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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 199: April 2012

[Back to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Well, hello there. If March was brilliantly above average in the weather stakes, dis April was disappointingly and distressingly dismal (Don’t dis me man – Ed). Just as the Inuit are reputed to have lots of words for snow, it strikes me that people in Ireland should have lots of words for ‘grey’, in whatever language – English, Irish, Polish, Yoruba, whatever. Mind you, I wrote before about becoming a connoisseur of grey. Grey gets a bad press. Grey is good! [Do you say that because your hair looks grey, well, actually beyond grey, more white than grey to me – Ed] [Grey is elegiac – Billy]

What did England ever do for us?
A Norn Prod acquaintance of mine happened to say during the month that he didn’t like the English or (US) Americans. That made me think. Some of my best friends hail from those parts. Which gives me an excuse to retell the joke about the friend of the Jewish rabbi who wasn’t sure whether he was aware that some of his Hebrew congregation also went, betimes, to Quaker meeting (in some places the Religious Society of Friends is very liberal theologically). He thought the rabbi should know but was worried that the news would upset him. However, he felt a duty to inform him, so, with some trepidation, he went to the rabbi’s house. The rabbi, as usual, welcomed him warmly and they sat down and chatted. Eventually his friend said why he had come and hoped that the news would not come as a shock but told him some of the rabbi’s congregation also attended Quaker meeting. The rabbi’s eyes twinkled, he smiled and said “Ah yes, I already knew – some of my best Jews are Friends!”.

But I did want to pay my own tribute to our nearest ‘big’ neighbours. What did our nearest powerful neighbours (our nearest neighbours being the Scots and Welsh) ever do for us (à la ‘Life of Brian’?). Well, they gave us counties, sectarianism, a capital city (or two) and centralised administrations (good or bad), partition, my ancestors (a lot of), various TV programmes ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.... oh, and the English language which I am utilising as I speak, so to speak.

But to pay tribute properly I decided to update that great hymn to things English, Land of Hope and Glory. The Ex Pistols (ic) did a version back around 1980 which you can hear on Youtube but the Ex Pistols only changed a few words (‘make me mightier yet’ rather than ‘make thee mightier yet’ and ‘No regrets / Don’t expect / To forget’). I wanted to do a version which would be right up with the times that are in it, a complete reworking to be honest and truthful.

So here goes, but I am afraid I have had to add a few footnotes so my version may not immediately be taken up universally insofar as some the references may not be universally understood. But, frankly, while the chorus has a bit of a ring to it the two original verses are absolute drivel (so I only have reworked one) though there are different versions and here.

Land of dope (*1) and gory (*2), Mother of the Freeze (*3),
How shall we control thee, who are mired by thee?
Lower still and lower, welfare rates be set;
God, who made thee mighty????!!! Make thee Blightier (*4) yet,
God, who made thee mighty????!!! Make thee slighter yet.

Dear Land of ‘Nope’, thy hope is drowned
God make thee Blightier yet!
Our sweaty brows, beloved, renowned
No nearer their reward.
Unequal laws, our freedom lost,
Have ruled thee hard and long
With Freedom stained, and Truth ignored,
Thine gov’ment shall be wrong

(*1) This may be either a reference to ‘high’ cannabis use in England, or to the current British Prime Minister.
(*2) Reference to England’s predilection for fighting wars in different parts of the world.
(*3) This is a reference to public sector pay freeze and general negative aspects of recession under a right-wing government.
(*4) An adjective associated with ‘Blighty’ an Anglo-Indian term for England, deriving from a Hindustani word, ‘Blightier’ implying ‘more homely’.

Next month: A new version of the spar-strangled planner.

Northern stats
I hope you have been reading your copy of the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report that came out in February (see NN 197 or go direct to the site). Written by Paul Nolan and funded by the Joseph Rowntree foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, it’s an amazingly comprehensive compilation of facts, analysis and statistics on Norn Iron, not just covering what you might expect (Catholic and Protestant) but issues to do with other minorities or majorities of different kinds. While it is taking facts which are already in the public arena, to pull together such an assemblage must have required both a labour of love and hard graft. An annual update will show what ‘progress’ or regression the North is making.

With 184 pages of A4 it is quite impossible to summarise it here, and I won’t try. However, beginning with a profile of Northern Ireland it moves into analysis of four dimensions; the sense of security, equality, political progress, and cohesion and sharing. Thankfully the report includes a summary with ‘Ten key points’ (page 7, including the good and the worrying, e.g. “8. Northern Ireland remains a very divided society” and “9. There has been no strategy for reconciliation”) and key point summaries to chapters. It throws in pithy quote and references, as in talking about conflict ‘post-conflict’ between the two main ethnonationalist communities – “This is a process that has been neatly summarised as ‘Clausewitz in reverse’ (Ramsbotham et al, 2005) – in other words, the continuation of the war into politics, with politics broadly defined to include cultural contestations over languages, symbols, and celebrations and continuing disturbances at community level.” And it goes on with more nuances.

