Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Mapping violence, oppression and war
For me, the carefully crafted artwork of Tom Weld https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157711237159086 brilliantly captures the randomness of oppression and war. By that I don’t mean that the causes are random, no, they are very definite, but that the victims, bloodied, beaten, killed, terrified, possibly starving, made homeless and turned into refugees, may be ‘others’ but they didn’t do anything to deserve that treatment, and if it is ‘them’ today it could be ‘us’ or ‘you’ tomorrow. In that sense the victims are random, anybody and everybody.
Tom Weld’s maps are fictional but for me encapsulate the essence in thinking of victory and territory, not people, they represent inhumanity personified, if that is not a contradiction in terms; perhaps you could say they illustrate what happens when we think only of a cause, our ‘just’ cause, and not of the people affected by war and oppression.
They could have been made for Ukraine and the current war. Do have a look at the link above.
Christianity and contemporary culture
A few decades back, Ireland was very definitely a ‘Christian’ country in its overall ethos. Given the dominance of Catholicism, and to some extent the Catholic church, in the Republic, this enabled Northern unionists and loyalists to talk about the state south-and-west of the border as ‘priest-ridden’ (though it should also be pointed out that only one part of Ireland had a Christian minister and church leader who was also a party political leader – Ian Paisley). In some cases, as in the ‘Mother and baby’ scheme of 1951 there was more than a hint of truth in these allegations, it was glaringly obvious. But situations varied enormously.
However if anyone tried to say today that the Republic was priest-ridden they would be laughed out of court. The only political party where there is an ongoing tussle which is religion-related is arguably the DUP where Poots is of the ‘Free Presbyterian’ very conservative evangelical strand and Donaldson of a more secular but still conservative variety of unionism.
Of course if you looked more closely there were always people of secular, non-denominational or even anti-clerical views. Going back in time some such views would have been hidden or partly hidden. Secularisation and sex and child abuse scandals, particularly involving Catholic clergy, have drastically changed the reality of this aspect of life, particularly in the Republic. The incoming of people from elsewhere to the North has been a very positive factor in moving ever so slightly away from concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’ meaning Catholics and Protestants but unfortunately that division is still very real even if it is a cultural-political division of which religious background or community is an indicator.
What has been interesting to see for me recently is the reaction of some progressive people, North and South of the border, to the Downpatrick Declaration https://www.downpatrickdeclaration.com/ This was intentionally written not as a Christian document but calling on the cultural relevance of Downpatrick and the three Christian saints associated with it, Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille and their relationship to peace. It was backed at its launch by Afri, INNATE and StoP/Swords to Ploughshares.
The interesting reaction from the people I am referring to is in seeing it as a ‘Christian’ document because it refers to a Christian context. The Declaration is available to sign on the website but the people concerned felt they couldn’t sign it because of its Christian connotations, that it was a ‘Christian’ document not open to non-Christians.
So does it come across as a Christian document to you? Is it latently, de facto Christian? If so, how could it have been done differently? Would it have meant giving up the reference to Downpatrick and its interred saints? It raises interesting questions about religious, cultural and secular identity and about inclusivity – and individual sensitivities. I hasten to add that by ‘sensitivities’ I am not saying that the people concerned are being too sensitive, they may well be correct in their assessment.
However it does raise questions about how we relate, if we relate at all, to the ‘Christian’ heritage of Ireland, good, bad and indifferent. And, if we are able, to take pride in the ‘good’ parts of that heritage without feeling compromised. But this is all work in progress.
Proudly made in Belfast
Thales arms company (Castlereagh, Belfast, part of a French owned multinational) was proudly basking in the news that their shoulder mounted missiles, a type of bazooka, developed jointly by UK and Sweden, may have been partly instrumental in stopping the Russian column of tanks and armoured vehicles coming towards Kyiv in the Russian war on Ukraine. It is named ‘NLAW’, “Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapons”. What Thales wasn’t quite so keen to publicise, but INNATE did at their St Patrick’s Day demonstration, was that Thales weapons were fighting on both sides. Thales’ Damocles weapons targetting system is in Russian military planes, and they also have two types of thermal imaging/heat-detecting cameras (which may pinpoint humans) in Russian tanks.
Isn’t it wonderful when you can make a profit from both sides. See e.g. https://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Thales-Key-Role-in-Russias-Defense-Industry-04994/ and https://disclose.ngo/en/article/war-in-ukraine-how-france-delivered-weapons-to-russia-until-2020 The first of these refers to a quote from 2008 that ““Few Western companies can boast of the same experience of broad and productive cooperation with Russian aerospace and defense enterprises as the Thales Group of France.”
‘Thales’ the arms company is pronounced ‘Talis’ (they say, rhyming with ‘Alice’) whereas the ancient Greek guy Thales that the firm is named after, regarded as a founder of western science, can be pronounced ‘Thay-lees’. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/2899262954/in/album-72177720297420924/ portrays the contradiction in the arms company’s name.
Oh, and here is what that NLAW bazooka does: “The weapon can either be fired directly at a tank or just over the top where the armour is weakest. The missile can discharge an armour penetrating, superheated copper cone down into the tank as it passes overhead. This melts through the armour, “splattering” around the inside and setting off any explosives. The shockwave and shrapnel will kill any crew……” What a wonderful use of Belfast engineering skill! https://www.newsletter.co.uk/business/ni-built-missiles-may-have-halted-40-mile-long-russian-convoy-3594143
Thales is also corrupt – a fact that the media in Ireland have been reluctant to state because of their fear of libel laws. However it is well established. Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s trial for corruption involving Thales resumes in April. A former financial advisor to him when vice-president was convicted of taking bribes from Thales but pardoned by Zuma when he came to be president. Thales have also been implicated in major, and very shady, corruption cases in Malaysia and Taiwan; details are given in Andrew Feinstein’s “The Shadow World: Inside the global arms trade”, pages 509-510 in my Penguin edition (you can check the index anyway). The Malaysian incident also involved the murder of a translator for the illegal deal after he threatened to spill the beans.
Thales in Belfast is now developing laser/energy field weapons for the Ministry of Defence in London so that the enemy can be fried, well, there may be no oil used so ‘fried’ may not be strictly speaking true but you know what I mean.
Thus we can report that the Northern Ireland war process is indeed progressing and that profits are well up. A peace process? What’s that?
Well, we had a beautifully warm week or ten days there when it might have been a fine Irish summer (notice the lowering of expectations there). Now we are back to the norm for the time of year. I am always sad to see the daffodils go, perhaps more than any other flower, because their departure signals the end of the pleasant longing for spring and into the reality. I wish you well for the coming month and I’ll see you again very soon, Billy.