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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 136: February 2006

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Adolf Awards
Trumpets, bugles, corianders [playing “She’ll be cumin round the mountain when she comes”? – Ed], glockenspiels, and a peal from the oranges: It’s Adolf Award time yet again. Yes, folks, our annual awards ceremony for those who, in the last year, have provided Conspicuous Disservice to Peace or related affronts to humanity, and a few other things thrown in besides. We had so many entries [untrue, untrue – Ed] that we had difficulty editing them down to manageable form. Here, without longer ado, are our awards.

Dinosaurus Wrecks Award: Ian Paisley, the man who, unlike Frank Sinatra, did not do it (his way). He may be more silent in the world at large put he’s still top dog among the DUPed.

Survivor of the Year Award: David Trimble. Yes, a surprise award this considering he was ousted ignominiously from the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party following disastrous election results. He is given this award one last time because a) To have survived so long as leader of the UUP is a remarkable achievement, and b) It’s a bit like getting to keep a cup after three wins in a row, he has been a survivor so long it would be unkind not to give it to him one last time.

Spy of the Year Award: Denis Donaldson is the clear winner (but plenty more awards to come, all over the place).

The I Can Point A Gun In Your Face Award: Irish Minister for Offence, Willie O’Dea.

The Stick Your Head in an Incinerator Award: The Irish government for going for a carcinogenic solution to a waste-full problem.

The Uncertain Nuclear Storage Award (Perpetual Cup for 100,000 Years); To Tony Blair for his enthusiasm for a new generation of British nuclear reactors (not to mention replacing Trident).

The Norn Iron Nonviolent Communication Award: Fr Alex Reid for comparing Unionist treatment of Catholics to Nazi treatment of Jews.

The Norn Iron Opportunists of the Year Award: To all those who tried to use Alex Reid’s unfortunate language as a means to discredit IRA disarmament.

US Stoolpigeon of the Year: Birdie Ahern, for doing so much to assist the US war effort in Iraq – no questions about ‘rendition’ (for torture) flights going through Shannon, and 330,000 US troops through there in the 2005 (more than double the number in 2004).

Glorification of Violence Award: Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail, for reinstituting an Easter military parade commemorating the 1916 Rising.

Direct Line Award: To George Bush, who it was revealed told a Palestinian in 2003 that God had told him to fight the terrorists in Afghanistan, end the tyranny in Iraq, and get a state for the Palestinians. We eagerly await the latter though his success in the two former is highly dubious if not non-existent.

Capitalist Exploitation Award: the governments of the Republic, UK and elsewhere for persisting with PFI (Public Finance Initiatives)/PPP (Public Private Partnership) arrangements for schools, hospitals etc despite clear evidence that they are woefully more expensive and may provide a poorer service to the public (who are, actually, the ones that pay).

Blue Skies Thinking Award: The British Government of 1975 (as released state papers revealed) whose advice included the suggestion of deploying comedians Morecombe and Wise to Northern Ireland in a ‘Brighten Up Ulster’ campaign [the Ulster “Expo ‘72’ a couple of years earlier had speedily being rechristened ‘Explo ‘72’ so this might have been renamed ‘Blighten up Ulster’]

Defending Tradition Award (International Division): Vladimir Putin and the Russian government for continuing the traditions of Russian oligarchy and coming down hard on progressive NGOs, Chechens and anyone else getting in their way.

- - - - - - - - - -

Anyway, on with the rest of the show – Billy -

Gandhi, King, Ikeda
I caught the “Gandhi, King, Ikeda” exhibition at Queen’s University Belfast before it closed in December and thought I’d share my reflections on it with you. It is the ‘United Kingdom’ version of a floating exhibition, with very little in the way of original artefacts (a letter written by Gandhi from prison, possibly in Hindi but I’m not sure, was one of the few original items – I saw neither a translation nor explanation of what the content was about), the rest is composed of floor to ceiling panels on the three men concerned and the work and issues surrounding them and that they have been immersed in. There are a lot of words but the panels are well illustrated and three-quarters of an hour to an hour could have you rather more knowledgeable about the three. I would consider it suitable for mid-secondary school upwards (younger school students would need assistance getting into it). Presumably the exhibition has now moved on to its next booking.

