January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
So, as part of the peace process, and as part of respecting everyone, what are we obliged to do? Who are we obliged to be? We ask this question in the context of the unionist and loyalist furore over the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Niall Ó Donnghaile, refusing to present a youth award to a member of a British Army cadet force.
The first obligation we have is to be ourselves, and for others to be themselves. Part of this is that we need to be honest and not pretend we are happy with situations when we are not. In order for us to be ourselves and others to be themselves, this means also understanding why others choose to be, or simply are, as they are. This does not mean that we necessarily agree with why they are as they are but it does mean we understand, or try hard to understand, the reasons why. By this criterion, loyalists are quite right to protest about the example above but it is also clear that they do not understand why the Lord Mayor did as he did. They have a right to disagree with his choice; they are wrong to not try to understand why he refused to present the award.
A second obligation is to try not to give offence to others, and to take their susceptibilities into account. Regarding this criterion, the situation was badly handled by the Mayor and his advisors as this situation should have been dealt with at an earlier stage, rather than at the event itself. If a ceremony like this goes wrong then it is probably bound to cause offence. The Mayor said he was only told at the last moment that an award was to be presented to a cadet force member. These awards have been taking place at the Belfast City Hall for twenty years.
One of the ironies of the peace process is the normalisation of violence in Northern Ireland where it comes to the British Army and its institutions. There has only been disarmament in Northern Ireland by the paramilitaries (and not all of them) and the withdrawal of British army forces who were present because of the conflict. The supposedly ‘normal’ British army presence in Northern Ireland continues both through the adult British Army at barracks and the Cadet Forces which inculcate British military values in schools (Protestant only) and Queen’s University, as well as there being more active army recruiting than during the Troubles. But not only do the army cadet forces inculcate British military values, they are primarily there as a means of leading young people to choose a career in the British army. And the British army is the military wing of the British state which has inculcated chaos and death on a massive scale in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name two recent examples. For anyone with values which includes peace and nonviolence to encourage or condone the institutions of the British Army or associated with the British Army is to support a violent approach to life and to the world.
We are implacably opposed to the indoctrination of young people into military ways of thinking, of whatever form, by either state or non-state institutions. The UK does not even adhere to international laws by its recruitment of ‘adult’ soldiers below the age of 18. But inculcating military thinking among young people being members of army cadet forces in schools, from early teenage years, is the bottom of the barrel. Supposedly there for young people’s development, army cadet forces are there for the young people’s military development, in the context of the British armed forces. The young people are not there out of the goodness of the military’s heart.
We would not approach the issue of awards to British army cadets from the same point of view as the current Lord Mayor of Belfast. But we would fundamentally agree that British Army cadets have no place at a civilian youth awards ceremony. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards – whose connection with the British establishment comes through its founder and eponymous patron – should have made the difficult decision not to give its awards in Northern Ireland to anyone associated with the military because is fundamentally sectarian and one-sided. But that would be expecting too much and is highly unlikely to happen.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Climate Change & Culture
To other species we are the monster depicted in children’s stories. While lions, tigers and great white sharks kill the occasional human, often as a consequence of our depriving them of their natural prey, we cause species to become extinct.
Our ancestry has a linage of 100,000 years, which means we are recent arrivals. By way of contrast, the crocodile has existed for 200 million years and the Leatherback turtle for 260 million years. Homo sapiens began to alter ecosystems in a significant way with the advent of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. In the 250 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have caused the extinction of thousands of species of fauna and flora, levelled mountains, changed the course of major rivers, dried up inland seas, and caused acid rain, the destruction of the ozone layer and global warming.
From an estimated 5 million humans 10,000 years ago we number 7 billion today. Growing by 80 million a year we could number 10.5 billion by 2050. From the point of view of other species humankind is the apocalypse. From an ethical point of view it is disturbing that we, as self-reflecting creatures with the ability to monitor, record and debate the consequences of our behaviour, have done very little to accommodate other species and consider the environmental legacy we are leaving our children.
In spite of what science has informed us about climate change, and the commitments governments have made to act on that science, we have effectively done nothing to prevent the temperature of our planet rising above 2C. It is thought that a rise in temperature beyond this will be catastrophic for life on Earth. According to Fiona Harvey in The Guardian, 10 November, “emissions must be held to no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the level is currently around 390ppm. The International Energy Agency (IEM) calculates that the limit of the amount of carbon dioxide we can ‘safely’ put into the atmosphere will be reached by 2017. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEM, is quoted as saying that if “we don’t change direction now on how we use energy ... the door will be closed forever.”
Although various eco sirens alert us to the need for change the world is on course to build enough fossil-fuelled power stations, factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years to make it impossible for us to prevent the Earth’s temperature rising above the critical 2C. The lethargy of governments in addressing climate change is evidenced by Chris Huhne, the Climate Secretary, who ahead of the Durban climate change conference said that the UK, along with other rich countries, set 2020 as the deadline for the enforcement of any international climate change policy. This is akin to the fire department saying that it will turn up at the site of a fire after everything has been burnt to the ground.
The Irish, U.K., and U.S. governments have spent billions bailing out their banks. Trillions have been spent on fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and most countries spend a considerable part of their treasury in preparation for war. In 2010 global military spending amounted to $1,630 billion. (The New Internationalist December 2011) Why the complacency in regard to mitigating climate change whose consequences might bring about the painful end of civilization within the life time of many of us alive today? Sir David Attenborough voices a similar view in his final BBC episode of Frozen Planet when he suggests that the changes taking place at the poles as a result of our greenhouse gas emissions will lead to drastic consequences across the globe.
I proffer the following explanation for our complacency on the issue of climate change. a) We fail to see that the belief in unlimited economic growth is an illusion; b) We are wedded to the discredited belief that ever increasing levels of wealth lead to ever increasing levels of happiness; c) Many of us lack a sense of personal connection with non-human nature, and d) We don’t have the resolve to live in accordance with one of the core teachings of the major religions, which is do unto others as you would have them do to you. If we abided by this ethic we would be living in an equitable and eco-sustainable way.
As culture is made rather than ordained positive change is possible.