Loading

Previous editorials

Current editorial

July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017

December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016 (supplement)

December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015

December supplement
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014

December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013

December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012

December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011

December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010

December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009

December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008

December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007

December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006

December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005

December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004

December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003

December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
July 200
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002

December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000

16 Ravensdene Park,
Belfast BT6 0DA,
Northern Ireland.
Tel: 028 9064 7106
Fax: 028 9064 7106
Email

 

What's new

Nonviolence News August supplement

Nonviolence News July 2017

Editorial: Northern Ireland - Wrong deal, no deal

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Lessons from Grenfell Tower

Readings in Nonviolence: Alternatives to Violence Project impact

Billy King: Rites Again

Editorials

These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 145: December 2006

Also in this editorial:

The editor takes this opportunity to wish you, and yours, the compliments of the seasoned nut loaf and a preposterous new year.

Moving on is hard to do

Whatever you consider about the recent Michael Stone incident at Stormont where he attempted to kill Sinn Féin leaders in a blaze of publicity, there are a number of conclusions can be made. Stone himself may be bad, sad, mad, involved in a fad of egotism, opportunism, misplaced idealism, whatever, all or none of these - it does not matter much in the overall scheme of things. What does matter is the difficulty which it indicates for some people to move on, to adapt to a Northern Ireland which is slowly building away from violence and in favour of something like peace. Fire bombings by republican dissidents which have destroyed property in Belfast and Newry over the last few months indicate the same factor on the other side of the Northern Ireland fence.

Building a peaceful society when recovering from the massive fractures which have existed, and to a very considerable extent still exist, is a massive task. While much can be achieved in the short term, it is also the work for the next generation or two - if the same fault lines that caused the recent Troubles are to be overcome. There is likely to continue to some violent incidents of various kinds for the foreseeable future including occasional bomb attacks to police and significant institutions of the state.

Moving on involves many factors which we have detailed before. Confidence and trust do not come easy; in disadvantaged working class areas it is particularly difficult where poverty and disempowerment are rife and sectarian political identities have previously given a certain amount of meaning and purpose. On the other hand the middle classes, who largely did not unduly disturb themselves during the Troubles, have also to make a journey away from their politer but not necessarily less invasive form of sectarianism. Young people need to be equipped to be confident and open - confident in their own chosen identity so they do not feel threatened by others who have different identities (whether 'the other community' or newcomers to Northern Ireland), and open to dialogue, discussion and ways of handling conflict without violence. The latter is something where people in the broad 'peace' sector have to deliver opportunities to explore, train and understand.

But there certainly is hope. Ian Paisley's past form would indicate him reneging on any progressive thoughts if the going got tough - and yet, despite a certain amount of fudge (Norn Iron's favourite political sweet) it looks like he is becoming, of all things, a power-sharer, and with Sinn Féin to boot, despite considerable opposition within his own party and his church. If Ian Paisley can be an old dog learning new tricks then so can many others who might have been thought diehard political dinosaurs. Let us hope he has, at long last, seen the light.


Time for Britain to grow up, not blow up

Tony Blair is pushing hard to get a replacement for the British Trident 'nuclear deterrent' before he finishes his term in office as prime minister some time in 2007. As a sop to opponents he has offered to cut the number of Trident warheads by 20%. This is absolutely and completely meaningless since the existing stockpile is complete overkill (sic) anyway; is the UK really going to unleash 200 or even 160 warheads, each the power of 18 Hiroshimas? And the so-called British 'independent' deterrent is totally dependent on the USA for targeting.

British pro-replacement thinking stresses the 'uncertainty' over the future, and therefore the desire to retain this so-called deterrent. However the one certain thing is that if existing powers retain their nuclear weapons, more and more people will be clamouring to join the nuclear club and, come hell or high water, or both (in the case of North Korea), getting on board. The obvious thinking is that if you want to be a big boy in the world club then nuclear weapons are de rigeur. This is exactly Britain's thinking in this neo-post-colonial era; trying to prove itself a big hitter when it is has recently just been cannon fodder for the megalomania of the USA's leadership. Tony Blair referred to Britain's nuclear weapons as 'the ultimate insurance'; in this he was correct, though not in the way he supposed since it will be the ultimate insurance that others will consider it worth joining the club.

