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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Issue 171: July 2009

Razing racism

 How we can ‘raze’ or ‘erase’ racism rather than ‘raise racism’ is a question which comes to mind following the forced departure of a hundred or so Romanian Roma people from Belfast due to intimidation and threats. It is noticeable that those charged in relation to these incidents are aged 15, 16, and 21 years old; young men who may have felt that what they are alleged to have done was all right by their own standards, these incidents show how difficult it is to support people who are threatened and feel threatened. Once a credible threat is issued it is very difficult for it to be ‘undone’; even the community and public support which weighed in on behalf of these people, the poorest of the poor in Europe, and members of the most discriminated against large ethnic group, was insufficient. It some ways it harks back to the early days of the Troubles; if you are feeling vulnerable, particularly with young children, you are not going to hang around to find out the level of credibility of a threat, you are going to vote with your feet and get out. In this case most of these people decided to get out of Northern Ireland altogether.

There are things which can be done for those feeling vulnerable. Obviously sympathetic and responsive policing is one partial answer. Monitoring by civil society groups on a well-organised basis is another possible response but the problem is that the monitoring has to be 24/7, or at least at likely flashpoints and flash times, on a very regular basis if it is to be of any value. Citizen support in situations where someone is being abused – for racial or any other reasons – is another important aspect of showing people that such behaviour is unacceptable; this requires courage by us, as citizens, to act immediately there is an incident. But another specific point is that there should be no second class citizens; in this case the victims were entitled to be resident in Northern Ireland and ‘self employed’ but they were not entitled to any benefits, rehousing, or anything else, due to the deal for Romania entering the EU. If they had been entitled to such benefits they could and should have been rehoused somewhere they felt safe in Northern Ireland, if they wanted.

Education, awareness, and supportive government policies are the main ways to tackle racism. If people are already acting on racist beliefs it is difficult to stop them because they have the advantage of surprise and choosing their moment to act. If someone reaches adulthood with racist beliefs then there has been a failure along the line; this may be a failure by a mixture of parents, schooling, peers and cultural norms – for which we are all responsible - but a failure it is. The education system needs to be thorough in dealing with issues about, and appreciation of, difference, and in particular an emphasis on the similarity between the experience of Irish emigration (whether Catholic or Ulster Scots) with immigration to Ireland today. People arrive on our shores for identical reasons to emigrants departing these shores (and these reasons are varied but universally include the desire to work to build a better life for themselves and perhaps for their family).

Churches and NGOs played an important role in supporting those Roma people forced out of their homes in Belfast. However churches could play a larger role in the education of their flocks, and a resource to help them do this is mentioned in the news section in this issue. Welcome and inclusion are obviously not uniquely Christian values but, despite practical evidence to the contrary, it is difficult to conceive of a rooted Christian response which does not welcome the stranger.

Ireland has undergone a remarkable transformation in a decade or two. The advantage of this, in the Northern Ireland context, is, in Colum Sand’s words, “to learn to count higher up than two”, in other words to realise that the Catholic/Protestant divide is just one aspect of difference and that difference is something which can be appreciated rather than derided. There is no going back to mono- or even duo-culturalism, and for that we must be profoundly grateful. The context of the Republic has been changed beyond recognition, and there have been very considerable cultural and economic advantages for it. There is a huge big world out there and racism has no place in our society. But without further efforts by civil society and by governments, racism remains a real threat, and politicians pandering to their electorate at election time can exacerbate it. The Irish Government’s destruction of a dedicated body like NCCRI, admittedly when harsh economic winds blew, does not indicate the level of support that there should be from government.

Paramilitarism and militarism

The ‘mainstream’ (if you can use such an absurd term) paramilitary groups on the loyalist side in Northern Ireland are at last decommissioning their weapons. It looks like the UVF has actually finished whereas the UDA has some way to go yet. It being almost four years after the IRA finished its decommissioning process it is certainly ‘about time too’.

But a number of questions remain. One is certainly about how the state connects with working class communities, Protestant or Catholic, so that people feel they have a stake and involvement in society. This is not about window dressing, or should not be about window dressing – which is what many governmental ‘consultations’ are about, nor should it be about bribing paramilitaries. It is about ways to address deprivation, ways to promote social inclusion, and ways to build a more equitable and democratic society. Ireland, North and South, is a socially divided country or, if you prefer, socially divided jurisdictions, where politics does not have a good name (though currently, and remarkably, politics in Ireland, North and South, have a slightly better profile than in Britain).

