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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Editorial 238: April 2016

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Celebrating life, countering the culture of death

The invisibility of the possibilities represented by nonviolence is well illustrated by discussions about the 1916 Rising. The debate, insofar as there is one, is largely between those who indicate that Home Rule would have come anyway (Home Rule plans were actually very curtailed with not even as much power as the Assembly at Stormont – the irony of 1921 was that Northern Ireland got 'Home Rule') versus those who feel the armed struggle of the 1916 Rising was essential to kick start the military independence struggle.

The same also applies to the early Troubles in the North. If people are unaware of the possibilities of nonviolent struggle – and by struggle we mean nonviolent action for a cause in severe adversity and with an opponent 'out to get you' – then it might as well not exist. And yet nonviolence is supremely well adapted, or adaptable, to situations of persecution and violence. That is not to say it is easy, or cost free. It is not. But when whatever powers that be hold the weapons, what is the point of violence? A symbolic act sure to be defeated, like the 1916 Rising? That one 'worked' in terms of garnering support for the independence cause in a way that violence before or since has rarely or never done in Ireland.

We live in a culture of death and perpetual warfare. Despite the attachment of the public in the Republic to neutrality, the ruling parties back NATO and EU militarisation, out of cowardice and a lack of imagination for the possibilities of creative neutrality and peacemaking. Ireland is sucked in to the Western military morass, a hypocritical espousal of liberty and freedom while actually promoting death and destruction. When and where do we hear who President Obama has recently selected for obliteration by drone? Western policies contributed significantly to the brutal mess that is Syria, so where does the EU reckon fleeing Syrians should go?

It is difficult to celebrate life and counter the culture of death in these circumstances. People fear ISIS and use that as a justification for Western military action, ignoring the fact that ISIS is significantly a Western creation, directly or indirectly, just as the Second World War was a creation of the settlement of the First World War. Violence begets violence. Supporters of military Islamism include many who have been fairly secular Muslims but have been radicalised by the discrimination and attacks they have suffered in the west; Peace News (April-May 2016) quotes French Islam scholar Olivier Roy as saying "This is not the radicalization of Islam, but the Islamization of radicalism."

Peace activists and those who espouse non-military means are labelled as weak, cowardly, ineffective and stupid. But it takes real strength to stand up in adverse circumstances using nonviolence. The possibilities of nonviolence and nonviolent struggle are endless, the repercussions are unlikely to be as dire as using violence, and the possibilities for settlement are higher (look up the stats).

Flying a flag for nonviolence and peace can be a lonely task. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington did not have a lot of support in his rejection of violence and desire to find nonviolent means of supporting struggle. And yet if we look at what has been significant and effective in change, again and again we see nonviolence and nonviolent struggle featuring highly. And with support for neutrality still high in the Republic we have a strong base on which to try to build.

"We serve neither King nor Kaiser" was the proud boast of a banner on Liberty Hall in the First World War and 1916. It is difficult to come up with as pithy a slogan in this day and age. "We serve neither the US empire, Russia, nor ISIS" does not have quite the same ring to it. But the message should be the same. We do not have to support military power blocks of whatever shape, size and ideology. We have an ideology of peace and nonviolence which in the end is mightier than the sword, the bomb or the bullet because it does not depend on violent physical force for its power.

If INNATE can assist you in any way with exploring the possibilities of nonviolence then we would be delighted to do so. See, for example, the Workshops section of our website. We are not simply about understanding the way things are, the point is to change them; as Karl Marx said "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it."

Nonviolent News also tries to give you information for opportunities that exist for promoting peaceful and nonviolent alternatives. These can be third party interventions, as with Mediation Northern Ireland's peace monitor group mentioned in this issue. Or it can be unashamedly taking sides as with resistance to oil drilling beside a water source, as at Woodburn near Carrickfergus. At a community level the possibilities for involvement are endless.

