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Billy King

Number 259: May 2018

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Welcome again friends/comrades/readers/individuals to my Colm. As regular readers are aware, I don’t need to go to a shrink, I let it all out here. [At least we serve some purpose – Ed]

Planters and planters
There are two principal kinds of ‘planters’ in Ireland. There is the horticultural variety, a tub or pot which you put plants in for decorative and ornamental purposes. Then there is the term ‘planter’ for people whose ancestors came in one of the British plantations of Ireland. Personally I fit the latter category (I do think I’m decorative but I still don’t fit the first sense even if I do frequently put plants in pots) though my male line ancestors were part of an earlier plantation in Ireland to the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century. The term ‘planter’ in this sense is in use but not very common, and while it might be used in a derogatory fashion it is not necessarily or usually so - in 1970 John Hewitt and John Montague, great poets both of them, had a poetry tour which was called “The Planter and the Gael”.

The Protestant people of Antrim and Newtownabbey council area, being in the east of the province of Ulster, may be less planters than other Prods in Ulster, as there was a certain amount of natural migration from Scotland to Antrim and Down, but the area would include some so let’s call them planters for the sake of argument. Anyway, planters have got into trouble over planters. See https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk 

The unionist-controlled council decided on a policy of ‘English only’ in signs just this February when a request was made to include the name signs of some streets in Irish as well as English. The request was turned down with predictable voting patterns. But part of the ‘Scotch Quarter’ of Antrim town has recently been adorned with planters, of the plant variety, with the Ulster Scots greeting 'Fair fa' ye tae' and including the Discover Ulster Scots logo. This is a bit difficult to justify except by saying that Ulster Scots is really English (well, it is a dialect of English) which makes funding of Ulster Scots difficult to justify.

The Council say that branding the Scotch Quarter was decided before the ‘English only’ policy but it either illustrates a lack of joined up thinking or, how shall I put this, plain prejudice, or most likely both. Sinn Féin say it is a breach of equality legislation. If you wanted to be devious you could say the issue is a plant to expose hypocrisy. It wasn’t all very well planneder in any case. Which planeter do they live on anyway? There is also a brand of peanuts called ‘Planters’ and this one is definitely nuts.

Rohingya: Left out to dry
Or, when the monsoons come imminently, left out to get extremely wet or perish, in miserable and pathetic conditions. A meeting at the Peace People in Belfast in early April with Maung Zarni, a Burmese human rights activist, was very informative. https://www.flickr.com One point made there by Natalie Brinham was that for some of the Rohingya refugees now in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh it is the third time they have been refugees (since 1978) – and each time they have returned to Myanmar conditions have deteriorated subsequently compared to what they had endured previously.

So the idea that these people might be keen to return, even with guarantees from Myanmar, is nonsense. But there is nowhere else for them to go. They need international guarantees to be able to return. That does not need armies; it could be done by an international non-violent presence however the UNHCR (UN refugee agency) hadn’t covered themselves in glory during the two other forced mass migrations by Rohingya from Rakhine state.

Maung Zarni spoke about the ‘slow burning genocide’ of the Rohingya. And that’s what it is. Refusal to recognise people and their identity (not least the refusal of official documentation), including religion, discriminating severely against them (educational impoverishment as a major issue), labelling them as other than they are, killing and raping, trying to push them out. He said the ratio of doctors to people for non-Rohingya people in Myanmar is 1 to 2,000 people, but 1 to 150,000 for Rohingyas. ‘Bengalis’ is used as a term for them by the Myanmar regime to indicate they are not from Myanmar but in fact they have lived for many centuries in their homeland, and, ironically, they identify as Burmese. However possibly because they are an ethnic minority and Muslim on the borders of a neighbouring Muslim country (Bangladesh) the military regime in Myanmar has seemingly decided they are a potential ‘fifth column’ or acceptable scapegoat, or both.

Aung San Suu Kyi, as well publicised, has done little or nothing to help and, for example, refused to discuss rape as a weapon by the military, although there are some signs she may be moving on the issue now. One of the ironies Zarni pointed to was the language of national security being used by people in the administration who were previously dissidents and imprisoned (by the military). On people being shocked at such crimes being perpetrated by Buddhists, he said Buddhists are still human and indicated islamophobia and fascism are strong forces.

