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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Guarding the guards

[Returned to related issued of Nonviolence News]

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes" – who will guard the guardians themselves – appears in different forms as a question but is as relevant today as it was when used by Juvenal two millennia ago. The area it pinpoints is one key to having an effective and vibrant democracy. If the guards are not guarded then we need to be more than on our guard, we are likely to be repressed and intimidated in varying ways, and freedom will be severely curtailed. Furthermore, such issues go on to have a chilling effect on democratic processes for years afterwards.

The outworking of the McCabe affair in the Republic continue to rumble on, likely to claim the job of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach in the near future. It is true that his days were probably numbered, after only managing to form a minority government following the general election of February 2016. However his performance over the McCabe affair, and particularly misleading statements about what he was told or not told, has been the straw that has broken the Taoiseach's back. He is likely to be replaced within a short period.

Whistleblowing is never easy, but whistleblowers should be effectively protected. This the Irish state singularly failed to do in relation to Sergeant McCabe, over a considerable period of time, after his sharing of Garda misdoings and corruption. But furthermore, state agencies were instrumental in making false allegations of a very serious nature against him, undermining both him personally and what he was saying. The explanation from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, regarding the most serious charge against Maurice McCabe, is that it was a genuine mistake or accident; this does not appear to have been confirmed by external sources but presumably will be part of the public tribunal investigation which will be undertaken.

Policing in Northern Ireland went through enormous change as the RUC/PSNI exited from the Troubles and went through the Patten process which began in 1998. We would certainly not say that the PSNI is perfect, and all police forces need continual monitoring and review, but there was a definite cultural shift started by that process. In the Republic, despite some mechanisms for accountability being included, the Garda Síochána has not seen a similar process take place. Obviously in the North there was the need to shift from a paramilitary style policing force to something more suitable for a largely post-conflict society in a way which was not comparable south of the border. But the Gardaí had their own issues in being a police force which punched under the belt at times – while not being held accountable for so doing - and these issues are far from resolved.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland legacy issues continue to make some news, especially the one about how former soldiers are treated and the allegation that British soldiers, servants of the state, are being unfairly targeted in legacy reviews of Troubles deaths and offences. There is no evidence to this effect as the Director for Public Prosecutions in the North has clearly stated and shown. This whole area is one where the British state has been extremely reluctant to set up and support proper processes for dealing with 'legacy' cases, an important part of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. Due to narrow nationalist issues, and an unwillingness to expose some of their own dirty secrets, the British state is part of what is holding up dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

Indeed the January 2017 issue of 'Just News' (from CAJ, the Committee on the Administration of Justice) goes so far as to say that "There is clear evidence, released from public archives, of the past policy of not applying the proper rigours of the criminal justice process to members of the security forces." It goes on to conclude, given the brouhaha among conservative forces in Britain alleging that members of the security forces targeted especially, that "The guardians of the rule of law are abdicating their responsibilities, this does not bode well for the future."

There is in fact every reason that 'servants of the state' should be held fully accountable, whatever the state, even in a situation such as was the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in a way that civilians or members of paramilitary groups cannot. It was certainly not easy being a member of the police or British army in Northern Ireland during much of the Troubles. However the state pays and trains its servants and should expect the highest standards from them, whatever and wherever that state is. Of course it is also true that for those who do get convicted of Northern Ireland Troubles offences, the same dispensations or leniency regarding crimes should apply to everyone, regardless of whether they are state or non-state actors. And if accountability does not come straight away it should come when it can.

Military build ups
It is scary. 'The end of history' with the fall of eastern European/Russian communism and the end of the Cold War was but a fictional blip in the militarist mindset. Shortly came new military interventions, new enemies, new developments in military technology such as drones, and now new nuclear weapons building and an arms build up with President Trump, even larger than the increase President Obama was proposing. What can we do?

Nuclear weapons are a singularly inappropriate weapon for any country to hold that would wish to call itself 'civilised'. In fact there is a good case for calling such states totally uncivilised because the use of such weapons would be the death knell of certain civilisations if not of humanity on this planet. Proponents declare that holding these weapons has 'kept the peace' but this is nonsense as any look at the number of wars which have taken place will show, and such weapons are totally unsuited for the kinds of warfare that states, proto-states and others have been using or facing in recent years. The number of nuclear accidents and near accidents is also sobering.

But President Trump is harking back to a past ploy of trying to have the USA show a clear and decisive lead over all forms of weaponry, and protesting that it doesn't have a clear lead when it has. This bodes ill for the US people, who have to pay for such weaponry, but it also bodes ill for the people of the world because if you feel you have a pre-eminent edge in weaponry and military systems you may be more inclined to use them, and others may be inclined to follow into a 21st century arms race. Arms company shares went up in the light of Trump's militarisation plans though getting them through Congress is another day's work.

Meanwhile we have a NATO military build up on the borders of Russia. It was the West which egged on opponents of the unpopular but democratically elected (and pro-Russian) government in Ukraine, resulting in what was effectively a coup. It was the West which first helped destabilise the Ukrainian situation. Then when Putin outmanoeuvred Ukraine to take Crimea, the West expressed shock – the same western powers that have intervened militarily in situations no threat whatsoever to them in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Both Russia and China are flexing their military muscles in their backyards but they do not have the global military prowess and hegemony possessed by the USA.

