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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 132: September 2005

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Summery justice
Ochone, ochone, woe is me, summer is departing, autumn is here, and worse still the autumn schedules of meetings, and work, and meetings, and work……I hate this time of year with a vengeance, until I get into my stride that is. Then I quite enjoy autumn days of brown and golden leaves and the cool hitting you as you exit your abode but also the autumnal sun and the harvest moon. But what makes a summer? What are the ingredients? BK shares his formula:

1) Anticipation. Usually the best bit. ‘Where are you going for your holliers?’ Better come up with somewhere cool trendy and hot; if it’s a holiday in this country, make it sound exotic – “we may go paragliding off the Cliffs of Moher” (dirty liar) – if you don’t want to sound pedestrian (though personally I do enjoy walking so I shouldn’t use that term as a put down). Meanwhile aims are set for what can be done when other work has wound down – all those jobs and clearing up at home, those bits of voluntary or peace work which never seem to get done during the busy-ness of normal schedules.

2) Reality. You’re knackered. You’re too tired to do anything and just revel in not having to do things. But that means everything gets off to a bad start and your Schedule is already way behind schedule almost before the summer has really started.

3) Actual holiday away from home. The journeys there and back, even if only down the road, are nerve-wracking – and if going abroad many times worse. The holiday itself however is great as you float through it from day to day, relishing the fact you’re only half sure what day it is and what’s more it doesn’t matter. But very very soon it’s time to pack up and return.

4) Recovery time. You need a holiday after your holiday and work hits you like a tonne of bricks. And you find yourself doing much staring at the wall as you wonder what the hell (sic) you’re doing or are meant to be doing. Meanwhile the sun has been shining non-stop at home while you languished in a) sun far too hot to sit out in, or b) the worst weather for twenty years in the area you were staying.

5) Decoration/DIY/gardening time. All those tasks about the place demand attention and your partner extends the list exponentially. By the middle of August you have 1½ tasks done out of 34¾ (the three-quarters was painting three out of four walls in a room – the other one is a different tone and was ¼ of a task done last year).

6) More time off, during which time you are expected to do summery things (trips for yourselves or the children/older generation and so on). This means you have about an hour and a half left to do the things you needed three full weeks to accomplish over the summer. You know now that those tasks you set at the start of the summer remain substantially undone. And you feel undone as a result. Trying to get any of them done with busy schedules restarting is going to be a pain (or a pane if it’s painting the windows).

7) The final countdown to autumn. Ghastly. Back to wage slavery. Children/young people (if there are such in the household) go back to school or college. And back to square one. Suddenly the summer seems a million years ago. Too busy to do those tasks now (phew) unless that’s going to be weekends taken care of until Christmas. Speaking of which, oh well, they’re planning the office Christmas do already……

The Twalfth

Though I have viewed many parades, it was some few years since I had attended ‘the Twelfth’, the Orange parades of 12th July in Norn Iron celebrating the victory of my reverse namesake at the Battle of the Boing (so called because it keeps on going and bouncing, no I jest), I mean Boyne. So I decided to go and look at the Belfast parade. What would I make of it this time around? I wasn’t really sure.

It is first of all a great festive occasion. There are high spirits. A stout woman in her mid forties is entertaining her friends (possibly mortifying her family) and anyone within eyesight by pretending to play a plastic blow-up Union Jack guitar in the middle of the road which is clear, awaiting the parade. In fact you could catch almost any garment or accoutrement with a Union Jack of Ulster flag on it; glittery hats, sun glasses, handbags, wigs, painted faces, flags as shawls and wraps – and while I have no direct or even indirect evidence I am positively certain some were dressed out in their best Union Jack underwear. I didn’t catch any Union Jack beer around though alcohol there was plenty – including Harp lager. Where I was, near the City Hospital, there was the equivalent of two or three people deep each side of the road; some sit on deck chairs, some stand, some young children bang on drums, some sit on walls, some younger men (I am being fairly charitable about the age of some of them) have their beers stacked up on a makeshift table. It is not near any interface and everyone is relaxed, enjoying the magnificent sunshine, chatting, greeting friends.