But I have a fundamental problem with it. Gandhi and King are global icons and dead. Ikeda is not so well known and living. And although it seems the evolution of the exhibition is due to Lawrence Carter of Morehouse College in the States, the exhibition itself is produced by SGI, the lay Buddhist organisation of which Ikeda is president. So I have a big question here; who is promoting whom? I had the uncomfortable feeling that it was as much trying to promote Ikeda to global stardom as it was about the work of Gandhi and King and their approach to life. And while Ikeda and SGI may undoubtedly be working for international understanding from a ‘nonviolent perspective’, I would feel there is a big difference between Ikeda’s ‘gently gently’ approach and Gandhi and King’s strong, upstanding, community-rooted nonviolence. It’s not that I don’t think there is a place for Ikeda’s and SGI’s type of work, it’s just that it’s rather different and linking the three jarred rather strongly with me.

And doing this kind of exercise, producing an exhibition which links a leader of your organisation with other renowned (and dead) world leaders is subtle but fundamentally flawed because it comes across as self promotion. It’s a bit like INNATE deciding there should be a “Gandhi, King (Martin Luther), King (Billy)” exhibition which would include myself in the pantheon of nonviolent gods. [You’ve got to be joking! – Ed] [Yes, but you get the point – Billy]. What, say, they had produced a “Gandhi, King, Davitt” exhibition for Ireland – same content on King and Gandhi but the rest on Michael Davitt; if it was reasonably done then I would be saying, great, book it for your centre or library now. But as it stands I feel it is fundamentally flawed. In fact I am not that much into the ‘human icon’ model of promoting nonviolence; it’s not that I don’t use Gandhi or King [no relation – Billy] [didn’t think there possibly could be – Ed] but that holding up nonviolent ‘saints’ can, if done wrongly or indeed excessively, make us all look like ‘sinners’ – that we cannot possibly, possibly emulate anything that such characters did. And this is fundamentally the wrong message about nonviolence, which is about the power of people or even ‘the power of the people’, not the power of nonviolent stars in the firmament (who had their own faults and foibles too).

I did purchase the booklet that went with the exhibition for a few pounds (“Three Ordinary Men. Three Extraordinary Lives. Gandhi – King – Ikeda Peacebuilder’s exhibition”). In talking to a friend, they said “It’s the kind of organisation that gives prizes to other similar organisations”. And there in the booklet it was – hadn’t they given the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builder’s prize to a member of the Nobel family! And another one to Betty Williams, who already had a Nobel prize, and their very first to HRH Prince El Hassan bin Tabal of Jordan, president of the Club of Rome (which has, actually, done some useful awareness raising on global warming). All this served to heighten my concern (their choices, where they differed, are at least as conservative as the Nobel Peace Prize). So, if it comes your way, by all means go and see the exhibition but I think you should be aware of what I have said.

It’s a place, not a person. In fact it’s a small village in the north of Latvia near the Russian border, the population quite recently was up to near a thousand people but has sunk below half that as people have emigrated to find work. And Latvia as a whole risks having a declining population with the economic stagnation that that can entail – Ireland was there and did that for over a century. Anna’s men have almost all gone abroad to work leaving pensioners, the young, and mothers with children behind, and the strain of long distance relationships. One young man of seventeen in Anna bemoaned the lack of anything to do – we could see he is possibly one of the next to go abroad, even sports teams became impossible locally as the young emigrate.

So where have the people of Anna emigrated to? Ireland, working on the building sites and elsewhere in the Republic. Anna was featured on RTE’s television news of 21st December last, and its ‘deserted village’ feel is highly reminiscent of Ireland, at least the west of Ireland, as recently as the 1980s. Irish good fortune has been replaced by Latvian bad fortune as its workers move within the EU to where there are jobs. Emigrant payments home will of course help to buoy up Latvian fortunes slightly but at what a cost in broken lives and relationships. As with the Irish before then, some will swim well in their new environment while others may sink or drown in loneliness or alcohol. What a sad comment it is all on our global, and EU, economic system that people cannot remain where their heart is, to forge and find their future in the environment they love, but are forced to become strangers to make their living.

