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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 117: March 2004

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Well, with global warming on the go, spring has really sprung, despite a recent cold spell, in fact the spring is probably a month in advance of where it was a half century or more ago. 1937 was a particularly cold 'spring' with a very cold snap and heavy snow in March [you seem to remember it well - Ed] [just watch it or you'll get a cold snap - Billy], so that daffodils were only in full bloom more than half way through April. Admittedly that was very late even for those times, but now at the start of March 2004 they're fully on the go in the northern part of the country, which is on average two degrees centigrade colder than the south. Nothing to complain about here yet but if the Gulf Stream changes course we can all go skiing at Easter - and it would also be the end of Irish agriculture as we have known it.

But what a month it has been [yes, last month was February - Ed]. On the same day, 18th February, Norn Iron broke two records, one internal, and one world record. The same day as the Republic drew 0 - 0 with Brazil, Northern Ireland's football team scored one goal against Norway, in a 4 - 1 defeat, ending the longest time an international football team has gone without scoring a goal (Northern Ireland was 1,299 minutes on the pitch without scoring). The other record the same day was an internal Northern record for the intimidation out of their home of the oldest person recorded; a 105 year old woman had to leave her home when a brick was thrown through the window of the front downstairs room she was sleeping in, in north Belfast, and she was badly shaken as well as being showered with glass. In the latter case it mattered which foot she kicked with, at least to her attackers; in the former case, it seems that they hadn't really been kicking with either foot very well.

War as entertainment

How as a pacifist/believer in nonviolence do I end up watching 'war films'? Not very frequently and usually by accident as I channel surf. I think there should be three categories for war [oh, so only a short one of your Liszts - Ed] or highly violent films (from the Board of Violence Classification): 1) Glory, glory, glory - the Sly Rambo/Arnie the Governator type of films which glory in violence, whose redemptive qualities buy at least a pyrrhic victory if not blazing glory for a small cluster of very violent men. There is no indication of the cost of violence. 2) Glory and gory with a story - There's a lot of so-called 'action' (= graphic violence), again glorifying violence and redemption through violence, but there is enough of a personal story about relations between 'real' people (on the same side, or across sides) to make it partly watchable, and suffering through violence is not totally expurgated. 3) The personal story - War is the backdrop but this is really a film about individuals dealing with adversity, violence, hate, filthy conditions, and comradeship, and living to tell the tale, or dying in tragedy. This last is about the survival of the human spirit in terrible conditions more than it is a 'war film' of the conventional genre. The most recent example of the last that I watched was 'No Man's land', a drama set in exactly that spot during the war in Bosnia; relations within, and across sides (including journalists and the UN as 'sides') are explored in brutal detail, and the conclusion is one of ineffectualness and hopelessness.

Type 1) I detest. Type 2) I could probably watch, even if partly to see how it comes down, though in fact I usually don't bother or make the time to bother. Type 3) I could be easily drawn into. But more generally what is it about war and violence that makes us - particularly and usually peculiarly men - see it as 'entertainment'? Thereby hangs more than a few PhD theses. My understanding (cf Walter Wink, 'Engaging the Powers', and indeed some feminist theory) is that violence and its acceptability goes back to the roots of modern culture a number of thousands of years ago; the nation state is predicated on violence, and men have often got their sense of identity from their willingness to engage in violent acts. We have not overcome this primitive stage of human evolution. The women of the species have always been rather more sceptical even if the modern nation state tries to mould them in their armed forces; if there is such a thing as a 'chick flick', then war films are a 'prick flick', and while that isn't a term which is used it does seem highly apt for a kind of film which appeals exclusively to men. When did you hear about women actively choosing to go off to a war film or one with a lot of violence in it? In this, the female of the species certainly has more sense, and men are still stuck in the Neanderthal period (this is probably being highly unfair to Neanderthals, who I think cared for their elderly and infirm, but you get my drift).

How can we change the culture of violence? Slowly. Can we change it? Yes. But this needs tackled at so many different levels (school, home, commercial interests, state interests, the static nature of some aspects of culture when other things are changing rapidly, etc) that we can easily be put off. The longest journey begins with a single step. We can challenge the culture of violence but it's a task which will be ongoing for centuries. The alternative would be that there are no centuries left to challenge it.

