|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
It is an interesting time in human awareness about ourselves. It is becoming clear that there have been a variety of human species about on Earth beyond ‘homo sapiens’. And modern research and thinking on genetics show things are not quite a simple as Darwinian evolution might have led us to believe, in terms of gene swapping between species, the possibility of lifestyle passing on traits to future generations, and so on. Some of the simplicities in the way ‘we’ thought about ourselves are out the window. But that is what happens with the advancement of scientific knowledge; the current generation thinks it understands most of what there is know about life and the universe, only for this to be overthrown later and new generations looking back on the ‘primitive’ beliefs of their predecessors.
How does this state of flux relate to our beliefs on peace and nonviolence? There is a tendency to think of humanity, or certainly the male gender, as naturally violent in some ways. And there is much violence associated with humanity, predominantly and especially men. But what is this a product of? Our genes? Or our jeans (= lifestyle and culture)? Or both? Our knowledge of the socialisation process is still relatively underdeveloped, and theories which portray young boys as being violent and enjoying violent fantasy games are not able to escape from the possibility that parenting and adult responses to them, and more obviously enculturation through present giving and expectations, set them up in a particular way of thinking and being.
It would also be mistaken to deny the possibilities of specific traits associated with gender. Men may have some ‘natural’ characteristics which make them be more violent or enjoy the portrayal of violence more than women. But what we can say categorically is, even if this is the case (and we are not necessarily saying this is true but may be true) that culture and beliefs can overcome such violent tendencies – or, indeed, reinforce them - wherever they come from. People can grow, morally, nonviolently, spiritually (using this term in a wide sense to include secular belief systems as well as religious) and this is true both individually and collectively. Armies spend a lot of time training their soldiers to kill though the job these days may be partly done by violent computer games. Men can be as gentle, nurturing, caring, compassionate – and nonviolent – as women. The spectrums of violence and nonviolence across the genders may differ but there is much overlap.
We would like to think that Northern Ireland is building a culture of peace and cooperation rather than grudging coexistence. But the verdict of the jury on this is far too early. As yet Northern Ireland is an island of division with oases of cooperation. But building Catholic-Protestant reconciliation in Northern Ireland is only one small aspect of building a peaceful society. What is the point of having no violence between Catholics and Protestants if that simply means it is easier for the British Army to recruit people to fight in its military campaigns in Afghanistan or Iraq, or wherever. And the Republic, for years proud of being militarily ‘neutral’, acts as an aircraft carrier at Shannon for the military machine of the dominant world power, the USA, and goes along, at least as a fellow traveller, with the increasing militarisation of the EU. And what is the point of being peaceful internationally if women are beaten and intimidated in homes all over Ireland?
So building peace is far from simple. Collectively we have to tackle many different issues at the same time. But if we believe in ourselves, and the possibilities that exist to bring change, we can move mountains – or, in the case of ecological movements, prevent their being moved, even if we are building foundations for the future which are painstakingly slow to realise. This is partly where nonviolent education and training come in. We need extensive exploration of the possibilities that exist to be nonviolent and to achieve results nonviolently, and this is often quite counter-cultural, or, if it is not counter-cultural, understanding and acting on culture in a subtly different way. INNATE tries to do just some of this.
We can learn about the possibilities of nonviolence from simply looking around us, and around the world, and at experiences of past leaders such as Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Michael Davitt and so on. However, important as they are, we would not over-emphasise the role of ‘great’ nonviolent leaders because the more we revere them and hold them apart, the more we can feel nonviolence is for a saintly few rather than for everyone. We can learn much about nonviolence from the struggles of ‘ordinary’ people living extraordinary lives, whether in extraordinary or mundane circumstances, and in different parts of the world, who see the possibilities of nonviolent struggle and embrace it and the possibilities of change at a profound level.