Willing travel and work abroad is a great thing, an opener of minds and, with the emigrant returning, a store of new knowledge and experiences (look at the literally hundred thousand or more Irish who have returned home when they could with the opportunities of the Celtic Tiger). Forced emigration to find a living can be a tragedy in the making, the worker cast adrift in a difficult sea with some surviving well and many finding the going exceedingly tough. It’s a strange world we live in. And it’s even stranger because thirty years ago Ireland was in a similar boat. But the Republic’s economic ‘miracle’ is a once off, largely due to massive multinational investment in an EU English-speaking country, and there are many side effects and costs (e.g. the problem of purchasing housing now), and other countries seeking to replicate Ireland’s good fortune will find that the door is quite securely locked and the key hidden in a very large haystack.

So Anna’s children may find they need to emigrate for a long time to come.

Una O’Higgins O’Malley
The death in December of Una O’Higgins O’Malley removes one of the foremost figures of the Troubles-era ‘peace movement’ in the Republic (apart from many other involvements). I wrote about her previously (NN 97, March 2002) when her autobiographical book, “From Pardon and Protest: Memoirs from the Margins” (published by Arlen House), had come out. The daughter of assassinated Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins, Una had what amounted to, in Dublin terms, an upper crust charm but you also sensed a tremendous integrity and a great determination as well. She made up her own mind, including on the very divisive H Blocks issue where she took an anti-establishment line. A founder member and leading light in Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, she had had the initial impetus and obstacle in life of becoming reconciled with the killers of her father. She was a tremendous woman that I remember with fondness and a great respect. I wasn’t party to much of her work, and the early Glencree had some struggles including defining itself as Christian or secular, but I knew that with Una there would have been a carefully and thoughtfully worked out position which she would have articulated calmly.

I previously related (NN 97) that we would have been on the same picket lines of Provisional Sinn Féin in Dublin in the early 1970s – and the sheer genius of the police/Gardai in becoming convinced that I was a Provo. [Always had a suspicion you were a spy of some sort, did they turn you then? – Ed] [Very unfunny – Billy] But there was another time, in Belfast, that Una O’Higgins O’Malley indirectly led me into trouble. I was involved in ‘Dawn’ monthly magazine at the time [a sort of ‘Nonviolent News’ for the pre-computer/internet era – Ed] and we published an article by Una O’Higgins O’Malley on the H Blocks situation in the same issue as an interview with John Morrow who was at that stage the incoming leader of the Corrymeela Community. The front cover had the words ‘Corrymeela’ and ‘H Blocks’ prominently displayed but with sub-headings, and anyone more than glancing at the cover would have realised that they referred to two different features.

Anyway, selling ‘Dawn’ outside ‘Corrymeela Fair’ fundraising event in Belfast (and it could have been any peace-type event), a middle-aged woman passed me and, having glanced at the cover, said pointedly and with some venom “We don’t like Corrymeela being linked with H Blocks”. I followed her across the pavement to try to explain that the captions referred to different pieces, and that the H Blocks article was written by Una O’Higgins O’Malley of Glencree, the nearest southern equivalent to Corrymeela. Clearly not one word was going in, so determined was she in her prejudice, and she turned on me at the edge of the pavement before crossing the road and growled “If you follow me any more I’ll get you taken in for molesting me” ! That was literally what she said. Clearly, even in a supposedly ‘peace’ context, dialogue was a difficult concept and prejudices had to have their outlet. It was a sad illustration to me of the work that had to be done even with our own, so-called ‘peace constituency’. [‘so-called’ – that’s strong words or strong inverted commas – Ed] [Well, would you consider her part of a ‘peace’ constituency? – Billy] [Don’t know anything about her – Ed] [Well, neither do I beyond the above – Billy]

Anyway, here’s to Una O’Higgins O’Malley who had the courage to stand up when many were rooted solidly to their chairs or the inside of their bunkers. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.

Blessing the troops
Well, bless my soul, before Christmas the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Robin Eames, went out to visit British troops in Iraq (specifically the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment). Was I surprised? Well, obviously I didn’t know he was going to do it but I wasn’t surprised surprised, if you get my meaning. It did merit one or two letters in publications across the water in Britain but no comment that I know of this side of the Irish Sea so I am trying to remedy that.

