|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Number 205: December 2012
[Return to the related issue of Nonviolence News]
The very regrettable death of prison officer David Black in a shooting engaged in by republicans, and the loyalist violence outside Belfast City Hall and elsewhere concerning whether the Union flag should fly there 365 days a year, both indicate the extent to which Northern Ireland is not an agreed and peaceful society. The old days of the Troubles are over; the new days of peace and harmony are certainly not here, or not here for a significant number of people on both sides of the Northern Ireland political spectrum.
There are a number of republicans and loyalists who do not accept the idea of Northern Ireland moving on and who are stuck with the old militarist and separatist perceived ideals. But their relative size, impotence and powerlessness is reflected, particularly on the republican side, by the use of the term ‘dissidents’ for them. Sinn Féin has taken the vast majority of its supporters with it as it has had a major change of direction over the last few decades and gained many more votes in the process. The remainder of military republicans who reject the peace process and are still committed, in theory or in practice, to armed struggle have tried to reorganise but are still very much on the margins. In loyalism there has been the continuation of some paramilitary structures, territorial control and training, both through a commitment to the loyalist cause and a fair amount of what might be labelled at best economic self advancement through criminality.
The problem is where there is for these people to go. For those, particularly on the loyalist side, involved because of economic gain or status there is no easy alternative route. On both sides the prospects of any of these involved in supporting violence ‘doing a Sinn Féin’ and successfully entering party politics is remote. Sinn Féin have done that on the republican side and, while they have not pulled up the drawbridge, they had a much larger base to work from to begin with and the process took decades. Loyalist paramilitarism has never made more than token political gains through elections. So both are in a wasteland separated by a chasm from ‘ordinary’ politics.
There are people working with both sides to try to assist them to journey in positive directions. It cannot be easy to be a ‘dissident’ on either side – feeling isolated and betrayed, committed in ways which, twenty years ago, would have been ‘normal’ for Northern Ireland but are now frowned on by a much larger proportion of the population. Condemnation from government, political parties and civil society can happen in such a way as to further isolate these people, and make them feel even more justified in their stands.
We have already indicated that there are no easy answers. However education in the reality of ethnic and political minorities in states across the globe is certainly one approach. Few people have the luxury of having exactly the kind of state to live in that they would fully desire. This is where the importance of self confidence in one’s own identity – backed up by recognition of diversities by the state – comes in. Most people in the world have to live in a jurisdiction which they have major issues with. This is not an ideal but it is feature of diversity and there is no alternative unless states get smaller and smaller until they are relatively homogenous ethnically and politically – and to even attempt this is a recipe for disaster as Yugoslavia found at enormous cost to the wellbeing, life and lives of its inhabitants.
So we have to strive for living in pluralist and inclusive societies. The extent to which ethnic and political enclaves could or should be part of this is a difficult question to answer. In the Northern Ireland situation it is difficult to foresee an end to ethnic problems and violence until Catholics and Protestants not only live together, and are educated together, but work and play together as well. We do not have to agree with ‘others’ but if we do not understand what makes them tick then a divided society has a problem.
On the issue of ‘dissidence’ and ‘dissidents’, there is the continuing myth of redemptive violence, exemplified by western powers engaged in the Afghan and Iraq wars. Who are the ‘shining’ examples of people who believe that violence is justified for ‘greater’ ends? Why Tony Blair, George W Bush, David Cameron and Barack Obama of course. How can you expect Northern Irish ‘dissidents’ on either side to give up the violent habits and responses of centuries with these current and recent examples?
To mention nonviolence in this context may almost seem gratuitous given the lengths that some who support armed struggle might seem away from this approach. But we cannot fail to point out that nonviolence is a means of struggle with a far greater chance of success than violence, and requiring no less ingenuity and commitment. Nonviolence can communicate in ways that violence, literally, explodes in the air. Nonviolence provides the opportunity for pride in one’s identity and self confidence that violence cannot emulate. Violence and nonviolence are not ‘opposites’; they are both approaches to situations with a view to changing them. However nonviolence should carry the seeds of future peaceful developments and relationships whereas violence prevents those seeds from germinating.