The Seville Statement on Violence (1986) stated quite categorically that it is “incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.” Scientifically speaking, the jury is still out on this – there are differences of scientific opinion, including differences within particular disciplines. But one of the concluding sentences of the Statement is that “The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace” and we feel that this statement is arriving at a greater truth. Even if humanity does have some violent tendencies it is possible that we can rise though them, and above them to a better future for all. Above all we would say we can if we think we can – and put the work and dedication required into the channels of peace rather than war.
Violence in Irish history is often considered a fact of life or the norm – which is why we developed our “Nonviolence – the Irish experience – Quiz’ . In countering this proposition that violence is inherent or innate (sic!) we can do no better than refer to the Céide Fields in north Mayo which is the largest known enclosed (it is stone walled) Neolithic settlement in the world. This was a peaceful, stable, agricultural community with evidently no enemies, and no signs of stratification (the post holes show the houses to have been the same size) four and a half thousand years ago. Even if violence is part of our human heritage there are other aspects which we can build on and from; our nonviolent and cooperative tendencies are certainly ‘innate’.
So the answer to the question “Can we build a nonviolent society?” has to be – Yes we can. Time and work are required to get there, along with much patience, but if we journey in the right direction then we can arrive eventually. But we should not put too great an emphasis on distant goals which will be the result of decades of change. We need to know where we are trying to reach, certainly, and have a plan to get there but we should also celebrate all the smaller achievements along the way, remembering the grain of truth in the adage that “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” Along the way we will doubtless learn a huge amount more about the twists and turns of how humanity got to the stage it is today but all the time we will be defining and refining what it means to be indeed human.
On 12th January 2009, nine women - Roisin Barton, Roisin Bryce, Betty Doherty, Goretti Horgan, Diana King, Jackie McKenna, Sharon Meenan, Helen Reynolds and Julia Torrojo – occupied Raytheon Systems Ltd in Derry.
This was the third time members of Derry Anti-War Coalition had occupied Raytheon. The first was in 2003. Then in 2006, during the Israeli assault on Lebanon, nine men successfully disabled the server at Raytheon. They were charged under the Criminal Damages Act. After a lengthy trial, all of them were acquitted, having proven that they acted to prevent a greater crime.
The women acted with similar determination. We didn’t go to Raytheon simply to protest against the war on Gaza or to get media coverage. We had one aim – to get to the company’s mainframe computer and disable it. Executives from Raytheon admitted during the men’s trial that they have a ‘one company’ policy, so if the mainframe goes down in Derry, it will have a knock on effect on the rest of the company. If our actions could delay even one Raytheon bomb being dropped on Gaza, save one life, then it was our responsibility and legal duty to do anything in our power to prevent it.
We believed, and still believe, that the assault on the people of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces, which began on 27th December 2008, involved war crimes. We had seen these crimes repeated, night after night, on TV. Israel ignored the worldwide appeals and protests for it to stop. There was no intervention by the UN or by any state to protect the Palestinian people. By 12th January 2009, hundreds of innocent men, women and children had been murdered, thousands injured and tens of thousands made homeless, and there was no way of knowing when the Israeli Government would decide to end this slaughter.
Raytheon Systems Ltd has a “special relationship” with the Israeli State, and Raytheon facilitated Israel’s stockpiling of weapons in preparation for the assault on Gaza. Many of the bombs being dropped on the Palestinians were made and supplied by Raytheon Systems Ltd.
Unfortunately we were unable to gain access to the mainframe computer because of enhanced security since the action in 2006. We refused to leave the building until we were assured by the PSNI that they would investigate our allegations against Raytheon of complicity in war crimes. They allowed us to present our evidence to them a few days later but, as expected, nothing came of this.
As a result of this action, we are facing trial on 4th May 2010 at Belfast High Court. All of us are charged with burglary with intent to commit unlawful damage, two of us with unlawfully damaging a security keypad to the cost of £437, two with assaulting a security guard and one with kicking a steel door. We have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges put to us.
The heavy handed tactics of the PSNI at the demonstration in support of our action resulted in five other people – James King, Brian McFadden, Rory McDermott, John McMonagle and Kieran Gallagher facing charges alongside us on 4th May, including assault, obstruction, and criminal damage. However, the DPP have decided that a PSNI constable will not face charges of assaulting a pregnant woman during the same ‘scuffle’.