The parade appears. First of all comes a ‘Jesus is Lord’ lorry with a band playing ‘Christian’ music and a desultory few followers walking and waving flags (one waving flagpole had interwoven red, orange and white flags together, perhaps of some religious significance, I don’t know, but the orange in the context made it look rather suspicious as if proclaiming God was Orange, which I presume was not the message, but, if the medium is the message then they should be a bit more careful – and a bit better organised if they wanted ‘Christianity’ to appear an exciting option). Then the real procession; colour party, band, lodge, support vehicle for those unable to walk all the way (most with their registration numbers covered for the day that was in it and instead had the registration ‘LOL 1234’ or whatever was the number of that Loyal Orange Lodge; this was of course illegal but the police were not objecting - I wonder if the same courtesy would be extended to that practice in other contexts). Furled flags often made it impossible to work out if illegal emblems were being carried, on past experience I would expect some are ‘sneaked through’. I wondered if I would see any banners with “The secret of England’s greatness” (this portrayed Queen Victoria giving a Christian bible to a kneeling Asian); I saw none, maybe they have all been retired from active service years ago as an embarrassing relic.

Then the same pattern was repeated, and repeated, and repeated – though more popular, and younger, bands had a whole contingent of fellow travellers, girls and teenage boys, walking alongside, many carrying soft drinks or alcohol. It took more than an hour and a half to pass not counting a stop of twenty-five minutes or so. During this stop, the East Belfast band I was beside gave good value for my no money by one member playing the flute and others doing some drumming – most just rested. One band member had his very young sister (presumably) or other relation climb over his chest and play with him as he lay in the middle of the road. They were clearly people feeling at home with themselves and what they were doing.

If all of Northern Ireland were Protestant the Twelfth would be a really great occasion, a community event to end all community events. But it is not. And the fact that it is a Prods only ceremony, despite being watched in the past by some Catholics, means it has a tinge of divisiveness about it. It is a tribal event. Because if it is saying “We celebrate our Protestant, unionist heritage’ that not only is a cause of celebration for only one part of the community but is linking those two causes – Protestantism and unionism – in a way which can be dangerous and is mirrored by those who equate Catholicism and nationalism or even republicanism.

The Twelfth is a great spectacle. But it is also a military-style spectacle. The marching, the bands, the drawn swords, the uniforms worn by many bands (some look almost paramilitary – or as near as they can get without being prosecuted – to dress in ‘paramilitary’ uniform would be illegal, while others emulate First World War or other military uniforms). And it is, after all, celebrating a military battle and the victory of one side. My long dead Orange grandfather would have felt rightly at home once he adjusted to the glittering paraphernalia; I felt comfortable about being there but uncomfortable with the message.

It may be difficult to think of so much gaiety and spectacle as being a sad sight but to me it is. As a peace and nonviolent activist I am sad to see so much near-military style. It is sad because it is exclusive. And it is sad because it is difficult to think how it could become inclusive. But these are an important part of the Protestant community and they deserve to be included in any future as much as any other group of people. But how they can move on from ‘backs to the wall’ to really being concerned, as their motto would proclaim, about ‘civil and religious liberty for all’, is another matter. If they did live up to their motto then they would be defending the rights of all groups in Northern Ireland, including Catholics and all those who are vulnerable and powerless. But that, at the moment, is a step a hundred miles too far. But, who knows, maybe in a hundred years it will have evolved to be an inclusive event and black, white, green, brown and red will be able to be orange for the day. If that ever happens, look out for Billy King’s ghost, flagon of cider in hand, slightly inebriated and toasting King Billy, “To the glorious, pious, and immortal memory of King William, who gave us an event we could all celebrate together….”

Vulnerability and security
It’s always good to wander elsewhere and learn what others are doing. One wandering this summer took me to Ely, in the flat lands of East Anglia in England for part of a conference of the English Fellowship of Reconciliation and Anglican Pacifist Fellowship on Vulnerability and Security. It’s an interesting area of thought – basically that invincibility is a myth and vulnerability communicates your humanity much better to those who might be seen as your enemies. It also ties in with the concept of ‘human security’ rather than state, national or military security. The USA has learnt to its cost (though perhaps not yet really learnt the lesson at government level) that invincibility is a myth – whether that is 9/11 or Iraq, and, in a previous generation, Vietnam. The world has a whole lot of learning to do, and hopefully out of that learning of our common humanity can come cooperation.

