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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Number 200: June 2012

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

So much more
In this issue there is coverage of the launch of the Irish Peace Trail, a project which may develop over a number of years. It represents a positive take on who we are and what we are capable of in working for peace and justice, dignity and human rights. If all this has taken place in the past (or in some cases still part of current events) then we should be capable of so much more in the future. This editorial will point out some of the aspects of where we are capable of so much more.

Despite Irish politics being more centrist, in general, or to the right than many western European countries, there is a strong demand for justice in Irish civic discourse, North and South. This stems from many sources, some arguably going back to discrimination suffered by Catholics and Presbyterians in Ireland in past centuries. Other more contemporary sources include moral, political and religious conviction that change is necessary. A belief in ‘fair play’ may not be explicitly political but it is certainly implicitly so and means that perceived discrimination against individuals is looked at askance.

Of course there are many challenges to this. Sectarianism and racism, including that regarding the Traveller community, can be the source of ‘exceptionalism’ (“I’m all for justice but....”). However the controversy over the proposed housing development at the former Girdwood military barracks in north Belfast is illustrative of how things have moved on even in Northern Ireland in relation to a sectarian approach to social housing as opposed to basing it all on social need (this illustrates the success of the NI Housing Executive in depoliticising housing); defending the indefensible has become difficult, if not impossible, even where there has been some party political deals on the matter.

Ireland has had a good record of involvement in concern for those in the poor world struggling for justice, human rights and food on the table. Some of this, of course, stems from the memory of the Great Famine in Ireland. But the failure of the state in the Republic to honour, to date, its twice-given commitment to give 0.7% of GNP for world development purposes is disappointing and callous. Irish finances are in a perilous state but we are talking about a base which is way, way beyond what most in the poor world can even dream about.

What is somewhat disappointing is efforts, North and South, to be forerunners in reducing carbon emissions. Take the example of Denmark which has committed itself to meet all electricity and fuel needs from renewable resources by 2050. Why is Ireland not saying, if Denmark can do that with, we will do it sooner...Because even achieving 0.7% of GDP is nothing if ‘our share’ of pollution and climate change is disproportionately large – and it is.

The move to relative equality in the social sphere is not a major force in Irish politics, North or south, and it needs to be. The idea that the kind of division that exists between rich and poor is necessary, and the ideology that this is essential as a stimulus to innovation and entrepreneurship, is an obscenity foisted by the rich and powerful on society. Of course there should be reward for effort but the idea that this should take the form it does at the moment is an antediluvian concept and an insult to both rich and poor. There are many ways in which change could happen here and all would leave society better off in substantial ways, if some rich people no longer having the economic power they once had. Politics starts with what can be afforded rather than what we need to provide to give every one the fullest possible life. If we start from the latter point then we can try to build what is needed. Membership of the EU, which has been positive or Ireland in many ways, has been negative in setting a neo-liberal economic agenda.

Building a shared society, North and South, is a priority. In Northern Ireland it is important that a ‘shared’ society is defined not just in Catholic/Protestant terms but also including people who have arrived there from elsewhere in the last couple of decades. There has been the danger that the evil of racism could supplant the evil of sectarianism and that would be an enormous tragedy. In the Republic, the larger number of new migrants is a happy challenge to allow them to become part of Irish society to the fullest extent possible, and contribute to the joys of living in a multicultural society which still retains the best of its own culture and ethos.

However with secularism and the decline of the power of the Catholic church, there is a danger that some of the positive ethos of Christianity (there are negativities associated with it too) is lost in favour of simple consumerism, “I have, therefore I am”. There is the need for the evolution of a new civic ethos, not one of deference to the state or political party, which emphasises the communities that people live in and the ‘common good’. This would be an ethos which all can adhere to, not papering over cracks or divisions but encouraging an awareness of the collectivity of society. This would not be a corporatist ideology empathising the state but a human ideology emphasising the needs of communities and people on the basis of equality.

In Northern Ireland the move to a shared future cannot come about without a change in the way people live, work and socialise. Moving people out of, and beyond, their ‘ghettoes’, physically and psychologically, will take much time and effort but is essential to guarantee peace in the North in the long term. An ambitious, but viable, policy on Cohesion, Sharing and Integration in the North is therefore essential and a refusal to allow political parties of sectarian origin block the need for change. The failure to provide a Bill of Rights specific to Northern Ireland has been one unanswered call from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 but the Republic has also been slow to implement the best of international human rights standards as well.

Continuing and extending Irish commitment to peace and the peaceful resolution of conflicts is essential. We have often written about what is needed in the North – not least education in conflict and mediative processes for all in the educational setting. The end of the Troubles in the North has sadly not been seen as the opportunity for a new departure in regard to conflict in general (as opposed to internally) and the British state has sought to capitalise on the people of Northern Ireland as cannon fodder for its army. Membership of the EU has meanwhile been bringing the Republic closer militarily to NATO and belligerent states such as the UK. The concept of Irish military neutrality, if much reduced and battered, still offers an opportunity to contribute to peace in a meaningful way on the world stage.