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Bad News and Positive Change

"Climate scientists have bad news for governments, energy companies, motorists, passengers and citizens everywhere in the world: to contain global warming to the limits agreed by the 195 nations in Paris last December, they will have to cut fossil fuel combustion at an even faster rate than anyone had predicted." Tim Radford, The Guardian, 23rd February 2016

The daily news is our window unto the world. The various news programmes reveal the world to be a theatre of the grotesque, tragic and heartless with the tragedies we learn about leaving many feeling worried, despondent and powerless. The bombs that were detonated in Brussels on the 22ndMarch 2016 murdering 35 people, injuring 360, traumatizing thousands and inconveniencing millions is something we expect to learn of every time we switch on the news. Mass murder was committed in Lahore on the 27th March when a suicide bomber killed 70 people and injured 300, most were family groups enjoying themselves in a park.

The five-year war waged by innumerable countries and groups in Syria in which nearly 300,000 people have been killed and nine million displaced is a regular news feature. Rape as a weapon of war in South Sudan and the Congo is on-going. (Time, 21stMarch 2016) Gang murders in the Republic of Ireland and shootings and bombings carried out by republican paramilitary groups in the north of Ireland are common events. Other regular news items include institutional complicity in child abuse, mass fish kills in rivers, the extinction of species and the ever increasing rise in global temperatures which is bringing civilization ever closer to disintegration.

Many horrors receive little media attention such as the killing of Berta Caceres, the Honduran environmental activist who was shot dead on the 3rd March 2016. Damian Carrington in The Guardian, 4th March 2016, who wrote about her murder, says that the data collected by the NGO Global Witness shows that in 2014 two environmental activists were murdered worldwide every week for protesting against such eco-destruction as mining, hydropower dams, plantations and logging. The history of humankind is a bloody one. Even many of the scientific and technological developments that benefit us immensely arose out of war and preparation for war.

Our history of brutality and destruction says obvious things about us, namely that many of our species use brute force to impose their will on the world whilst believing – in the parlance of the day - to be doing the right thing. The people who planned and carried out the bombings in Brussels and Lahore no doubt believed they did the right thing. The British prime minister, and the leaders of other nuclear powers believe that given certain circumstances the right thing to do is incinerate hundreds of millions of people and poison the planet making large parts of it uninhabitable. The people who paid for the murder of Berta Caceres and who took part in the March 2016 murder of Northern Ireland prison officer Adrian Ismay no doubt believe they did the right thing. As Socrates said "no-one goes willingly towards the bad or what he believes to be bad." (Protagoras 358 d1-2)

Murderous and destructive behaviour is rarely instinctive as in fight or flight, nor is it evil as in the handiwork of the Devil, but originates in the imagination of people who lack compassion, the ability to empathise and are deaf to the views of others. People are not self-made but merge out of and are part of society. The human world, which is cultural, is not ordinated but is the material and social embodiment of our collective imagination. It is formed out of our own wilfulness. Realising this is empowering as it means that revulsive behaviour is not inevitable, that the world does not have to be the way it is. We don't need to kill, maim, enslave and humiliate others. Chancellors are not compelled to take from the poor and give to the rich. We are not obliged to litter, eradicate biodiversity and over-heat the planet. Most of this is done in order that we can have things, feel good about ourselves, feel significant, feel we are living a meaningful life and are a bona fide member of the groups we identify with.

As culture - values, beliefs, behaviour, technology and so forth – is incubated in the imagination it can be changed in a way that leads to the evolution of the good life of nonviolence, compassion, equality and ecological sustainability within which essential needs are met and everyone is nurtured to the end of fully realising themselves during their short life.

Education is the way we change ourselves, and as we are herd animals and copy what others do, our behaviour and ideas can play a part in changing our culture for the good. As Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone put in Active Hope (2012) "The power of example is contagious. This is how culture changes." Education to be an effective means for change needs to go beyond exam preparation and include the use of imagination, creativity and critical thinking, learning through engagement with the world outside the classroom, the cover of books and digital screens. If we are successful in developing a more sensitised and considerate culture there will be less bad news on radio, television and in the newspapers as we will be living in a better world.

Copyright INNATE 2021