'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Violence Is A Symptom
What’s the disease?
Is peace a luxury?
Squall 12, Spring 1996, pg. 4.
For the forty years so far lived, Jim had considered peace and non-violence to be a guiding principle. He’d stuck to it through thick, thin and personal danger. One night, however, his faith in his ability to hold onto this attitude was shattered. He had returned to the home where he, his wife and then- two children lived, and realised that the shuffling noise upstairs was a burglar. Creeping up the staircase he reached the room from where the noise was emanating. The window was open and the burglar had gone. What shattered Jim from this experience was the fact that he had intended to kill the intruder. Realising that this possible action lay within him, he said, shuddered his soul.
The last three years has witnessed an upsurge in the level of imaginative non-violent direct action. The rise of such activities has been proportional to a decrease of faith in the UK’s political process. According to a recent survey, the majority of UK citizens do not consider that politicians place the concerns of people above that of their own party politics (see page 13) There is plenty of evidence to back up such opinions.
One such scenario is the end of the IRA cease-fire.
For the best and most yearned for opportunity to establish peace in Northern Ireland was a too easily sacrificed piece on the political chess board. To its historical discredit, the Conservative Government’s desire to appease unionist MPs, upon whose votes it relies to maintain a slender parliamentary majority, led to the adoption of a farcical position over the issue.
Whilst British media portray the IRA as murderers, many Irish people view the situation in Ulster not in terms of Terrorists’, ‘troubles’ and ‘murders’, but in terms of ‘soldiers’, ‘war’ and ‘casualties’. Through the eyes of the Irish Republican Army, the last 25 years of struggle has simply been 25 years in a longer war.
Viewed in this light, how can anyone expect an active army to hand over all its weapons before any agreement has been negotiated? Any occupying army which makes this a prerequisite of talks has either won the war already or is not taking the agreed peace seriously.
‘They are terrorists and we will not talk with them until they place themselves in a position where they pose no violent threat,” ran the monotonous Government line; no different after the cease-fire than it was before. Not surprisingly, the IRA reply: ‘What was the point of a ceasefire?’
Seen in this context, the breakdown of peace was precipitated by the British government for party political reasons. What value then, beyond lip service, is placed on peace?
SQUALL’s political respect goes out not to the present British Government or the IRA, both of whom need dismantling. Instead it goes to the peace protesters in Northern Ireland. For hardly a day has gone by since the breakdown of the ceasefire without a public demonstration in favour of peace on the streets of Ulster. These protesters have spoken for the people of both nations when they say they are sick of both British Government hypocrisy and IRA violence.
In a speech on the welfare state, delivered in February, chancellor Kenneth Clarke warned his own party of the dangers of dismantling the welfare system too fast: “The recent events in France, riots on the streets of Paris, illustrate the social disruption which social reforms can bring.” Clarke is not telling his party to stop the dismantling of the welfare system because it would prove unpopular, but simply to use tactics which will avert a violent reaction. As such, Clarke is an advocator of violence as the only significant form of protest. This is incitement.
In fact, the social security system has already been severely cut, but by deconstructing it a piece at a time, large numbers of people have not been affected all at once as was the case with the Poll Tax. The goal is the same though the strategy plots its way around the public’s attention.
Other people less enthralled with theses spin doctored manoeuvres then take on the responsibility of providing the intelligent opposition so missing from the UK’s version of democracy.
A rally at Newbury in February attracted over 5,000 people, with the local train station rammed with protesters arriving from far and wide to attend an avowedly non-violent political protest. However, news coverage of the event was scant. In marked contrast, the small scale riot which erupted in Brixton last summer involved hundreds rather than thousands of people.
Voluminous press coverage was given to its causes and implications.
The scientific community have recently acknowledged global warming to be a measurable reality (see page 5). They have also reported a doubling in the size of the South Pole’s ozone hole over the last year (SQUALL 11). As the ozone layer is at its thinnest over the poles, the increasing size of its hole is indicative of the damage caused by pollutants to the ozone layer over the entire globe. Grounds aplenty, one would think, for some voluminous press coverage devoted to environmental concerns such as those expressed at Newbury.