Eric Campbell

'Eric Campbell' (not his real name as the inverted commas will hopefully have told you, though the real name was similarly Scottish sounding) was a neighbour when we moved to where we are, though he's dead some time now. He worked as a security man in a Protestant/State educational institution here in Belfast. A bachelor coming up to retirement age when we met him, he must have been used to fall asleep with the dinner on the stove at times because you could hear him outside in his garden banging his pots to try to get the burnt bits off. He was from the country, but just outside Belfast, he indicated, from the Castlereagh hills, good Prod country.

Eric Campbell was a pleasant man, gentle enough, good at keeping the neighbours' hedges cut. He would pass the time of day readily when we met, discussing this, that and the other. His rather elderly small house needed a large amount of work done but he was putting it off, he said, until Labour was back in power in Britain and grants for house repairs would be increased. As this was in the heyday of Thatcherism, and he was dead before Blairite Labour got in - with its continuation of Tory spending policies - it was not what you would call brilliant crystal gazing. Unless of course he was also happy with his somewhat ramshackle abode and needed a reason to explain not doing anything with it.

He died suddenly, of a heart attack during a discussion with relations over what he reckoned was his entitlement to a slice of family property, I won't go into details, and I don't really know the details anyway. But after his death I got speaking on the phone to a friend of his who lived in the Castlereagh hills. As it turned out, 'Eric' wasn't from there, he was a Catholic from a Catholic rural area of Norn Iron, a considerable distance from the Castlereagh hills, who had adopted the persona of being a Prod when he moved to Belfast nearly two decades before he died. Coming to Belfast around the peak of the Troubles, he could have become a 'Prod' for security reasons, or employment, or both, or he may just have wanted to shed an old skin he was tired of and grow a new one. His friend did say he enjoyed pulling the wool over people's eyes regarding his identity and background. Whether everyone was fooled is another matter - maybe people with a keener sense of Northern accents might well have sussed him out, and an altercation with police which he related to me but I didn't really understand may have been an indication of this.

The case of Eric Campbell for me encapsulates a relatively benign but nevertheless serious aspect of the sectarian situation in Northern Ireland. He may have enjoyed the deception but he could not be true to himself by even saying where he was from because that would have immediately identified him as other than how he presented himself. And so a neighbour lived a decade or more, and died, without us knowing, in Northern Ireland terms, the first thing about him. That is a sad commentary both on Northern Ireland in particular and divided societies in general, even if he himself was fairly happy with his lot. He was what he was but he also wasn't.

Political vandalism

Political vandalism is not new. There is an interesting 1920s example of it on the Antrim coast road at Garron Point. The Antrim coast road, which runs from Larne to Cushendall, in the Glens of Antrim, was only built well into the 19th century and follows the coast around at just above the sea; being so level it is a great road for cyclists, particularly when the wind isn't blowing. And the February weekend we followed it once again, both ways, was perfect two-wheel weather (the motor-bikers who frequent the road thought so too) with the beauty of the sea and the land, and even some sunshine to make our venture to and from Cushendun where we renewed our acquaintance with the friendly and idiosyncratic McDonnell's pub in the harbour.

At Garron Point/Garron Tower we came across a large limestone rock which had quite a long inscription. It was commissioned by Frances Anne Vane, Marchionness of Londonderry, in 1849. The rock is at a slight bend on the road and with traffic which could be passing at a good speed we did not linger very long, but I sent an e-mail to the Glens of Antrim Historical Society which within a few days had garnered me a response from Bernie Delargy, a copy of an article about the rock (I was impressed with the service). The intriguing thing about the rock for me was partly that someone had taken a very considerable amount of time to chisel out some of the lines of inscription; not for them the hasty pot of paint that you see so often 'decorating' political statements in Norn Iron with the intention of obliterating the sentiments expressed.

The first part of the inscription is about the erector of the stone inscription. "Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry, being connected with this province by the double ties of birth and marriage, and being desirous to hand down to posterity...." Rather sounds as if she was living up to her family name.

My initial thought had been, as it referred to "Ireland's affliction" in the Great Famine of 1846, and had some lines in Irish at the bottom, that it had been loyalists/unionists who had done the vandalism. I was wrong. The inscription had continued from above "An imperishable memorial of Ireland's affliction and England's generosity in the year 1846-47, unparalleled in the annals of human suffering, hath engraved this stone...." Nationalists in the 1920s had chiselled out "and England's generosity" along with subsequent lines which referred to "England's love and Ireland's gratitude".

