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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.
Issue 168: April 2009

Northern Ireland - Forward, not back
The killing of two British soldiers and one policeman in the North in early March was a shock to the system, and to public awareness, at home and abroad. However, respected commentators have been pointing out dissident republican ‘near misses’ over the last year or so and unfortunately in this case the Real IRA and Continuity IRA hit their marks. Other hijackings and violence since then indicate that ‘it’ – the desire to use violence to make political points in a struggle - hasn’t gone away. The extent to which the current surge in violent activity of this nature will continue, or grow, we will have to wait and see.

Civil and political society did speak out quite clearly against the killings, including Sinn Féin, and that was good, and unequivocal. The support for such military action is extremely small, we are possibly talking about a couple of hundred activists in republican groups still working to use violence. However it is quite clear that they, and others, feel totally left out in the cold by the Good Friday Agreement and its workings, and the ongoing partitionist solution in Ireland along with what they see as the betrayal by Sinn Féin, despite cooperation across the border and thaws in various relationships.

There are a number of points that can be made. The first is that those who still support military and paramilitary activity are all part of a culture of violence and redemptive violence which is widespread – you have to look no further than British state engagement with Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day we see an example in these countries of how the British state believes violence is part of the solution and, if they believe it is part of the solution, how are Irish republicans who support guerrilla war to be persuaded otherwise? In the early years of the Troubles, the British state applied almost the same logic about violence to the situation in Northern Ireland – a military solution.

We have before now described the situation in Northern Ireland as an old colonial situation stood on its head by partition. We do not believe those engaged in such killing have any democratic mandate to do so. The referendums, North and South, in 1998 clearly demonstrated the wish of the people of both parts of the island of Ireland to live without violence. But the myths about violence are hard to root out, and harder still when the British state demonstrates its belief in the efficacy of violence. And concepts of democracy are still poorly formed and enunciated. Rational analysis of the likely effects of ongoing paramilitary violence in the North loses out to the myths of violence despite the fact that if the Provisional IRA could not win the war over twenty-five years, there is zero chance of others succeeding, particularly in the context of the war-weariness which remains.

While it was good that civil and political society spoke with almost one voice against the killings, there is also the danger that the language used can further thrust out and away those engaged or supporting such action. We have not yet arrived at the ‘root out the men of violence’ language which characterised some people’s thoughts during the Troubles. What is needed is envisaging further ways of including such republicans, and indeed loyalists, who feel left out of the current system, and there have been significant various efforts in relation to this over some years. Obviously it is easier said than done, especially when both may reject ‘politics’ which they see as corrupt and, more importantly, not including or likely to include them.

We wrote in our last editorial (NN 167) in relation to the Consultative Group on the Past about some of the work which is needed to proof Northern Ireland against violence in the future. We can extend that to include work on democracy – what it entails for all concerned, and how it can include rather than exclude; consensus voting mechanisms, such as those espoused by the De Borda Institute ( have a part to play, as well as a real acknowledgement of political and cultural diversity. Not living in the state, or kind of state, that you would like is a feature of life for literally billions of people; how that can become still a positive experience of living and interaction is a challenge for both peoples and states. There are many who, like the ancient Hebrews, experience a Babylonian captivity, except in their own land and territory; allowing their identity, culture and respect to flourish is a major task. We have previously pointed to the need for ongoing educational work on violence and nonviolence; the ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ in this issue also looks at this topic, the relative effectiveness of nonviolent as opposed to violent campaigns.

When Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie wrote their book on “The Provisional IRA” in 1987, they predicted that “the Troubles will continue for the foreseeable future”. They may have been wrong in that but they went on, in their conclusion that “Even if the attitude of leadership were to change, it seems highly likely that a proportion of the rank and file would continue the tradition if only as a monotonous act of revenge.” It is a credit to the leadership skills of Sinn Féin that so many journeyed with them into more peaceful politics. Unfortunately Bishop and Mallie also concluded that “The history of [[violent]] republicanism since Wolfe Tone has shown that as long as there is a British presence in Ireland it is an ineradicable tradition.”

That is now one of the biggest challenges; to show that nonviolent possibilities exist which do not doom us always to have periodic incidents of such violence – and, in line with our ‘Readings’, that this bears a greater chance of persuading people and having success. Getting to that situation is a real challenge for all who believe in peace and nonviolence on the island of Ireland. But condemning violence is not, and never was, enough, and could be, in certain circumstances and ways, counterproductive.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column–

Spring Has Just Begun
The science on the health of the biosphere is that the game is up for life as it has evolved on Earth since the last ice age. This means that civilization, as presently constituted, will likely come to an end sooner than we might think.

