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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 216: February 2014

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

‘Haass beens’ rule the roost in Northern Ireland

It is difficult to know where to start with the Haass talks in Northern Ireland and their failure before the end of 2013. The saying ‘Blessed are those who expect little for they shall not be disappointed’ comes to mind, but many did expect some sort of fairly weak deal to be cobbled together on some of the issues before the deadline. The issue of flags had already been set aside or parked during the process. However something on dealing with the past, and perhaps on parades, seemed to be doable.

In the event, nothing was agreed. There are those who thought that any agreement would still make little difference on the ground but, nevertheless, the possibility of at least some symbolic agreement might have given a boost to various people working on these issues. Then of course there was the blame game as to who was at fault for the failure of the talks. Richard Haass himself seemed to be implicitly blaming unionists but then they are the people more likely to be satisfied with the status quo in Northern Ireland and less inclined to want to rock any boats, even if they might have liked a replacement for the Parades Commission and a pro-Union flag agreement.

The final draft document has been published, see It is not a radical document, perhaps a fairly mixed bag, and many people wonder why unionists could not sign up to it (the DUP said that the proposals “need much more work” which is perhaps their get-out clause to indicate they are serious about following up the issues involved).

It is debateable whether another body, or couple of bodies, on parading (one to receive notices of parades and do some associated business, one to adjudicate on them) to replace the current Parades Commission would have made much difference but it is also difficult to see what radically different mechanisms on this could be put in place. There are diametrically opposed views on parading through contentious areas, and having a different body making the decisions was not going to make much odds. The Haass proposals did emphasise mediation and negotiation but it is unlikely new structures would make parties any more willing to engage constructively in discussion on the issues. An explicit code of conduct, for paraders and protesters, could be useful in the long term to set a standard for what is already implicit or stated in Parades Commission adjudications.

Parading is accepted as an important cultural phenomenon in Northern Ireland, which it is, but given its links to militarism, and to a macho concept of culture – we are talking about both loyalist and republican parades – we feel that different ways of expressing cultural identity, where it is felt desirable to do so, should be explored. A cultural shift is needed.

Haass proposed a commission “to launch and sustain a conversation about the role of identity, culture, and traditions in the life of the citizens of Northern Ireland”. This would work for one year and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) would have been responsible for any implementation arising from it. Such a discussion could be valuable. However given the failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to agree on anything much in government, it is difficult to see what implementation would have taken place.

On dealing with the past, there was clearly no agreed definition of who was a victim in the Troubles – back to the old issue of those who see all those killed, injured, hurt and badly affected as victims, and those who chose their own definition of ‘innocent’ victims. One of the problems in a complex conflict like Northern Ireland is to realise that individuals can be both victims and perpetrators. This is difficult for many people. But surely everyone who suffers from something, whatever their responses, should be considered a victim, difficult as that may be to accept in certain circumstances.

The difference between the proposed Historical Investigations Unit and the current Historical Enquiries Team regarding deaths from the Troubles is that the HIU would be able to conduct its own investigations, independent of but with the same powers as the PSNI. This certainly might offer a new start and give the families of victims more confidence than they have had with the HET.

The proposal with the Haass report for an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR) is an interesting one. It is proposed that it “should allow those willing to share information to do so without the information supplied in those particular circumstances being admissible in any subsequent court proceedings.” In other words, there is no immunity from prosecution in general, only immunity for information given within that framework. ICIR would be dependent on information given to it and existing files and records; it would not have subpoena powers.

A final body proposed in the Haass report is for an Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG) which would monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the other bodies proposed in the Haass report, play an advisory role, and identify themes for the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval to study.

There were over six hundred submissions to Haass, around as many as to the Opsahl Commission (Initiative ’92) which was an independent commission on ways forward for Northern Ireland in 1992. However when it came to the crunch the Haass talks were about political parties fighting the bit out. And that was the big problem. There was no incentive for the parties to come to agreement, and no groundswell of support expressing the desire for such agreement (as there was with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998). The process became a party political match which ended in stalemate, though the SDLP and Sinn Féin had been willing to sign on the dotted line. Whether the Haass report will gather dust like the Eames-Bradley one on dealing with the past remains to be seen. The issues, however, are not going away, and some of the solutions which Haass proposed will undoubtedly resurface.

Bringing the state into disrepute

The current imprisonment of Margaretta D’Arcy for a nonviolent action or trespass at Shannon Airport in 2012 (another case from 2013 is pending) brings the state in the Republic into disrepute, for a variety of reasons. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has basically said she had done the crime and should do the time, and that he could not interfere in judicial process.

