|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
It is difficult to know the extent to which you can talk about an identifiable ‘peace movement’ in Ireland. If you use the term quite loosely then it seems possible and acceptable. It is more problematic to talk about something which has clear and identifiable aims, ways of working and so on. This is not necessarily that different to many other countries but one big difference is that with the conflict in Northern Ireland, much of the ‘peace’ work there, or in relation to there, comes from groups who only have a concern for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation and good relations and not for wider issues. Their work is valuable but in INNATE we would have a wider commitment to peace and nonviolence which might be missing from ‘peace and reconciliation’ groups solely focussed on the North, essential though that work is (though it should be noted that these are likely to contain individuals who have such a deeper commitment).
‘Peace’ itself is a broad and often amorphous concept – it does not have to be but it frequently is so. The approach which INNATE takes is that, while we have our own concepts and approaches, which we express and work on, we try to support a broad range of groups and organisations. We recognise that there are different strokes for different folks and an aspect of peace which feels most important to one person may be well down the priority list of, or even anathema to, another person. All of us think we are right in our approach and that is fair enough. What we try to do is to cover a variety of angles and approaches which may help the overall movement to grow and blossom.
Of course cooperation can to be difficult between diverse groups and opinions, in the peace movement at least as much as in any other sectors of life. And conflict is a fact of life – it is how we deal with it that matters. The problem is sometimes that conflict in groups and organisations where it is thought it should not exist (the ‘peace movement’ and churches would be two examples) can be particularly deep and protracted because no one wants to recognise it for what it is until it gets so serious that it cannot be brushed under the carpet. Appropriate mechanisms for dealing with conflict, through mediation and other person-to-person methodologies, are essential.
When it comes to cooperation, there are much greater grounds for working together than we often imagine. INNATE’s Nonviolent News news section is about informing people about things that are happening and indirectly inviting people to join in an effort, learn from something, or work together in some way. With honest discussion and careful planning then cooperation of all sorts is possible, in ways and with groups or organisations that we might not have considered.
The elasticity of the concept of peace can lead to issues however. In the July issue of Nonviolent News (No.221) we drew attention to the faith background of a particular venture where we had not yet had a reply from the people concerned, and the issue was whether it was being used by the organisers as a way of getting people to hear the message of their religious leader. The event in question was Dublin Peace Festival or Week. Anybody can organise anything in any way that they like. However the unquestionably best way to organise an event of this sort (as with Dublin Peace Week which was organised in the 1970s) is for an open meeting to take place leading to a representative committee to organise it, and individual groups then setting up their own items of programme. This is as opposed to one group setting up something with the programme that they want under the wider label, and then inviting others to join in. We hope that if this event continues in future years that the more participative model will be followed.
We do things for all sorts of reasons and that is fine. However we need to be both as open and honest as possible about what we are doing and why we are doing it. And we need to be open and honest about where funding comes from, and clear as to who we should or should not take funding from (an issue that came up over the summer concerning funding by Shell of the Fleadh in Sligo). It is not a case of being ‘holier than thou’ but of being consistent in all aspects of our work, and also not being co-opted by those whose vested interests lie far from peace, human rights and environmental sustainability. This can make for difficult conversations and difficult decisions when work and jobs are at stake – but our integrity may also be on the line.
These issues are not easy. Some level of hypocrisy is inevitable in life in a complicated modern era. However we can strive to be true to our message of peace and to work for it in a way which is holistic and committed to integrity. And we can strive together with other people who are travelling in the same direction. We may not have the money, we may not usually have huge numbers, but we do have our commitment and if we exercise that commitment in a way which maximises our chances of success then we have done everything that we possibly can to build peace by being that peace.
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There is a common and universal tendency to think that, when it comes to big crises on the international stage, that we have to take sides. This may be on the issue of Syria and whether we should support Assad or the rebels. Or it may be on the issue of Ukraine and Russia. Some people consider who is allied to who, backed to the hilt by who, and make decisions that way, perhaps reacting against either the USA or Russia– a case of ‘just tell us who you’re against’.
This can lead to simplistic interpretations of complex problems. It also ignores what are surely the more important considerations of human rights and justice. Our desire for simplicity and clarity should not be limited to concepts of ‘goodies and baddies’’. After all, everyone or both major sides may be in the wrong in a situation, and all may have led to its escalation, and be committing atrocities whose horror it is difficult to even speak about.
But, yes, we should take sides – the side of peace, of justice, of human rights. Those who we can support may be small, underground, ineffectual at the moment, persecuted, in exile internally or externally. Getting effective support to them may actually be impossible or next to impossible. But there is no reason to feel that we should support, in any way, those whose actions have led to intolerable situations and intolerable violence. And we should not ignore the faults and violence of any side.
In the Syrian and Iraqi situation, ISIS/Islamic State is killing and persecuting minorities and anyone who stands in their way. But there would be no ISIS/Islamic state without the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 and what that led to. There would have been no Pol Pot in Cambodia without the US blanket bombing of that country. There would have been no Taliban, as they became, in Afghanistan without the US arming of those opposed to the Soviet presence there. The pattern is so obvious as to be almost ridiculous. And in Iraq the USA was claiming kudos for coming to the help of the persecuted Yazidis – whose plight was due to many factors but a key one was US intervention in the region. To claim credit for dealing with a terrible situation you or your country has partly created shows incredible lack of self awareness and appropriate judgement. The same applies to David Cameron speaking about the terror threat to Britain from returning violent jihadists; without the background of aggressive British policies these would not exist or be a threat.
