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Nonviolence News



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

Number 199: May 2012

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Culture, violence, and Breivik

The killings in Norway last year by Anders Breivik shocked many people and especially Norwegians. Is Breivik sane, insane, or somewhere in a strange world in between? Has his trial been giving him, and the xenophobic, racialist and violent cause he espouses, ‘the oxygen of publicity’ that he wanted? Has it been doing that and following necessary democratic procedures? There are many questions, questions which we will not answer and which we are probably incapable of answering from this distance.

What we would like to explore, however, are some aspects of violence and culture as they appear in the Breivik case. Whatever about his fantasies on Knights Templar, Breivik does reflect some relatively common views on the use of violence (in what he considers a ‘just’ cause and we would consider complete falsehood) and the feminisation of men in western society. It is these views which we wish to explore.

Regarding the supposed feminisation of culture he is at least partly right. But instead of it being a problem it is an opportunity to correct imbalances and to move beyond the negative aspects of male control and domination. In relation to the very short quote from Johnston McMaster in the news section of this issue of Nonviolent News, it is, we hope, part of a slow move ‘back’ to the nature of humanity and away from violent machismo cultures which have given our world so much pain, grief and death for the last few millennia. It is violent male culture which, while not an aberration insofar as it ‘worked’ for some elites for so long, is not in accord with the best traits of humanity.

But we are at a changing point and confusion reigns. While old ideas of masculinity have, thankfully, been on the wane there has not at yet been a new, common cultural vision of what manhood should be about to substitute for the old, negative images. Feminism, though supposedly rejected by many women, has actually set out a vision for women to adhere to and this has gained common acceptance. Men, on the other hand, have frequently been left floundering and in this situation there are many who will turn to the supposed certainties of the past. It is like the old cartoon of someone saying, in the Irish context “We must return to our traditions!” and getting the response “Traditionally we, the poor, have starved to death.” Traditions are not necessarily good or bad, they may be either. The clever task is to keep the good of the old traditions while throwing out the bad of the bathwater.

Anders Breivik clearly hankers for a world where ‘men are men’ and women are subservient. That day has gone and gone for good. Part of our task in the modern era is to build a new vision of what masculinity is about based on gender equality and nonviolence. It is not easy given the pervasiveness of violence and violent images, and the actions of Western political leaders, and others, who continue to believe in the efficacy of the gun. But human culture does change and has been changing.

In relation to what Breivik felt violence could achieve, he is again appealing to a vision from the past which is still present today, and which he believes will be justified in the future. Indeed, how does his belief that his action will be effective differ from the belief in blood sacrifice of those engaged in the 1916 Rising, or, indeed, the people who first introduced the gun into Irish politics in the 20th century, the Ulster Volunteers of 1912 and the loyalist gunrunners of 1914? The 1916 Rising was legitimised in retrospect by a sea change in Irish politics and the foundation of the Irish Free State. Now, Breivik’s vision, such as it is, is unlikely to come to fruition. Norway is, thankfully, committed to having a society with many cultures and playing its role as a haven for people from more violent and oppressive societies. There are bound to be problems with integration and mutual acceptance in societies with significant proportions of people born outside that culture. But who would swap a pre-multi-multicultural Ireland for the one we have today, in either the Republic or Northern Ireland?

Breivik also saw a conspiracy in that ‘cultural conservatives’ such as himself to get views covered or published in the media through what he basically saw as a liberal conspiracy. While there might have been a reluctance to publish racist, xenophobic views, he might have found if he was a left radical or pacifist that it was just as difficult to get views published. And the idea that he had exhausted democratic means to get his views out is simply laughable and a poor attempt to justify his movement to using extreme violence.

He saw those he killed on the island as having committed the crime of being involved with a party that supported multiculturalism and thus legitimate targets. Northern Ireland knows all about the concept of ‘legitimate targets’ but once you start down that road then everyone becomes one. True role models can achieve credibility through "an action, an operation" he stated: a view close to gung ho militarists who see military action as the answer to many ills. Breivik also claimed “self-defence” for his acts which requires an enormous leap of a fertile imagination to even claim.

