type illusion that we can ignore the laws of physics. An example is that we know we can’t have unlimited consumption on a finite planet and that this makes life a misery for billions of people and yet we live as if this were not so. We even prepare our children for a future of kind that is unlikely to exist.

What the outcome of the Copenhagen talks has done is destroy our Santa Clause illusion that politicians can save the biosphere and placed the onus on us to save it by living in an economically just and environmentally sustainable way. This is a daunting challenge involving not only changes in how we live but in how we view our place in the world, our sense of purpose and what we value. Given the radical changes demanded it is not surprising we opt for a continuation of the familiar even though it is a road to oblivion

We have by virtue of our dependency on the biosphere a responsibility to save it. If we don’t accept this responsibility it suggests that Thomas Hobbes’s view of human nature is correct, which is that we are driven by self-concern without regard for others and that empathy, compassion and honesty are mere sentiment.

Meeting the climate change challenge means looking at some of the myths that underpin modernity. A key myth is that humankind is not part of Nature. This is integral to many religions as expressed in the idea that unlike each of the estimated three million species we share the planet with we are the only one whose members do not die. This belief, which can’t be verified, is embodied in the idea that humans have an eternal soul, and underpins our assumption that as God’s favourite we have entitlements other species don’t have. One entitlement is the right to treat Creation as we please including exterminating other species.

Technological developments have also increased our sense of disconnection from the natural world. Today we are so dependent on technology such as cars, phones, computers and industrial farming that many believe they live in a technosphere rather than a biosphere. Occasions such as the recent floods and the present sub-zero temperatures serve to remind us that we are a part of Nature and that it is wise to acknowledge this.

An effective approach to addressing climate change, and other environmental problems, would be to nurture a parent – child / friendship bond with the natural environment. If we did we would, with a few exceptions, protect the entire community of living things thereby ensuring that our economy and culture continue to exist, albeit in a modified environmentally friendly form.

Copyright INNATE 2014