I am very happy to be here and would like to thank the Irish School of Ecumenics and Kevin Cassidy, Peace People, for inviting me to give this talk. Also to thank Chairperson, Dr. Johnston McMaster, and respondees, Baroness May Blood, and Rob Fairmichael of INNATE.
In a Society such as ours, coming as we do out of over 35 years of violent ethnic/political conflict, I believe, the question must be asked ‘Is it possible to move beyond violence in Ireland? Build communities of Nonkilling, Nonviolence, and live nonviolently together? From my own experience, I believe, the answer is YES.
However, in our situation and where violence and division is endemic, it is so easy to be apathetic. You hear remarks so often “This place will never change”. And not just here but in other places where I have been, the almost constant violence in the lives of the people, have led many to give up hope.
But, we should never give up hope. If we continue in this negative frame of mind, to accept violence, it will seriously threaten our quality of life, our economic recovery, and our security. The bad news is that all violence, be it bullying, homicide, violent crime, terrorism, violent revolution, armed struggles, suicide bombs, hunger strikes to the death, nuclear weapons, war, tragically take human lives, cause much suffering, and adds to a culture of violence. And all violence, State and Nonstate, is a form of injustice. The good news is that we are not born violent, most humans never kill, and the World Health Organization says Human Violence is a “preventable disease”. So happily we can be cured! Prevention starts with peace in our own hearts and minds. Prevention also starts by us, choosing to change to a more positive, self-acceptance and loving mindset, having confidence in ourselves and others, and continuing the hard work of tackling the root causes of our own violence, and others.
Nowadays we hear a lot of talk about security. The greatest power on earth, the United States, decided that the way to achieve security was through shock and awe, destruction of countries, and the multiple deaths of people including her own young men and women transformed into soldiers. Such violent actions endorse a culture of violence, rather than a culture of dialogue with its citizens and perceived enemies. In Northern Ireland, we have been through all of that. And we know that it doesn’t work. Violence does not prevent violence. The failure of militarism, and Para militarism, in Northern Ireland is now mirrored in Iraq. Should it not be obvious that we are now at a point of human history where we must abolish the culture of violence and embrace a culture of nonviolence for the sake of our children and the children of the world? Embrace the idea of a nonkilling society. But is such a quantum leap of thinking possible? Nothing is possible unless we can imagine it. So what is meant by such a society?
Prof. Paige in his book ‘Nonkilling Global Political Science’ (1) says: “a nonkilling society can be defined as a human community from the smallest to the largest in which (l) there is no killing of humans and no threats to kill, (2) there are no weapons for killing humans and no ideological justifications for killing – in computer terms, no “hardware” and no “software” for killing, and (3) there are no social conditions that depend, for maintenance or change, upon the threat or use of killing force”. I would add that it is not enough to decide not to kill, but we need to learn to live nonviolently in our lives and families. Nonviolence is a decision to protect and celebrate life, to love oneself, others, and ones enemies, and to bring wisdom, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation into our relationships. It is a way of living in harmony with each other, the environment, and all of creation.
To move towards such a culture, we need first to move away from dependence upon threat and use of killing force for security, and by that I mean armies and all imitations of armies. Second, we must stop using our economic resources for the unholy alliance of arms dealers and warmongers but use them instead to deal with the root cause of violence, i.e. poverty and injustice. If we provide education, health care, environmental protection, if we uphold human rights and the dignity of the human being, we will soon realize that a just society is its own security. Thirdly, we must deal with the social and psychological problems which we have inherited after 35 years of violent conflict, and a history of prejudice, sectarianism and discrimination.
We have moved a long way already from the violent mindset. Happily too we have learned that we have a choice between, fight and flight, and that is the way of active nonviolence. As a pacifist I believe that violence is never justified, and there are always alternatives to force and threat of force. We must challenge the society that tells us there is no such alternative. In all areas of our lives we should adopt nonviolence, in our lifestyles, our education, our commerce, our defense, our governance. Also the Political Scientists, and academics, could help this cultural change by teaching Nonviolence as a serious Political Science.
