|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
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If there is one shocking statistic to emerge this year in Ireland (the Republic) it is that 49 people in direct provision accommodation during the asylum seeking process have killed themselves in the last ten years. Forty-nine. So presumably rather more have attempted to kill themselves. What, you might ask, has driven 49 people, approximately five a year on arithmetic average, to kill themselves while they are awaiting the result of their asylum claim in Ireland? We don’t know but we can guess. However there have been a number of reports on direct provision so we can state quite categorically the conditions that people living there have.
With little freedom or privacy and often cramped conditions, no dietary choice, no opportunity to work or study, no money worth speaking of (€19.10 for adults and €9.60 for children) and being accommodated with people they do not get on with (at times, people or categories of people who have been perpetrators in their home environment), there may be relentless boredom and/or a feeling of being trapped. The Minister said around 50,000 people had been accommodated in direct provision since 2002 although obviously not that many at any one time but this still represents something like one in a thousand killing themselves. There are still currently over five thousand asylum seekers in direct provision, almost half for a period of three or more years. This is incredibly unjust. To flee persecution in your home environment and, having escaped, find yourself trapped in a soul-sapping situation in Ireland must be beyond endurance for some.
Despite the economic recession, the decline in the numbers of those seeking asylum to a small proportion of the numbers at its peak should be an opportunity to adopt a more humane system and faster processing of people’s claims so there is light at the end of their tunnel and they can get on with their lives. There were only 1,939 asylum applications made last year. There are other aspects of the asylum system seriously awry; the lowest percentages of granting refugee status in Western Europe for people from strife-torn countries, and a higher rate of giving status on appeal, both indicate things are not right with the Irish asylum process. Only 1.1% (24 people) were given refugee status last year; this is an incredibly, unbelievably low rate.
Clearly a hundred thousand welcomes in Ireland is restricted to people with a healthy credit card. A welcome of some kind for people seeking asylum, and humane treatment while their claim is efficiently assessed, is not too much to expect, in fact it is part of international law. The world’s burden of refugees is, disproportionately, borne by poor countries so any idea that Ireland is ‘suffering’ because of a refugee burden should be firmly kicked out of the playing field. It is the refugees who are suffering and, incredibly, some after they arrive in the ‘safe haven’ of Ireland.
It’s a riot
The rioting in and around Short Strand in east Belfast recently, including as it did gunshots on both sides and one person, a journalist, injured by them, represent something of an escalation from recent norms. Rioting and trouble are still normal in places in the North in summertime, largely because of the ‘marching season’ but also because better weather makes such events easier to happen.
This was clearly more than ‘recreational rioting’ but even that slightly dismissive but not always inaccurate label hides a multitude of truths. Why are young people, primarily, motivated to acts of violence and rioting? The police clearly blamed the UVF. If rioting happened everywhere teenagers and young people were bored then the world would be awash with riots all the time. Of course cultural ‘traditions’ of such rioting can be a factor but adrenalin alone cannot explain it; clearly, however inchoate, people see themselves as fighting for or against things worth fighting for or against.
Short Strand is, in a sense, where the Troubles ‘came in’, and it’s remarkable how the phase ‘plus ça change plus c’est la même chose’ was never truer than here. You hope that this time such attacks will not occasion the emergence of new paramilitarism. In this case a lot of people got involved very fast, on both sides of the situation and from elsewhere, to try to deal with issues arising, and the situation calmed.
But it comes back to the point which we seem to repeat ad nauseam: the lack of violence, and indeed rioting, should not be understood as ‘all being well’. Clearly if there are killings or this kind of rioting then all is not well. But we need more sophisticated indices to judge the wellbeing of a troubled and divided society like Northern Ireland. And without a very significant amount of work done at all levels then Northern Ireland is vulnerable to history repeating itself, and we have had enough of that kind of ‘history’ but the approach of the two largest political parties, who themselves emerged from the Troubles, may be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – but the verdict should be more like ‘out of their minds’.
The film ‘Countdown to Zero’ again puts a welcome spotlight on nuclear weapons; they haven’t gone away, you know. The US and Russian nuclear arsenals may have reduced by half from their peak during the Cold War but they are still a gigantic risk, a gargantuan waste of money, and these alone are a severe risk to the globe. Factor in the other countries who have nuclear weapons or could develop them in the near future, including a variety in the Middle East in addition to Israel who already holds them, and the risk is phenomenally high (there are currently something like 23,000 warheads). And this is before mentioning non-state armed groups who would like to arm themselves with a nuclear weapon or two. As the film says, if you have a risk anything above zero then the chance is that, eventually, that risk will become reality.
There have already been two upsurges of anti-nuclear weapons activity, one at the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s, and another in the 1980s.The time is always right for another upsurge in activity. The fact that weapon numbers have been reduced by agreement between the USA and Russia holds out some hope for further reductions. But we have to ask whether politicians are willing to take risks for peace or whether they will continue to imagine they are ‘playing safe’ in nuclear-weapon holding countries, such as the UK, when what they are doing is playing safe with their political future but playing unsafe with the world and its future. Nuclear Non-Proliferation – in which Ireland and Frank Aiken played an honourable role at the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s – may be a good idea but in the end it has not worked. If my enemy has a weapon then I am likely to want that weapon to, if I am thinking in conventional militarist terms.
There is an old nuclear disarmament slogan that ‘unilateralists are multilateralists who mean it’, in other words people who support nuclear disarmament on a unilateralist, one-country basis, are prepared to be bold and imaginative while multilateralists are always waiting for someone else to do or decide something and so nothing happens. INNATE would, obviously, support unilateral disarmament but there is also the possibility, if momentum is built up, of synchronised multilateral disarmament – you destroy yours and I’ll destroy mine.
