January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
The success by Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militant Islamist grouping in Syria and Iraq, in pushing out Iraqi government forces from northern or north-western Iraq is staggering. It means that the US-UK-'western' intervention in Iraq in the invasion and war of 2003 was a complete and utter failure. But it is much more than that; the US-UK invasion created the militant Islamism which is now 'coming home to roost' – if hawks can be said to come home to roost. Once more 'the west', and especially the USA, has created the very forces which it says it was opposing. It is a spectacular and total failure in any language, a complete and utter disaster from start to finish (so much like most of US and UK meddling in the affairs of other countries).
Of course, looking at it from an historical point of view, we cannot put all the blame on the 2003 invasion and war – but we can say it is the immediate cause of the current situation. George W Bush and Tony C L Blair bear an inordinate amount of the responsibility. But we have political systems in place which allowed them to do what they did, and they ignored mass protests. However the majority were proved right and the leaders wrong, oh so wrong. Bush and Blair ignored the cardinal rule of politics, in this case conducted through war; not to make things worse. Foreign interventions also fomented Sunni – Shia sectarianism.
The conquest by Isis of northern Iraq has been aided by the fact that Sunnis feel left out in the cold by the current, Shia dominated, government led by Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. That is certainly a very considerable part of the problem. Whether this is effectively the unravelling of the boundaries of Iraq and the move to de iure as well as de facto Sunni, Shia and Kurdish autonomous areas remains to be seen. The state boundaries were set by imperial powers Britain and France during the First World War, setting 'lines in the sand' as to how the Ottoman Empire would be divided up.
President Obama recently sought to downplay the role of military intervention in US policy and then along came Isis triumph in Iraq and we were back, very speedily, to military intervention, although military strikes from the air by the US have not yet happened. Military intervention is a crude reaction which tends to have within it the seeds of the next conflict – and that has certainly been the case in Iraq. Encouragement of military action – as with 'the west' encouraging military resistance to Assad's government in Syria but not getting substantially involved – is another heinous crime. Syrian rebels were led up a garden path but the civil war has been full of deadly thorns and Assad has been unmoved and the country brought to a terrible state. And Isis is thriving in the conflict.
The alternative to military intervention should not be to do nothing. There are plenty of other options for engagement in troubled area of the world; mediative interventions of many different kinds, humanitarian assistance, dialogue, even, dare we mention it, nonviolent interventions of various kinds. Military interventions in such situations are self-defeating and create self-fulfilling prophecies as the above clearly demonstrates. It is time for a different approach. The myth of redemptive violence is well past its sell by date.
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A useful site for understanding the history of the situation in Iraq through to the current day is the US 'Vox' site with 27 maps, right up to date.
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Quiet and not so quiet peacemakers
The selection of over thirty 'Quiet Peacemakers' for an exhibition of oil paintings by the Belfast artist Susan Hughes brings to mind many things, not least the comment by Malachi O'Doherty, in launching a north Belfast showing of the portraits (which will also be shown elsewhere around the North), that the celebratory element of the exhibition is quite rare. This is quite true. We are not usually very good at celebrating our successes, or work done. We are probably better at mourning and moaning when things go badly.
Of course there are many peacemakers, and many different kinds of peacemakers. In, and in relation to Northern Ireland, many have stood up through thick and thin, some (e.g. Corrymeela) even before the Troubles began, some throughout, and others for particular periods. Some peacemakers are deliberately quiet – some in Northern Ireland had to be to survive and even still it can be dangerous to put your head around certain corners or up above a parapet. Some peacemakers are people who were warmakers for a period. There are literally thousands of people whose work could be celebrated.
Some peacemakers are invisible not because they want to be but because society does not regard their work as 'newsworthy'. These peacemakers are not trying to be quiet, perhaps anything but, however their message is not seen as relevant, or they may be considered impractical or off beam, and the media may ignore them. But still they keep on moving.
'Peace' is of course a very flexible concept, and there is unlikely to be anyone who will say they are not trying to establish 'peace', even if they want to massacre everyone around them. So there is a judgement call as to what peace really is. In most places there would be common sense definitions. It is not just about community action or community service, though that can serve the cause of peace. It is about a conscious attempt to use peaceful means to advance the wellbeing of humanity and harmony and a society without violence, either internally or brought and exported externally.
But INNATE, as a nonviolence network in Ireland, has a deeper definition of peacemaking than many. Building peace between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, and dealing with the legacy of the conflict, is part of it. But then so is opposing, within the boundaries of the United Kingdom, the British Army and its role in international wars, and a nuclear-weaponed Britain. So is resisting US military use of Shannon, opposing the militarisation of the EU and closer Irish (Republic) links with NATO, and building nonviolence at a personal level (as with the Alternatives to Violence Project which is about to have its big international gathering in Ireland). There are many different levels to it. We could expand this list exponentially, e.g. global warming (see INNATE poster) is setting up woeful conflicts for the future, so efforts to avoid climate change are essential for peace.