That is an ideal that has seldom been explored. But it’s not an impossible ideal. History is littered with examples of nonviolent resistance, many of successful. For example, Norway’s teachers at great cost to them prevented the Nazification of Norway’s educational system by simply refusing to implement it. Gandhi and Martin Luther King successfully used nonviolence for human rights issues; Jesus successfully used it in founding Christianity. St. Francis, a Mystic/Ecologist/Environmentalist, is a model to us of how we need to apply a holistic approach to living nonviolently, especially in a world where climate change is one of the greatest challenges to humanity’s future!
We must make choices. Martin Luther King once said “The choice is between Nonviolence and Non-existence”. Again at this point in our Northern Irish history we face this choice as a society when we must not be complacent about our Peace Process but busy and involved in securing and building up the ground we have gained in justice and peace, fully conscious that in a political vacuum when all people cannot participate in just democratic politics, there is a danger that anger and frustration builds and violence is let loose again.
Fear I believe that one of the barriers to progress is our fear. We can be glad that all Parties in Northern Ireland are agreeing that nonviolence is the way forward, and as the guns begin to fall silent (and hopefully loyalist paramilitary guns will soon too fall silent) we are given space to study our changing identities, and politics. However it is a sobering thought, and worth remembering, that there was no Army, no active Irish Republic Army, no loyalist paramilitaries, on the streets in Northern Ireland in l969, yet we had such a deep ethnic fear amongst a divided community that when the genie of violence was released, what became known as ‘the troubles’ became unstoppable for over 35 years. That fear, (and in some cases deep sectarian hatred) remains and it is this which we must recognize and work to remove if there is to be real change. As humans we each carry fear inside us. It’s alright to be afraid, but we must have the courage to face our fears and do what is right. People are afraid of many things. Fear of death, fear of embarrassment, fear of ethnic annialiation. Understanding and acknowledging this often irrational fear is the first step to dealing with it. In Northern Ireland where we have two main identities, and thankfully many others as we welcome new emigrant groups, we must learn to mellow our identities and put our common humanity above these diverse traditions and divisions. If we put too much into our identities, i.e. defining ourselves as against the other, ‘I’m Irish, Catholic, Nationalist, NOT British, Protestant, Unionist, and if we perceive this identity to be threatened in any way we can become violent. I believe, it’s time in Northern Ireland, we begun more to think of ourselves firstly, as part of the human family and remembered above all our common humanity.
In l998 the UN declared this to be the Decade of a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World (2001-201O). Introducing nonviolence across the curriculum will help build a new culture. The media, who seem mesmerized by violence, have an important role to play. I was struck by how quickly the change took place from an accepting culture of smoking to the culture of nonsmoking. The Government and media agreed that smoking was bad for our health, and helped change the culture. We can all agree Violence is bad for our health, and the media can play its role by helping to stop the glorification and promotion of violence in our culture, i.e., through mass media, war games, etc., all means of desensitizing our children to what is cruel and inhumane. Those of us, who have lived the troubles, have a particular responsibility not to ever allow violence, war, and armed struggles, to be romanticed, glorified, or culturally accepted as ways of solving our problems.
All Faith traditions can play a role in building this new culture, as each has their own prophets of nonviolence. All faiths can agree to teach the Golden Rule of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’ I myself came into pacifism and nonviolence in the early l970. Facing State violence, I asked myself “as a Christian can I ever use violence”? I studied and rejected the ‘Just war’ theory and went to the cross where I believe Jesus’ message of love your enemies, do not kill is most clearly shown. I also agree with the American theologian, the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, who said: “You cannot read the gospels and not know that Jesus was totally nonviolent.” I believe too that Jesus with a machine gun does not come off as an authentic figure. But until the Christian Church begins to seriously live and teach the nonviolent message of Jesus, to abolish the Just War theory, to denounce nuclear bombs and war, it behooves those of us who are Christian (and those who follow other spiritual paths or none) to seek truth in our own life, and live out of that with as much integrity as possible, respecting others right to their truth, their faith, and their way of life.