While closely analysing everything in sight, it also uses clear oversights, such as (on page 43) quoting “seasoned journalist Ed Moloney” writing towards the end of 2010 that “The violence committed by dissidents in the last two years could easily fit into a two or three week period when the Provisionals were active”. It also points out that so called dissidents have no strategy for moving beyond violence. On educational attainment it points out that double the proportion of people (20% compared to 10% in UK as a whole) have no educational qualifications (page 34) and there has been double the DLA/Disability Living Allowance rate in the North - which is where British welfare changes will hit harder. Both of these facts are well enough known but point to the comprehensiveness of the document.

In the ‘Would You Believe It’ category (yes, I would), the largest proportion of classified victims of hate crime have been white (66% to 54% of victims in a couple of years - of these Polish people were the most common victims by nationality, 88 or 32%, “marginally fewer than the 91 Asians attacked” in one year). It also analyses homophobic and so-called ‘domestic’ violence. In talking about policing, and stop-and-search, there is the fascinating reference to the study in England which showed 73% of those charged with attacking the police in the August 2011 riots there had been subject to stop and search in the previous year. (page 62) On poverty, the ‘bus stop’ analysis of life expectancy show the difference along the same bus route from the centre of Belfast. (page 99) On educational attainment it shows the tilt towards Catholics and females (page 107) and more detailed analysis of relative achievement rates (though Protestant working class underachievement perhaps needs more attitudinal analysis).

In the political sphere it includes a look at logjams in recent years over policing and justice, an Irish Language act, academic selection (the “11+”), and community relations strategy and points to the lack of debate on public policy because “the inter-communal divide and constitutional issues take up so much precedence....” (quote from Alan Trench, page 121). It goes on to consider the success of the North-South ministerial council and the relative irrelevance, to date, of the British-Irish Council. (page 132) It looks at support for peacemaking – with the EU being the biggest financial contributor by far. Having considered the fact that an increasing majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the UK with devolved government (58% in 2011 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey) (page 138) it goes on to take more nuanced looks at perceived identities and overlap between competing ones.

On the issue of integrated education, it points to the irony of people using ‘diversity’ and ‘pluralism’ as reasons for segregation (page 156) but does have a look at new, possible inter-schools partnerships and sharing. The number of people seeing their town centres as safe and welcoming to them has risen significantly (still not a majority) but differentiated by class. Women’s representation in party politics has been low though there is a slightly higher proportion of women in the NI Assembly than in the Dáil. Poor in both jurisdictions, then, though we shall see what quotas can do in the Republic.

In a concluding section, Paul Nolan writes that “There is no occasion in Northern Ireland when people stand together, to salute one flag or sing one national song, to experience the sense of being one people with a single, shared identity.” He then goes on to look at gestures which have either brought people together or divided them. In my own conclusion I would say that this reference work will be around for a considerable time and the annual updates will provide some sense, over time, about which way the North is travelling. In the nature of the publication, you may disagree with some analysis here or there but as a compilation it is remarkably thorough, comprehensive and fair.

That’s about it except to mention I went to Jean Renoir’s “La Grande Illusion” (1937) on the basis of it being a classic anti-war fillum. Yes and no. You get rather lost in two escape from officer POW camp plots. I suppose the upper class solidarity across the sides in the First World War makes you wonder what the war was about. For me the greatest anti-war moment in it is when a young German widow points to the photo of her dead husband and brothers, mentions the battles they died in and says, factually but deadpan ironically, “the scenes of our greatest victories”. Indeed. In the final scenes, you hope love triumphs across the boundaries but, set as it is in the second decade of the twentieth century, you can’t help thinking the film itself was made just two years before the Second World War started. Wars to end war and violence have been on the go for a long time, and they still are, that is pretty much why NATO et al are in Afghanistan, isn’t it? Fighting ‘them’ ‘there’ so ‘they’ don’t come to fight ‘us’ ‘here’ except if ‘they’ weren’t fighting ‘them’ ‘there’ then ’they’ wouldn’t want to come and fight ‘here’ to begin with, insofar as they have any desire to do so which is very debateable, or there wouldn’t be people ‘here’ who wanted to join in.

Oh, and I’m sure you’ve been delighted to learn that ‘made in Belfast’ (by Thales) Star Streak missiles will be on the rooftops of London for the Olympics. Must make you feel safe, that, knowing that overkill weapons of war are overhead, ready to be used. Personally I’d much prefer an unarmed Ollie-mpics where people mess about like Laurel and Hardy, and there would still be a Laurel wreath for anyone judged to be winners (or losers)! That’s another fine mess or mixed pickle some people have got into. But, as it stands, sport, the O-lympics seem to be a combination of chauvinism, capitalism (BIG sponsorship with crazy arrangements), hype and militarism all rolled into one. Oh, and a bit of sport thrown in.

So, fare thee well until we meet again next month in Nonviolent News Number 200, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun(ny faces pulled at you all the time). 200 issues, makes me weep copiously, so 200 tissues then.

Yours til the cows come home, moo. Clearly I’m on the yellow brick botharín, 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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