We are pleased to report that as of 28th February 2010 Raytheon have pulled out of Derry. The sustained campaign by anti-war activists won. It is a major victory for peace activists throughout Ireland and Britain.
To help with solidarity for the Raytheon 14, e-mail email@example.com or ph 07740988321 (Sharon, Derry) or ph 07534269417 (Donal, Belfast) or on facebook.com - Solidarity with the 14 Raytheon Accused
Another world is possible: learning from each other's struggles
For decades community groups, the women's movement and other social justice movements have been the driving force behind equality in Ireland, while global justice activists have highlighted the crisis of climate change and neo-liberalism. As economies falter and social partnership collapses, what do we already know about how to change the world? This course brings together experienced activists in community education and social movements with those interested and motivated about social justice to create new knowledge and develop alternatives. Do you want to join us on this learning journey?
What is this course?
How can we bring about social justice and environmental survival in Ireland and beyond? This course will offer some answers to this question with a view to enabling students to think about how to build real alternatives to challenge existing structures of oppression and injustice. It seeks to develop the capacity of ordinary people to change the world through community education, grassroots community activism and social movement campaigning.
One of the main forces behind positive social change in Ireland and globally has always been "people power": those who were not "on the inside", without property, status or power coming together to push for change where it was needed. Community activism, the women's movement, global justice campaigners, self-organising by travellers and new Irish communities, trade unions, GLBTQ campaigning, environmentalism, international solidarity, anti-racism, anti-war activism, survivors of institutional abuse, human rights work, the deaf movement and many other such movements have reshaped our society and put human need on the agenda beside profit and power. Participants have developed important bodies of knowledge about how to do this, which are fundamental resources for anyone trying to make a better world possible.
The Departments of Sociology and Adult & Community Education are collaborating to develop thinking about critical pedagogy in community education; power and praxis in social movements and understandings of equality, transformation and sustainability. Our commitment to the public use of academic knowledge is a long-standing one and we have a wide range of practical experience as well as research-based knowledge. This includes involvement with social movements, community activism and issue-based campaigning; media work and public debate; active involvement in political parties, trade unions and lobbying groups; community education and literacy; development and human rights work. Our student body is very diverse, with a wealth of different experiences and a strong tradition of involvement in community development and social activism.
Three core strands of thinking will be explored in this course –
1. Critical and praxis-oriented forms of thinking: critical adult and community education; critical media and cultural pedagogy; knowledge for social change; critical social and political theory; community art; politics of knowledge, utopian imagination and social change.
2. Understanding equality and inequality: economics of equality; development education; politics of gender; environmental justice; politics of sustainability; political economy and alternatives to capitalism; the search for good work; world-systems analysis.
3. Power, politics and praxis: social movements; active citizenship; critical community development; participatory and radical democracy; popular praxis; skills for grassroots organising; history and politics of social change; revolutionary theory and practice.
The course content is all taught from the standpoint of "praxis": the understanding that theory without practice is meaningless, while practice without theory is likely to fail. The basis of our work is dialogue between reflective practitioners, systematically including both elements.
Both Departments have a long history of attracting students who are concerned about social and global justice and keen to draw on their analytical skills to develop a professional life in these areas. This includes a body of mature students who have already had such an engagement and want to develop their practice further. This programme is designed to meet the needs of this diverse cohort of potential or continuing students. This includes those involved in adult learning, community development, social movements, grassroots activism, workers in NGOs and state agencies, and advocates with minority groups.
The course is geared to bringing together the best of practitioner skills in the field with the best of academic research. Our workshops are not traditional classroom experiences but draw on our extensive experience with community, popular and radical educational practice to bring out and work with participants' existing knowledge. We bring our own lived experience into the classroom, and encourage other participants to do the same, creating a conversation between practitioners in which students are not passive learners and teachers are not unquestioned experts.