But Margaretta D’Arcy is able to hold her head high for opposing war and Irish collaboration with the USA’s war machine while the state should hold its head down in shame at what it has allowed. The idea that permitting the US military use of Shannon is compatible with Irish neutrality is stark-staringly mad and an argument that the government tries to avoid (as did the previous government). So the focus on this bizarre example of Irish collusion with violence and illegal and immoral wars and warfare is welcome.

Minister Shatter’s expression of lack of involvement in D’Arcy’s imprisonment, or ability to do anything about it, does not stand up. Firstly, it is the government that makes the policies that are being implemented. Secondly it is the government that has decided to continue allowing the use of Shannon Airport to the US military. We should also add that the Irish government uses the total fiction that arms and munitions are not being shipped through Shannon while refusing to inspect planes while there. At the very least, as Shannonwatch has repeatedly pointed out, soldiers will have their personal weapons with them. And even if they did not have any weapons with them, military action is impossible without soldiers, just as soldiers need their weapons to engage in warfare. Whatever the case, Ireland is contributing to US war efforts, and indeed, as proven, illegal acts of various kinds including rendition where the USA has utilised Shannon.

Following the Pitstop Ploughshares action at Shannon, the former Fianna Fáil led government was given an ‘out’ by the US which basically said that they would understand if the Irish government found it too difficult to continue to allow Shannon to be used by the US military. But the craven individuals concerned refused to even take that option, so in love are they with the dollar and US power. Both governments – the former Fianna Fáil led one and the current Fine Gael led one – have treated the public with contempt on this issue when it is clear Irish neutrality is a key value held by people.

The Irish government should end the use of Shannon Airport by the US military forthwith. Yes, the US may use airports in Britain or somewhere else instead but at least a small voice will have been raised against US militarism. It is the least it can do after years of collusion with US warfare. Otherwise the government, and thereby the state, will continue to earn the contempt of anyone who cares for peace or justice in the world.

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ECO-AWARENESS
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Environment and Legal Rights

The ‘discount factor’ is a concept that goes some way to explain life endangering behaviour, which the environmentalist Tim Flannery explains in his book ‘Here on Earth’ (2010). Essentially it means decisions predicated on the view that the future has less value than the present. It involves “taking short-gain even though doing so might cost us immensely in the longer term.” (p.211)

The concept is used by economists and businesses when considering the potential return on an investment. If the return is in the distant future a business is unlikely to invest or will defer investment until economic circumstances are more favourable. The concept is applicable to social life. A person who rates their likelihood of enjoying a happy future as low is more likely than a person who is confident about their prospects to adapt a high risk life-style as they reason that deferred gratification is unlikely to reap any gains. If, for example, they live in a community with a high level of poverty and random violence they might think it is better to get what they want now, by whatever means, as a week hence they could be dead. The ‘discount factor’ also applies to decisions about the environment and human wellbeing. Large corporations and governments are like the reckless person who thinks they have no future and follow the yellow-brick road of economic growth based on the burning of fossil fuels. The model embraces monoculture at the expense of biodiversity and the production of unhealthy foods to the detriment of public health. The rationale is that when eco-collapse occurs, bringing economic and political collapse in its wake, they won’t be around to experience the social disorder and deprivations. A view of the apocalyptic consequences of such economic and political collapse are depicted in The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 Pulitzer winning novel.

An argument used to legitimise the destruction of nonhuman nature through economic growth is that there is no alternative. It is employed by all the major political parties bar the Green Party. On examination the idea that ‘there is no alternative’ is sterile and regressive. It is wilfully blind to the history of humanity which has moved from sheltering in damp caves to living in solar heated homes through the ever-renewed conviction that there are alternatives to contemporaneous norms and believes.

Discounting the value of nonhuman nature through considering it a resource with a market value, as opposed to having intrinsic value, ends with its obliteration. At the time of writing it has been announced that one of most celebrated mega-fauna, the lion, is on the verge of extinction. The orang-utan, tiger, African and Asian elephants are on the endangered list and it is estimated that hundreds of species become extinct every day without us knowing. Ecocide and global warming are happening in our collective now, and everyone, with the possible exception of indigenous people whose way of life is within the regenerative capacities of nonhuman nature, is to some degree responsible.

The extinction of flora and fauna, the degradation of eco-systems, a carbon based economy and economic inequality are not inevitable. We can protect and heal nonhuman nature through recognising its intrinsic value in international law in much the same way as we have done in regard to human rights. Polly Higgins presents the case for an international law against ecocide in her books Eradicating Ecocide (2010) and Earth Is Our Business, (2012). A country that already ascribes legal rights to nonhuman nature is Bolivia. In December 2010 the Bolivian Legislative Assembly passed the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth (Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra).

