Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Condescending, patronising – and unjust
Those who know the first, the very first, thing about dealing with the past know about how patronising and counter-productive is the advice of telling people who have suffered that it is ‘time to move on’; it can even be violent or totally excusing violence because it is in essence saying that at that stage ‘it doesn’t matter’ and “you don’t matter”. Effectively this is what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been telling the people of Northern Ireland though he couched it in different language; “We don’t want to deny anybody justice but what we do want is to heal, bring people together in a process of understanding of what happened but also to say to the people that it time but given that it wouldn’t enable people to get at the truth for Northern Ireland to move on”.
This was him talking to the BBC about his government’s ‘legacy’/amnesty proposals. But given that it is unlikely to enable people to get at the truth of what happened to their loved ones, in fact closing down processes, it was a lie to say “”We need to find a way of allowing people to reach an understanding of what happened and allowing families to reach closure while at the same time drawing a line.”
CAJ director Brian Gormally summarises (in the October 2021 issue of their newsletter Just News https://caj.org.uk/) that the British Government ‘Command Paper’ “proposes a sweeping and unconditional amnesty which would end all legacy-related ‘judicial activity’ (i.e. current and future legacy prosecutions, inquests, and civil actions) as well as all police and Office of the Police Ombudsman investigations. The paper also suggests the establishment of a new Information Recovery Body and various proposals for developing oral history and memorialisation initiatives.” How the latter would work without without the deleted functions, well, your guess is as good as mine, and given the current British government’s direction and the lack of necessary powers to be held by any information recovery body.
There was a fairly comprehensive agreement in 2014 on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, the Stormont House Agreement, which was accepted across the board but has never been implemented. Again, Britain waives the rules; the Stormont House Agreement was fully multilateral, current British proposals are unilateral. It is clear, in that the British government is acting against the wishes of all substantial parties in both parts of Ireland, that it is acting only in its own narrow interests to promote an English nationalist agenda and protect the state from the truth of what its agents got up to in the little war in Northern Ireland. Unanimity in the whole of Ireland on Northern Irish issues is rare and to go against such agreement beggars belief..
I try not to use labelling language about people, [Really? – Ed] but in this instance I am prepared to make an exception, and it happens to be true. When it comes to this issue, Boris Johnson is a condescending and patronising dissembler (he purports to be acting in the interest of the people of Northern Ireland when it is clear he is not)….I am tempted to add the noun that he is a ‘Git’, which as well as being a computer system is a slang word of British origin indicating a contemptible and disagreeable person. Having introduced that word I will simply say he is too agreeable in that he agreed – in an internationally binding agreement – to the Northern Ireland Protocol to get his version of Brexit across the line with no intention of implementing it. He needs to git a bit of sense.
I Woke up this morning…….
Conscientisation is not a particularly pretty word but it is a useful one, representing the process of becoming politically aware. It can happen in a million different ways, not least becoming aware of the contradictions between what the powerful (at any level) say or proclaim and what they actually do. In recent years, much conscientisation has come about because of the ecological crisis; young people – and many oldies – see the complete mess us older people have made of the world’s eco-system and want a future that is not horrible beyond words. They also see the trotting out of seemingly eco-supportive words with a stunning lack of action.
Of course the hope is also that, once conscientised regarding one issue or area of life, people go on to be critical thinkers in everything. Thus someone who becomes aware of the need for radical change on green issues may develop an awareness of inequality at home and abroad – poor people everywhere, who have done much less than the rich to cause the crisis, are the ones suffering or likely to suffer by far the most. Thus wider political change is necessary, and the politically aware person can become convinced of a whole raft of issues in relation to ecology, equality, justice and peace. ‘Conscientisation’ as a term tends not to be used for people who become politically right wing for a variety of reasons, not least because it could be said it represents a movement away from justice and peace, though you could use the simpler term ‘politicised’; ‘radicalised’ tends to be used for violent jihadist Muslims but that can be stereotyping.
It is also a matter of joining the dots. Us ‘peace’ activists cannot exist in a bubble. The military are major polluters, as is the arms industry, and the arms industry is a major cause of poverty and inequality because money squandered on armaments is not available for adequate health care or social support. Despite western efforts to make armies welcoming to women, it is clear that the military and military style thinking are a bastion of machismo and male violence, at an inter-personal level as well as an international one (and this applies to the Irish army as recent reports indicate). In many countries the role of the army is as much internal repression as any possible international involvement. Everything connects.
But the empire strikes back. One of the ways it does so is by ridiculing alternatives. Thus political awareness and action becomes pejoratively ‘woke’ or ‘cancel culture’, crude but sometimes effective labelling to put down those who are politically aware. This right wing labelling is an old tactic, to dismiss ideas and the people who hold them out of hand rather than do a serious analysis of what is possible; get the man (sic) and not the ball. It is often a highly effective tactic because it portrays ‘our’ enemies in a very negative light, thus reinforcing ‘our’ viewpoint.