According to a broadcast on the legacy of Charles Darwin on BBC2, 19th March, species are becoming extinct at the rate of 500 per week. This rate is catastrophic for the viability of eco-systems. If we don’t burn and fell the rainforests, which are home to half the species on Earth, and provide vital eco-services, climate change will see their demise in the lifetime of people alive today, namely through drought. The biosphere needs forests.

Environmental woes have a direct impact on human wellbeing. It is for instance almost inevitable that soil erosion, crop disease and shortages of fresh water will lead to the death of hundreds of millions of people. John Vidal provides evidence for this in ‘The Guardian’, 20th March, when he reports that “The world’s leading crop scientists have issued a stark warning that a deadly air-borne fungus could devastate wheat harvests in poor countries and lead to famines and civil unrest over significant regions of central Asia and Africa.” The fungus is known as Ug99.

While the future for humanity, standing at 6.8 billion, is bleak, half of us wake each morning to a life of hunger, misery and struggle. In other words, the future the rich world fears is a reality for many. Our sorry situation is largely based on the insanity of our economy, the dynamo of which is to buy and then get rid of as quickly as possible.

In the face of such, what should are response be? One thing is certain we cannot rely on governments to save the biosphere or ensure equality. In truth they have no intention of doing so. Governments are egos on a grand scale, which means their every action is rooted in the desire to stay in power, thus they will not introduce the radical changes that are necessary to mitigate what might well be the final disaster.

If we want to heal our fragile life-support systems we have no alternative but to reject the consumer mindset. This involves adopting a new concept of what it means to live a satisfying and useful life, which in essence entails a shift from identity based on having, to one based on ‘being’. It is unlikely that this will mean the end of capitalism, but the physical infrastructure and organization of society would change at every level.

The idea of a need for radical change is not pie in the sky thinking, a new consciousness for a humane and environmentally sustainable world is spreading silently through the veins of the world. It is transmitted through such movements as Fair Trade, Transition Towns and small eco-friendly businesses. It can only be enhanced by the global credit-crunch. If you want to play a part in bringing a new order, a new consciousness into existence, a first step would be to take out your spade and plant some vegetables in your garden. It is not too late. Spring has just begun.

In NN 167 we carried news of the ‘Why Violence’ campaign. Here is the text of their current leaflet – their contacts are given at the end. Why Violence?

Why Violence

Who are we?
A small group of concerned people disturbed by the rising levels and brutality of violence in Irish society, North and South, has come together seeking to build a campaign to reduce violence in Ireland.

Initially several of the group came together as Quakers, but this is not a Quaker campaign, nor the campaign of any one agency or institution - rather we want to build a truly broad-based alliance of individuals and organisations across Ireland who will work under a neutral ‘Why Violence?’ identity to build a movement to change attitudes, beliefs and behaviours about violence, across Irish society.

What we believe
We believe that the escalation of violence in Irish society calls for a comprehensive approach to bring together individuals and organisations across the island of Ireland, North and South, to work together to reduce violence.

We believe that violence, and the fear of violence, affects everyone in our society.

We believe that violence is not acceptable and not inevitable.

We believe that violence is preventable – and that there are always positive alternatives to violence.

We believe that violence is learned from many sources, from family members, from peers, from real or fictional role models, from video games, at home, at school, at work, on the sports field, from television, at the computer or in the cinema.

We believe that everyone – in their personal capacity and/or their professional capacity – can play a role, indeed has a responsibility to play a role, in reducing and ultimately preventing violence; by changing themselves and working with others to bring about change in their own small sphere of influence – be it in the family, the neighbourhood, the local community, the school, the workplace or religious institution.

We believe that by better understanding and tackling the everyday expressions of violence - the violence in the home and in our local communities and institutions – we will eventually tackle violence across all of society.

The Change We Want to Bring About
Our vision is of an Ireland in which no person has to live in fear of violence

How ‘why violence?’ hopes to contribute to that change
The goal of the campaign is to reduce the social acceptance of violence in Irish Society. Our short-term objective is to mark the period 21st September to 2nd October 2009 (from International Day of Peace to International Day of Non-violence) with a wide variety of co-ordinated, visible, vibrant activities - the first of an annual marking of this ‘Why Violence?’ Festival.

