January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
They still haven't gone away, you know
The prevalence of 'old' forms of violence through paramilitarism in the North is quite obvious. But when you stack up the statistics, as The Detail* did recently, it is rather chilling. No, it does not amount to a resumption of the little war which existed for thirty years in Northern Ireland but it does mean that society is still held hostage by the past and by violence stemming from that. It is not that those who support violence of this kind have no vision of the future, clearly they have even if it is not an inclusive one, and it will be one of building barriers and not bridges, of violent enforcement and not nonviolent change and engagement.
So what are the headline figures? The Detail says that in the period 2006/7 to 2014/15 there were 48 people jailed under terrorism legislation; there were 22 murders; 1,100 shootings and bombings; 787 punishment attacks; 3,899 reports of people forced from their homes by paramilitaries; 849 firearms and 495 kg of explosives seized; thousands of members of paramilitary groups still exist; paramilitaries linked to 33 organised crime gangs earning millions illegally; 4,241 train services were halted by bomb alerts; 30,000 – 40,000 ex-paramilitary prisoners but no re-integration strategy; 1,758 arrests under terror laws; 399 charged, 80 convicted with only around half of those being jailed.
There are many different aspects to this. Old habits are hard to unlearn. Paramilitarism and criminality intermesh in some contexts. The policy which has existed in the North of supporting ex-paramilitary groups to engage in community activities may have assisted the peace in some ways but it has also copper fastened the position of such individuals and groups at a time when wider agreement and policies on moving on from the past do not exist. It is quoted that half of the referrals that WAVE trauma centre receives relate to ongoing intimidation although these are likely to come from those outside of recognised structures.
So what is needed? Many things. A comprehensive deal on dealing with the past, partly blocked by the UK state using unreasonable arguments about 'national security', is essential. The outline of this has been clear from the Haas talks and the 'Fresh start' negotiations. But there is a wider task in educating younger people about the Troubles and its effects. Not to make people aware of the horrors and futility of the little war that went on in the time of their parents and grandparents is to risk repetition. No, it is certainly not the Holocaust/Shoah but the bitterness, hatred, pain and division in Northern Ireland are real and need dealt with, along with education about its futility. But this alone is not enough.
Masculinity and the acceptance of violence need tackled. There is a need to redefine masculinity away from macho posturing and in favour of nurturing. It is not that in Northern Ireland some women have not engaged in paramilitary violence, or that many women did not act as cheerleaders for the violence. It has, however, tended to be men who engaged in the actual violence. Why? And why is this acceptable? Until we have successfully redefined what being a man means then we will struggle to deal with violence at every level (personal, societal, international). A different kind of masculine strength is called for, complementing rather than contradicting female strength.
The acceptance of violence in the international scene (war) also has ramifications locally. The supposed legitimacy of violence comes from many quarters, historical, cultural, and contemporary. For those who are determined to control others, by any means necessary, there is no nonviolent equivalent. There is no nonviolent equivalent of physical or psychological intimidation. However there are nonviolent alternatives in terms of working, campaigning and struggling for political ideals and without education and exploration of these (an area close to INNATE's heart) then peace is also impossible. Why would people choose to relinquish violence if they are unaware of what can be achieved nonviolently?
More generally there is a need for education in conflict. This should include the possibilities of mediation but also about conflict in general, its stages and features, and how it can be dealt with in a positive fashion. Even if we are protagonists and not third party interveners, awareness of aspects of conflict can help resolve intractable issues, e.g. in always giving your opponent an 'out', a way that they can move and still save some kind of face for their side; without this they can be trapped in positions which go nowhere. Conflict can be complex and scary but also invigorating for some people in 'proving' that we are right and they are wrong. Conflict, as the INNATE poster has it, is part of life; it is how we deal with it that matters.
Advancements are also necessary in the socio-economic arena, and in community development, to provide people with life chances and fulfilment. Being at the bottom of the pile is one factor why people may get involved in violence, certainly not the only or deciding factor but it can be one nevertheless. Northern Ireland has disproportionate numbers of high achievers and low achievers in educational qualifications. We are not just talking about opportunities for individuals but for whole communities because simple social mobility for a few does nothing for everyone.
Northern Ireland has a long road to travel, and many places it needs to go, some of which are detailed above. Much of this needs to be achieved outside of the party political arena since that is systemically sectarian. It is not that political parties cannot help, it is that they are unlikely to do so in a meaningful way until shoved in the right direction. So it falls to civil society and NGOs to take these batons forward and, when necessary, to shove political parties hard.