It is time for Britain to grow up and take its place among the nations of the world as it is, not as it was or as its leaders would wish it to be. If it wanted to do something for peace then unilateral nuclear disarmament would command respect internationally, lead by example, and challenge the increasing nuclear proliferation in the world. A former British Labour Party leader (Nye Bevan, 1957) spoke against unilateralism by proclaiming it would be going naked into the conference chamber; perhaps it would but that is one of the principles of nonviolence and by doing things differently it would lead by example. The waste of money on Trident replacement would be a shocking squandering of resources when the same amount would go a long way to making the UK carbon-use friendly. It would also be breaking the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But then generals are renowned for fighting the last 'war' and Tony Blair seems equally determined to get a decision in place before he goes - long before that decision needs to be taken.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

Be Merry Buy Now

"Be Merry Buy Now - Pay December 2007 This Week Only", is an advertisement from Dell for desktop computers advertised in The Guardian, 25 November 2006. Other advertisements this past week included the captions "It's a way of life", "My style my way", "Image is everything" and "You says you have to choose". These one-liners, which it is almost impossible to avoid receiving are designed, along with the imagery, to induce us to spend money on things that are superfluous to our needs, suggesting that if we had them we would be happier, more fulfilled, more likeable and more powerful. The psychology employed is that of exploiting, as religions have long done, our primeval sense of magic that is embodied in folklore and fairy tales. As holy water, prayer and ritual are considered by many to be agents of transformation, so is the long list of non-essentials we are forever enticed to buy. Commerce relies on millions of people walking into shops and purchasing things they had up until then not known existed, or had any intention of buying. Credit cards make it all so easy, as do such one-liners mentioned above that through repetition have become part of how we make sense of the world and see our place in it. They are designed to help us justify our purchases and encourage the gullible, insecure, status seekers to believe that shopping is as human an activity as walking or breathing air.

The true costs involved in what we buy are hidden from view, the social injustices, loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution, global warming, the mountains of waste which society no longer knows what to do with and the loss to future generations of vital resources. As in many fairy tales the negatives are considered not to exist, and it is considered impolite to ask a store manager about the production and transport history of the goods we buy, as it is of the person who gives us a present we suspect has cost the environment and the quality of peoples' lives dear. Thus it is as we embrace the biggest shopping festival of the year, Christmas, buying in the name of God, generosity and good cheer. We could of course celebrate the mid-winter festival in a way that harms neither the Earth nor others. This surely would be a gift appreciated by all.


Fear of the other
Sean McCrum provides some notes on the first in a series of seminars run by Dublin Peace Committee, 18th November, 2006 at Churchtown Meeting House, Dublin

This was the first of three seminars and a conference. The second is Power and the Other, 24 February 2007, in Irish School of Ecumenics, Belfast; the third is Religion and the Other, in May 2007, in Dublin; the conference is Peace and Complicity, in Dublin in September 2007.

Main speakers: Miriam Logan, psychotherapist; Jude Lal Fernando, completing a PhD in Peace Studies, Irish School of Ecumenics, Dublin. and Sri Lankan peace activist, supporting a negotiated peace in Sri Lanka; Edward Horgan, peace activist who moved from the Irish Army.

Everybody likes peace. It provides us with a comfort zone. What do we really mean by peace: to put ideas into action. Too often, we like the emotion but will not invest in facts in a complex world. Peace advocacy groups in the EU require fact-gathering and concise terminology to make successful presentations to 26 self-interested countries.

Despite the EU's proving that Europe can exist without continental-wide war for sixty years, we are continuously confronted by immensely sophisticated governmental and arms industries' PR and marketing of war-centred attitudes and economics. Over the centuries, our species has made institutionalised human obliteration and agony romantic and desirable - now we experience war second-hand through edited media coverage.

This first seminar focused on the central blockage to peace, fear of the other. How individuals deal with this in themselves, then how to transmit that experience into action in the public sphere. Peace is uncomfortable - it demands the integrity and self-awareness of the individual.

Morning Session
Miriam Lawlor
Miriam Lawlor approached the idea of the other, as the object of fear within individuals. We focused on how individuals become aware of this presence and seek to deal with it.

Fear at one level, is a necessary part of human survival in response to dangerous events. If fear does not cease when the event is over, it stays and corrodes an individual. It is important that people learn how to assess fear and different levels of fear. Internalised fear, similarly to fear in a specific event, requires a target, an other.