In the longer term we want to make every person in Ireland aware that violence is harmful at all levels, and that it is every individual's personal responsibility, and within every individual’s capacity, to work towards its reduction. To do nothing is to allow the current unspoken acceptance of violence to develop still further.

A great deal of valuable work is being done to reduce violence – including work to provide services for people experiencing violence and work on developing policies to reduce violence.

‘Why violence?’ wants to complement this work by:

  • ensuring that the ‘festival of violence reduction’ is visibly and vibrantly marked over the period 21st September – 2nd October, across the island of Ireland;
  • ensuring that the action of coming together over this week causes individuals and organisations across the country to commit to work together on an on-going basis to build a movement to reduce violence in Ireland;
  • working with a core of committed individuals and agencies to develop a common, shared strategy to take forward ‘Why Violence?’ after September 2009;
  • creating an enabling environment in which the media communicate and reinforce the messages of the ‘Why Violence?’ campaign;
  • encouraging people across society to recognize that each one of us carries some responsibility for the levels of violence in our society (men to women, women to men, men to men, women to women, parents to children, children to each other, teachers to children, people on the sports field, youths and others on the streets) and that we all have a role to play in reducing that violence;
  • providing a common, shared identity under which a wide range of individuals, organisations and initiatives can work together to reduce violence.

We see ‘Why violence?' as a lens. On one hand, it will draw focus on to the need for violence reduction. On the other, it will seek to magnify awareness of work being done on the causes and effects of violence - acts and behaviours -throughout society.

We are focusing on violence reduction because we do not anticipate an end to violence in the lifetime of the campaign - reduction year by year seems a practical proposition, total eradication may take a generation or more.

The immediate focus of ‘Why Violence?’ is for the period 21st September to 2nd October 2009. Thereafter we want to see this ‘Why Violence?” period marked, visibly and vibrantly, ever year. At this stage we are thinking of a five-year horizon for ‘Why Violence?’ but ultimately this question of time-frame will be a decision of those people who become the core leadership of the campaign.

Our definition of violence
We are defining violence broadly - whether physical violence, mental violence or bullying.

This is partially captured by the World Health Organisation’s definition of violence: "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation."

However the focus of the campaign is on the ‘everyday’ experiences of violence – people to people violence, whether in the home, the school, the community, the workplace, the sports field or on the streets.

How we want to work
'Why Violence?' seeks to bring together the diverse energies and talents working across the spectrum of violence reduction, from bullying and intimidation to assault and murder. By providing a unifying brand or imprimatur which can be used by all of these groups, 'Why Violence?' can help to establish a greater influence than the sum of its allies. Using the 21st September to 2nd October as a focal point, 'Why Violence?' aims to encourage, support and co-ordinate the staging of events and activities that will encourage all sections of society to focus on the possibility and necessity of violence reduction.

Working with others
We want to build a broad-based alliance of groups across society each working in their own way with their own constituency to affirm the idea that violence is not normal, not acceptable and that there are positive alternatives to violence. This could be community groups, national voluntary groups, state agencies, schools, sports organisations, faith-based organisations, trade unions, media, professional groups and many more.

We want to bring people together under the neutral ‘Why violence?’ brand.

In structure, 'Why Violence?' is a central committee which will promote the work of other groups whose aims fit within its remit.

What we’re asking of you
We hope to make concrete the creative ideas that may be taking shape in many groups and agencies in various parts of Ireland which could contribute to this ‘Why Violence?’ Festival - drawing attention to the need for everyone to be an advocate for the elimination of violence from our lives. The ‘Festival’ activities might include concerts, film screenings, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, special school activities, conferences, seminars, carnivals, fun-runs, competitions, etc

Can your group produce a play, run a debate, organise a quiz, a symposium, a lecture evening, share stories, form a neighbourhood group - or anything else you may think of to encourage more people to think and act for violence reduction?

Such activities will be run, and funded, by each individual, organisation or group, with overall co-ordination by a central ‘Why Violence?’ committee.

As individuals and groups come forward to engage with the campaign we hope that the membership of this central committee will grow and evolve and a natural, though largely ‘behind the scenes’ leadership will emerge. This leadership would over time take responsibility for developing a strategy for the campaign beyond September 2009.

For further information, contact: Why Violence? The Campaign for Violence Reduction, c/o Quaker House, Stocking Lane, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

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