The concept of nonviolent struggle is an essential one for the future of the world. It is part of our job as peace activists to show how nonviolent struggle can be relevant for all who seek to change the world and their own little corner of it. In INNATE we are happy to assist anyone who wishes to explore the options available within nonviolence and nonviolent struggle.
Not such Gr8 news
Fermanagh was presumably chosen as the venue for the G8 conference next year just as much, or even more, for its remoteness from the mainland of Europe, and difficulties for protesters, as for the availability of top hotels. Just what kind of coup is it to bring the world’s richest and most powerful countries’ leaders together (just) inside the borders of Northern Ireland? As with George W Bush and Tony Blair coming together in Hillsborough (Co Down) at the end of the first stage of the 2003 Iraq War, there are very mixed motives, including the desire to show off Norn Iron squeaky clean (of paramilitary violence) image and for the Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ to hallow the G8’s image.
Protests there certainly will be, and deserve to be, in relation to the policies of these countries. However the media loves a bit of protester violence and it is used to tarnish the image, and confuse the message, of all those doing the protesting. It is important that all those of us who are protesting understand that the medium is the message, and show the alternative political, social, and economic visions that exist. This is easier said than done but with work and imagination we can show that not only do alternatives to current policies exist but that they are both practicable and desirable. Whether the media wants to show non-violent alternatives rather than violent images is a question that remains to be answered. But it is important that we are not thrown off course in our normal work just because an all-singing and all-dancing rich world road show is coming to town.
Those of us living in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Republic, have a job on our hands.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Cause for Despair
Although there is much to celebrate, find wondrous and joyful in today’s world, human folly, cruelty and greed lead one to despair. A case in point is the war in the Congo in which an estimated 5 million people, mostly hard working impoverished villagers have been killed since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The brutality meted out by soldiers of the various armies on civilians, in particular women, sickens. The war gives weight to the William Golding idea that given the circumstances human beings will inflict pain and suffering on others without measure. By all accounts depravity has triumphed in the Congo.
Another cause for despair is that hubris, rather than empathy, determines how we interact with the environment. Since the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962 the billions of words spoken and written about the ruin our consumer culture wreaks on the fragile web of life has not brought about a decline on our reliance on fossil fuels, mono crops and general wastefulness. Our megaphone morality does not prevent the forced displacement of indigenous peoples from lands in which they have lived in environmentally sustainable ways for generations. In almost all cases the hand behind their expulsion is big business and financial speculators who want unfettered access to trees, soil, water and minerals.
The complicated nature of the global political and economic order enables the affluent to use the bounty gouged from the natural environment with a clear conscience. Ecocide and abuse of the poor are inextricably bound-up with our much-loved electronic devices, cosmetics and food. The war in the Congo, mainly in the eastern part of the country, is driven more by the desire of competing interests to control its enormous mineral wealth than by ethnic rivalries or political ideology.
The Congo has deposits of gold, tin, tungsten, tantalum, copper, coltan and cobalt worth trillions of dollars. The country holds 70 percent of the world’s supply of tantalum, a metal used in mobile phones, tablets, i-Pods, laptops and other electronics. The purchase of these goods wrapped now in Christmas tinsel pays for the bullets and boots of the armies in the Congo.
Tin is another vital component of electronic goods. Kate Hodal informs us in The Guardian Weekend, 24 November 2012, that mining tin on Bangka Island, east of Sumatra “has scarred the island’s landscape, bulldozed its farms and forests, killed off its fish stocks and coral reefs ... The damage is best seen from the air, as pockets of lush forest huddle amid huge swaths of barren orange earth, this is pockmarked with graves, many holding the bodies of miners who have died over the centuries digging for tin. Encircling the island are the dredgers and the suction ships and the thousands of illegal pontoons sucking up ore from the seabed like mechanised mosquitoes.”
Hodal’s account describes in microcosm what we are doing to the whole planet in pursuit of what we imagine to be the good life. In an article on Climate Change in New Scientist, 17 November 2012, Steven Sherwood, an atmospheric scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, is quoted as saying that if we “fully ‘develop’ all of the world’s coal, tar sands, shales and other fossil fuels we run a high risk of ending up in a few generations with a largely unliveable planet.”
