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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 246: February 2017

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Out, out, out
There is one sadistic in the latest Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring report (No.4, reviewed in NN 245) which explains a lot. It's on page 160 and is about people's 'European' identity. The caveat which I would usually give is that the EU, very cleverly, tries to brand itself as 'Europe', whereas it is a particular manifestation within Europe and you can be profoundly 'European' without identifying with the EU. To conflate 'Europe' and the 'EU', as many do, is to make a tragic mistake. As you might gather from this introduction, I would be critical of many aspects of the EU. But I have to accept that for many people the EU is an aspect of 'European-ness'.

Anyway, the chart I am referring to here is about the extent to which people in the EU see themselves as their own nationality only, their nationality and European, 'European' and their own nationality (in that order), or European only. The UK scores by far the highest on 'nationality only' and the lowest on 'European'. On average 39% of people in the EU 28 member states see themselves only as their own nationality; in the UK the figure is 64%. The UK also has the lowest proportion labelling themselves as their nationality and European; 30% compared to an EU 28 average of 51%. Only 2% in the UK see themselves as European and their own nationality, and only 1% as European alone.

Adding together the figures for those who see themselves in some way 'European' (their own nationality plus, European plus their own nationality, or European only), the UK scores the lowest at 33% (the figure for Ireland is 51%, 68% for Sweden, 71% for Germany, and next lowest to the UK in identifying with 'Europe' are Bulgaria and Cyprus on 47% each (14% higher than the UK); these two are just below the half mark, while in the UK it is only a third of the population.

It makes you wonder was David Cameron the least strategic British prime minister ever. He got sleepless nights over the Scottish independence referendum. And he made a simplistic choice available to people over Brexit. If he was aware of the above figures, he really was incredibly naive to think he could walk to a 'yes' vote on remaining in the EU even if polls at the time on that question would have been in his favour. Though if he had asked a sensible question – 'What kind of relationship do you want with the EU?' – in a multi-option preferendum he might just have got a sensible answer.

Certainly if he was aware of the figures quoted above – and his advisors should have made him aware of them - he was an absolute eejit; in trying to resolve a problem in his own party (the 'Euroseptic' wing of the Tories) he gave his country, and a lot of European countries, a much more major headache. The headline to this item ('Out, out, out') is a shortened quote from Margaret Thatcher on possible solutions for Northern Ireland; it seems appropriate wording for Britain/the UK in relation to the EU in 2016.

DARTing to Killiney
It's funny how one thought leads to another. Seeing Sinead Cusack on television over Christmas made me think of the time I had the pleasure of her father's company, Cyril Cusack, walking up Killiney Hill from the DART station. I used to have occasion to travel to Killiney regularly and had realised who was seated a row away on the DART, his back facing me, from his mellifluous and distinctive voice. Getting off the DART he was looking where to go and it turned out he was headed to the same nursing home as I was, so we talked and walked up the hill together, it was just a couple of years before he died. Certainly a charming man, he lived in the nearby Vico Road when he was a young man.

More regularly on my visits to Killiney I pointed out Bono's house to visitors wanting to pay homage. I still have a photo of a side door to Bono's family property and the graffiti there including (in Spanish), "Bono, you are God", though not being a fan of U2 I would not necessarily concur (though critics might add "There but for the Grace of God goes God").

However the most interesting encounter I had in Killiney was probably with a small group of women aged about forty from Manchester who were on a 48-hour pubbing and clubbing visit to Dublin. They got off the DART and wanted to find and visit Killiney village (insofar as you can say it exists) up the hill because in a then recent episode of "Father Ted" he had visited there. So there was Father Ted tourism in action and not just to find 'Rugged Island".

It rarely happens in Ireland but one occasion when it was too hot to stand in bare feet on the stones of a beach also happened to me on Killiney strand. Not what you expect in our climate.

CAJ history
There is a great organisational history of CAJ, the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland, written by Maggie Beirne, a former director of said organisation ("A Beacon of Light – The story of CAJ" ). It was written for CAJ's 35th anniversary. When we think of respected and mature organisations we do not necessarily think of all the work, travails and angst which were required to get there. Interestingly, the author divides the account into two primary sections – an account of organisational developments in the context of the times that were in it, and a fourteen-page chronology of work done by CAJ. Impressive.

I'm not going to attempt to summarise what is in this but I did want to pick up on a few points. The first is the 'peace movement' input to its gestation, CAJ began in 1981; "..many of the early activists were directly drawn from pacifist ranks - in particular members of the Peace People, of the Society of Friends (often known as Quakers), of Pax Christi & of Corrymeela.....The Reverend John Morrow, a Presbyterian minister and at the time recently appointed leader of the Corrymeela community, was also an early supporter. It seems that pacifists and people of different faith traditions had concluded that it was necessary to "break the cycle of violence". The motivation of many of CAJ's founders lay in the belief that peace and justice were inter-dependent." (page 6)

