Tag Archives: Trust

Editorials: Peace and global inequality, The politics of threat or trust

Peace and global inequality

The world is shaping up for some tough times since, on top of all the existing conflicts and disputes, global heating will make many people’s lives literally hell on earth – through oven like heat and drought, flooding, displacement, exile, increased poverty and precariousness, danger, and, if they do reach somewhere else to live, then in many cases rejection, deportation or at best a tough reception. And Covid was a straw that broke many backs around the world.

A UN human development report shows a growing gulf between rich and poor countries and portrays this as a ‘recipe for much darker future’; “the pandemic, conflict, globalisation and populism have combined to disproportionately affect lower-income countries” https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/mar/13/growth-of-gulf-between-rich-and-poor-countries-recipe-for-much-darker-future-says-un?CMP=share_btn_url and https://hdr.undp.org/content/human-development-report-2023-24 The gap was narrowing until 2020 but has been widening since Covid began then.

One feature of conflict and poverty worldwide is migration. It is is is interesting to see the frequent hugely negative reaction to refugees and asylum seekers in rich western, Christian or post-Christian countries. This is highly ironic given that the founder of Christianity, Jesus, was, according to the Christian bible, himself a refugee in Egypt as a young baby with his parents; so where are the much vaunted ‘Christian’ values of the west? These are often claimed by nationalist politicians in many countries whether they are individually Christian or not as a euphemism for ‘white European’. Most refugees find a new existence – and it is sometimes just an existence – in neighbouring countries to that from which they have been ejected or fled. Those coming to ‘the west’ including the EU face an increasingly tough time, if they are able to get there at all.

But the solution to any perceived refugee crisis is staring people in the face; increased global equality and increased global peace. This sounds highly grandiose, like waving a magic wand to make things good. But if just a fraction of what was spent on the military and the arms trade went instead for human security and sustainable development worldwide then there could be a remarkable difference. That is in everyone’s interest, rich and poor countries in different ways. Conflict is also stirred and exacerbated by (lack of) access to resources (and by resource extraction) whereas greater global equality and human security would also lead to less demand for weapons and less inclination to war and warfare.

Peace and greater global equality are inextricably linked and, tragically, peace is also dependent on limiting and effectively dealing with global heating, something which is not happening in the way that it should. Global heating and inequality both feed into conflict – and likely to lead to violent conflict – in a very direct way. ‘Resource wars’, particularly over water, may be an increasing feature globally as the 21st century progresses. We already see, for example, how Israel uses and abuses Palestinian water resources. The EU, as it develops its army and arms capacity, will be a major player in this big boy militarism; it is a total illusion to imagine that it will not throw its weight around. This will be a new imperialism among both former imperialist powers and others – including Ireland if current directions continue.

We have to resist militarist developments. We have to curb global heating as fast as we possibly can. We

have to work for greater global equality. And Ireland has the opportunity to move from the vestiges of neutrality to being a real, enthusiastic, and effective, player worldwide on all these issues but not if current trends continue – the stand which the Irish government has taken on Gaza does not mean it is not still a slavish advocate of EU militarisation and NATO collaboration.

Replacing the politics of threat and fear with the politics of trust

That the world is currently going to hell in a handcart is difficult to deny. Rampant global warming is accompanied by new wars and increased tensions globally. It is easy to feel totally powerless in such a situation. But ‘we’ – the forces of peace and environmentalism – are not powerless; we may not be powerful like warmongering governments and alliances, or fossil fuel companies, but ‘we’ are many and they are few. It is a matter of realising and operationalising our power, including through building alliances locally and globally.

There is a problem with the term ‘nonviolence’ since it starts with a negative. The problem exists in other languages, sometimes even more so than in English. April Carter likened it to the way that what we now know as a ‘car’ was initially called a ‘horseless carriage’, i.e. it was first of all described for what it was not before a more neutral term emerged. Now whether the dominance of the internal combustion engine is a good thing in relation to transport is another question but the point is nevertheless valid. We are trying to build an approach which will become the norm. One of the suggested terms for nonviolence, though it only encapsulates one aspect of it, is ‘relentless persistence’

We have often pointed out the way that violence and nonviolence are judged differently, using different measurements. Nonviolence is quickly judged to have failed. While particularly egregious wars sometimes lead to changes in behaviour, in the longer term lessons are seldom learnt. The slogan of the First World War being ‘the war to end all wars’ was not only nonsense but the victors’ behaviour towards the defeated Germany, and the failure to invest in new systems such as the League of Nations, led to another conflagration.

Chenoweth and Stefan’s research showing the relative effectiveness of nonviolent struggle compared to violent is open to debate including some of their detailed conclusions (it is questionable whether the IRA’s campaign in the Troubles in Northern Ireland can be labelled as partially successful – compared to what?). However you might analyse their work, it surely shows that nonviolence is not any less successful than violence and has frequently better outcomes for the future in relation to human rights and so on.

However powerholders rarely roll over and say, yes, let’s change, though it does happen – Gorbachev in the USSR is one example, in moves which allowed the dismantling of the Russian-Soviet empire in eastern Europe. The end result was generally hugely positive though how change happened in Russia, and was responded to in the west, allowed the old authoritarianism to creep back with Putin.

For social and political change movements there are issues of policy and practice. We have to show that there are better ways than the politics of threat, violence and division. The world, and the people of the world, cannot afford that without misery upon misery being heaped on the poorest and many others. This is initially a matter of building concepts of change and how it can come about before actually doing it.

Many people in Ireland identify with the plight of Palestinians, particularly in relation to the war in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Irish people can readily identify with lack of self determination and outside control. Many are also starting to make connections, such as the misery and desperation of the people of Gaza with the role played by the arms trade. There are many such linkages to be made about how the rich, powerful and unscrupulous exercise their greed and control. Conscientisation is not an event, though it can begin with a particular event, but a process of learning how the world works at the moment.

There are other ways, as the reference to Chenoweth and Stephan above indicates. There are lots of examples in Ireland too where the positive forces of change have prevailed. Sometimes it can be a matter, not of biding our time, but building slowly so that when the time is ripe then real change can happen. Ireland is a different and generally more positive place than it was a few decades ago while there are new challenges and issues to be dealt with.

One of the most simple images, which has often been used by Quakers, of cooperation rather than conflict is of two donkeys pulling in opposite directions to get at hay in their vicinity. When they cooperate and go together to one pile of hay, and then the other, they can, so to speak, have their cake and eat it. Conflict is a part of life; it is how we learn to live with it that matters. The powerful will rarely concede their advantage without a struggle; it is in our building strength through nonviolent struggle that we can make progress and build a world without the fear and division which exist today.