The law states that “Mother Earth is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings, who are all interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.” The law is backed up by a Ministry of Mother Earth, an inter-Ministry Advisory Council, and an Ombudsman. The law requires the government, business and citizenry to restore damaged environments and transform the economy into one that is environmentally sustainable. It provides a model for other countries to adapt and the impetus, as Polly Higgins advocates, for an international law against ecocide.

The ‘discount theory’ is useful for investors in terms of calculating possible economic returns but to devalue the future based on assumptions about it, however well-founded these may be, is ruinous for individuals and the environment alike. If we see ourselves as having an investment in the future, perhaps in the non-personalised sense of generations of life to come, we will be more inclined to treat the environment with care.

 

Letter from China: Bringing out the best China?

Peter Emerson reflects on a recent period in China

The lights go green, and two tsunamis of traffic rush forward, straight on, turning left, two waves of bikes, cars, busses, two-wheel contraptions and three-wheel concoctions. The two crests merge, and somehow emerge. (Well usually.) This is Běijīng, 北京.

Crowds are everywhere, in every city. Each is a complex of highways and by-ways and four lane dual carriage ways linking shopping malls and conference halls, and amidst them all, shops and stalls, banks of offices and blocks of flats, flats and more flats.

China is different. The family name comes first, and then the first name; which is logical enough. So too with addresses: city, street, house, and then the individual. Their maps are different too, or they were. We in the West draw North at the top. The Chinese cartographer drew as if looking down, from heaven perhaps, with North at the bottom of the page.

China, Zhōngguó, 中国, the Middle Kingdom, is a paradox. The oldest civilisation on earth is still developing. Though proud of itself, it relishes all things western. It has a beautiful script, but nearly all tee-shirts, for example, are in English. The language is also logical: we go to Dublin by train from Belfast, by train from Belfast to Dublin, and our words are in whatever order we fancy. In Chinese, you go ‘from’, ‘by’, and then ‘to’. There’s no other way. And there are no tenses. You put the time in front, so there’s no ambiguity. No tenses, no plurals either, ha, what a simple language. Until you start to speak it or write it, let alone try to understand it. It is non-alphabetical.

Chinese was the parent tongue. Others followed suit, Japanese and Korean for example, with variations on the theme. Indeed, for centuries, China was the superior civilisation, and all countries were to pay obeisance thereto. (Others have also regarded themselves as the centre of things: Britain and the Greenwich meridian, for example.)

But the Empire stagnated. So in the 19th century, other imperial powers – Britain, Russia, USA, and Japan, which had just gone western – forced ‘unequal treaties’ upon the Chinese by the Opium Wars. Hence the 1911 revolution when the last dynasty fell, and China too went western.

Initially, there was mayhem: warlords. Both the Kuomintang and the Communists competed to unite the country but then came the Japanese invasion: 1937. China lost up to 20 million of its own people – some in internal skirmishes, many when Chiang Kai-shek broke the dykes on the Yellow River to slow the Japanese advance, and many (Nationalists more than Communists) in battles with the enemy. Unlike the Soviet Union, however, China was not Churchill’s favoured ally. In 1945, there was yet more war; next the Communists took over, a one-party state, (but so too was the Kuomintang); and then up to another 20 million died in Máo Zédōng’s collectivisation.

Today, the paradox continues. Chinese communism is unabashed capitalism. Yet still the West complains, firstly, about state propaganda – not unlike our own, Britain standing alone against the forces of evil in 1939, etc.; secondly, over their democracy. But what would you do if you had to control the traffic on Chinese streets? (To mention just one small item.) A population of 1,300 million, a little short of one thousand Northern Irelands; how do you distil so many opinions so that “the will of the people” may rule? China uses what they call ‘consultative democracy’. It’s far from perfect.

But look at it from their point of view. When the USSR broke up, there were wars in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Worse was to follow in Yugoslavia, not least because the EU recommended majority voting, majoritarianism, {the Russian word for which, by the way, is (or was) ‘bolshevism’}.

If China today were to adopt this sort of adversarial democracy, with political parties and all, there would almost certainly be a Uighur party in Xīnjiāng with other Moslem parties elsewhere; a Tibetan party in Tibet, with branches in neighbouring provinces; ethnic parties in the South, a Mongolian party in the North; and China could all too easily break up in bitterness and war. Surely anything would be better than that. Ask a Bosnian!

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Peter Emerson of the de Borda Institute recently visited China on a three month lecture/study tour.

Comments are welcome about this piece, as with all material in Nonviolent News, but please state if comments are not intended for publication - Editor

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Copyright INNATE 2014