When strong feelings collide there is a natural desire to 'best' the other by attacking their symbols. The early part of the recent Troubles in Norn Iron included Paisley's challenge to police to take down an Irish tricolour in West Belfast - or he would, with resultant escalation in feelings. But if you look at it from different angles, and partly a sociological one, the desire to express identity is natural but one which reveals a lot about those concerned. Were republican struggles really the same as those waged by Palestinians or the ANC in South Africa, as republican murals attested? A statement about how people felt should have led to a real comparison of situations. And the more Ulster loyalists fly Israeli flags or British symbols the more they show they are not just the same as the British across the water in Britain.

Anyway, this was all started by seeing an intriguing monument and its vandalism which took place in the 1920s, the Famine Stone at Garron Point. Plus ça change....though I think these days it would be more likely the pot of paint. Vandalism isn't what it used to be.

She'll be coming round the mountain

She arrived by black taxi at our small Belfast terrace house. It was a fine summer evening but already getting late. The connection was Servas, the traveller/host system (see news section, this issue), though as we had no phone then she couldn't even check if anyone was in. This was around 1977 when the worst of the Troubles had already passed but, alas, much more was to come.

In her late 30s and from the US of A, she was a single parent who for the first time, with her daughter well into teenage years, had the opportunity to travel. In her European tour she had already been to the Republic, and had then crossed over to Britain. Travelling somewhere in Scotland she had failed to get off the train at the right place and had ended up in Stranraer. And somehow in Stranraer she had ended up on the ferry to Larne or Belfast. All this was rather strange given that she had had no intention of putting one foot one centimetre inside the boundaries of Norn Iron, so I suppose it was all a bit of a Norn Irony.

But what was even stranger was that on arrival she then proceeded to tell us all about Northern Ireland, the Orange Order etc. To be told about the place you live in by someone who has never been before and in fact had no intention of visiting was quite surreal. Maybe she was nervous, maybe it was the fact she had never travelled outside her home country before, I don't really know how she perceived herself in the situation. But she was a very pleasant, bubbly person, maybe just naïve or feeling that way being abroad for the first time. It was impossible to dislike her. Others might have said what she said and it would have come across as cultural superiority or arrogance - 'I know all about your situation'. There was an element of that but rather it more felt strange, which was to her credit in the sense that her personality softened the ridiculousness of what she was saying (the content of what she was saying was not so ridiculous, it was the fact that she was saying anything, or if saying it not asking "Is that correct? Is that how you see it?").

Whether travel broadens the mind or the arse is up to the approach of the traveller. I would like to think that as she mellowed in the role of traveller she would have ceased to rush to judgement beforehand, but I don't know. Maybe she went home to tell how much she learnt about Northern Ireland on her visit there. She was gone to get the first boat out, back to Scotland, the next morning before we got up.

But another time around the same era I did take pleasure in a comment to three young USA travellers on the Belfast to Dublin train. They were expecting everything to be as it was At Home. Now, personally I feel travellers and tourists are entitled to be critical, there is nothing wrong with that, God knows there is more than enough to be critical about in Ireland, North or South, and so long as they try to show some cultural understanding they are perfectly entitled to display their critical faculties. But the litany of faults seemed to go on and on. The fact that the train was travelling so slow became the latest topic of put down for this western western European island. At this stage we were travelling very slowly, near the border, and I leaned over to inform them that the reason the train was going so slowly was that we were just then passing over a bridge which had been blown up by the IRA about a week before. This was true, in the era when the IRA tried to unite people by dividing them and cutting links between different parts of the island. Anyway, the result was silence. Blissful. I'm afraid I rather took pleasure in that.

D is for Delta

Eventually the UK is to get back 5 of its citizens detained at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What is shocking is that it took two years for the USA's best friend in all the world to get just some of its citizen detainees released - so much for a 'special relationship' between US and UK - four still remain, one of whom there is very severe worries about on the grounds of his psychiatric health. A profile in the London Guardian (20th February) revealed the shocking 'terrorist profile' of one of those to be transferred back to Britain - he wore a 'Stars and Stripes' cap - "He set off for Pakistan in a Ralph Lauren Polo cap with a stars and stripes emblem on the front." Definitely an anti-USA 'terrorist' then. The favourite speaker of another "was Hamza Yusuf, a white American convert who has advised George Bush on Islam and who condemned the attack on the Twin Towers". Speculation about other nationalities transferred to the USA's colonial outcrop in Cuba was that they were more likely to be transferred if they spoke English - this made it easier for the CIA interrogating them.