Fear of the other can be internalised into oneself; it can be projected outwards onto another individual or group. If people feel secure, wanted and necessary, they feel safe - at peace. If they feel threatened and excluded, they become frightened and act accordingly - they may become violent and aggressive, or reclusive. There are many causes for this, mostly overlapping with each other.

Fear at a personal level involves the other in some form. As a species, human beings function well as small groups. A small group perceives different groups as other to itself. It is easy to move from here to very large groups - countries, ethnic or special interest groups. It is easy to compound that with fear of the other as unknown - differing cultural attitudes, needs: lack of knowledge of oneself and the other.

In the afternoon, we moved to considering fear of the other in the public sphere. We asked how individuals had overcome their internal, personal fear and moved to assisting others to achieve this through public action.

Afternoon Session
Jude Lal Fernando
For Jude, the crucifixion itself is unimportant compared to Jesus' response to it and thus our response to it. He liberated us through his response. Response to a situation liberates us. An individual becomes a person in relation to, not in isolation from, the other. Each child is part of a family.

Jude's fears came through demands of family, education and elements of his background. During the 1980s, he became part of a youth movement to non-violently voice the grievances of the unemployed.

In Sri Lanka, religious divisions emerged. Anti-Tamil riots during July 1983 massacred 3,000 people. Between 1987-1989, 60,000 died. He lost fear of arrest by seeing the risks taken by journalists to report the truth.

Jude passed through check-points because he belongs to the majority Sinhalese, speaking Sinhalese. But for Tamils, language was a source of fear. He crossed this divide by learning Tamil. Government and Tamils were polarised: each suspected him. He was in no-mans land.

In Sri Lanka, most adolescents join the army for social worth and power, countering alienation similarly to Palestinians or Iraqis. Each tries to make the best of life, like UK and US soldiers in Iraq. We need to speak to them all.

Violence constructs the other from fear. Fear is expressed in different modes: in the USA, Iraq, Palestine and Government of Sri Lanka, it is psychological: in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine or Tamil Sri Lanka, it is also physical/material.

I become only in relation to the other. God is the absolute other. The more we relate to different others, the more we relate to God. We are all related.

Edward Horgan
Killing people to make peace is contradictory. We need to challenge the state. The very act of challenging is a valid experience. We must act to prevent what is wrong through active pacifism. We must build individual responsibility.

We need to seek knowledge. Knowledge carries responsibility. We are actively complicit in the use of Shannon. We allow what we know: people renditioned through Shannon are being tortured elsewhere, violence done in our name.

Governments involved in war don't want reality. The media sanitise the reality of war. That reality is individuals who are shredded, half killed and left to die for weeks, even months. Politicians warn us about losing US investment here, to excuse 650,000 people killed. Sweden and Switzerland have maintained neutrality: it has not affected their economies adversely.

Edward has worked in many different countries. People are the same as we are in Ireland. Difference is literally skin deep, if even that. We are One World. There is no justification for otherness, for racism.

In the context of responsibility for supporting a useless war, Ireland owes its part of a debt of reparation to the people of Iraq. One hundred billion Euros is owed to Iraq. But we can only build back the buildings, not the lives of the dead.

Unless we stop wars now, our grandchildren will face nuclear war. Challenge the government to justify what it does. We need to control society, not have society control us.

Fear-perpetuating divisions are false. We are all brothers and sisters. We need to create peace only by peaceful means. Be Active Pacifists.

Conclusion
Repeatedly, we returned to human individuality and integrity, the danger of group thinking, the importance and responsibility of knowledge, the exploitation of fear of the other, the need for concerted thinking and action by individuals in agreement.


Journeying with Active Nonviolence -
A series organised by the Peace People with the Irish School of Ecumenics

A report by Rob Fairmichael

This five meeting series in Belfast in September and October 2006 was an enjoyable and informative look at 'active nonviolence', marked the Peace People's 30th anniversary and was co-hosted with the Irish School of Ecumenics whose Johnston McMaster chaired most of the sessions. In this article I will seek to share some of the main points made by speakers and build some commentary around what was said.

Attendance at the sessions ranged from the mid-fifties up to ninety people. Inviting non-specialists to speak about nonviolence can get interesting results, particularly if the commentators are well known. The disadvantage in doing this is they may miss features which seem quite obvious to those within. A caveat in my reportage here is that I would advise reading the approved words of the speakers when they are published as perhaps being more accurate than my note taking and interpretations.