He called on bodies including local authorities to recognise the Rohingya and their situation, and call for international help. Maung Zarni’s blog is at http://www.maungzarni.net See also https://www.theguardian.comr about their current situation.

Political violence in the North
It hasn’t gone away you know. Well, not completely. See http://www.thedetail.tv which is Paul Nolan’s analysis in The Detail of those who have been killed and killing since the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago (the article also appeared in The Irish Times 23/4/18). I will quote some points but you have all ‘The Detail’ at the flick of a mouse’s tail.

“....by April this year, a total of 158 people have died in what the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) refer to as security-related killings in the period since the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was signed in April 1998....” This includes the Omagh bomb which distorts the figures a bit seeing 29 people were killed in that single incident (and a couple of hundred people injured). “ Whichever way the figures are counted the largest single victim group is Catholic civilians.......The majority of Catholic victims were killed by republican paramilitaries. Out of a total of 62 deaths, 38 have been the victims of republican organisations operating within their own communities. Loyalists killed a further 22, and there were 2 killings where attribution has not been possible.... The second largest victim category in the 1998-2017 period is that of loyalist paramilitaries, who make up 26.3% of all deaths.”

“This has been the period of the paramilitary. In the lists of security-related deaths no-one has been killed by a British soldier. No-one has been killed by a PSNI officer in security-related circumstances. Instead the violence has been visited upon the victims by paramilitaries in quite an intimate way: they have been known personally by their killers; they have lived in the same neighbourhoods or worked in the same workplaces. In a very large number of cases the killers and the people who were killed had been comrades in the same paramilitary organisation...”

Republican paramilitaries were responsible for 74 killings and loyalist paramilitaries 71.

“For the most part though the victims of loyalist paramilitaries have been other loyalist paramilitaries - sometimes members of the same grouping, and sometimes of rival loyalist organisations. In total 41 loyalist paramilitaries have been killed. In every single case the perpetrators were other loyalist paramilitaries. Republican paramilitaries have not engaged in feuds in the same way; instead their victims have tended to be those in their own communities who were unlucky enough to cross their paths....” Regarding perpetrators being brought to justice “just 11 people have been imprisoned for murder and 5 for manslaughter for all the killings that have taken place over the past 20 years.”

So what is normality? How normal a society is Norn Iron? I think it depends on where you live. If you live in an area controlled by a loyalist paramilitary group, which will be a working class Protestant estate or area, well, then it is certainly not going to feel normal. If you live in an area, rather fewer in number, where dissident republican paramilitaries are active then it may not feel normal. Outside of those areas many more places can still feel divided and sectarian. And, as we frequently comment in this publication, the lack of vision for a united society is a major issue which demoralises and disincentivises, in fact you could say that lack of vision is, literally, a killer.

Crying all the way to the bloody bank
The UK is a major arms producer, technically with controls as to where weapons go but actually willing to sell arms pretty much anywhere. In Ireland we don’t have to go further than Belfast and Co Down to see (or not see as it is all done discreetly) major manufacturer Thales producing their wonderful, beautiful, sleek, and deadly, missiles. How wonderful to have relative peace in Norn Iron so weapons of destruction can be exported with less hassle! Truly Thales are making a killing.

But on a wider front the UK has continued to sell weapons to that great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia, who have then been able to bomb the hell out of people in Yemen, we won’t say back to the stone age because in some cases it is taking people back to a rather worse situation than the stone age.

“The UK government has said that its heart “goes out” to relatives of people killed when a Saudi-led air strike bombed a wedding, but that it still refuses to halt arms sales to the country. Foreign minister Harriet Baldwin said Britain had been told by Saudi Arabia that an investigation would be launched into the incident in the Yemeni civil war, which left 20 people at the wedding party dead including the bride. But she stood by the UK’s on-going arms trade with Saudi, worth £4.6bn since the start of the Yemen conflict, arguing that the Middle Eastern country has adequate systems to ensure operations comply with international law.” Quoted from the London ‘Independent’ https://www.independent.co.uk )

The ‘responsible’ minister rejected calls for halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, highlighting a UK High Court decision that found that Saudi Arabia did have systems in place to ensure its actions complied with international humanitarian law. That’s all right then. What a strange sense of morality some people have, relying on a legal fig leaf to be inhumane.

-

Well, that’s me again for now, until we meet again look after yourself and each other, yours truly, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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