The idea that in a few generations the Earth may no longer be the home of humankind, and other life-forms, is frightening. Yet the evidence suggests this is precisely the course we are set upon with governments giving more subsidies to fossil fuels than to renewable sources of energy, sanctioning the death of the seas and the loss of biodiversity. The building of the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon and Brazil’s recently enacted Forest Code, the latter will have global environmental consequences, vividly illustrates our relationship with the Earth, which is trashing it for trifles.
The 2012 end of year report card on humankind’s relationship with the environment and action on justice issues fills me with despair.
Wishing all our readers a happy Christmas.
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When we receive comments they are usually informal and not for publication. However we are always happy to publish responses to material in these pages. Here Albert Beale responds to the Readings in Nonviolence piece in the last issue -
Belief and respect
I was stirred to write by one particular thing said in the introduction to the Syadvada article (NN 204): "How ‘I’ can believe what I do and still respect what ‘you’ believe..."
This is the sort of thing I often hear said, and it rather clashes with my own conception of nonviolence. As a nonviolentist, I think it appropriate to try to show respect to and feel human empathy for other people I encounter, and also to show respect for everyone's right to decide their own views and their right to espouse those views (indeed I've frequently demonstrated for people's rights to express views which I personally don't share). However, that in no way implies that I should have any respect whatsoever for those views themselves.
I don't think that a nonviolentist approach requires me to respect the beliefs of others, only to respect their right to hold and express those beliefs. Indeed, there are people I love and admire, some of whose beliefs I find absurd and risible - and I feel no reason not to laugh at views I find ridiculous, irrespective of my respect for the person holding them. I know that some nonviolentists feel the need to avoid "offence", but I feel it would be an insult to someone (and indeed disrespectful to them) to refrain from being frank about my opinion about their beliefs - it would feel as though I thought they were too stupid and weak-willed to be able to cope with criticism and/or the expression of a conflicting viewpoint.
I would go further, and say that this distinguishing between people and their beliefs is one of the key differences between a nonviolent worldview and a militarist one. The idea that you conflate people's ideas with the people holding them is surely what makes people think it right to kill people they disagree with. To me, the unwillingness to "disrespect" the beliefs of others because you think it shows disrespect to them, is just the other side of the militarist coin whereby attacking people's beliefs morphs into attacking the people. Hence a rational approach to nonviolence actually requires us to be prepared to show our honest disrespect of people's ideas if they are indeed ideas that do not command our respect.
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Rob Fairmichael attended the International Peace Bureau council meeting in Dublin in November –
IPB Council in Dublin and Afri Hedge School A disarming event
‘Disarming’ in English can mean two quite different things. So far as the peace movement is concerned it implies the process of disarmament, of overcoming militarism, and building a real and lasting peace. But ‘disarming’ can also imply pleasant and charming in a low key way, possibly through calming hostility and building confidence. I certainly was not hostile to the International Peace Bureau (IPB) to begin with but I think I could describe the IPB council meeting and related conference as being disarming in both senses.
Right, let’s see how many names and acronyms I can get into one paragraph! Asked by Francesco Candelari to represent IFOR www.ifor-mir.org/ at the council meeting of the International peace Bureau www.ipb.org in Dublin I was delighted to accept. As coordinator of INNATE www.innatenonviolence.org – a nonviolence network in Ireland - and a board member of Irish IPB member Afri www.afri.ie who were involved with the visit, it was good to be there. I also have links with the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament www.irishcnd.org who are an IPB member. Having attended IFOR and War Resisters International www.wri-irg.org events internationally and never been at an IPB event it was an opportunity to catch up with them.
There were two or three related events. The first was the IPB council business event. The second was the Hedge School conference which Afri runs in Dublin every autumn but which this time was co-organised with IPB, partly using IPB people as speakers and resource people. IPB’s main theme is ‘Disarmament for Development’. The conference title was “Joining the dots: Disarmament, Development, Democracy.” In addition there was the award of IPB’s Sean MacBride Peace Prize to two prominent women involved in the ‘Arab Spring’.