This full-time MA programme consists of 90 Post Graduate credits, at Level 9 on the Qualifications Framework. Students will complete the Thesis and Research Module (30 credits), four core modules (10 credit) and select 20 credits from the rest of the programme of elective modules 5 credit each). The programme will offer a choice of 3 elective modules per semester, of which, students will complete 2.
Participants will leave the course with a deeper understanding of how the politics of equality and inequality works in a range of substantive areas. They will have developed the skill of practicing "politics from below": active citizenship, civil society, community education and development, social movements and other forms of popular agency. They will have gained skill as a reflexive researcher, developed their writing and presentation skills and completed a practice-based research project.
The course involves two days a week on campus (typically Monday and Tuesday) over two twelve-week semesters, along with independent reading and study which you should expect to take another two days equivalent during the rest of the week. Your thesis, which is usually linked to an activist project you are involved in or aiming to develop, typically takes about four months after the end of formal classes.
For more information, please contact the Dept. of Adult and Community Education, NUI Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+353-1) 7083937. The course website is http://ceesa-ma.blogspot.com We're launching the course with a "Masked Activists' Ball" in Seomra Spraoi on Thursday, April 15th (details on the website); why not join us?
Please forward this to anyone you know who may be interested.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Education and Empowerment
As a post-industrial society we pride ourselves on having a highly educated populace, while the internet and other technologies and services have made information more accessible than at any time in the history of civilization. It is not only information as raw data that is readily available but evaluation, analysis and opinion, as well as inventions, discoveries, diaries, ancient manuscripts and exquisite art. In addition, travel to faraway countries is cheaper and more convenient than it has ever been allowing the average wage earner to experience what was once considered remote and exotic.
In spite of the accessibility of knowledge and different experiences many of us live in ignorance about how the world actually works. I am inclined to the view that it is ignorance, rather than lack of empathy and compassion, which is the cause of much human suffering, structural inequalities and the destruction of the life-support systems of our planet.
As recent events have shown institutions that shape our mindsets and determine the menu of what we can chose from have a vested interest in keeping us ignorant and fearful. The revelations in Ireland, Germany the United States and other countries about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, brothers and sisters and the role the Church hierarchy has played and continues to play in keeping this abuse secret has served to dethrone the moral and theological authority of the Catholic Church in the eyes of the faithful and beyond. This is shattering for people who, aware of corruption in politics and commerce, considered the official Church to be the one institution they could rely on, a paragon of goodness acting as they believed on the revealed word of God. What now for those for whom the Church gave their life meaning and provided a model of what it means to live a good life?
In an article published in the Fermanagh Herald in response to Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter concerning the sexual abuse of children the respected Fr. Brian Darcy said: “I came through an organisation where I was brainwashed, no question about it, it was benign but malignant to me.” His observation could be applied to almost all the institutions we rely on to do the right thing on our behalf. Transnational corporations brainwash us to buy their products and accept their mythology through their 24/7 advertisements. These advertisements keep us in ignorance of the human and environmental story behind their products. Chocolate for instance is sold as romance, evoking sunny carefree days or as a way of saying thank you. Panorama on BBC1, 24 March, showed that the cocoa beans used in many of our favourite chocolates are harvested by children sold into slavery. When we bite into most chocolate we are benefiting from the toil and suffering of these child slaves. However, as Panorama showed we would not do this if we knew this was the case.
If we knew about the human and environmental costs of how we live we would almost certainly change our patterns of behaviour, and as a result the transnational companies who knowingly benefit from human suffering and environmental destruction would change accordingly. The last line in John Gray’s recent review in The Guardian of the book The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin reads: “Empathy won’t save us.” However, enlightenment might. As Fr. Brian Darcy said in his article “Eventually you have to claim your own life and rationality, your own ability to have a critical sense of judgement and your own sense of goodness, nobody can do it for you.” In other words, responsibility for educating ourselves about how political and economic systems work as well as critically evaluating religious beliefs and cultural norms lies with us. Education is empowerment. Empowerment enables us to act well in the world, to be good eco-citizens, and therein we can find meaningfulness and purpose.