January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
“Migration – Animal or human, as natural as the wind. But some people will swallow all sorts of myths” – From INNATE poster
Migration is as natural as the wind. It is nation states erecting borders and laws to keep people out, and people making money from helping people circumvent those borders and laws, which are unnatural, which are an alteration from what has been the course of human history for tens of thousands of years. Our ancestors came from Africa: we would not be here if they did not migrate out of Africa. Irish people have emigrated around the globe for centuries.
We are not saying there should be no regulation of migration. However what we would say is that the most sensible courses of action are ones which do not cause migration in the first place. The Western war in Iraq, and subsequent backing of rebels in Syria, has been perhaps the greatest contribution to creating the situation there where people are literally fleeing for their freedom and their lives, and extremely risky journeys are considered worth risking to get to safety.
We need to distinguish between push and pull. While the pull of economic advancement and a better life in general has been a draw – for Irish as well as Syrians, Iraqis or whoever today – the pull factors are more significant. We need only think of the Great Famine of 1846 when a million wretchedly poor people emigrated, mainly to the USA, over the next decade. Survival was at stake. Dreams of freedom and prosperity alone did not make people leave their homeland, well, only some, rather it was the push from a country which offered little but starvation or mere possible survival on the harshest terms.
In recent decades in Ireland, it has been at periods of recession when emigration has been at its peak. People who saw no prospect of a job, or no prospect of advancement in their profession, have left and many will not return. During the Celtic Tiger years, a significant number did return. While there are always adventurous people who wish to head off and not necessarily come back, leaving home is a serious and often sad undertaking, even in the age of instant communication and jet planes. If many Irish people have headed abroad in recessions in recent decades, think what it must be like to be Syrian or Iraqi living in the middle of civil war.
But, as some commentators (and ourselves frequently) have pointed out, mass migration in the future – on a few greater scale than anything we have seen – is likely to take place because of global warming. Where are tens of millions of Bangladeshis going to go when the sea level rises a metre or two and their own land is no more, and their country a shadow of its former self? Unfortunately, given the direction things are heading, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
‘Fortress Europe’ is a deluded and dangerous concept, even more so when it is countries like the UK which have had a significant hand in creating the crises from which refugees are fleeing. There is more than a very real danger– which peace activists have repeatedly warned about – of EU-NATO military forces congealing and becoming a pro-Western European army which will fight to keep the European way of life, at whatever cost; keeping others out, grabbing resources deemed necessary to maintain Western European dominance, and even ‘pre-emptive’ strikes which speak about perpetual war. If the latter seems unlikely, just consider what the US and UK are engaged in with drone strikes against ISIS currently.
The UK has offered to take 20,000 refugees over five years, the Republic (with less than a tenth of the population of the UK) has offered to take 4,000 which the government says will end up being far more by the time family reunification is carried out. A greater response is needed. It is totally unfair that the states where refugees arrive in the EU should be the ones bearing the most significant burden. And, David Cameron please note – it is Germany which tends to be most attractive to migrants and refugees, not Britain. Yes, there may be some people trying to get across the English Channel from Calais but that is a trickle compared to the numbers crossing the Mediterranean or coming through the Balkans.
The peace past is another reality
INNATE has been adding documents from the peace movement in Ireland, North and South, over the last several decades to our flickr photo site and will be adding more. There are a number of reasons why this is important.
If we do not have a hugely successful peace movement history, we do still stand in a proud tradition of people through the decades, and even centuries, who have stood up for peace and justice, for change, and have tried to offer alternatives to violence, oppression and injustice at home and abroad. In the context of Northern Ireland this tends to be forgotten because of the violence which has taken place and yet there were people who were struggling to be heard as voices of peace and nonviolent alternatives – and whose vision is still as relevant as ever. In the Republic it is clear the main establishment parties want Irish neutrality, and the Irish commitment to peace and opposition to big power militarism, to be swept under the carpet so that support to NATO and the EU military can become the norm and ‘neutrality’ a mere fig leaf to hide a pro-western militarism.
In the peace movement in Ireland we are not ‘great’, we do not stand on the backs of giants, but we do have a strong history which we can both call on and learn from. In relation to the Troubles, as well as achievements and remarkable doings there are items on the website detailing some of the things seen to have ’gone wrong’ with the Peace People, Women Together or Witness for Peace, three indigenous peace organisations arising from the Troubles. Politics is often about splits, and peace movements can be the same. That is not to judge or condone some of what happened but we should try to learn from it for how we act in the future. And all of these had achievements.
