January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
The coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris on 13th November were terrible events and indicate that the nature of war continues to change, in this case coming right into a western European city. It was always thus; developments in technology and human ingenuity have been the main limits in warfare, and the twists and turns of both have meant that war and the arms race have had a long and dishonourable history. But British bombing of Syria, agreed by the Westminster parliament and started within a couple of hours of the result, looks to be more killing people to prove that killing people is wrong, and without any coherent plan behind it. Sometimes 'bombing' is simply seen and supported as 'doing something'.
'An eye for an eye makes everyone blind' but there is a blindness also in not seeing that western policies are a key factor in leading to such attacks. But, some will say, we have to deal with the reality of ISIS/Islamic State 'now'. Yes, we do, but even some military strategists question whether British bombing, for example, will make any different in 'the war against ISIS' when it has adapted over a year to being bombed. And whether such bombing will create more ISIS recruits is another question worth asking.
A French journalist covering the area who is a former ISIS hostage, Nicolas Henin, said (3rd December, Belfast Telegraph) that "Strikes on Isis are a trap. The winner of this war will not be the party that has the newest, the most expensive or the most sophisticated weaponry, but the party that manages to win over the people on its side." He believes that Coalition bombing was not hurting the militants, but rather "pushing people into the hands of Isis". He went on "What we have to do – and this is really key – is we have to engage the local people. As soon as the people have hope for a political solution, the Islamic State will just collapse."
This issue of Nonviolent News also carries news of a new Shannonwatch pamphlet on Shannon. US use of Shannon is what makes Ireland a possible target. No, we should not take an elevated, holier-than-thou neutrality which ignores violence and suffering in the world. We should take a positive-promotion-of-peace approach to neutrality, particularly through a reformed United Nations but, lacking that, through unilateral or joint actions with similarly-minded countries to assist communication, dialogue and building a world free from drone attacks and warfare.
130 people killed in Paris is 130 too many. It should not have happened. But if 130 people are killed in an evening in Syria or Iraq, who in the West is going to blink an eyelid and you can be sure that there will be no vigils and no national colours shone on key buildings. But the effects of war are the same; bereaved children and families, anguish, and often the thirst for revenge – and so to a fresh cycle of violence. It looks like France and Britain are supporting the circle of violence.
Northern Ireland: A fresh chug
You can imagine the situation. You're in a car which has started chugging and stopping, there is definitely a problem that needs sorted, possibly with the fuel supply. The car cuts out. After a few attempts at restarting, it does eventually restart but it's still chugging. The aim is to get to the nearest garage, the ultimate destination is not even on the agenda at this stage. This is an analogy of the so-called 'Fresh Start' agreement in Northern Ireland which was cobbled together between the DUP, Sinn Féin, and the British and Irish governments, and announced in mid-November. It is not a fresh start; very little has changed except they have got past the issue of welfare reform as a stumbling block with Westminster coming in as eminence grise to make the changes that the Tories demand.
However it is only fair to say there are some new initiatives in the deal, e.g. a joint task force to tackle cross-border crime such as diesel laundering and so on, but otherwise most of it, bar the details, would have been signed up or indicated a long time ago. Sinn Féin have got the same amount of money to cushion welfare reform over four years now instead of six, but without any guarantee as to what will happen after that it is pretty much the same amount of money, just over a shorter time. The Tory government in Westminster has got the welfare reform it demanded. The DUP and Sinn Féin continue to carve up power within their OFMDFM. Nothing was agreed on dealing with the past. Nothing effective was done to ensure greater functionality at Stormont; a functioning 'opposition' may pinpoint inadequacies more readily but will in itself not create fair and appropriate decision making. The system will chug on to the next crisis. Whether this particular 'car' will even reach the garage, let alone the desired destination, is open to question.
Even the deal that did emerge took ten weeks of negotiations behind closed doors, with no real public debate or much hint of what was being talked about in particular. Does that sound democratic? Only if you trust Northern Ireland's two biggest political parties, even if the British and Irish governments were involved too. The 12.5% corporation tax (matching the Republic) which is now on the cards for 2018 is spoken of as a 'game changer' but will cost significantly in terms of a reduction in the block grant from Britain – more cuts – and could be more a millstone around the neck; sensible economic analysts caution scepticism (given other factors in investment decisions). The new (three-member) international body to monitor paramilitary activity was also clearly on the cards and it is to be hoped that planning to achieve paramilitary disbandment will be a positive and creative look at possibilities on this thorny issue rather than simply wielding a big stick to get people out of the bunkers they have placed themselves in.
