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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Editorial 227: March 2015

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Making connections: Posters for Peace
‘Peace and nonviolence’ can seem remote and distant from the concerns of the ‘person in the street’. There is always the danger of ‘peace’ being a generic nothingness, simply an absence of violence, or else seen as a sign of weakness rather than strength, of avoidance rather than dealing with issues.

INNATE’s posters series is an attempt to spell out some of the issues and concerns of a nonviolent approach in a mixture of visual and verbal (written) forms. While being far from comprehensive, the series attempts to be a visual representation of the details of a peaceful vision. But what are the links ???

The major categories covered include Conflict and mediation, Dealing with the past, Economic justice, Gender and peace, Green/ecological issues including climate change, Ireland/Irish historical, Militarism including war and armaments, Nonviolence and peace, Northern Ireland and the Troubles, and Religion and peace.

INNATE is a network concerned with nonviolence and peace so these are major themes in the poster series. It recognises that you cannot be peaceful in today's world without paying major attention to green/ecological and human rights or justice issues. INNATE's coverage and concern therefore includes these issues. It would also argue strongly that a nonviolent approach maximises the chances of success and that this is relevant to green and human rights issues as well as campaigning on other issues.

We have expressed before the desire not to be imperialist in making claims for ourselves and for a nonviolent approach; green and human rights movements exist in their own right and have their own basis. However it is simply not possible to be nonviolent and not have an active concern for green issues for example, and this is for a number of reasons. Violence against the earth is wrong but it is also likely to be part of violence against human beings. Global war-ming, as our poster proclaims, is likely to lead to massive violence, upheaval, injustice and dislocation of people later in the 21st century. The poorest of the poor are those least equipped to deal with the problems arising, and in many cases those who have least involvement in causing global warming are most likely to suffer the most terrible consequences.

While nonviolence should therefore include green concerns, we do not ‘own’ the green movement, nor indeed human rights which is another area of concern which has its own movement.

There is an issue about how widely (and wisely) we use the term ‘violence’. Of course it can be used for physical or psychological violence against people, against human or other living beings. But we can also talk about structural violence – endemic structures which militate against people’s life chances, condemning them to poverty, inequality and often misery. This can also be labelled economic and social injustice and often it may be more productive to label it in this way. As mentioned above, we can talk about violence against the earth, particularly where there are lasting effects such as through extractive industries (mining, fracking etc) but again other terminology than ‘violence’ may be most productive, such as talking about ecological and ecosystem destruction.

There is a strong need to be positive in our vision of what we need and want, and not simply negative and reactive against violence and injustice. Of course we need to draw attention to violence, to injustice, to unsustainable ecological behaviour. But in building a better future we have to be that future, we have to encapsulate the values and approach that we see as necessary. This is part of why we have to be positive.

Our approach to conflict, for example, has to see the opportunity for building new and better relations, and we need to be aware of our options. and the poster series seeks to reflect that.

The different subject areas covered are all important aspects of violence and nonviolence. The UK government has decided that UNSCR 1325 should apply in all post-conflict situations – except the major post-conflict arena within the UK borders, Northern Ireland! This is so laughable as to be ridiculous. Gender aspects of peace, and violence, are still frequently ignored. here and here.

Northern Ireland is, of course, the locus of the largest most recent conflict on the island of Ireland. While the peace and reconciliation movement was not massive, some people did play a role in working for peace while all around seemed to be falling apart.

INNATE has a policy of respect for people of all religious or secular beliefs although some in all belief systems may be more amenable to working for peace and justice than others. But there is in every religion or humanist belief system the potential to be constructive for peace.

‘Peace’, when it becomes specific, is meaningful and anything but remote. Nonviolence is, of course, much clearer in its meaning but there are many who can work for peace while not being necessarily committed to nonviolence. INNATE’s poster series seeks to explore some of the avenues to peace, and the peaceful avenue itself.

- - -

Over 70 of INNATE’s posters are on display in Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts, Antrim Road/Duncairn Gardens, Belfast, until 10th March. The set is available for display anywhere in Ireland, and all are available for free download and printing from the INNATE website.

Defying logic
The moral panic in some Western societies about young Muslims going off to join Islamic State, or other Islamist military jihadists, is an interesting one. Of course these young people are mistaken, may add to the violence in the region, are unlikely to contribute anything positive to the resolution of the conflicts concerned, and are at severe risk themselves. But where was the moral panic at young westerners joining their countries’ armies and going off to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya when their governments wanted to use military force there – military force which was instrumental in the rise of Islamic State and other military jihadists? Western states generally considered that patriotic and positive when the result was woefully destructive and leading directly to the current situation.

An Australian minister has spoken about young people ‘defying logic’ to go and fight with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. This is nonsense. Their idealism may be misplaced and mistaken but it is no less logical for them to try to go and join Islamic State than it is for other Westerners to join their country’s army – and it is a lot more risky on a personal basis. The comparison of Muslims going to join Islamic State and European radicals going to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s is certainly not an exact comparison but nor should it be laughed out of court.