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, presented the Sean MacBride Peace Prize – and a happy conjunction is that Michael D Higgins was himself the first recipient of the Sean MacBride Peace Prize (named after the distinguished Irish statesman and peace and human rights worker Sean MacBride) twenty years ago, in 1992. Lina Ben Mhenni, a young (under thirty) blogger and activist from Tunisia was one recipient; the second, veteran (over eighty years old) Egyptian feminist and activist Nawal El Sadaawi, was unable to be present but sent a strong and inspiring video. When Lina Ben Mhenni went to photograph bodies of young men killed by the former Tunisian regime she said she was shaking but given strength by the mother of one of the dead who said that she had to show the world what had happened.
Lina Ben Mhenni, in talking about the role of social media in the Tunisian revolution, spoke about its importance but that it began without the use of social media, and there is always the need for people or activists on the ground. She also pointed to the continuation of repression in Tunisia including police brutality under the new regime. Both Annette Willi and Colin Archer of IPB pointed to some of the successes which peace and change movements have achieved; the ban on landmines, ending the Vietnam War and apartheid.
The theme of the conference was also a discussion theme in the IPB council meeting, specifically whether ‘democracy’ should be added as a third ‘d’ to ‘disarmament for development’ in their focus. IPB tries to keep a tight focus to maximise effect and prevent dissipation of effort. We divided into small groups on this issue of a ‘third d’. Some favoured the inclusion of democracy in appropriate projects and contexts but in the small group I was in we were unanimously against a general inclusion; we all favoured the maximum democracy possible, with all that that implies in terms of human rights and respect as well as voting rights, but felt that including it in the mix could be misleading for several reasons. The most prominent reason is that democracies are some of the worst offenders when it comes to war-making (USA, UK) and arms sales (USA, Russia, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Sweden) – and we were informed that 83% of arms sales are from the northern hemisphere selling to the global south.
The IPB council meeting dealt with many other business items. A further issue discussed in small groups in the council was the extent IPB should be involved in nuclear disarmament issues as opposed to assisting coordination in this area. The ongoing importance of building nuclear free zones (NFZs) was one point explored by different people.
1914 is the centenary of the foundation of IFOR – a fact I shared with the IPB council but it is obviously the centenary of the start of the First World War. I think there is an opportunity for peace groups to cooperate across the board in marking the First World War, not just analysing the nationalisms and imperialisms that led to that conflagration, but asking what are the causes of war today, why ‘the war to end all wars’ was just a staging point in humanity’s inhumanity, and what can be done to help us move to a more peaceful future. And, as Ruairi McKiernan pointed out in the conference, you can’t talk about peace without talking about power (and, I would add, its opposite, powerlessness). There should be scope for groups associated with IPB, IFOR, WRI, Pax Christi, and others to work together in marking 1914 and pointing to the war and warmongering going on today (all of these networks list their members on their websites – it may be worth checking if you don’t know who may be near you!).
IPB actually has a very large membership – several hundred, perhaps as much as or even more than IFOR, WRI and Pax Christi put together (though comparing like with like is difficult given different kinds of membership) – but this does not necessarily translate into more active people at a central organisational of staff level, or indeed adequate funding for the work being done. One useful resource, hot off the press in Dublin, was “Opportunity Costs: Military Spending and the UN’s Development Agenda – a view from the International Peace Bureau” (52 pages, A4, it should be available on the IPB website www.ipb.org) How can meaningful development happen in poor countries if money is squandered by the ruling elite on weapons? Less money on arms and armies is essential, in both northern and southern hemispheres.
How can international disarmament and other work for peace be advanced and coordinated? What is the role of the IPB in this? These were the main questions. Clearly it does have an important role in trying to bring together its capabilities and members for disarmament. But opportunities for everyone – from different groups and networks – to work together should include issues to do with 1914 and the First World War, and the Global Day of Action on Military Spending which IPB organises and which will happen on 15th April in 2013.