Physical force traditions and state violence
Eamonn Phoenix kicked off the series with his talk on 'Physical force traditions and state violence', and the respondents to the talk were Jeffrey Donaldson and Alban Maginness. Eamonn Phoenix took a quick tour through some Irish history from the Plantation of Ulster onwards - the gratuitous and routine killing by Chichester and his forces in 1601, violence which was repaid against settlers in the 1641, the driving underground of the United Irishmen in 1795 and the bequest of a physical force tradition from the 1798 rebellion. In the early twentieth century there was a rise in militant Ulster unionism from 1912 and in 1913 the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) copied unionist military tactics with the setting up of the Irish Volunteers. The Easter Rising of 1916 had little popular support but became a triumph for the grave through executions and martyrdom. The IRA (of the War of Independence period) was very much influenced by the British policy of counter-terror which alienated the population, and then came the emergence of vicious paramilitarism in the North including the Ulster Special Constabulary. I would have liked more analysis from him, e.g. on the chances of superseding physical force traditions.

Geoffrey Donaldson took a wander through Protestant and Presbyterian perceptions of Irish history and acknowledged the physical force tradition associated with Protestantism from the Plantation onwards. There were Presbyterians who embraced republicanism in its truest sense (at the end of the eighteenth century) but sectarian atrocities (against Protestants) in Wexford and elsewhere influenced them. By 1912 Protestants were prepared to take on the state to defend the union. He acknowledged that from 1921-69 Unionism was the state in Northern Ireland, and that republicanism and unionism had failed to accommodate the people from the other tradition. He asked whether we were now moving to a new political dispensation where the two traditions could be accommodated under the one umbrella.

Alban Maginness pointed to the madness of doing the same thing (violence) and expecting a different result, though he did point to very little violence in nineteenth century Ireland beyond the landlords. He spoke about the legitimisation of violence, for example of paramilitary violence being seen to have saved Unionists from being incorporated in an Irish Free State. He said to beware of utopians and idealists who believe in the certainty of their cause and use ruthless violence; the last thing to do in our society, he said, is to use violence and divide people further. He saw the ultra-nationalist movement as chauvinist and not republican. The only protection he saw against violence in the future is to create the necessary accommodation and partnership between unionism and nationalism.

In the discussion from the floor, one commentator stated that the people who have the power dictate the mode of the conflict - e.g. Sinn Féin were refused participation in the conference at Versailles after the First World War, but in the last ten years we (people in Northern Ireland) have more of a choice. Alban Maginness pointed to the IRA reintroducing the gun and reinforcing Unionist fears in the recent Troubles; another comment from the floor spoke of the IRA's guns being used for protection when houses were burnt (in Belfast). While the tit-for-tat nature of much of the violence mentioned in this session was acknowledged, I think further analysis would have helped to understand this including why people chose to use violence. I take it for read that the vast majority of people engaged in violence did so because they felt they had no choice; acknowledging this does not mean in any sense that we agree with them but they deserve that recognition. 'We' may have a different concept of the possibilities of nonviolence.
- - - - -

The Irish story of nonviolence
The second talk saw Prof Christine Kinealy speaking on 'The Irish Story of Nonviolence', and she announced that she would speak mainly about the nineteenth century. Referring first to the time of the Famine of 1846, she spoke of how 'Speranza' (who happened to be Oscar Wilde's mammy, my terminology) moved within three years from unionism to being a nationalist and supporting armed action. Christine Kinealy spoke of the 1790s as being the start for understanding modern Ireland, with the draconian policies of the British government in 1796, the 1798 rebellion leading to Union with Britain, premised on the lie that there would be Catholic emancipation. Meanwhile the Orange Order had been founded in 1795 though Presbyterians were only admitted in 1834. She spoke of Daniel O'Connell and the different response he received in the North - he was pelted with stones in Belfast. His nadir (my term) came in 1843 with the Clontarf mass meeting banned and, she said, his realisation that peaceful tactics for Repeal had failed. 'Young Irelanders' (so called by O'Connell) argued for getting more Protestants involved but were expulsed in 1846 over their refusal to renounce violence which, she said, they had no intention of using at the time (things changed by 1848 and revolutionary fervour in Europe).

