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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Number 211: July 2014

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

One big (male) elephant in the room
If you take a critical approach to society, politics, and human organisation in general then there are likely to be a number of elephants hiding in the room. These are issues which you can see but others do not – even if they would see if they looked properly or took the trouble to look. Think of Bill Moyer’s ‘Movement Action Plan’ stages one or two [see Workshops section of the INNATE website under ‘Workshop on strategising’]. But there are some issues which do not receive the attention they deserve even within alternative movements of various kinds. Within the peace and nonviolence movement, though even more so in society at large, the issue of men and violence is one such issue.

We have covered much of this before, and have workshop material on gender and violence on our website. Put simply, the issue is this: Possibly 85 - 95% of physical violence in the world today, at whatever level you wish to name (from interpersonal violence through to international war), is perpetrated by men. It is not that women are natural peacemakers although there are some aspects of their role which may encourage peacemaking; women can indeed be supporting violence and cheering men on. But the bulk of violence is done by men (a similar analysis can be made in relation to structural violence and global injustice).

So why, in relation to overcoming violence, is the interface between being a man, and the nature of being a man, with violence not examined more? ‘Domestic’ violence (usually perpetrated by men, occasionally by women, possible also in gay relationships) and rape are understood as being essentially male crimes. Why, even at this level, is the nature of masculinity not more under the spotlight? Why is there no concerted attempt to redefine masculinity and educate male children and young men, and also women, in the different possibilities that exist?

Without a redefinition of masculinity and manhood, without men developing a different way of being in the world (one, we hasten to add, in accord with the best of masculinity and humanity) then overcoming violence, at any level, is an impossible task. It is as simple as that.

Women, as underdogs in the gender struggle, have been organising for a very long time and huge changes have come about in most societies in the role of women in the last century or century and a half because of this, even if there is a distance to go. Men, because of their traditionally superior role, have usually not been involved, have seen ‘gender issues’ as for women, and, where involved in anything have done so through mixed gender groups. This last factor is fine; men working on issues of violence in mixed gender groups is good. But the result can still be to hide the correlation between masculinity and violence.

How can masculinity be redefined? This is a societal project. Individuals and groups can pave the way, and women should certainly have a strong input. Change can and does happen without defining the task but it is rather easier if the task is spelt out; to remove the correlation between masculinity and violence. Avoiding negatives, the task is to redefine masculinity in a way which is exclusively positive and nurturing, which does not ignore what has been considered normal heretofore but seeks to build a different normal, based on men’s strengths, physical and emotional, to be caring and creative beings.

INNATE’s approach (and the editorial policy in ‘Nonviolent News’) has been to primarily cover issues and movements within Ireland though a number of these relate primarily to international and world concerns. We ‘add in’ some few international events or issues of relevance to people here. Much of this is for logistical and pragmatic reasons: we do not have the capacity to produce an ‘international’ peace magazine, even if we wanted to vie with the limited number of such publications (which we don’t). However, because of the importance of the issue of gender and violence we will start to carry more references to this area of work in the news section even where this is international (these will also be tagged as ‘Gender and violence’ or ‘Men and violence’ or whatever), and also more articles or references to other material. In other words, we will try to increase our content on ‘gender and violence’ in general and this will include international material.

We hope to continue to develop work in this area. If you are interested in the possibility of being involved, please contact us, or respond to particular initiatives.

G8: The British government and PSNI doth both protest too much
If you believed the PSNI and the Northern Ireland and British governments, it was their massive policing operation which kept the G8 conference in Co Fermanagh peaceful. Saying they were ‘well prepared’ is the understatement of the year. They were totally over-prepared. It’s rather like the man seen pouring salt on a city pavement and he is asked what is doing; “This is to keep the crocodiles away” he says. The questioner retorts that there are no crocodiles around anyway, and the man replies “Exactly! I’ve proved my point.”

In fact many ordinary citizens who might have come out to protest were intimidated away by the deliberate stories from the police about how many hundred prison cells they had waiting, and so on. This was a deliberate deterrent act by the police. But while the police were using this as a pre-emptive tactic (“Look how well we are prepared for any eventuality!”) it had ramifications for democracy in terms of those who might have expressed opposition staying away because it made people believe there would be big and violent trouble. Most of the demonstration routes were totally overpoliced and with significant weaponry on display (including at the Belfast demo when there wasn’t a G8 leader within hundreds of miles – perhaps this was being used by the police as a ‘dry run’ for Fermanagh).

It was noticeable that at the Enniskillen/Fermanagh demonstration, the majority of those hundred or so who went ‘over the wire’ (razor wire) into the first field behind it were probably onlookers, journalists and photographers. The others were mainly non-ceasefire republicans and a few people (literally a few) from outside Northern Ireland who would have liked a bit of aggravation. Those who went over the wire were warned not to stray further than the first field, and they didn’t, but while the police might have wanted a 1000% secure G8 meeting, this minor altercation (with no arrests at either of the demos) makes it hard to justify a £60 million policing bill.