Moving south of the border, despite so-called 'gangland killings' and lethal feuds between criminal gangs, the murder rate in the Republic is not that high – higher than many western European countries, lower than other, and tending to be a quarter of that in the USA. Globally 95% of killers are men, UN statistics show, and 15% of killings are within the home, and so-called 'domestic' incidents are another illustration of where masculinity needs to be redefined. Every death is a tragedy, whoever and whether gang member or not, but there have been tragic instances of mistaken identity in who was being targeted for execution. The casual acceptance of death in this context is scary but the cleaning up of Limerick, 'stab city', is a partial illustration of what can be done.
Some of the information was also in The Irish Times of 29th April 2016.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
It is common the world over to think of home as the place where we sleep at night, the space were we are assured shelter, sustenance, rest, comfort, the chance to heal our wounds and rejuvenate. Another word for home whether made of brick, canvas, or sticks and leaves, is sanctuary. If good relations reign in our home it in time becomes more than the materials it is made of and the comfort it provides. As a site of pivotal emotional events and ordinariness home becomes woven into our sense of identity. Such is its hold over us when we leave a home of long standing we take articles from it that will remind us of the best of times in it, of where we felt most at ease and grew into who we are.
It is rare that a person does not return to the place of their upbringing after a long absence without experiencing a host of poignant memories both uplifting and sad. A contented and happy home comes closest to the idea of holy ground. Such is our regard for the place we call home that a high percentage of our time is spent in taking care of it and a significant amount of income spent on its upkeep and improvement. Home is the thing above all others parents want to pass onto their children even though they know it will in all likelihood be sold to realise its financial value. In rural communities the home includes the land on which it stands and sustains it. The passion that people in Ireland traditionally held for their land, and in places still do, is depicted in John B Keane's play The Field, which is set in in southwest Ireland and first performed in 1965.
It is a pity that the idea of home, even when including land, has traditionally been so narrowly defined. Certainly when folks travel far beyond the boundaries of their country, home comes to mean the community in which they grew up, their native town or city as well as the dominant cultural traits which when there they were scarcely aware of. In industrialised societies the idea of home rarely includes the local flora, fauna and eco-systems. For many in modernity non-human beings, trees, soil, micro organisms and the vastness of the cosmos above our heads do not exist. Judging by the enormous amount of litter on road verges, hedgerows and beaches many people see nothing to value or love outside of the built technological world. As has been said by many an environmentalist we only protect what we love. Because of the lack of love for that beyond our narrowly defined idea of home we have ecocide, climate chaos and magnitudes of suffering beyond Shakespearean description.
Femke Wijdwkop, an expert in environmental justice at ICUN Netherlands, informs us in New Internationalist, May 2016 that the term 'ecocide' was coined by US biologist Arthur Galston who used it at the 1970 Conference on War and Nationality with reference to the destruction of the Vietnamese forests by the use of the defoliant Agent Orange. The word derives from the Greek oikos, meaning home, and the Latin caedere, which means to destroy or kill. As Wijdwkop says "Ecocide … translates as "killing our home"." The mining companies, food corporations and mega-dam builders commit ecocide on our behalf. Areas of forest larger than some countries are regularly clear-felled or burnt in order to grow palm oil which is used in over 2,000 products from tooth paste to margarine. Likewise forests in the Congo are destroyed and rivers poisoned in order to mine the rare metals used in computers and mobile phones. Our dependency on fossil fuels is causing climate chaos which could lead to the extinction of millions of species and make much of the earth uninhabitable.
The seeds of change grow in the mind. To save our home - the biodiversity and topography of the earth - we have to learn to appreciate and love it. We can do this by spending more time in the outdoors. The report by Damian Carrington in The Guardian, 25th March 2016, that: "Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates" is evidence of the degree to which we regard nonhuman nature as incidental, unimportant and perhaps more unreal than the characters in digital games and big screen films. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights recommends that prisoners spend at least one hour a day outdoors doing some physical activity.
In the course of the past two centuries hundreds of millions of people died in wars in the name of protecting their home. For the sake of our survival, and that of other species, we need to think of our home as being all we are connected to, which means our sense of identity should be cosmic in its dimensions. We need to begin the process of widening our sense of identity now, which thankfully the eco-schools movement is helping to do as well as groups such as Environmental Education Ireland. At the same time we need to change legislation to protect the biosphere for as Polly Higgins, in Earth Is Our Business (2012), says: "There is no next time." (p.110).