One counter-tactic is to adopt and reframe the right-wing rhetoric. Thus the gay movement reclaimed ‘queer’ (a word which also has a particular alternative currency in the English language in Ireland, as ‘quare’, meaning different or even exciting but not indicating necessarily negativity). Thus I can proclaim myself proud to be ‘woke’. After all, if you are not ‘awake’ you are ‘asleep’ and that means totally ignorant of what is going on. Of course the right wing rhetoric implies false consciousness and an attempt to be progressive in a stupid and negative way. But if you are not attempting to be critical of the powers that be then you become simply another fellow traveller for unbridled capitalism, militarism, ecocide and the rich and powerful who would like people to be naive little quiet consumers and shut up.
‘Cancel culture’ is another aspect of right wing labelling, implying that those seeking change are trying to ‘cancel’ people’s reality and culture. This is another real nonsense. Of course there should be a meaningful debate about statues of slave traders or buildings associated with repressive figures from the past. But things are always changing and if culture doesn’t evolve it dies. As well as imperialist and war monuments at Belfast City Hall, some figures are simply dignitaries from the time the City Hall was built at the very start of the 20th century; they are totally irrelevant to today and their only slight relevance is to say “These are the kind of people that the city fathers (sic) of the time sought to commemorate”. There is now, thankfully, a somewhat serious attempt to address the issue of who is represented there.
Statues can often be controversial and always have been. Republicans took matters into their own hands in Dublin in blowing up Nelson’s Pillar in 1966. Previously the central Dublin statue of King Billy was removed in 1929 (it had frequently been attacked and had been badly damaged in an explosion).
And sometimes statuary makes no great sense. In Birr, Co Offaly, ‘Cumberland Square’ (now Emmet Square, named after the republican Protestant Robert Emmet) had a statue on a column of the Duke of Cumberland, ‘the butcher of Culloden’ (the battle was in 1746 with a bloody aftermath following the English victory); he had no connection with the town or indeed Ireland but the statue was erected at the behest of the local ascendancy immediately after Culloden. This statue was taken down, for ‘safety reasons’ in 1915, interestingly pre-independence, and it may have been more to placate Scottish soldiers stationed in Birr (Crinkle/Crinkill barracks) than Irish nationalists! There was a debate later about replacing him, e.g. with the local St Brendan. However, and probably thankfully, nothing was agreed – also the sandstone column might not be up to supporting a new figure – and so the town retains a pleasantly imposing candlestick column with nothing on top. The story of its evolution is part of the story of the town – and Ireland.
The right wing idea that those seeking change are trying to ‘cancel’ history and reality is usually the opposite of the truth. Those seeking change are almost universally recognising the realities of today, actually remembering and examining what happened in the past, and challenging outdated ideological notions and rose tinted views, as well as wanting to foment a debate about the issues, not to simply say “You can’t have that”. Whether statues with an unpleasant past remain in situ but are updated with appropriate commentary on accompanying notices or guide books, or are pulled down and exhibited in some museum, again with appropriate commentary, is a matter for debate. An attachment to memorabilia of the US Confederacy or British or French imperialism, for example, should be openly challenged and not celebrated but how this is done should generally be through a consultative process – though of course direct action is an option for those who wish.
There is the related area of whether ‘apologies’ for past misdeeds are meaningful and have any meaning beyond saying “Let’s get our current relations recalibrated”. This raises all sorts of questions about judging the past by the standards of today. We are bound to do it to some extent but we also need an understanding of why people did something and how they thought about things. A key here is how other people saw things, and what actions they took. For example, the fact that the Sultan of Turkey had to be persuaded by the British to donate less for famine relief than Queen Victoria (because it would make her look bad) spells out volumes about how England regarded Ireland in the mid-19th century.
Ireland has its own shibboleths on both sides of the historical nationalist/unionist divide, and these continue to be a bugbear in Norn Iron; the way memorialisation of paramilitary deaths takes place tends to be very divisive, not least in marking territory. However the events associated with the ‘Decade of Centenaries’ (from the 1912 gun running through to the Civil War) have at least started a serious educational process to examine the events of a century ago a bit more dispassionately and look at the hurt and violence inflicted by all sides, whoever was in our view ‘right’ – if anyone. If this has been possible after a century or so then maybe by 2121 we will have got it sorted.
I don’t know if The West is A-Woke but being awake/woke is necessary north, south, east and west. Don’t buy a pig in a poke – be a woke…..or as that old badge or sticker said “Be alert – this country needs lerts”.
How do we make sense of violence and injustice? The scale can be so vast that we turn off because our minds can’t make sense of the level of suffering. Certainly we need critical analysis which can unwrap the secretive loops which the violent and powerful wrap around themselves and their deeds.