The ‘Countdown to Zero’ film showed many of the ‘near misses’ that have happened, either in terms of dropped bombs, crashes, or radar and intelligence indications of nuclear strikes –more innocent explanations coming through geese, non belligerent missiles, or computer chip failure. We have been lucky so far. But the game needs changed. The film made the valid point about why, twenty years after the ending of the Cold war, are nuclear weapons on standby for immediate attack?
Maybe Global Zero (www.globalzero.org) will help to grow a new generation of anti-nuclear activity and planning. Lots of politicians make positive noises about wanting to see disarmament but what we need to see is actual disarmament, those words turned into action, and that is only likely to happen through citizen action and pressure. Of course citizens can do their own, independent anti-nuclear activities but it should be noted that Irish CND is still working away and would be delighted to hear from you via http://irishcnd.org or contact Irish CND, P.O.Box 6327, Dublin 6, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and subscription rates to join are very reasonable.
Over to you.
[Billy King takes a more acerbic review of the ’Countdown to Zero’ film in his Colm in this issue.]
Gaza: The shame of the West
You can understand why the Israeli state, including its military agents, took steps to nobble the Freedom Flotilla Two and prevent it even getting near Gaza. They wanted to avoid overt military action, which went so disastrously wrong the last time, and had such negative international repercussions for the image of Israel; instead they went for covert action and strong diplomatic pressure on Greece. But US and Greek collusion with such action is a disgrace. It can be argued that Gaza is the biggest prison camp in the world and the Israeli blockade is certainly unjustified and unjustifiable; if Israel was only concerned about importation of arms they could easily put procedures in place which would deal with their fears as well as possible.
The identical attacks on the Irish boat, MV Saoirse, and the Scandinavian-Greek boat berthed in Greece, cannot be a coincidence. The Irish government should be demanding clear and unequivocal answers from the Israeli state about sabotage which risked Irish and many other lives. Freedom Flotilla Two is in the best traditions of nonviolent action, directly challenging unjust and oppressive action by trying to break the blockade. Those involved are genuine humanitarians, many with a trade union background, and deserve our thanks and support in what is clearly a risky venture for themselves.
The collusion of the West with Israeli state oppression of Palestine and Palestinians is unconscionable. Of course Israel has real security fears which need dealt with but in the long run power coming from the barrel of a gun, as Israeli power over Palestine does, is unsustainable. The West, and particularly the USA which more than any other country underpins and sustains Israeli state intransigence, should hang its head in shame that it has tolerated for so long a situation which is so unjust and oppressive, and a land grab of much of Palestine which is breathtaking in its colonialism. Unfortunately recent events with Freedom Flotilla Two prove to be just another act in the West’s tolerance of the intolerable. We want Israel and Palestine to live in peace and freedom, not fear and oppression, and peace and freedom can only come through a just solution.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
The Illusion of Consumption
Surprise, Surprise! The Christmas big sell has already got under way and our children have hardly had time to put away their school uniforms for the summer. Just a few days after the summer solstice, The Times newspaper promoted a Christmas competition. By the time children return to school in September shops will be selling Christmas cards and a few weeks later children will be bombarded by advertisements selling a glitzy variety of toys which they will ask Santa to give them. We are so submerged in the consumer culture that advertisements have become the unnoticed background noise of daily life.
Shopping is considered a therapy, a form of entertainment, a way of expressing one’s sense of identity and an integral part of every holiday experience. For many of us it is the raison d’être for living. Governments and think thanks consider shopping essential to economic growth and many shoppers regard it as a panacea for fulfilment and happiness. The mantra is ‘consume and all will be well’.
The degree to which consumerism has become part of our culture is demonstrated by the ridicule heaped on those who call for less growth. To suggest a non-growth philosophy is tantamount to heresy. A politician who advocates non-growth would have as much chance of serving in government as an atheist being elected to the White House. According to the visionary writer E.F. Schumacher the belief “that someone who consumes more is ‘better off’ than someone who consumes less,” has become entrenched in our society. This belief is a fundamental tenet of global capitalism. It is a creed devout Muslims in the Arab World share with devout Christians in Europe and the United States.
Looking for a fulfilled life through consumption when we know that consumption is causing the destruction of the biosphere upon which the global economy is based is double-think. The consumer mindset is like that of children of a certain age who can be completely engrossed in a fairy tale while knowing that it is not true.
Given the amount of quality research done on the topic few could now deny the causal link between the earth’s poor environmental health and the global consumer culture. Scientists and military planners in both the Pentagon and the Kremlin are concerned that the Earth’s life-support systems could collapse within a few generations. The International Programme on the State of the Ocean, whose aim is to save the earth and all life on it, published a report in June that makes grim reading. It tells us that the seas are degenerating faster than anyone predicted.
The marine American oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle commenting in The Independent, 21 June 2011, writes: “The ocean is a living system that makes our lives possible. Even if you never see the ocean, your life depends on its existence. With every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, you are connected to the sea.” An unhealthy ocean is as much a threat to human wellbeing and survival as the rise in the Earth’s temperature.
If we continue to live in a fairy tale world of mindless consumption we will never build a fair, stable and sustainable economy. If we don’t build a sustainable economy the earth’s health will deteriorate and we will perish as a species. Given the intractable nature of our economic, social and environmental problems the challenges involved are enormous. The greatest challenge we face is waking up to the fact that consumerism, in other words, continual economic growth, is an illusion.
E.F. Schumacher had a lot to say about the follies of continual economic growth. This year, the 100th anniversary of his birth is a timely occasion to read his classic Small is Beautiful.