There was a significant political and cultural alternative ‘Fairer World Festival’, mainly in Belfast, dealing with many issues which the G8 leaders studiously ignored. By providing a positive alternative, under the aegis of the ICTU and backed by Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth and others, a positive statement was made that another world is possible. At Enniskillen, the biggest issue was fracking, an issue also taken up by Friends of the Earth at the Belfast demo.

Those who opposed the policies of the G8 may have been a quite disparate group but included a strong trade union anti-austerity aspect. The ‘IF’ campaign (‘there is enough food in the world IF...’) was another important part. It was also good to see CAJ providing human rights monitoring of the two big demonstrations in a situation where there was a risk to those human rights. The numbers on the street may not have been what the media expected, even with atrocious weather at the Belfast demo, but it was a respectable turnout and those involved in all the demos and programmes can hold their heads up high and say, yes, they did show alternatives to the failed G8 policies of austerity and war.

There are some photos of Belfast and Enniskillen demonstrations on the INNATE photo site, accessible via the INNATE home page.
- - - - - -

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

The Emperor Is Wearing No Clothes

The twenty-four hour G8 Summit in County Fermanagh cost £80 million including £60 million for security. It is sobering to think that if the leaders were engaged with G8 business for 10 hours each hour cost £8 million. In consideration of the social and environmental projects this money could have been spent on one has to ask was the summit value for money. The small economy of Northern Ireland has to pay £20 million of the cost.

The purpose of the summit was for the G8 leaders to address the urgent problems of the day. These included the war in Syria, global hunger and tax avoidance by the rich and powerful.

The summit highlights the failed approach taken by our political institutions which rely on a combination of constitutional constructs and illusions to sustain them. One of the illusions is those with political power have insightful understanding. Another is that the compassion of national leaders is not circumscribed by party, ethnic or national loyalties or desire for egoistical gain. A third illusion is political leaders can change the cultural milieu and thereby make positive things happen. These illusions help explain the widespread adulation the G8 leaders received on their short visit to Northern Ireland.

Evidence for the prevalence of these illusions is that global warming was not on the G8 agenda. Insightfulness and compassion would have ensured otherwise. Most of the G8 leaders came to the summit with a fixed remedy for the war in Syria, which is to give the combatants more guns, missiles and ammunition. None had any intention of addressing the unjust structural relationships that underpin world hunger. The idea that robust measures should be put in place to ensure that the rich pay a fair tax is an anathema to the G8. Research by the Tax Justice Network shows that global tax evasion could be costing more than 2.5 trillion Euro a year, and that as much as 26 trillion Euros could be hidden by individuals in tax havens. (Editorial, Irish Times, 17.06.13) Arthur Beesley in his analysis of the summit in The Irish Times (18.06.13) writes: “When Obama arrived in the White House in 2009 there was plenty of talk about resolute action to take more tax from big business. Four years later, this is still in the realm of talk.” In this light the £300 million summit was a photo opportunity for the G8 leaders.

The key political problem of our age, and which should have been on the G8 agenda, is how to manage abundance. The fact that three million children die of hunger each year, and one in eight of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night is not because of a perennial food shortage. U.N. figures show that half of the food produced world-wide is wasted before it gets to the shops and the affluent throw one third of the food they buy into the bin. As Terry Eaglet writes in The Guardian Review, 29.06.13, “Widespread hunger is the result of predatory social systems.”

Most of the problems humanity faces, including lack of sanitation, health services and education for the billions who are destitute could be solved by a small percentage of the money spent on wars and preparation for war. The following figures illustrate this. Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies calculates that the United States has spent $6 trillion on its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US, National Priorities Project, estimates that since 2001 the United States has spent $1,450, 427, 500, 000 on wars. The Today programme, Radio 4, 28.06.13, estimates that the UK has spent £40 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The Stockholm Peace Institute’s figure for worldwide military expenditure in 2012 is $1.75 trillion. If the G8 leaders had agreed to progressively reduce their military budgets the summit would have been worth the expense.

War and our destruction of the environment are a form of self-harm rooted in our lack of imagination. When it comes to the economy, we cannot imagine any model other than that of growth. When it comes to energy we cannot imagine anything but fossil fuels. With food we cannot image any system but oil-based monoculture, which in the case of soya and palm oil leads to the destruction of rainforests - the rain clouds and lungs of the Earth.

Hope for a deep rooted and widespread eco-consciousness, as well as a nonviolent approach to conflict, lies in that most people know that 2 multiplied by 2 does not equal 5 as in the logic of orthodox economics. The millions demonstrating on the streets of Brazil, Egypt and Turkey against institutional corruption, the 5,000 anti-G8 demonstrators in Belfast and 2,000 in Enniskillen, as well as the occupy-movement, the transitional towns movement, the long waiting lists in every town and city on these islands for allotments, and the work of such agencies as Oxfam, War On Want, Christian Aid and Trócaire is hope that a critical mass will act on the realisation that “the emperor is wearing no clothes”. It is time for a new paradigm.

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