The photo in the feature on Camp Delta had the inscription "CAMP DELTA JTF GUANTANAMO "HONOR BOUND TO DEFEND FREEDOM" " Do you know what it reminded me of, and I'll qualify this in a minute - the 'ARBEIT MACHT FREI' above the gate at Auschwitz and also featuring at other Nazi extermination camps. Very different circumstances and certainly the USA hasn't actually practised genocidal-type activities since the Vietnam war (including bombing surrounding countries), despite being involved in intervening militarily in lots of other places since. The Nazis had race (and other) death-hatreds. The USA does not but it does have a cultural-economic model and hegemony which it is trying is promote and export, inappropriately, around the world. The reason "Honor bound to defend freedom" reminds me of "Arbeit macht frei" is that both are dirty and despicable lies which were put in prominent positions on concentration camps (that is what Camp Delta is). 'Defending freedom' is ostensibly what Camp Delta is about, according to the US government; in fact it is about denying freedom (or even, to date, free trials) to the inmates, and the tip of a repressive approach to conflict. Conditions and uncertainties are so grave there have been almost thirty suicide attempts among 680 internees at Camp Delta. So much for US American freedom and democracy. As the joke goes about the Statue of Liberty in New York; "What's a nice girl like you doing in a country like this?".

Guests and restorative justice

So what's the opposite of serendipity? [Rotten bad luck, that's the opposite - Ed]. Next time we meet I'll say - 'Drop this restorative justice thing, it's not doing me any good' but it'll be a joke. It's just that right at the time the social and community affairs committee that I act as secretary of [that's the day job is it, Billy? - Ed] was discussing restorative justice, something I had set up, there was an uninvited guest or guests busy on our house, kicking in the back door, ransacking our bedroom, and getting the likes of an MP3 player, a bit of cash and plastic cards. The talk we had was very good though, Tom Winston of Northern Ireland Alternatives which along with Community Restorative Justice is working to have both sides of the Norn Iron community covered with alternatives to the conventional justice system. It's interesting, and I was quoting the fact (as in the Nonviolence - the Irish Experience - Quiz, on our website) that the ancient Gaelic Brehon laws (from breitheamh, a judge) were very much into restitution/restoration.

Anyway, back to what was happening at home. When the PSNI arrived, one constable did the practical bit (the woman) and the other the empathy (the man). The empathetic one was trying hard but in fact we didn't feel the invasion of privacy thing so much as just the hassle of cancelling cards, clearing up and repairing, and getting back to normal in what is already an over-busy life. A couple of days later a call purporting to be from our bank tried to get details which, we soon realised, were for the benefit of whoever now had the cards and not for our bank in processing our frozen accounts or cancelled cards. And that was a bit unsettling, in a kind of way, a bit like the hand from the grave in the horror film, someone so brazen as to try and inflict further damage to our finances and wellbeing by chancing their arm in phoning to illicitly elicit details which might have made the cards useable or found out which might still be useable. As the big contract firms employing cleaners at low wages must say, grime pays.

BUT (and that's a big but) restorative justice is making its way forward. There's a nice little card from the (North American) Mennonite Central Committee on ten Restorative Justice Signposts which is worth quoting (it's written by Harry Mika and Howard Zehr) [this makes a change - someone else's Liszt instead of your own! - Ed]. Here it is:

We are working toward restorative justice when we...

1...focus on the harms of wrongdoing more than the rules that have been broken, equal concern and commitment to victims and offenders, involving both in the process of justice, toward the restoration of victims, empowering them and responding to their needs as they see them, offenders while encouraging them to understand, accept and carry out their obligations,

5...recognize that while obligations may be difficult for offenders, they should not be intended as harms and they must be achievable,

6...provide opportunities for dialogue, direct or indirect, between victims and offenders as appropriate,

7...involve and empower the affected community through the justice process, and increase its capacity to recognize and respond to community bases of crime,

8...encourage collaboration and reintegration rather than coercion and isolation,

9...give attention to the unintended consequences of our actions and programs, respect to all parties including victims, offenders and justice colleagues.

Well, sín é, I'll leave you now for another month, the month named after the god of war - though you may remember in our interview with Mars (NN 113) the old guy seemed to have mellowed rather and actually be rejecting violence, so it just goes to show you can teach an old god new tricks. See you soon,


[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2021