The complexities of the MENA area (Middle East and North Africa) require careful analysis and even more careful action. The ridiculousness of ‘the West’ almost taking military action against Bashar al-Assad one year, and considering him a tentative ally the next, is an amazing reflection of the lack of an intelligent response. The situation in Ukraine also has its complexities. While Putin and Russia are playing a dangerous and violent role in supporting separatists in Russian ethnic regions in the east of Ukraine, the EU, NATO and the USA played directly into the crisis, for example by encouraging and supporting the coup which overthrew the democratically elected (but corrupt) pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych. And why has the olive branch of possible federalism not been offered to the Russian east?
Breaking into history to end cycles of violence and establish peace and justice is difficult but it can be done. We should not go with the flow and propaganda of one side or another. Two wrongs do not make one right and we should not settle for one evil or another.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
After years of speculation involving innumerable meetings in hotels, cafes, bars and community halls across County Fermanagh and beyond; after letters to government ministers, local politicians and newspapers, and passionate debate on radio, television and the social media; after election campaigns based on the issue and colourful public protests; after the publication of research and polemic, Tamboran, the Australian fracking company, has planted its feet firmly on the rocky ground of a disused quarry near the border town of Belcoo in County Fermanagh. The fateful day was Monday the 21st July 2014. People opposed to fracking in County Fermanagh, which appears to be most of the populace, received the news with dismay tempered with a determination to oppose the company by nonviolent means.
Names are revelatory. Is Tamboran a derivative of Tambora, an active volcano on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia? This volcano, which erupted on the 10 April 1815, was the largest in recorded history. It killed an estimated 71,000 people, most of whom died from starvation and disease because the fallout destroyed local agricultural productivity. Like the emission of greenhouse gases the volcanic eruption had a global impact. The year of the eruption became known as ‘The Year without a Summer’ because of its effect on weather in Europe and the United States. As reported in Wikipedia “Crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine in the 19th century.”
Another possibility is that Tamboran derives from Pandora. According to Greek mythology Pandora was the first woman on Earth, shaped out of clay to perfection. The gods gave her a box or jar called pithos containing special gifts and told her never to open it. In time Pandora opened the box releasing evil of all kinds into the world. On realising this she immediately closed the box with Hope locked inside. Pandora acted out of curiosity, ignorant of the consequences of her action.
Fracking in Belcoo, and elsewhere, is akin to opening Pandora’s box. In this case the evil Tamboran might release are toxic gases that will contribute to global warming. There is also a strong likelihood that toxic chemicals will be released which will pollute water above and below ground endangering the wellbeing of fauna and flora, including our own species, and seriously undermine two stalwarts of the Fermanagh economy, farming and tourism. Fracking would also hurt people economically if there were a fall in the economic value of homes and land, an increase in rates to pay for damage to local roads caused by fracking related traffic, and a loss of jobs through a decline in farming and tourism.
One of the links shale gas has with climate change is that it emits methane. Fred Krupp, President of the U.S. Environmental Defence Fund informs us in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2014 that: “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, during the first 20 years in the atmosphere, methane is 84 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.” Krupp goes on to say that “reducing methane emissions is essential to mitigating climate change.” Another link is that fracking “could crowd out investments in solar and wind power and other renewable sources of zero-carbon energy.” (Fred Krupp) ‘Likely’ is more apt than ‘could’.
Tamboran and Pandora differ on one critical point. Pandora acted out of ignorance and immediately closed her box on realising her error of judgement. In Tamboran’s case they are opening Pandora’s box in spite of the view of the majority of the scientific community that the link between the use of fossil fuels and climate change is proved. It could be said that Tamboran is acting not out of ignorance of environmental consequence but absence of sensibility. In other words, Tamboran may lack sufficient empathy to care about the biosphere and the multitude of life it supports. As with private individuals, companies can be afflicted with an unhealthy level of narcissism. What appears to matter to Tamboran is advancing their narrow interests regardless of the harm caused to others.
In some versions of the myth of Pandora’s Box, Hope comes out of the box. Hope is out of the box in Belcoo and its energy should be directed in educating – in this case Tamboran - for compassion towards all living things. As the report Zero Carbon Britain 2030’s by the Centre for Alternative Technology shows a zero carbon economy is feasible. ( www.zcb2030.org ) What is lacking is not the technical knowhow but civilization reaching the tipping point of a sense of identity that includes nonhuman nature and those we perceive as fundamentally different from us
The latest update from County Fermanagh is that the Environment Minister Mark Durkan has rejected Tamboran’s planning application for exploratory drilling for shale gas. Tamboran is reviewing its position. It has the option of applying for full planning permission. In the meantime the 24-hour peaceful protest outside the disused quarry in Belcoo continues.
While we are inclined to think of health and wellbeing as local we need to be mindful that it is also global as China’s possession of over 1,000 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas, more than Canada and the United States combined, testifies. (Fred Krupp)