This different focal points possible within peacemaking is recognised in one of the INNATE workshops: 'Violence/Nonviolence Spectrum' This is not telling people what is violence and what is nonviolence. Rather it is inviting people to explore the whole range, and, through doing so, and ranking the results, to decide for themselves. Of course as individuals, or even as INNATE, we might say that nonviolence is this or nonviolence is that, but we come back to the fact that it is individual's own definitions that are important. And, if you have a similar definition to ourselves, or to others, then there is the invitation or imperative to act on it, to become active on nonviolence, to move beyond passivism, to be whatever kind of peacemaker you feel is important.
INNATE is a small organisation but nonviolence and peacemaking is our game. If you think you may be able to help us, or that we can help you, e.g. to explore how you can work on an issue imaginatively and nonviolently, please let us know. That's part of what we are here for. Informing you about what other people are doing, so you can link in with them, is also an important part of our work; if we remain isolated and fail to build our networks and power, then we are unlikely to succeed.
Peacemaking is a quiet profession, even most of the time for the few who have had a high profile. For all of us, the work goes on and any achievements are built by many hours of low profile struggle and effort. There is no alternative. Of course appreciation and support are needed but anyone going into peacemaking for material rewards would not last long. May the road rise to meet us, may the wind be at our backs.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Although we are one of the more recently evolved species, and came close to extinction on a number of occasions, we have become the most dominant life-form on the planet with an impact greater than the largest herd of dinosaurs or meteorite to hit the Earth. Our impact is not confined to a single ecosystem but embraces the entire biosphere; coral reefs, forests, mountains, rivers and deserts, the Arctic and Antarctic and species of every kind from whales in the deep oceans to micro-organisms in the soil. Extinction is forever, which means that many degraded ecosystems will not revert to their prior health and equilibrium. Much of the damage we are doing will be visible and measurable millions of years from now. We have become like a demented god of destruction reconfiguring the Earth in a brutal and grotesque manner in order to feed desires which substitute for a sense of meaning and purpose.
Judging by our treatment of the natural world we are a species that does not feel at home on Earth. In fact, environmentalists and theologians describe our relationship with nonhuman nature as one of hostility and war. Certainly many people prefer to spend their leisure time in a shopping mall rather than in a leafy park and many are so accustomed to noise they fear the quiet that allows us to hear the beating wings of insects. In parts of the world smog and artificial light prevent us seeing the stars in the night sky.
In the course of a few thousand years we have become alienated from the living Earth. Except for a small number of societies living beyond the sphere of the industrialised world, and some communities who have elected to live in an eco-sustainable and equitable way, our culturally prescribed way of appreciating and valuing the natural environment is akin to a form of entertainment and often serves as a means of self-aggrandizement.
Our intelligence, inventiveness and organisational skills have enabled us to do what no other species has done, which is revolutionize our relationship with nonhuman nature, changing it from one of immediate dependency by means of hunting and gathering to a position where billions of people have never picked a berry, planted a seed or killed for supper. Our world has become so complicated that most of us can't make or mend what we use on a daily basis and depend on food that has originated from all over the world. We are no longer a soft-skinned, slow moving, poor of hearing and smelling species but through technology have become a super-creature that never sleeps and never ever feels satiated. We are eating the world.
Given our emotional and psychological disconnection from the biosphere that sustains us, and the fact that the tipping point has yet to be reached in the use of nonviolence to resolve inter-personal, inter-group and international conflict, are there grounds to believe we can learn to feel at home on the Earth and live well with each other? Might it be delusional to believe we can? Although we have many negative traits we are at root social beings that place a high value on safety and security, and wellbeing that is founded on health and education. It also seems that most people want to leave the world in a better place than they found it and society values legacy as grand buildings, museums, art galleries, educational institutions, literature, national parks, nature reserves and memorials of all kinds testify.
Although it often seems otherwise we learn from our mistakes, one can see this in hygiene and medicine for example It is the positive in our nature that gives humankind hope and as there are bad news stories there are also good news ones. I will conclude with three regarding the environment. An article in New Scientist, 14th June 2014, quotes Changhua Wu of The Climate Group think tank in Beijing as saying that Premier Li Keqiang has declared a "war on pollution" and that his leadership has drawn up a philosophical framework called ecological civilisation, which aims to "bring everything back to the relationship between man and nature". This is significant as China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. Earlier in the month the US Environmental Protection Agency took the first step towards reducing emissions from existing power plants by 30 per cent by 2030. Power plants in the USA, as New Scientist, 7 June 2014, reports account for 40 percent of US emissions. One of the worst environmental disasters has been the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The good news is that the rate of deforestation has declined from 2005 when 19,500 square kilometres were cleared to 5,843 square kilometres in 2013, a fall of 70 percent. It is thought that destruction of the forest for farmland might have ceased by 2020. (New Scientist, 14th June 2014)
The onus is on all of us to make a positive difference. A good place to start, if you have not begun the journey, is to be more mindful and observant of the living Earth around you, for as the adage goes we don't destroy what we love.