One of the possible effects of peace movement input came later, in relation to whether CAJ should focus on non-state as well as state actors (the decision was 'no'). "As with many violent armed conflicts, the different NI parties disagreed about the nature of the conflict itself; with a few disputed exceptions, the level of jurisdictional control by the armed groups never reached the level which would trigger the appropriate use of the laws of war; and, most controversially of all for CAJ members, the 'laws of war' called for distinction to be made between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" targets. As an organisation that had its roots in pacifism and was opposed to the use of violence, it would have been very difficult for CAJ to accept, for example, that the killing of British soldiers was a "legitimate" action to be undertaken by armed groups." (pages 46-47)

One particularly interesting development is the account of 'internationalising' the issues; " 1991, CAJ's leadership concluded that domestic pressure was inadequate: NI politicians had little power, and Direct Rule ministers, who did have power, ignored media and popular opinion with impunity." CAJ decided to mobilise outside influences "Recognising that the UK government cared about its international reputation, and invested heavily in treaty body examinations at the United Nations...." (page 24) This change of direction is judged to have been very effective. Also of considerable interest is CAJ's developing approach to balance and impartiality, a difficult act anywhere but potentially catastrophic in a divided society like Northern Ireland. On the latter it is difficult to be categorical except to say that it certainly looks like it was generally well handled.

All in all this is a very valuable study with many learnings, for students of human rights, the North, divided societies in general, and organisational development in difficult circumstances. And while this is history, CAJ itself is very much 'not history' with plenty of challenges ahead.

Ready, Teddy, Go
INNATE has been busy preparing for the 'War-Torn Children' exhibition at the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, from 1st March – 15th April 2017 (details in news section this issue). This has included producing various posters, some for display and some for a new set of downloadable A4 ones on our website for home printing on the theme of children and conflict (they'll be there soon at Posters). The INNATE coordinator reports doing a photo shoot with teddy bears for one poster - "All in a day's work" he says - and he had to do a number of takes to get the photo right. However his camera kept telling him "Blink detected". Uh oh. What can you say except "Chucky ar lá'...

Making America grate again
There has been much analysis of the Donald Trump phenomenon and his arrival as POTUS. Clearly he hit spots that Hillary Clinton and the democrats didn't, though she got a couple of million more popular votes. However one piece which I found helpful in terms of people's reactions was "Trump's rhetoric: a triumph of inarticulacy" by Sam Leith in the Guardian in January 2017.

Basically his difference to how politicians sound, and even his lies and lack of equivocation, set him apart from being seen as another elite figure – though I would say trying to project as a defender of ordinary people as a multibillionaire is one of the greatest con tricks ever performed. His vocabulary looks like it is aimed at 9 year olds (based on linguistic analysis) but simplicity can denote honesty (!). Towards the end Leith points out, correctly, that "the most effectively damaging charge against a politician has been dishonesty – or its practical cousin, hypocrisy." But "This rule shows all signs of having been suspended for President-elect Trump.......I never supported the Iraq war; Alicia Machado made a sex tape; I saw thousands of Muslims cheering 9/11; Hillary Clinton started the rumours about Obama's birth certificate but Donald Trump "finished them", and so on. Often those things can be proved to be untrue, or contradict something he previously said. Yet that seems to do him no harm at all." He concludes "We'd rather have an open liar...than a conventional politician."

Beyond being severely right-wing in any decisions he takes, which may include odd populist stances (and 'odd' may be the operative word here), you will never know where he stands. This is partly because he has said so many things he clearly doesn't intend to follow up, or doesn't believe, deep down. What he says is what suits him at that moment. His multifarious promises are summarised here.

I am also a reader of the Doonesbury strip (by Garry Trudeau), is urrently running flashbacks from the 1980s apart from a fresh Sunday cartoon. But on the side of the home page there are placed some remarkable or inconsistent sayings, currently mainly from Trumpism. Try this set of quotes from 26/1/17:

"There are millions of [illegal] votes, in my opinion."-- Trump, citing a Pew study. "As I've noted before, voting integrity better in this election than ever before. Zero evidence of fraud." -- Pew study author David Becker, tweeting in response. "He's groveling again...I will say this: Of those [illegal] votes cast, none of them come to me...They would all be for the other side...We have a lot to look into." -- Trump in response. "All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake." -- Trump's attorneys, in December, arguing against recount efforts.

Clearly Donald Trump has no concept of truth beyond what suits him. Is that dangerous? Hell, yes, when people believe what they want to believe beyond the available evidence it is more likely to lead to choices which are entirely wrong, and that can have serious consequences and ripples (cf Tony Blair and evidence used to bolster arguments for war in Iraq in 2003). For example, contrary to what D Trump believes, immigrants to the US are less likely to break the law than born US Americans, presumably because a) they are being on their best behaviour in a new country, and b) they are probably too busy working. There has always been an element of this divergence from facts in life and politics – and within all of us - but the situation in the USA is arguably of a different magnitude to what has existed there before. It's post-truth, post-evidence, post-fact. Whether it leads to people being tied to a 'post' and whipped, literally (given his approval of torture) or metaphorically, we will have to wait and see.

Well, that's me and the first Colm of the new year with lots of thrills and spills going to come this year, North, South, East and West, however you interpret those geographical indicators. I wish you all the best for the times that are in it, see you soon, 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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