Money for working on dismantling peace walls in Belfast is probably putting the cart before the horse; if there was a decent Together: Building a United Community/Shared Future policy to begin with then that might fall into place as part of it. The failure to come up with agreement on ways and structures to deal with the past is a major embarrassment and failure; proposals have been hanging around in one form or another ever since the Haass talks a full two years ago. Victims understandably feel let down. The departure of Peter Robinson from the scene, a subsequent announcement also well signalled in advance, will not alter things much, even if it removes such a high profile figure from the political frontline.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Paris, November 2015, will long be remembered for two events that concern the entire world. One is the murder of 129 people and the serious wounding of 350 in near-simultaneous gun attacks carried out by the Syria based Islamic State at social venues throughout the city on the evening of Friday the 13th. The other memorable event was the opening of the UN sponsored Climate Change Conference on the 30th of November. What these illustrate is that all things are connected and human generated events originate in the prism through which we view the world.
The mass murder in Paris was not a random unforeseen event but a consequence of a network of violent, structurally unjust relationships that can be traced back to the creation of the political geography of the Middle East by European colonial powers in the first half of the twentieth century.
The boundaries of the modern states of Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine were agreed in secret by the French and the British with the assent of Russia on 9thMay 1916 in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The purpose of the political boundaries was not to nurture the creation of democratic, liberal, equalitarian societies but to further the interests of the colonial powers. In other words the November 2015 mass murder in Paris has an historical context, inclusive of the two Gulf Wars, France's arms trade, which was worth €6.87 billion in 2013, and its bombing campaign against Islamic State positions in Syria which began on the 27th September 2015. In all probability the guns used by Islamic State were obtained from Saudi Arabia who purchased them from France. (Marie O'Halloran, The Irish Times, 18 November 2015) History and contemporary politics do not exonerate mass murderers whose ideological / psychological disposition is rooted in a narcissistic, fantasist, nihilist disposition, which is as much a part of human nature as love and compassion.
In spite of the recent commemorations across Europe at the foot of war memorials, the wearing of red poppies and the solemn recitation of words to the affect 'we will never forget' most people - if one takes as reasonably accurate the media's account of the views of politicians and the public - forget the causes of war. The dynamic of human relationships, as articulated by Dr Martin Luther King (1929-1968) is rarely used by governments as a guide to policy. King said:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate". Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, (1967), p. 67
The response of the French government to the mass murder in Paris was to bomb Raqqah, Syria, which has a population of half a million people. The response of the British government was to seek the consent of parliament to do the same. This resort to violence leads to "a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy". Or as the anthropologist Rene Girard put it: "Violence is like a raging fire that feeds on the very objects intended to smother its flames." Echoing this Gary Younge in The Guardian, 19 November 2015, writes in reference to the atrocity in Paris "the murder and humiliation of innocent people abroad at the hands of western forces is partly what has brought us to this point." It is unlikely that we will ever learn of the deaths of innocent people in Raqqah caused by French, American and Russian bombs.
With regard to the Climate Change Conference the level of response by almost all governments to the need to significantly and speedily reduce the emission of global warming gases is grossly inadequate. This reflects a harmful attachment to a way of life that is ecologically and socially unsustainable, fostering social and political unrest which can so easily morph into wars. The war in Syria, which has displaced 7.5 people and caused as many violent deaths as people killed by the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in the Second World War has its roots in the civil unrest caused by the prolonged drought of 2007- 2010, which may be linked to climate change. (The Observer, 15 November 2015)
In order to have an in-depth and holistic understanding of the world, necessary to effectively address our collective problems, we need to clean our mental lens of preconceived ideas as well as not succumb to the blindness of tribal loyalty. Our public socialization agencies should support an educational approach predicated on critical reflection, the use of evidence, making connections, compassion, nonviolence and respect for and identity with the Nature of which we are an intrinsic part.
Brian Keenan interviewed by Robert Fisk for an article on the mass murder in Paris is quoted as follows. "It is a global dimension, we all have to take some responsibility for this." (The Belfast Telegraph, 17 November 2015) Whether we are aware of it or not we are not passive bystanders in history, we are history makers, we are not outside the arena but inside it. This means behaving as if we are powerless is to support the status quo. If we don't want our tax money to be used to bomb Syria or renew Trident, and don't want the Irish government to allow Shannon Airport to be used in support of U. S. wars we should say so. If we want governments to take radical action in developing a carbon-neutral economy we also need to make our views known. This is what democracy and universal kinship is about.