Christine Kinealy spoke of the unionist reaction to Butt and Parnell's Home Rule movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century. She dealt briefly with the events leading to partition but said that by the 1920s the physical force tradition was increasingly marginalised and the two new states were openly repressive and authoritarian. The 1960s civil rights movement aimed unsuccessfully to be inclusive but increasingly there was a security force response of violence. The peace movement in 1976 seemed to herald better but failed.

She challenged perceptions of O'Connell; while often held as a model of peaceful agitation, he was opposed to violence not because it was wrong but because it would fail - he had killed an opponent in a duel in 1815 and admired USA and South American struggles for independence. His tactics failed and she said this showed the limitations of moral force arguments, and his view of the Irish nation was exclusive - where did Protestants fit in? But he was still seen as a model by others including Gandhi. She pointed to complexities in the pacifist approach; were the hunger strikes moral or physical force? How can political change happen when there is no access to political power and the struggle is ignored? Sinn Féin in 1905 opposed violence and supported passive resistance. Taking the example of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, who was not a pacifist but also not personally violent, where did she fit into the spectrum? The division between violence and nonviolence is not always clear cut, she said. Few people embrace violence as their first option but when they decide to change the effects can be brutal.

Alex Maskey gave the first response to Christine Kinealy's talk. He began by speaking of the incident which led to the formation of the Peace People in 1976. He went on to say that we have never had a successful peace movement, and he didn't think there is a pacifist tradition in Ireland. He nevertheless spoke of people believing in pacifism 'who sit in the house' - I would agree that certainly there are, there are also people who believed in armed struggle who 'sat in the house' , and he was not the only one who seemed to give a 'passivist' label to 'pacifism'. He said that, for him, the question of violence or nonviolence was not a question of morality or theology but informed conscience. He dealt with some aspects of the peace process including John Hume being pilloried, 'almost crucified', for engaging with Gerry Adams. He asked as to who now is for solving the problem rather than characterising it as 'the men of violence'.

David Ervine spoke of politicians saying "a good job yesterday" (referring to a violent incident), and of superiority versus inferiority feelings described in "We are the people" - but who encouraged people to shout 'we are the people'? He said that, personally, he did what he did because he didn't know what else to do and felt he had to do something. Attacking those who waved fingers or were inconsistent, he felt those genuinely nonviolent can make a difference. He said that if we had waited for constitutional politicians to set conditions (for peace) we would have waited for a very long time. Discussion included some analysis of the role of women in achieving peace, with divergent views expressed.

I was pleased to have provided everyone with a copy of the "Nonviolence - The Irish Experience - Quiz" (see INNATE website) on their seat for this session because that showed a considerable number of instances through history on his island where people have dealt with life and issues without violence which were not otherwise covered. A question I ask myself about the concept of 'nonviolence in Irish history' is - is it permissible to take a concept and label the past in this way, reinterpreting it now? Yes so long as we are not trying to say someone unfamiliar with the concept supported 'nonviolence' but if the strictures and structures they lived were in accord with what we would call nonviolence, then why not? Every generation, and every 'ism', interprets history in new ways and this is fair enough if we don't bend the facts to fit. The fact that O'Connell failed with 'his' nonviolent tactics does not mean we should accept it was impossible to succeed with other nonviolent tactics (not that we should say either that he could definitely have succeeded) - that is one of the prerogatives of looking with hindsight.
- - - - -

Jesus' nonviolence
We moved on to rather different ground at the next session with Johnston McMaster and Cathy Higgins presenting a paper on "Jesus' Nonviolence". This was a remarkable exposition which I would recommend people, especially Christians, read (when the papers are published by the Peace People) because it challenges the whole Constantinian construction that has been the underpinning of the (bulk of) the Christian churches. They began by setting the violent context of Galilee at the time of Jesus; they spoke about the Jewish world "where violence underpinned the military ideology of Empire, the brutality of client kings, the cultural and economic conflict with imperial structures, the imposition of Hellenism, the religio-economic oppression of Jerusalem, and the gendered violence of a patriarchal system." Jesus, by contrast, spoke of the Reign of God where there would be no hierarchy, poverty, illness, domination, oppression, injustice and suffering. Some of Jesus' parables have tended to be understood as portraying vindictive landowners and kings as God; Johnston McMaster and Cathy Higgins pointed to an understanding which contrasts this behaviour with God's kingdom (i.e. this vindictiveness if the opposite of God's kingdom).. They analysed some other passages where there is a radically different understanding possible from what is common.