There remain other questions which we have addressed at length in previous editorials (e.g. NN 167) about ensuring the spectre of paramilitarism does not re-emerge. As paramilitarism heads increasingly over the hills, there remains the spectre of militarism per se and recruitment to the British Army which assists the British state’s absurdly violent and destructive ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq – and wherever next a British prime minister feels might be advantageous to invade.

Northern Ireland has largely thrown out the dirty bathwater of paramilitarism (though it is interesting that a report at the start of May, ‘Irish News’ 1/6/09, indicated the INLA has never been approached by the IICD decommissioning body). However it has not thrown out the dirty and destructive receptacle which held it – the ‘bath’ of militarism. Paramilitarism is not an aberration, it is a subset of militarism. And militarism needs to end up on the scrap heap as well. Because the state is doing the killing should not be considered a justification – in the case of the British and US states and Iraq there were hundreds of times the numbers killed by them as by all sides in Northern Ireland in the Troubles. Let us judge militarism and paramilitarism by the same measuring stick.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

A book for the summer

The long evenings, warm weather, blossoming gardens as well as the statutory holidays many enjoy make the summer an important book reading season. With this in mind, I suggest you add the following to your summer reading list: ‘You Are Therefore I Am’, by Satish Kumar, Green Books. This book is available from, and, or you might ask your local library to order you a copy.

This easy to read book is not only informative but could prove to be transformative for many. Its subject is the philosophy of how we perceive our place in the world. Satish Kumar was born in India in 1936 and at the age of nine became a Jain Monk. Jain teaching holds that all species have a right to life, and that humans do not have an absolute right to subjugate other life forms.

While a monk Satish Kumar became interested in the life of Mahatma Gandhi and at the age of eighteen gave up his monkhood to campaign for world peace on the premise that human beings are not self-contained entities who can obtain salvation / realization / a place in heaven whilst ignoring the plight of other humans, non-human beings and that of the Earth as a whole.

In explaining Gandhi’s philosophy to his mother Kumar says: “For Gandhi ... spirituality is no spirituality which does not bring an end to injustice, exploitation and social divisions. That love is no love which does not embrace the untouchables, the slum dwellers, and the artisans. Love of God and love of people cannot be put into separate compartments.”

Satish Kumar also writes that Gandhi held that: “We need to liberate spirituality from the monasteries, caves, and religious institutions and bring it to all people. Spirituality needs to be a part of everyday life. Non-violence and truth is not something special to be practised by special people. We need to bring non-violence and truth into politics, business, agriculture, and into our homes.” (p. 62)

The idea of wholeness and interconnectedness underpins Satish Kumar’s philosophy, as opposed to the one dominant in society today, which is that of division and separation as found in Descartes’ famous maxim “I think, therefore, I am.” The validity of the idea of wholeness and of non-violence is borne out in our ever-increasing understanding that sustained economic wellbeing is dependent on respect if not reverence for the natural environment.

The connection between economics and the destruction of the environment is illustrated by our heavy reliance on meat in our diet. Seventy percent of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is due to cattle farming. Scientists believe that the incremental loss of the rainforest causes draught in the United States, which will in time lead to a collapse in its ability to produce the grains and other produce that help feed a world population of 6.7 billion human beings. The equation is simple: no healthy ecosystems = no food = no economics.

If the philosophy of wholeness and interconnectedness were widely embraced, we would become more discerning and caring in how we live. We would not negatively stereotype others, as some did recently in South Belfast with regard to the Romanian members of our community; we would also aim to support our local farmers, buy Fair Trade, reduce, reuse and recycle.

Aside from references to Mahatma Gandhi, Kumar outlines his philosophy of life through retelling his encounters with some of the key non-violent thinkers and activists of the twentieth century. These are Vinoba Bhave, J. Krishnamurti, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King, and E.F. Schumacher. ‘You Are Therefore I Am’ is a book that will cause you to ponder, if not change how you perceive yourself in relation to others and the environment.

Copyright INNATE 2021