40,000 Norwegians came together to sing Children of the Rainbow, a song by a Norwegian singer-songwriter attacked by Breivik, in a gesture of popular defiance to the first week of Breivik’s testimony. Clearly, whatever you may judge about his mental state, Breivik was a loner with distorted views, certainly a fantasist if a methodical and organised one. But he created his mythology, his political ideology, on ideas which are floating about, thoughts on multiculturalism, Christianity, Islam, violence and so on, which are around in rightwing and other circles. It was perhaps not such a big leap, as some people suppose, to form a virulent cocktail of such views and think about violent action. When his personality flaws, whatever they may be, were added to the mix it proved a very lethal cocktail.

- - - - - -

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Challenge of Hunger

Most people in the rich world will have experienced hunger at sometime in their life. We might for instance miss a meal because of a busy day, when travelling on a long journey, or when taking part in a fund-raising walk or fast. The hunger pangs and loss of energy incurred tell us nothing of the misery, pain, degeneration and anxiety of the constant hunger suffered by millions. If we miss a meal we know we will soon eat and will certainly not starve. Such is the abundance of food in the rich world that even at a time of rising prices and falling income the average household on these islands throws a quarter of the food they buy straight into the bin. (Eureka, The Times, April 2012)

Food-wise we are probably the most fortunate generation in the history of our species. In the rich world fresh, nutritious, tasteful, uncontaminated food is, in the main, available to all. The enormous variety and high quality of the food would astound the privileged of bygone times.

Most of the people who have ever lived would find it inconceivable that in May 2012 a person in the rich world can obtain their food, sourced from every part of the globe, without stepping outside their house. Not too long ago people in the most technologically sophisticated societies would have considered this science fiction. Such is the nature of the global economic system that people in rich countries have ceased to till the soil. This was not the case in Ireland as recently as 40 years ago when it was common for urban folk to regularly dig potatoes or harvest fruit on a farm.

In spite of the abundance of food we live in a world of mass hunger, which is not, as it was often thought, an act of God, unpreventable. Mass hunger is the result of economic injustice, war, and indifference on the part of the well-off. Drought and environmental mismanagement can trigger a famine, but with the global monitoring of weather, real-time global communication, the collective experience that governments and NGO’s have of responding to emergencies, famines ought not to happen.

The perversity of our situation, which one would expect to find in Gulliver’s Travels, is that while one billion people suffer from starvation another billion are obese. This state of affairs speaks of our collective failure to live well with each other and with the Earth.

Unless we address urgently our inability to live well things can only get worse. The Earth is warming leading to climate chaos. In 13 years time there will be an extra 1 billion people to feed, by 2050 today’s population will have grown by the equivalent of a new China and India. The once bountiful seas are becoming depleted of fish, land is turning to desert, fresh water is becoming scarce, eye-watering amounts are spent on the military worldwide, while the inputs at the heart of the global abundance of food may have reached their peak of production. One input is oil. Another, which is as important as water, is phosphorus, a chemical fertiliser essential for all food.

The richest supplies of phosphorous are in China, Morocco and Western Sahara. According to Eureka, April 2012, China has placed the substance on its list of “20 minerals that cannot meet the demand of Chinese economic development in 20 years to come.” Spiegel, 21 April 2010, informs us that Europe imports 90 percent of its demand and that the price has risen 800% since 2008. Civil strife in Morocco, a war involving China, or a souring in relations between China and the United States or the EU could see the collapse of the world’s industrial agricultural system.

The precarious nature of food security speaks of our oblivion of the following: the necessity to interact with our environment in an ecologically sustainable way, the critical importance of realizing global economic justice, the empowerment of women to determine their family size, an uncompromising commitment to resolve conflict through nonviolence, and the healing and regenerative capacities inherent in the practice of compassion.

The politics of nonviolence could achieve a sustainable peace in many war-torn regions today. The conflict resolution approach of the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir is “the language of the gun and ammunition” which is not dissimilar to the Syrian opposition’s call to western powers to pour arms into the country to support their cause. The resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland enshrined in the Good Friday and St Andrew’s agreements is a template other war torn regions should be encouraged to study.

If there is substance in the words of John Schumaker (New Internationalist, May 2012), then there is hope for humanity and the life-forms we share the planet with. “Culture and mind are infinitely flexible. There is nothing we cannot be or believe. We are perfectible as we are corruptible.”

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