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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Issue 132: September 2005

Also in this editorial

Northern Ireland; In A Bit of a Dump

It is one of the ironies of modern history that someone looking for a safe place to live in the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ might today choose the capital of Northern Ireland over the capital of England (and perhaps even more ironically that the British government looks set to make some of the same mistakes it made in Northern Ireland thirty-odd years ago – such as demonising ‘enemies of the state’). However a quick glimpse at newspapers in Northern Ireland over the summer will show that life has not been, and will not be, transformed by the IRA statement of 28th July that arms should be dumped:

The loyalist feud (UVF and LVF) continues with shootings and a few deaths; the UVF literally took over an East Belfast housing estate to force LVF families out. Polish immigrants narrowly escaped death in one racist firebomb attack in Co Derry. Sectarian attacks reported to the police run at two a day (the actual number probably very much larger) and are currently very serious in Ballymena. Two pipebombs exploded at Catholic homes in Co Antrim. Military solution republicans (so-called ‘dissidents’) attempted to bomb a Co Armagh police station, sparking a riot. Leading unionist party the DUP spoke of a two year period to restore devolved government and possible sanctions it would exercise if the British government pressed ahead against their wishes.

Meanwhile that IRA statement said that “All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms”, and, more importantly “The leadership … has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign.” and volunteers were “instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means.” The IRA movement away from armed struggle has been going on for two and a half decades, since the Hunger Strikes, and dumping arms is the logical conclusion of that process (and one which should have come directly after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998). Whether any weapons will be kept is not that highly relevant because more can always be purchased if there is the will and the money. It is not expected that the IRA will forgo money coming from such operations as diesel laundering and cigarette smuggling; dump arms they may do but they haven’t gone away, you know, even if it will be mainly an old comrades’ benevolent association. But there is currently no strong indication that the loyalist paramilitary forces, raising their money from extortion and drug smuggling, will disband in response to the ‘threat’ from the IRA being lifted.

There are two major options as regards optimism and pessimism in Northern Ireland at the moment. A pessimistic optimist would say that in the short term there are going to be considerable problems but that with the eventual restoration of devolved government at Stormont things will settle down and slowly the issues that have bedevilled Northern Ireland will either be dealt with, forgotten, or put aside. An optimistic pessimist might say that while some things are making, and will make, progress, nothing has fundamentally altered the nature of sectarianism and despite political progress the reality of division has not changed one iota; the negative forces live to fight another day while people presently muddle through. Things will eventually ‘settle down’ – whatever that means - but the forces of sectarianism, racism and paramilitarism live on – though the ball is still in play and it is actually quite early in the match.

If the IRA statement of July is acted upon, which we must presume it will and very shortly, then it will become increasingly difficult for unionists to oppose Sinn Féin involvement in government at Stormont. But in the timeframe to which the DUP are adhering – talking of a couple of years which might mean a year or two – much can happen. If Stormont takes off again then the chances are it will stick; but that certainly does not mean that Northern Ireland is out of being lost in the woods.

There are, unfortunately, many issues remaining to be dealt with in Northern Ireland of which the newspaper references above only indicate some. The sense of powerlessness experienced in both communities, Catholic/nationalist, and Protestant/unionist, but particularly the latter, is an indication that all is not well. This is where the concept of nonviolence and nonviolent struggle could come in and where there could be a synthesis with a community action, community relations and political (with a very small ‘p’) agenda; bringing this about is another day’s work.

[A version of this editorial appears as an article in the September issues of ‘Peace News’]

The Future Is Here
If there were those who still thought of global warming as being ‘in the future’, Hurricane Katrina and its effect on New Orleans and the Gulf coast of the southern USA should be the last of a series of alarm calls. It was itself a ‘natural’ phenomenon, but as hurricanes take their power from the heat of the sea, and the sea in the Gulf of Mexico was not only a couple of degrees warmer than ‘normal’ on the surface but also warmer underneath the surface, the effect was greatly exacerbated. Global warming can no longer be thought of as a hypothetical construct; it is a current reality leading to death and destruction on an alarming scale.

But the effect of the hurricane was greatly increased by human actions and inactions apart from the output of greenhouse gases. The reality of divisions in the most powerful country in the world meant that the elderly and poor were left to suffer the consequences; a poor country like Cuba can move a million people out of the eye of a storm but not the USA. And the money which could have strengthened flood defences went elsewhere – to such projects as tax cuts for the rich and the war in Iraq. Nor did the USA have an adequate plan for mopping up and saving lives afterwards. For those enamoured with the USA’s social and political system, the image must have become somewhat tarnished. It was a tragic and brutal irony that some of the poor and black people of the USA, whose president is the chief denier of global warming, should have suffered so much from its effects.

Some of the states within the USA are moving ahead on Kyoto-type reductions, and not waiting for a White House which has had its head buried in Iraqi sand (and oil). But even Kyoto is very limited and a much more radical approach is needed to issues of climate change. Let us hope that more ‘New Orleans’ are not necessary before world leaders press ahead with the radical changes needed.

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

Circles Within Circles
“The pilgrim circles the cairn three times, praying, and then, placing his back to the stone, makes a declaration renouncing the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.”
(Station 9: Glenncholmcille, by Michael Herity, 2005, CRM Design & Print Ltd, Dublin)

Turas are common in Ireland, taking placed every year. In Gleanncholmcille the Turas takes place on the 9 August, and on Croagh Patrick on the last Saturday of July. People, however, can undertake them any time they wish. A Tura is a set walk, or pilgrimage, called in Irish ‘an Turas’, literally ‘the Journey’. Although carried out by devote Catholics, they have, as I found out from a recent Turas in Gleanncholmcille primordial origins, sharing in common with all religions the impulse to find meaning, connection and communion with ecology and the cosmos. The Turas rituals in Gleanncholmcille illustrate this. The Turas is done following the course of the sun – the ultimate giver of life and the subject of worship in many ancient religions. Pilgrims are asked to drink water from “a holy well’, spitting three drops unto the ground, walk in circles around stone circles, three times on each occasion, encircle healing stones around the body, lie and roll over on a length of stone, make a wish while standing on a chair-shaped stone facing the West, recite prayers, renounce the World and carry three stones to a cairn high on a hillside. In the case of the latter, the cairn is Station 7, Colum-Chile’s Well, at which people have made innumerable offerings, some in the form of small statues and rosary beads. Other offerings include cups, coins, shells and stones, which are traditional forms of payment, perhaps signifying that we are part of a web of connections, a social, spiritual, physical ecology. Renouncing the World can be interpreted as intent to live a life of simplicity and generosity. The Turas is a circular route, marked by inscribed standing stones, usually a cross of some form, representing in the pre-Christian world, the four corners of the Earth as well as the four primary elements. The predominance of circles strongly suggests that our distant ancestors well understood the defining feature of life, as in the passage of time, the recycling of embodied energy, transience. It is my view that Christianity has, as it has done with other pre-Christian beliefs and rituals, imposed its theology on Turases, vis-à-vis the prayers, in order to exercise control over peoples’ personal effort to find meaning, a sense of their place in the cosmos. However, the Turas, as its Irish translation implies, is a journey whose purpose is to understand or become enlightened, of which there other forms in different cultures as in the Vision Quest undertaken by the Plains Indian People, or mediation as practiced by Buddhists.

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