"In the pre-Christendom period (30-313 CE) Christians were uninterested in theories of atonement. Jesus died to save/liberate them; they celebrated the resurrection as victory over spiritual and political powers that oppressed them. Christus Victor was their primary experience of cross and resurrection. In the Christendom period (313-1970) Christians were no longer interested in the political, social, and economic, implications of Jesus' life, as the church and state had become one 'Christian empire'." They concluded that "To rediscover Jesus' non-violence, may well mean unlearning much of the biblical and theological interpretation that has shaped us. It will mean learning to re-read our foundational documents."

Rev Dr Donald Watts was the first respondent and started off by saying we should celebrate how far the community has come in thirty years. He said Johnston and Cathy had reintroduced the 'active' into nonviolence and contrasted active nonviolence with pacifism (which was given a negative connotation); this was, again, I feel, a false dichotomy and an outsider labelling and understanding a belief or philosophy in a negative way which insiders would not necessarily do; as previously stated, doubtless there are 'pacifists' and 'believers in nonviolence' who 'sit in the house' just as there are socialists, capitalists and lots of other 'ists' who do the same. But I would argue that the pacifist/nonviolent ideology itself is not necessarily either negative or supportive of inactivity. However he was on stronger ground, for Christians, in saying that God's shalom is already realised (in Jesus) - and asking how do we live in the present, with the conclusion that Christians are called to a radically different style of life.

Fr Tim Bartlett said he was trying to ask some difficult questions including mentioning the requirements of legitimate defence in Catholic thinking - Augustine said the state had a duty to protect citizens from attack from outside. He felt there is the danger of not addressing the realities of evil and violent structures and states. We can use active nonviolence as far as we can but what if North Korea or other states were threatening to use nuclear weapons? Or what about aggressive Islam? He felt that while you could talk of the death of Christendom in Europe but not elsewhere, e.g. America. Discussion included various views on the role of women in their churches, and the question of whether Northern Ireland would have been better or worse off in the Troubles without the churches (which for me begs a hundred other questions).

Donald Watts' take on being asked to bless tanks was that he would bless people doing anything because they are made in the image of God. I would have a profound disagreement with this approach because in my Christian belief this is rendering to Caesar the things that are God's. When Archbishop Eames went to visit an Irish regiment in the British army serving in Iraq I profoundly disagreed with that; if the war was not in accord with Christian principles then he was playing straight into the warmongers' hands - such a visit could only be interpreted as being support for the British Army in Iraq. If he had openly condemned the war and then offered to go, and, certainly to bless the troops if they wanted, that would be a different matter. Further on in the discussion, Tim Bartlett said his personal disposition would be only to be violent to, say, protect a child. A commentator from the floor said Christians should behave like Christ, not like sheep.
- - - - -

Nonviolence in the great faith and humanist traditions
The penultimate session had a variety of speakers from different faith traditions and one humanist, Brian McClinton. He felt the humanist tradition, which he interpreted quite widely, was something quite loose and had a real but subtle effect on the world, and he quoted Buddha, Pythagoras, and Confucius whose thought included the 'Golden Rule' (do not do to others what you would not like done to yourself). Humanists have a tradition of writing and campaigning for good causes, often under the aegis of other organisations. He felt Jesus may have taken ideas from the pacifist humanist tradition, and that the doctrine of Just War was challenged by Renaissance humanists. He then took a quick tour through to the 20th century concluding that those who organised the violence in Northern Ireland need to admit it was wrong, and mistrust will continue until they do so.

Ronnie Appleton represented Judaism and spoke of God as the God of all humanity, and that God intended diversity. Judaism as a religion teaches peace, Moses that you should love your neighbour as yourself, and the Torah that you should love your neighbour. 'Shalom' is the meeting and leaving greeting. Jews did not retaliate for the Holocaust when six million were cruelly put to death; he pointed out that there had been no comparable anti-semitism in Muslim countries and anti-semitism only got there in the mid-twentieth century. He then proceeded to give a pro-Israeli analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian situation and of Israel's survival against attacks. He contrasted the 15 million Jews worldwide with 2 billion Christians and 1.2 billion Muslims.