The justification (the ‘Just War Visit Theory’!) is of course that it was a ‘purely’ pastoral visit, looking after the spiritual welfare of the troops, blab la. If someone supports the British state and its military enterprises in support of the Free (Market) World and Gorge Bash Enterprises, and also agreed with Christian support for said wars, then you could say it was a fine thing. But of course this is an illegal, immoral, grossly expensive, naïve failure of a war. Turn back the tide on terror? Rebuild Iraq? You must be joking – they’re probably queuing up to join Al Qaeda and associated enterprises just like some people in Derry queued up to join the IRA after Bloody Sunday in 1972. The US, British and allied forces are between Iraq and a hard place. If Robin Eames was out and about in Iraq, which he assuredly wasn’t, he would have felt right at home like in Norn Iron; the US and British have succeeded in fostering (Sunni/Shia) sectarianism where none existed before. Marks out of ten for the US and UK? About minus ten.

When will Christian leaders stop being that naïve they can provide a ‘pastoral visit’ in this kind of situation without overwhelming political overtones? They cannot. Surely the Christian thing to do in this context – even going on the limited Just War theory let alone any Historic Peace Church understanding of Christianity – would be to continue to condemn it and urge withdrawal at the first available opportunity – and that would also be the best pastoral support for British troops. Many Christian leaders did openly oppose the Iraq war before it began; it is sad to see this kind of support for Britain’s ‘our boys’ which is clearly at variance with basic Christian teaching. When the Iraq war started many in Britain swung behind the British forces in support; it is sad to see a Christian leader – and an Irish one at that - taking the same tack a couple of years later. Maybe if he issued a clear statement condemning the war and then went on a pastoral visit that might be acceptable morally but if he did this then his invitation would have been withdrawn – what army is going to want to be told “I’m here to support you pastorally and individually but you should never have been here in the first place, what you’ve been doing is wrong”. But that is precisely the kind of thing he should have been doing, or trying to do. Anything else is just being used as a justification for the war.

And the scripture reading today…..
Well, it’s always worth reading your local newspaper(s) because almost inevitably there will be some snippet about some person or development which is worth knowing about. Occasionally there are even pieces of wider significance. I consider one such piece appeared in the South Belfast News of 28th January 2006 when former (Alliance) Lord Mayor of Belfast Tom Ekin shared some information about his time in office (2004-5). It had become policy in 1990 – in the context I assume it was a Protestant exclusivist move (“we own the scriptures more than anyone else, so, it’s one up for us if they’re read before meetings”, that kind of thing) – to read scripture before the start of monthly Council meetings. Tom Ekin followed this policy to the letter – except the ruling did not indicate which scriptures should be read so he included readings from Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i scriptures – and no one noticed as they stood for the readings. No one noticed – and if they had, the bible-beaters would have raised hell (to coin a phrase). As he recounts in the report, “I found suitable passages with an appropriate theme – that of unlocking people’s potential and then made sure that it was translated correctly”. If ever there was an inter-faith test on the similarity of faith approaches to at least some issues then this was it – and in a society with religious antennae which are so acutely tuned, no one noticed.

When Tom Ekin came out about it, some people did complain about the wool being pulled over their eyes but Free Presbyterian Minister David McIlveen surely got it all wrong in saying (quoted in the South Belfast News) that “it undermines Belfast City Council’s very strong line – that of a Christian council for a Christian people.” This is highly reminiscent of being ‘a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’ (indeed, in some people’s use of the term ‘Christian’ in Northern Ireland, it means exactly the same thing). Belfast City Council is surely for all the people of Belfast and Tom Ekin may have played a trick on councillors but it was a highly revealing one; the shibboleth of religion in this context is just that, a shibboleth (“A slogan or catch phrase, usually considered outworn, characterising a particular party or sect”, Collins Shorter Dictionary) and in such a formal setting no one was able to tell the difference between the teaching of different religions. So much for the ‘scripture’ knowledge of these devoted Christian councillors!

Well, that’s me for now, the crocuses are starting to flower, and I sowed my broad beans [you old ‘has bean’ – Ed] [no, the best has yet to bean – Billy] the other day, so here’s to the springtime-a-coming. Wishing you all the best for what’s left of 2006 (!) - 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).

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