In Ireland we are lucky to live in a rich and developed society. The problems that exist are large, particularly for the Republic which has taken on developers’ debt and foisted a millstone around the neck of ordinary citizens, and a resultant brake on what services the state can afford to provide those who need it. We should not be complacent and we should not be looking at economic growth to lift us from social and economic doldrums. We should be looking at the power of the capacity of our citizens, North, South, East and West, to develop communities and a society of which we can be really proud, which does treat all the children equally, and refuses to follow conventionally defined paths. Economics will be an important part of this but it will be an economics which is utilised for the good of people and not economics for the good of the owners of capital.

200 issues, 25 years........
We’re not sure what we should say on 200 issues of Nonviolent News, maybe ‘Happy bicentenary’ and not ‘Happy Birthday’ given that it only became monthly in 1994 and was previously produced on a more occasional basis, but this year INNATE is 25 years on the go, so we can certainly wish ourselves ‘Happy Birthday’ for that.

Those actively involved in INNATE – as opposed to its wider network – are a relatively small number but produce the only all-island peace journal and the only one covering such a range of organisations and happenings. But INNATE is also an active group on a variety of issues in the realm of peace and nonviolence.

We are not going to revisit more of our story, since we did that for being 21 years old in 2008, see here. The only thing we will say is that we look forward to continuing to strive for peace and nonviolence, in a variety of ways, and to cooperating with others whenever possible. Please do suggest ideas for work to us even where you can’t be involved yourself. As a completely volunteer organisation we are not always the fastest to do things but we do keep trying and keep going on a wide variety of issues. Maybe we find it ‘innately’ satisfying’re welcome to join us or explore how you can help without any obligation.

- - - - - - -
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Is Nature Sacred?

Whether human nature is considered sacred or not is important because it affects how we interact with it.

The idea of the sacred is rooted in religion and contains within it the notion of the divine. The divine pertains to God. Something that is thought sacred, such as human life, is considered deserving of respect and is protected by ethical and legal codes. Our sense of the sacred is so strong that we treat dead bodies with great respect. This explains the great offence felt by many on learning that the police in Northern Ireland, as well as others parts of the United Kingdom, kept body parts of murdered victims in storage rather than return them to relatives.

If nonhuman nature is considered sacred are we not obliged to treat it with the respect we treat others of our species, guided by various codes of conduct such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights? To invest nonhuman nature with the same sense of sacredness we have for human life would entail a major paradigm shift. In this regard it is worth remembering that human culture is still working to level the hierarchy of value we ascribe to various categories of human.

Until relatively recently children in Ireland were treated as having less moral value that adults who, sanctioned by religion and the State, could physically punish them at will. The Christian Brothers were renowned for inflicting physical and emotional pain on children. Some took pride in their ability and willingness to do this. In many countries women are considered in law and culture as lesser beings than men. It was well into the late twentieth century before women in Ireland and the UK achieved the same legal standing as men in regard to a whole range of issues including fair employment. Notable UK legislation is The Sex Discrimination Act, 1975 and The Employment Act 1989. Today nonhuman animals, wild and domestic, have legal protection based on the understanding that they are sentient creatures.

Are forests, rivers and the oceans sacred? Although trees probably don’t have the capacity to feel they have a nature, a role in their ecosystem and are eco-systems in their own right. Some species, like the California Redwood, can live for 3,000 years. If forests are sacred - they are widely regarded as having great majesty - they should not be clear-felled or burnt to ash. If rivers and oceans - the habitat of many life-forms - are sacred they should not be where we dump our sewage, plastics and poisons. Although we assign romantic value to sunrises and sunsets we obviously don’t consider the Earth’s atmosphere as sacred otherwise we would not pour billions of tons of greenhouse gases into it every year.

Is the idea that human life is sacred a sentiment reserved only for those we know and love or belong to our religion or tribe? If we truly believed that human life is sacred would we be so relentless in destroying the biosphere without which we simply cannot exist? Would we allow a billion human beings, one in seven of us, to live in a state of almost permanent starvation? Would we, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institution reports, have spent $1,740 trillion in 2011 on the military, an institution whose sole purpose is to frighten and kill members of our species? If we considered our species sacred, containing something of the divine, we would surely have spent this enormous sum of money on improving the lot of the suffering and disempowered.

I expect lions don’t consider elephants sacred, and elephants don’t consider trees sacred and judging by our behaviour we don’t consider anything sacred, especially people we consider as the ‘other’. In regard to the latter I am reminded of photographs of American soldiers urinating on Afghan people who they apparently killed. We have attachments, values and needs, and we have aesthetic appreciation one aspect of which is the idea of the sacred. It would be a great good if our culture acted as if non-human nature were in fact sacred, regardless of whether in substance it is or not.

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