If anything these young people have learnt only too well the Western myths of redemptive violence and supposed moral basis for military intervention. A Billy King column last year dealt with just one such example, a US American who said, inter alia: “We are raised to love violence and view military conquest as a benevolent act. The American kid who wants to intervene in another nation’s civil war owes his worldview as much to American exceptionalism as to jihadist interpretations of scripture. I grew up in a country that glorifies military sacrifice and feels entitled to rebuild other societies according to its own vision.” Part of the attraction may be the provision of certainty in an uncertain world, and various factors can lead to people identifying with such a different vision, but the militarist aspect is a key part of it – that a new world can be built through force of arms.

Militarist thinking is ingrained in our cultures, admittedly some more than others and in varying ways. But so long as we project military intervention in ‘our’ cause as positive there will be people who take the message but apply it to a different ball game, so to speak. When Margaret Thatcher took the UK to war with Argentina in 1982 over their very ill-advised invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas islands, there must have been many IRA supporters who felt confirmed in their belief that ‘violence is the only language the Brits understand’.

Of course the West – and all societies - should try to prevent young people going to fight or support Islamic State which is a deadly, brutal, misogynist and militaristic force. But to do so effectively it needs to start revisiting its own military or militaristic and international ideologies. And that is likely to be a long and sometimes arduous process but one which could have very positive outcomes. Anything less is simply defying logic. Meanwhile scapegoating misplaced but idealistic youthful responses to dire situations which we have been instrumental in fomenting is not very productive.

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Open Letter to Archbishop Eamon Martin Primate of All Ireland

Wakening up the World

Dear Most Reverend Archbishop Eamon Martin,

I should like to draw your attention to the failure of your ministry to apply the “culture of life” credo to the whole of creation. You expressed this credo in the Belfast Telegraph, 12 January 2015, when you encouraged “all those who support the culture of life” to engage in consultations with the Department of Justice on the proposed amendments of the Northern Ireland abortion law. The public archives show that you have never applied the “culture of life” credo to nonhuman nature, nor with rare exception have the Irish Catholic clergy. (The Cry of the Earth: A Call to Action for Climate Justice, 2014: A Pastoral Reflection from the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference) In excluding nonhuman life from the care, love and respect you rightly ask people to accord each other you are doing those who look to you for guidance a grave disservice as well as failing to protect nonhuman life from harm.

The idea of committing sin through polluting rivers, soil and the air, littering beaches, lakesides and pathways, and desecrating biodiversity through greed, expediency and neglect has to my knowledge never been mentioned by you in your leadership role. In regard to the legislative amendments mentioned above you informed the public that “the Catholic Church will be making a robust and unapologetic defence of the right to life of both mothers and their children during pregnancy.” You have not used similar language “in the public square” in defence of nonhuman life and the integrity of ecosystems. (The Tablet. 14 February 2015) Your failure to do this sends a powerful message to the faithful, policy makers, legislators and the business community, including those in agriculture, is that nonhuman nature, including sentient beings, can be treated as entities devoid of moral value.

Excluding nonhuman nature from your canon of moral concerns is akin to a hospital ignoring the hygiene, safety and other conditions that have a direct impact on the health of patients. If this were the case the consensus would be that the hospital was failing in its duty of care. Sadly, this is the case of the Irish Catholic Church’s culture of life credo which ignores the destruction of the Earth’s life-support systems upon which the wellbeing of humans and nonhumans depend.

The culture of life credo practiced by your ministry disregards a whole segment of Biblical teaching. In Genesis (2:18) we are told that God created nonhuman animals “out of the earth”, the very substance from which God created humans signifying that flora and fauna in all their varied forms are sanctified. In the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy we are asked to show kindness and compassion to nonhuman beings. Mathew (6:26) informs us that God plays an active role it caring for creation through feeding the birds. In the Book of Numbers (35:33 – 34) God asks us not to pollute or defile the biosphere because it is sacred, commanding: “So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are … defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell.” In Ireland there is a practice of behaving with decorum inside churches as they are considered to house the presence of God yet the Irish Catholic Church does not ask people to behave likewise when in the great outdoors “wherein I dwell”. Noah’s Ark is another example of God’s active concern for nonhuman beings. (King James Authorized Version)

In your Pastoral Letter of the 1 February 2015 you quote the call of Pope Francis, “to ‘wake up the world’” and using his words you appeal to consecrated men and women “to offer a concrete model of community”. If you heeded Pope Francis the Irish Catholic Church would be at the forefront of encouraging the transition to communities that were both ecologically sustainable and equitable. It would be waking up the world through supporting the use of renewable sources of energy, eco-friendly agriculture, the humane treatment of farm animals, car sharing, the purchase of Fairtrade products and encouraging a reduction in the consumption of red meat.

If you were engaged in waking up the world the Irish Catholic Church would be encouraging people to feed the birds, plant trees, flora that attract butterflies and bees and practice reduce, reuse, recycle. Following the example set by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama it would instigate a network of community kitchen gardens. Ireland, renowned for its fertile soil and mild climate imports 90 per cent of its vegetables; producing these locally would mean the creation of meaningful jobs, intergenerational sharing and a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gasses. The Church would also encourage the setting up of cooperatives, which nourish the values it holds dear. It would be an example to the rest of society through steadily reducing its emission of greenhouse gases.

As Primate of All Ireland you have a critical role to play in wakening up the world to the fact that the culture of life credo should be inclusive of our biosphere, without which, as with a child needing a nurturing womb, we have no future. The eco-friendly ethos and suggestions made in The Cry of the Earth (2014) document need your robust support to morph from words into action.

Yours sincerely, Larry Speight

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