Large scale peace movements come and go according to the political direction and crises of the time, but some peace activists keep on going and working, often unseen. We have always to be building, networking, preparing for the future. An awareness of our past, warts and all, is part of our preparation because repeating the same mistakes again is not something we want to do.
The past is not another country, it is very much part of our own homeland, but it is a different reality which intersects with the present and can interfere with the future, for good or ill. Understanding where we have come from, and therefore where we are, is part of arriving at where we want to reach. Oh, and a little bit of pride in what has been done in the past is not remiss, and, if we are prepared also to learn from our history, it should not go before a fall.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
No Purgatory for Humankind
Armies, vandals and criminals of all kinds violate and destroy things that aren’t their own or they have no affinity with. It would appear from our degradation of the biosphere, which includes extinguishing species, altering ecosystems and causing climate change that we have little sense of affinity with the Earth. Many people whose primary life experiences are confined to cities and the virtual world consider farmland, forests, meadows, mountains, rivers and lakes as alien as a distant country and culture, something to be feared. Patrice Vecchione in Step Into Nature (2015) writes about the fear she felt in mountains and woods when she first took an interest in hiking and exploring trails near her home. Many view the world beyond the city boundary as a source of sustenance for the urban beast, a place to dump rubbish and pass through in sealed vehicles on their way to another urban setting. Land and seascape have no aesthetic, emotional or intellectual appeal for them, like factories, warehouses, abattoirs and sewage plants we feel no reason to visit.
The view of the Earth as foreign is not only deeply rooted in urban culture but also in the psyche of the Abrahamic religions who consider it as something akin to an immigration centre where people are prepared and processed on route to Heaven. This they believe is humankinds’ true home where those with the right credentials will reside for eternity bathing in the glory of God. If the gatekeepers of Heaven consider a person unworthy of being in the presence of God they are sent to either purgatory, which traditional Catholics believe, or Hell. Purgatory is akin to the garage one brings a car for repairs if it fails its MOT/NCT test. Purgatory allows for a second chance, where after having one’s soul cleansed of sin through a period of suffering it is allowed into Heaven. To be assigned to Hell is to be beyond redemption.
The majority of humankind probably consider the Earth, with all its bounty and beauty, as a means to an end, something we are free to exploit to sustain our mortal and divine selves. Until quite recently many Americans of European extraction believed in Manifest Destiny, that God had chosen them and the country they named the United States to serve a divine purpose. This belief was used to justify genocide of the indigenous peoples, slavery and the exploitation of the country’s bounty. The term Manifest Destiny was coined by John O’Sullivan in the July-August 1845 edition of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which he edited. The idea is imbedded in the colonialism of all civilizations.
Those who believe in the otherness of nonhuman nature will probably not accept the DNA analysis which shows that humans are that what they consider foreign. Dan Jones, New Scientist, The Collection, Issue Four (2014) writes:
“Evidence from morphological, biochemical, and gene sequence data suggests that all organisms on Earth are genetically related, and the genealogical relationships of living things can be represented by a vast evolutionary tree, the Tree of Life.”(Going Global, p. 80)
In the same journal Michael Le informs us that:
“Some of your DNA is an unimaginable 3 billion years old, passed down to you in an unbroken chain by your trillions of ancestors.” (Living History, Page, p.57)
The evidence shows we are composed of the material constituents of the biosphere and that our origin is located in the Big Bang, the moment the universe came into existence, perhaps recycled out of a collapsed foregoing universe. Cosmology reveals that in 2015 we were 13,800 billion years older than our personal age. (Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen in Human Universe, 2014, p.17) If we take the formation of the Earth as the time of our birth we are 4.54 billion years older than our personal age. The biosphere is our womb, we cannot live outside of it, which means what we do to it we do to our species, even though like thieves and war criminals we may not be personally held to account for our ecological misdeeds. Innumerable scientific studies suggest that if we fail to treat the biosphere well, if we don’t make a rapid transition to living in an ecologically sustainable way, there will be no purgatory for humankind and no second chance for the biosphere as it is presently constituted.