Part of the discussion was based on a Norwegian church document, “Vulnerability and Security – Current challenges in security policy from an ethical and theological perspective” written by the Commission on International Affairs in Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International relations, available in English. This is a progressive document which states that “Recognition of vulnerability as something fundamentally human leads to the recognition of the security of others, of strangers, as my – our joint – responsibility.” However it doesn’t always leap beyond mainstream Christian thinking on violence and nonviolence and, for example, makes the mistaken assumption that ‘humanitarian intervention’ equals ‘military intervention’.

Anyway, there are some things to chew on there for those who might be interested – and perhaps particularly relevant in the light of some Christians who want to rewrite the Just War theory (see e.g. July 2005 edition of the – UK – Anglican Pacifist Fellowship publication ‘The Anglican Peacemaker’.) The classical ‘Just War’ theory is itself more honoured in the breach than the observance within ‘Christian’ countries but would, for example, have put the Iraq war way out of question – which is perhaps why Christians Bush and Blair never referred to it. Interesting, that. Maybe as ‘Christians’ they thought any war they were going to get involved in was ‘just’. Which is just appalling.

Fitting ‘Brit’ to Gerry Fitt
The death of Gerry Fitt, Sunningdale power-sharing ‘tanaiste’ and founder leader of the SDLP (which he left in 1979), marks the end of another key figure in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Despite his early prominent role in the civil rights movement and in nationalist developments, his implacable opposition to violence won him virulent enemies among many republicans and cost him his Westminister parliamentary seat – and also forced him out of Northern Ireland when the life of himself and his wife were seriously threatened. Republicans at the time evidently could not tolerate someone so prominent in the Catholic/nationalist community being so outspoken against violence and, while it can be understood in the context of the times, the hunger strikes, and so on, it is one of the many blots on republican copy books. Sticks and stones would break his bones but it was words that had set him up as a target.

What is also perhaps interesting is the self-fulfilling prophecy involved. He was disparagingly called ‘Fitt the Brit’ by republicans who resented his verbal barrages on IRA violence and the hunger strikes. He was seen to be doing the British government’s work by republicans when what he was doing was voicing an alternative nationalist-cum-social-democratic world view which had a right to be heard. Whether his language was always chosen to communicate as opposed to condemn is another question but he was representing an important Northern Ireland Catholic point of view. It is true that he was probably more social democrat than nationalist (or even socialist) but that was only a punishable crime in some circles. Calling him ‘Fitt the Brit’ was a classic case of dismissal of a person and their views; as a ‘Brit’ he became a non-person, he had no right to be involved in Ireland, end of story. But the self-fulfilling prophecy comes when he subsequently accepted a lordship to become Lord Fitt; when he no longer had a place in Northern Ireland he was forced to live elsewhere – in this case Britain, and accepted a lordship which would seem strange for a former Northern Ireland socialist. Who created ‘Lord Fitt’, the nearest symbol of him really becoming ‘Fitt the Brit’? Why, it looks like it was more republicans than anyone on the island of Britain.

Not naïve
Ireland is blessed or cursed, whichever you prefer, with a range of world development funding agencies including Oxfam, Concern, Goal, Trócaire, and Christian Aid, plus smaller specialist ones like Bóthar. Interestingly, the religious ones, Trócaire and Christian Aid, are also the ones which I would judge to place a higher emphasis on world justice including fair trade, meaning not just support for buying ‘fair trade’ items but a fair international trading system which does not subsidise the rich to dump goods on the poor. Anyway, you pays your money having made your choice (and I hope you do support your favourite agency financially as well as campaigning for justice for the world’s poor).

But following my item in the last issue about mangled names, thanks to an automatic spell cheek, I thought I would share a name in one of the above agencies’ offices – the Dublin office of Christian Aid. Out of a full time staff there of six people, three (or half of the full-timers – there are also a few part-timers) are named Niamh; there’s Niamh Garvey, their policy and advisory officer, but even more confusingly both Niamh Carty, the senior member of staff there as Programme Funding Manager, and Niamh Nic Cárthaigh, communications and media officer. So of these last two Niamhs. one has their name as gaeilge and one anglicised to Carty but basically the same surname. So, a word of advice, if you do have occasion to phone the Dublin office of Christian Aid, don’t be naïve by just asking for ‘Niamh’.

Anyway, that’s Colm No. 1 of the autumn done and dusted. I wish you well for the autumn and hope you and yours are fit and healthy for the season ahead. See you in a month, Billy.

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