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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 109: May 2003

Return to related issue of Nonviolent News

1. After the Iraq war - Should we be very afraid?

The war on Iraq has been and nearly gone (though the internal ramifications both in Iraq and internationally will rumble on). Other wars go on, unnoticed. Other oppressive regimes continue. The USA continues it military hegemony, assisted in the case of Iraq by Tony Blair and the British government. So what has changed?

Iraq is potentially better off without Saddam Hussein, of that there is no doubt. But it is quite clear that the ‘Coalition’ were lying big time. The USA was set on war, and regime change, from early on when it talked only of disarming weapons of mass destruction. It lied about the purpose of the war, and it lied about its interests. Oil was a primary interest; to have a friendly regime in place which would sell oil to the USA was an underlying aim - but so was to demonstrate that no one messed with the USA since being the big boy was no use if you could not bully people. And while ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) may turn up in Iraq it is quite clear that it had none ready for use and the ‘evidence’ the USA and Britain produced of Iraq’s WMD capability and production was just blatant lies. And it was a blatant lie that Iraq posed any threat to the USA or to Britain for that matter. ‘1441’ never justified war; its ‘serious consequences’ did not contain the UN euphemism for war, ‘all necessary means’.

It would be a great victory for ‘democracy’ in Iraq (not certainly a primary USA aim) if the Shi’ite majority adopt a militant stand against the USA and restrict the flow of oil that the USA wants. That would be a sweet irony for a country, or countries, that could not even wait a few months for the UN arms inspection teams to complete their work.

‘Terrorism’ against the West is certainly more likely than before the Iraq war. The contempt with which the USA and Britain treated the international community, the United Nations, and the Islamic world, is a pathetic illustration of the negative effects of military power. It would seem Tony Blair had a moral base for his approach but was blinded to the longer term ramifications. And the real death toll, because of the chaos caused by the war, is far higher than the five thousand or so killed by bombs and bullets.

Condescendingly the West now considers the lifting of sanctions which blighted Iraq since the first Gulf war and which penalised the Iraqi people for having Saddam Hussein as their, unelected, leader. How many people died because of these sanctions? Shall we call it a million? And the USA and Britain dare to talk of the atrocities committed by the Saddam Hussein regime. It sounds like the sides are about even in terms of deaths.

Tony Blair’s approach is to ‘work with’ the USA and not to try and form an alternative (e.g. European) power base to balance the power of the US. It was Tony Blair who got George Bush to advocate a ‘vital’ role for the UN in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq; it quickly became obvious that the term ‘vital’ was totally meaningless and meant a walk on, minor supporting role only, and to the victors the (sp)oils.

Tony Blair is right in advocating the avoidance of an alternative power centre. But he is wrong in advocating working with the USA which, as a vastly technologically superior superpower can call what shots (sic) it wants. We need to break the military power of the USA. The USA in the 20th century may have had its hand in more coups in Latin America (of the right wing sort) than any other country anywhere in the world, possibly excepting the Soviet Union; to challenge US economic and strategic interests was to risk its wrath, openly through military intervention or covertly through its secret service agencies. Globalisation is its 21st century methodology.

And how do we break US military hegemony? In many ways. One is to challenge US economic hegemony and consider carefully what we buy. Another is to oppose US political and military control and influence, in our case in Europe, through pressure on our governments and EU institutions. And a third is to offer support, in whatever way we can, to the progressive forces and groups within the USA who have a very different idea of what being ‘American’ should entail.

The USA is a great country and a great people. It is unfortunate that it has lost its way by becoming a superpower bully, at the expense of injustice both abroad and at home. It is country where an estimated 300,000 mentally ill people are in the prison system. It is a country with an appalling social security system where the numbers falling through the threadbare net are rapidly increasing. It is a country which rejects international institutions (e.g. the International Criminal Court, or even the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) which might in any way impinge on its ‘rights’ (e.g. to mistreat Afghanis and others at Guantanamo base on Cuba) but is the first to cry ‘foul’ (e.g. over US soldiers captured by the Iraqis) when the boot is on the other foot. It rejects the minimalism of even the Kyoto treaty on climate change in favour of more oil consumption (which is increasing rapidly in the USA and internal production decreases) and more risk to the world’s biosphere. It cries out about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ but seeks to build tactical nuclear weapons which make nuclear war more likely.

Such crass stupidity and arrogance goes with the territory of being a superpower. The only way for change to happen is for the people of the USA as a whole to learn a different way. And there are many people – in peace, community, social and political movements in the USA who are exploring and building that alternative. They need time, a fair wind behind their backs, support from their friends, and the growing realisation by US Americans of two things; firstly, as a very divided society many people are actually getting a raw deal within their own country, and secondly, externally, that true security comes not from the barrel of a gun, a tank, or a Stealth fighter, but from turning enemies into friends.