One excellent source of such analysis is New Internationalist magazine which takes an honest and critical look at the world and the important issues. The recent issue is on food, such a basic necessity that we in the rich world take for granted. But our ‘for granted’ may be depriving others. One story there is on how small fish are caught off the coast of Africa to feed, as fish meal, to northern hemisphere fish farms for salmon etc. Thus African fishers are finding the going much, much tougher and yields much lower because the fish they want to catch are used to produce a luxury food item, salmon, for people in the rich world. This is an appalling travesty and just one small example of what happens.
Another way, of making sense of things, which I wanted to deal with here, is of course through individual stories. These communicate directly to us. Stories can be told in many different ways. One of those ways, particularly used by women, has been through textiles and arpilleras [three-dimensional appliquéd tapestries which were originally produced in Chile]. And one story that attracted my attention recently was a Zimbabwean one told through an arpillera and a poem. It is entitled “For Paul, Disappeared 8 February 2012 “ and appears on the Conflict Textiles website at https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/conflicttextiles/search-quilts2/fulltextiles1/?id=429
Paul Chizuzu, a human rights defender for decades went missing on 8th February 2012 during the Mugabe era. Some years later the arpillera depicted in this entry was made by a colleague of his who said “It is ironic that we work with families of the disappeared, and then experienced first-hand the shock and despair of losing someone we cared about so deeply.” The maker of this arpillera, Shari Appel, had also previously written a poem about Paul Chizuzu:
“A pebble does not sink without a ripple
A branch does not break and fall without a sound
A mouse in the jaws of a cat squeaks and struggles
A bird in flight drops one feather to the ground.
A heart in despair sighs, and leaves a whisper
A body in pain sheds blood upon the stone
A friend will follow signs until she finds you
I will never leave you, hidden, alone.”
This is very moving and to see the arpillera and more information, go to the link above.
The divil you know
I wanted to quote the best satirical comment I have seen on recent events in relation to the Norn Iron Protycol, and EU and UK statements about it. Former British government advisor-in-chief Dominic Cummings said (and this was reiterated by what Ian Paisley MP quoted Boris Johnson as telling him) that the British government never intended to implement parts of an international treaty it didn’t like. What I reproduce below came in a thread comment in the British Guardian, following a column from political sketch writer and satirist John Crace https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/oct/13/frost-and-johnson-test-sefcovics-mr-nice-guy-act-to-destruction : This piece is is by ‘Hoofitoff’:
“Regina v Haddock
A curious case was heard at Westminster Magistrates Court on Tuesday last.
Mr Albert “Frozen” Haddock was charged with stealing a chicken from a branch of Aldi, having attempted to leave the supermarket without paying the price clearly stated on the label.
Mr Haddock claimed that the price was an “invitation to treat” but since nobody there would negotiate a different price, he could set his own reasonable price, particularly as he was in a hurry to conclude the purchase and return home by 5pm in order to be able to say that he had “got the shopping done.”
The prosecution alleged that he entered the supermarket but never had any intention of paying. Mr Haddock denied that this was the case; however he added that this behaviour was not at all unusual and that many people entered shops with no intention of paying.
He also claimed that he acted in a “specific and limited way” as he was happy to pay for the potatoes and carrots, but wished to re-negotiate the deal on the chicken.
Finally, he claimed that not having a chicken was causing distress to people in the community – specifically his family at 48, Gallipoli Road. It was the will of these people that they should have whatever they wanted, but because of the purist and inflexible position of the supermarket with regard to the price, the family were losing confidence in the system.
When asked by Mr Justice Swallow if he really thought that this approach could succeed, Mr Haddock explained that he was merely following the example of the British government with regard to negotiations, agreements and the rule of law.
The case was adjourned indefinitely.”
We were trying to identify a flower in our garden, it is almost finished flowering now. We didn’t succeed in identifying it beyond being an anemone of which there are many, many different varieties. But it reminded me of the English comedian Kenneth Williams’ famous interjection as Julius Caesar in the 1964 Carry On Cleo film: “Infamy! Infamy! They have all got it infamy!”. This connection came about since the case of trying to identify the anemone had made me think of the late, great Frank Kelly and his ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’. In this, the character played by Kelly, Gobnait O’Lúnasa and his mother are driven totally demented by the misplaced generosity of his lady love, Nuala; he says to her, “You are making anemone of me!” (well, almost those words). You can easily find Kelly’s ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ online – it was actually a record selling hit ‘a long time ago’….worth digging out, particularly coming up to the Christmas season.
However it is important to try to avoid making anemone of anyone. As those who know anything about nonviolence will understand, while you should try to avoid making anemone of anyone, if you do then you should try to turn them into a friend……
Sin é (or recognising the political party leading in the polls in both parts of this island, “Sinn Féin é”). I will return at the start of December when Christmas is nearly upon us, (whatever that holiday period will be like this time….) the year is certainly winding on before winding up. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other, Billy.