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Nonviolence News



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

Issue 134: November 2005

Also in this editorial:

1916 - The medium is the message

And so Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fail (in consultation with the Progressive Democrats but not the other parties) announced the recommencement of an Easter military parade in Dublin to commemorate the 1916 Rising - and reclaim said event from others, i.e. Finn Féin, who would claim it (Bertie and FF undoubtedly had more than one eye on the threat to the Fianna fail vote from the Sinners). It will be a 'large scale' military parade past the GPO. This represents severely flawed thinking for a number of reasons.

The first thing to do is to acknowledge some things about 1916. The 1916 Rising was one of the most significant events in 20th century Ireland; along with Ulster loyalist arming of itself from 1912 (prior, it must be said, to nationalist arming), it transformed the nature of the dispute in Ireland. The 1916 Rising and its repercussions led directly to Catholic demand for outright independence from Britain and, indirectly, to partition. It is History with a capital 'H' and denying its significance is pointless.

But time has moved on. And if it was appropriate to cancel the event during the Troubles why should it start again now? It is severely flawed thinking to imagine that an event which might inflame opinion and be seen in some way to condone violence and be inappropriate should be resurrected when most of the recent violence (the Troubles in the North) is over. The year 1916 was the bloodiest period of the First World War and some of the leaders of the Rising, including Pearse, were soaked in the bloody violent redemption myths of around the start and early period of that war. Are we still stuck in this mire?

Some parts of the 1916 Proclamation are equally dated, such as the concept of 'manhood' ("having organised and trained her manhood"), invoking God's blessing on their arms (what a repulsive concept), invoking the protection of the 'Most High God' on a particular cause, and some aspects of the concept of sacrifice. Some of the concepts are liberating, as in "the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland" (tell that to the multinationals), liberty, equality and so on.

If the State is to remember 1916 and the Rising which led within five years to the foundation of that same state, are there not more creative, 21st century ways to do it? As mentioned above, there were some very positive aspects to the 1916 Proclamation, none more so than 'cherishing all the children of the nation equally". Well, that is a very relevant concept in the era of the Celtic Tiger/Hyena; child benefit may have soared in the Republic but the contrast between the haves and the have nots has continued to grow. Why not have something creative in the nature of a festival for children which would contribute to equality? Although Easter is still moveable, this could be linked with St Patrick's Day festivities but be geared to children, especially providing resources in areas of need which could show off the fruits of their labour in the festival?

Aside from its symbolic role associated with statehood, the main roles of the Irish army have been counter-insurgency internally and service with the United Nations in military peace-keeping externally. Again, if we want to look at 21st century ways of marking the past, why not look at questions like unarmed peacekeeping, how that can be done, and also acting in solidarity with nations which are still struggling to be free and how they can resist nonviolently?

Staying with a military parade to celebrate the 1916 Rising is to stay stuck in a militarist mindset. Far from reclaiming the Rising positively from Sinn Féin (if that needed to be done which is another question) it will confirm the appropriateness of armed action, even of the heroic blood sacrifice type which 1916 represented. Justification of military action after an event serves also to justify future military action. And it bodes ill for developing Irish army involvement in EU military action in the future.

We are not saying that 1916 should not be marked as an historic occasion and the event which, more than any other, led to the formation of the partitioned Irish Free State. We are saying that it should be done in a positive manner which looks forward to developing a world without war. That requires a different mindset, one which is prepared to think differently and question the dross left by the past. A military parade to celebrate the 1916 Rising simply perpetuates the myth of redemptive violent action and, after thirty year of the Troubles, we have had far too much of that for the Irish state to join in now. This is a badly thought out plan by the Irish government.

Neither militarism nor paramilitarism

The ending of the most recent loyalist feud between the UVF and the LVF is good news in Northern Ireland. Four people have been killed (though that now pales into insignificance compared to the number of drug-related gang deaths in Dublin). If the LVF really is disbanding then that is good news, and there are others who need to take that course, even if the LVF may be taking this course under threat.

However, as with the IRA, 'disbandment' can mean many things including the continuation of extortion and rackets to keep people and causes in the style to which they have become accustomed. Whether and how long these various rackets can continue without the sanction of violence is another matter. And whether loyalist paramilitarism as a whole will decide that the time has come to stand down is a question to which there is definitely no answer as yet. Logically the end of the IRA's violence should also mean the end of loyalist paramilitarism but straightforward logic is not the issue. The IRA's disarming took more than seven years from the Good Friday Agreement when 'logically' it should have happened quite soon afterwards. Simple resistance to change and the question of what role is left for people are major issues, aside from those who oppose disarming for financial or strategic reasons.