Mamoun Mobayed presented the Muslim analysis. In Islam there is the Q'uran as primary source, plus the Hadith (Mohammed's teachings) - any teaching which contradicts these is not accepted, and after these there is only opinion. Islam's emphasis for individuals and nations is based on peace but war is a contingency or necessity at certain times but only to stop evil triumphing and not to be waged when there is a chance for peace. However the term 'jihad' has been misinterpreted, it connotes struggle, there is no word in Arabic for 'holy war'.

Lucy Lee, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, spoke of the Dalai Lama's approach to peace and conflict. She said that Buddhism is about developing love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, generosity and tolerance and these are good antidotes to anger, violence and hatred. We need internal; and external, disarmament. Despite 49 years in exile the Dalai Lama continues to spread a message of peace, she said.

Raj Puri spoke of the Hindu approach and of the concept of ahimsa, which Gandhi made the cornerstone of his philosophy. Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation so thoughts, feelings and actions will return - violence will return by a cosmic process, and we kill ourselves when we intend to kill others. Nonviolence is not cowardice - it is wisdom and the knowledge of love. The best way to teach being peaceful is by example in the home, it is up to parents to set up the peacemakers of the future. The following discussion covered a variety of aspects of violence, non-violence, and belief.
- - - -

Beyond violence in Ireland - Building communities of nonviolence, living nonviolently
Mairead Corrigan Maguire spoke on this final topic, sharing her vision of nonviolence. We should embrace the idea of a nonkilling society and to do that we first of all need to move away from dependence on threat and the use of killing force for security. There are always alternatives to force and the threat of force. She went on to look at fear as a barrier to progress; there were no armies on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1969 but "we had such a deep ethnic fear amongst a divided community that when the genie of violence was released, what became known as 'the troubles' became unstoppable for over 35 years."

Mairead Maguire made a comparison between stopping smoking and stopping violence; once there was agreement that smoking was bad for our health, it became possible to change to a nonsmoking culture. So with violence, and she mentioned the role of faith communities in building this culture. As a Christian she asked herself if she could ever use violence and studied the Just War theory but concluded that Jesus' message of loving enemies clearly showed not to kill. Mairead then went on to look at forgiveness, and trust, and concluded that she had great hope for the future. Nonviolent transformation will mean demilitarised countries, unarmed policing, nonaligned countries internationally, and changing patriarchal and hierarchical systems.

May Blood was the first respondent to Mairead Magire and said she was also a pacifist but had questions and came at things from a different angle. How do we get to a nonkilling community? Is there a hunger for nonviolence and peace? The absence of war is not necessarily peace and while she is delighted with where things are at (in Northern Ireland) she still sees violence on the streets and people getting harder. Poverty and injustice remain. Dealing with the past will be difficult, she said, the La Mon bombing might be thirty years ago but for friends and those involved it is like yesterday. Northern Ireland still has two power blocs where one side says 'no' when the other says 'yes'. There is still real fear of the other, and fear of the future. We need to develop a concept of citizenship beyond Catholics and Protestants. Reconciliation is a journey and not a destination. She said there are 5 elements in TRUTH - Trust, Responsibility, Understanding, Tenacity and Honesty.

As the second respondent to Mairead Maguire, I tried to explore some of the issues and problems in building communities of nonviolence, facing a multiplicity of major issues; to deal with any of the necessary tasks "we have to build alliances - alliances with single issue groups, trade unions, other organisations in civil society, interested individuals, and even at times political parties and certainly people of ideologies such as socialism or anarchism." The basis we should proceed on is the Quaker one of, in religious language, 'seeing that of God in everyone', or, in secular language, 'respect' - the sense of which I said is closer to Ali G than Tony B. To illustrate the mundane and unconscious use of nonviolence, as opposed to the heroic, I gave an example of 'disguised disobedience' by school students during my secondary schooling; without any organisation, we scuttled an attempt by our principal to introduce an elitist and generally appalling attempt at a school anthem - we sang it as half-heartedly and lack-lustrely as possible and it was quickly ditched.

In discussion, May Blood referred to the length of 'peace walls' in Belfast, and Mairead Maguire spoke of the need to show symbolically that we want to live together. Other discussion focused both positively and negatively on the role of the churches. Kevin Cassidy, chair of the Peace People, concluded the series and said the Peace People intended producing a booklet with the talks which had been presented.

Copyright INNATE 2014