In the peace movement we have to keep our nerve in the current situation. We have to keep pointing out home truths like the dangers of military build ups and Russian sensibilities. No, we are certainly not a fan of Vladimir Putin, he is an autocratic opportunist, but Russian history requires the West not to be soft but not to be aggressive either. We also have to keep pointing out the dangers and illogicality of nuclear weapons – unless we want to return fully to the bad old days of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) – which has never fully gone away, you know.

We have to build a new peace movement which will put pressure on politicians to build for humanity and face the greatest crisis and danger facing the globe – that of out of control warming which will cause more disruption, dislocation and resultant pain and violence than we can imagine. The militarist mindset sets up enemies to justify their 'defence' of their own nationalistic values, and makes people feel dangerously patriotic, for which read idiotic. What we need is an internationalist mindset which sets up the good of humanity first. Militarism is tilting at windmills in an expensive, dangerous and totally unproductive way. In the end the best way to defeat militarism, and to secure attention to more important matters, is turning enemies into friends.

There is a lot of work to do.


Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Attitudes Are More Important Than Facts

The days are long gone when Alexander Von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) travelled in Europe, Russia, Central and South America conducting research into the physical nature of the world enduring physically harsh conditions as well as the burden of trying to persuade suspicious colonial powers to allow him to collect data within their ill-gotten territories. Today scientists carry out research into almost every aspect of life on Earth and in deep space with little physical discomfort and political opposition.

The accumulative findings of 250 years of research into the nature of the world and the human impact upon it tells a disturbing story about humankind. It is reliably estimated that our species is 200,000 years old with an evolutionary history dating back 2.5 million years. By way of comparison crocodiles have existed for 250 million years and the dragonfly for 300 million. Given our short existence we have done enormous harm to the biosphere, especially since the industrial revolution. If we continue to behave as we do what state can we expect the biosphere to be in if we survive for another 1,000 years? Will there be any rainforest left, will the sea be dead, will there be any sight or sound of birds, foxes and red squirrels, lions, tigers and giraffes? Will there be fertile soil and clean water?

A finding that illustrates the extent to which we have utterly changed the Earth is reported by Damian Carrington in The Guardian, 13 February 2017. He informs us that research led by Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University:
"discovered "extraordinary" levels of toxic pollution in the most remote and inaccessible place on the planet – the 10km deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean."

This finding aligns with other research which shows that there is no part of the planet that has not been adversely affected by human activity. We have not only polluted nonhuman nature but have ingested the same pollutants causing ill-health and early death for many. The number of people who die prematurely every year from air pollution bears this out. Geeta Anand in the New York Times, 14 February 2017, informs us that in 2015, 4.5 million people died prematurely from air pollution and that 258,000 Europeans and 88,000 Americans risk premature death every year from the same cause. As regularly reported in the British media 40,000 people in the UK, including 9,000 Londoners, die prematurely every year because of air pollution. Aside from these unfortunate deaths millions more suffer ill-health of various degrees and types as a direct result of how we live.

The irony is that the Abrahamic religions who believe that the Earth was created by God who said in Genesis 1:24 that it was "good", have seriously abused it as well as our own kind. The Abrahamic religions believe that not only are humans made in the image of God but that each person is a temple, the abode of their divine soul. The soul theologians say is of the essence of God. The Corinthians: 3: 16 reads:
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you? … For God's temple is holy, and you are the temple."

Highlighting the indivisibility of body and soul and their sanctity Catholic teaching holds that only a Catholic whose soul is not blemished by mortal sin can receive Holy Communion, which is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In spite of the Abrahamic view that the Earth and humankind are of God therein meriting respect their adherents, and others, systematically harm both in a nonchalant manner. What accounts for this glaring disconnect between belief and behaviour?

One possible explanation is that while the biosphere, including humankind, is intellectually regarded as having intrinsic value and therefore merits being treated with respect the majority of people, religious and nonreligious, lack the emotional sense of the reality of this. George Lakoff argues in The Political Mind (2008) that the disconnect lies in the nature of our brain which is primed to instigate behaviour on the basis of emotion rather than reason. Carl Cederstrom in The Guardian, 27 February 2017, in an article about lies, truth and reality with reference to President Donald Trump quotes the celebrated psychiatrist Karl Menninger (1893-1990) who observed that "attitudes are more important than facts". Elizabeth Kolbert puts forward the same argument in 'Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds', The New Yorker, 27 February 2017.

The disconnection between belief and behaviour in regard to how we interact with the biosphere can be addressed through educating for appreciation and gratitude. This should be done by the main agents of socialisation including the various religions, the education system and the entertainment industry. Learners, which are all of us, should be taught by way of whole person immersion about the life-line connections between all facets of the biosphere. The value of this would become apparent in eco-sensitive urban planning and agricultural practice, the creation of a cradle to cradle economy, economic justice and household and local community resilience to the adverse effects of climate change as in being able to maintain a kitchen garden, make and mend, barter and share. Education that does not involve the emotions as well as the intellect, the social and the practical, ecological and economic connections is a disservice to all including the biosphere on which the community of life-forms is wholly dependent.

History verifies that reading sacred texts and appealing for divine intervention does not lead to good neighbourliness with our own kind and other species - likewise with our society's resolute faith in the gospel of continual economic growth. We have to move beyond the circumference of our symbolic world and feel ourselves to be in the skin of others, including nonhumans, in order to treat the biosphere in a way that will sustain our and other life-forms for 300 million years or more.

Copyright INNATE 2021