Some former paramilitaries may disappear into the woodwork, emerge in new political roles, or get involved in community work of one form or another. This is generally good news for the North though people will naturally be wary of what known former paramilitaries are up to. It could take quite some very considerable time for the playing field to even out.

But there is another aspect of encroaching peace in Northern Ireland which is worth remarking on. As the danger recedes of attacks on troops and 'normalisation' grows, British Army recruiters (for full and part time army posts) are becoming more blatant. This needs opposed by all those who support peaceful resolution of conflict. To give just one basic current reason, the British Army is fighting an illegal and immoral war in Iraq which has put back international relations decades and added incredibly to the risks of death and serious injury through bombing and attacks on civilian targets in Iraq but also to a lesser degree in 'the west'.

We say paramilitarism has had its day. But we also say militarism has had its day. It is time to give nonviolence a chance and explore its possibilities and not be sucked into the normalisation of militarism. This will mean actively resisting the army recruiters and the inducements they offer to join up and fight for Bush and Blair.

Fit to collapse

The collapse of yet a second trial of the Catholic Worker Ploughshares Five at the Four Courts in Dublin is not an effective illustration of the jury system in operation. In both cases it would seem it was the judge what done it (responsible for collapsing the trial). If the state (DPP) is not to appear vindictive, the charges should now be dropped. We have also had enough of narrow rulings from the judge about what evidence the defence can present and their case. To have to defend yourself in two trials is a sentence in itself - three trials would be ludicrous.

To prevent farce turning to tragedy, the case against the Ploughshares Five should be dropped immediately

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

The Commodification of Halloween

This year Halloween shop-displays appeared before the end of August, denoting the intensive sell of the artefacts of the season. An article in The Independent (UK), 24 October, about the commercialization of the festival informed us that the shop chain Woolworth's had 224 Halloween products on sale, a third aimed at adults, and that the occasion is a multimillion-pound bonanza. Sadly, Halloween has become another commodity, a time for shallow thrills, rather than, as it was a number of decades ago, an event that marked the end of the season of light, warmth, and vibrant colour to that of darkness and cold, and with this a change in the ambiance and activities of everyday life, most notably the type of food eaten, clothes worn, games played, outdoor chores undertaken and enjoyment of the warmth and comfort of the living room fire. In times gone-by Halloween acknowledged our place in Nature, black signifying the long hours of darkness and the fact that we would die, orange represented the autumn hue of grass and leaves. It was also believed that on Halloween ('Hallow' means something holy) the souls of the departed were about in the darkness of the night, thus the masks and pumpkin lanterns to frighten them away. The festival goes back to at least the time of the Celts. Alexei Kondratie in his book Celtic Rituals (2004), informs us that for the Celts it embodied five main themes:

1. Renewal. This focuses primarily on the bonfire ritual. 2. Hospitality for the dead. 3. Dissolution: disguises, trickery, etc. 4.Timelessness: the momentary escape from the linear progression of Time encourages the practice of divination. 5. Sacrifice: The Harvest must be paid for, so the spirits of the Land receive Tribute." (p. 108)

Kondratie articulates what was once widely held to be the essence of the festival when he says:

"The Year's plunge into winter is also a plunge into the deep sea-waters of Death. ...In practical terms, this means letting go: allowing the heightened energy of the samos-phrase, (life - summer experience) which we have been drawing on constantly to fuel many activities at the conscious level, to slip out of our control and sink back into the formless depths of the ocean-womb, there to await rebirth at the proper time. ...The absence of light will, in the meantime, bring about new modes of consciousness appropriate to it, stressing memory and reflection over observation and action. Without such a period for re-processing and re-assimilating past experience, there could be no growth to a new stage." (p. 208)

The commodification of Halloween signifies a degree of alienation from our nature, as well as the natural world. In the former we repress our primeval need for a period of productive slumber, and in the later, we hold that technology has made us independent of the cycles and restraints of the biosphere. This accords with what the novelist and political activist Arundhati Roy said on the subject of commodification, or what might be called the denaturing of the world:

"Down at the Mall there's a mid-season sale. Everything's discounted - oceans, rivers, oil, gene pools, fig wasps, flowers, childhoods, ... wisdom, wilderness, civil rights, ecosystems, air - all 4,600 million years of evolution. It's packed, sealed, tagged, valued and available off the rack." (Frontline, 11th October 2002)

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