Reconciliation and Integration of Our society: In a polarized Society such as ours, we need to increase cross-community efforts and develop new ways of integration. Much work is being done, such as community, inter-church, interfaith, integrated education, – especially integrated schools – sports, cultural events, etc., We can each choose to be part of integrating our community and building friendships and trust or we can remain in the old mindsets and pass onto our children the distrustful concepts of ‘one of the other kind’ or ‘one of your own’. In Northern Ireland, we can move away from seeing each other in terms of flags and religions, and rather see each other, as flawed human beings, needing each other, and needing to love and be loved, as we each struggle to cope with the joy and the suffering of life’s journey.
Forgiveness is the key to peace. Many people have suffered violence. We have all suffered and bear the scars of violence. This leaves us with yet another choice. We can get stuck in recrimination and blame, and feed the seeds of our own anger and hatred, or we can choose to forgive and move on with our lives, determined to be happy and live each moment fully alive and celebrating this beautiful gift of life. If we get stuck in the past it can destroy our creativity and imagination, necessary to make a difference. Which do we want to choose? However, some people have said to me they find it hard to forgive. They feel too traumatized and they want to see justice done. This is very understandable. The process of forgiveness takes time, and it needs the support of family, friends, and often trained people to help people deal with the trauma and suffering involved. I commend the great efforts of many people helping in this area of suffering, and hope resources will continue to be provided to help the healing process of many people affected by the troubles.
Trust: A legacy of the Northern Irish conflict is our evident lack of trust. When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, for many it was not signed with ‘grace’ and there was not a conscious choice to trust others, nor a willingness to power sharing, nor a real commitment to work for the implementation of equal rights and full recognition of all national identities. I believe this lack of trust is still deep and is one of the causes of our political stalemate. Yet, we the people must make choices. I am asking now that we really start to trust one another. Although we have come a long way since the Good Friday agreement, we have yet to achieve our power sharing executive and working Assembly. I believe the civil community needs to unite its voice in insisting our Political Leaders sit down in a shared executive, and Assembly. Direct rule is not an option, and indeed is insulting and humiliating to the people of Northern Ireland as it questions our maturity and ability as civilized adults to run our own affairs and our own Parliament. One of the ideas we might consider is the establishment of a Ministry of Peace in our own Northern Irish Parliament, and also in the Dail. Also by devolving power and resources to local communities empowering them to fulfill their rights and responsibilities as Citizens, will ensure that we, the Northern Irish people, can build a vibrant, nonviolent democracy right across the whole community, thus breaking down the divisive green and orange politics we have tragically inherited, and at the moment are dangerously trapped within.
I have great hope for the future. I believe in the goodness and kindness, of the people of Ireland, both North and South. This was evidenced throughout the troubles with the many thousands of people, who every time there was serious violence, and it looked like we could go over the edge into civil war, they marched to say ‘no to violence’ ‘yes to peace’. It must always be remembered the tremendous role the civil community played, particularly in Northern Ireland, in building the peace. Many of those people are still there, and it is in them, and their children, that I rest my hope for a better future in our country.
As World Citizens too, I think we can join with millions of our brothers and sisters, working where they are, for nonviolent transformation. This will mean building a demilitarized Ireland and Britain (with no armies) building neutral and nonaligned countries in Europe and around the world, developing unarmed Policing and nonmilitary forms of defense. It will also mean changing Patriarchal and Hierarchical systems which are unjust and under which women suffer from oppressive structures and institutions. It will not be easy, but is necessary and it is possible together to build a new world civilization with a compassionate and just heart.
Peace and happiness to you all,