The USA can play a great role in the world and creating a peaceful and just future for all the people of this small globe. This is something for which we all should work and pray – the latter in our own secular or religious ways.

It would be remiss to end this piece without reference to the grovelling nature of Bertie Ahern and the Irish government’s response to the Iraq war. At one point a second UN declaration was ‘essential’; then that was ignored, and the use of Shannon airport by the US military continued unhindered (and even helped by Irish army guarding of planes). And Ahern went so far as to assert that the attack was not pre-emptive (!) because “the permanent representatives of both the US, the UK and Australia [sic] wrote separately to the President of the Security Council informing him that military action had been taken against Iraq. All three said the reason was Iraq’s failure to disarm…..Internationally and legally, it is not considered to be a pre-emptive strike.” When somebody of the Taoiseach’s stature twists words in such a way to mean the opposite of reality, is it any wonder that dishonesty is enshrined in Irish political culture?

2. Democracy in Northern Ireland

The recent impasse on re-establishing the institutions of local government in Northern Ireland raises many questions, among them the goodwill of both the republican and unionist communities. The postponement of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, until at least the autumn, is a disappointment, particularly as the normally volatile summer period is nearly upon us. It is usual to seek to ‘blame’ one side for such an impasse, and, while there can be some point in this at times, it can be part of a zero sum game which does not really benefit anybody when the problem is a collective one in a sectarian and divided society.

The ‘republican movement’ of Sinn Féin and the IRA has come a long way in the last couple of decades, travelling a route which some people thought they would never even set foot on. There is the final step of putting its army out of the picture, and the British and Irish governments have picked at the words of statements on what has really been committed. The IRA does need to make the final step.

But from a nonviolent point of view, as we have said before, there is another perspective. We do not see that simply because it is a state possessing arms – as in the British or Irish states – that this legitimates force, the threat or force or the use of force. In other words, if the IRA possesses arms which they are not going to use, is this any different to the state holding arms, presuming the state is also not going to use them? And the state in Northern Ireland, the British state, certainly did not come up smelling of roses from the mid-April Stevens (interim) report on collusion between the ‘security’ forces and loyalist paramilitaries. Even the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, which tends to avoid political controversy, had a banner headline “Army helped loyalist killers”.

But it is a fact that unionists in Northern Ireland see ‘guns under the table’ as a threat to them, and an inequality, and for this reason alone in allowing and assisting the unionist community to emerge from its trenches, the IRA needs to fully disarm. If it does then there can be no excuse for any unionists to object to full involvement by republicans (who have rejected armed struggle) in anything. It is time for republicans to call the unionist bluff. Without IRA arms arms, the recalcitrant “no’s” of the Unionist Party will have little space to manoeuvre without revealing simple prejudice and bigotry.

But there is another point which we would reiterate. When the republican movement was involved in armed struggle it also used what might be considered ‘nonviolent tactics’, in how it campaigned and protested on various issues. Because of the alliance with armed struggle it is difficult for those who believe in nonviolence to see this as purely nonviolent struggle but it certainly took that form in many ways.

As the republican movement has moved away from the bullet and adopted the ballot it has unfortunately rejected also this way of strong campaigning which is, ironically, a loss. If the republican movement had continued the stronger campaigning stance aside from the parliamentary wheeler-dealing of constitutional democracy, it could have been more able to contribute to a vibrant democracy in Northern Ireland. And others might have learnt from it.

Democracy is about much more than parliaments and political parties. It is about how we make all sorts of decisions, and whether people at a grassroots or campaigning level have the opportunity to make their feelings felt and heard and taken into account. Northern Ireland is a fairly small society, of 1.7 million people, so there should not be a problem of access to those with power – and the Stormont institutions did look like they were delivering government which was more in tune with people’s wishes than the long years of direct rule from 1972 onwards (or, indeed, the previous Unionist regime from 1922 which served primarily one part of one section of the community).

It is, as we say above, time for republicans to call the unionist bluff and fully disarm. But it is also time for us all to realise that a healthy society depends not just on democratic institutions but also on democratic insurrection (which is where Sinn Féin’s previous ‘nonviolent’ tactics come in). By ‘democratic insurrection’ we mean a critical approach to those very institutions (and the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement’s institutions are fair from ideal) and a willingness and ability to fight nonviolently for the causes that we believe in, without being cowed by the corralling of people by political parties.

A populace which is cowed by the trappings of parliamentary democracy may get to voice its opinions once every five years or so; a populace which sees power as its right, privilege and duty will always keep the parliamentarians on their toes. It is to be hoped that in the future, whenever institutions return and things settle down again, the people who are Protestant, Catholic and Everything Else, will feel free to develop the kind of vibrant democracy where Assembly members are always on their toes because of organising and campaigning at a community and grassroots level. That is indeed a goal worth pursuing.

Copyright INNATE 2021