It is no small irony that coverage of the Newbury rally was depressed by acres of mostly wide-of- the-mark analysis on the bomb that broke the cease-fire. If both politicians and national media choose to pay attention only to riot and violence, whilst at the same time dismissing non-violent activists as single issue troublemakers, what place is afforded to peace?
Right now, the IRA obviously think none. The Newbury road protesters on the other hand see a different way forward.
On the first day of the full-on Battle of Newbury, two protesters sat up a scaffolding poll so pining 400 security guards into their compound (see page 34). To any observer from outside the UK it was a bizarre stand off. How could two protesters offer up their physical vulnerability to prevent 400 men, many of whom are employed for their muscle, from carrying out their work?
The fact remains that, despite the pre-occupations of Kenneth Clarke and the media, the UK still offers a unique opportunity to explore the potentials of politically effective non-violence. European political activists constantly point out that the main thing UK activism can teach is the use of imagination, a vital factor in rendering non-violence effective.
The Newbury protests have in fact received a fair amount of back room press overage. John Vidal at the Guardian, for example, has ensured that his newspaper has done more than the usual, and almost useless, quick splash. The non-violent protesters are indeed winning. For, despite the best efforts of the Criminal Justice Act, Brays Detective Agency, the pro-road business lobby and the DoT, public opinion is changing in an environmental direction. Given that this country is the subject of much European contempt for its political apathy, the 5,000+ people who attended the Newbury rally demonstrate that not everyone in the UK has been swallowed by their armchairs and televisions.
There are a number of factors that create a good opportunity to explore the power of non-violence in this country. Unlike most European countries, the UK police force do not carry guns. Bearing in mind that most UK activists have at some stage experienced the indiscriminate use of weapons that the police already have, the absence of guns is a stop gap on escalation. The introduction of CS gas sprays by police forces is a serious threat to this fine balance (see page 9).
In many countries, the individuals identified as the political mainstays of protests such as Newbury would be done away with.
The Security Services Bill currently creeping through parliament will move the UK further towards a covert version of this (see page 11).
SQUALL views itself as a peace initiative. Words and pictures can be confrontational but they are not physically violent. In some countries, SQUALL’s editorial team would be dead or rotting in prison by now. However, whilst nonviolence remains a political potential, we will continue to publish the magazine in an attempt to provide some sorely missing intelligent opposition. COPEX’s current libel actions are an attempt to covertly kill such dissenting voices (see Page 12). The McLibel team are presently fighting successfully on this frontier (see Page 6 and SQUALL 11).
When 4,000 demonstrators surrounded Luton Police Station in 1993, demanding the release of twenty members of the Exodus Collective, the Collective’s peace stewards made sure the demonstration was disciplined and non-violent. Indeed such impressive forms of confrontation gave the police more than their usual cause for concern and less of their usual excuses for rubbishing the intent of the whole protest. Indeed, local newspapers reported afterwards that one of the few demonstrators arrested for actually causing a violent disturbance was an undercover policeman (see Letters page 62). Agent provocateurs look to promote disturbance in order to provide the excuse for tighter and more draconian social control.
Both the suppression of the public enquiry into illegal operations levelled against Exodus and the recent fire bombing of their community farm are attempts to nullify their non-violent community stance (see page 25 and previous SQUALLs to issue 8).
We cannot know yet which eventuality will prevail. The agent provocateurs look to steer it by way of violence, politician’s are choosing to listen only to violence, whilst national media largely ignores the non-violent voice. The situation as it stands is incitement.
However, even if public violence does produce short term change, such as happened with the poll tax, it also facilitates long term tightening of social control mechanisms. This in turn increases the likelihood and sometimes even the necessity for yet more violence.
Non-violence, on the other hand, is a revolution out of this vicious circle; trumping the agent provocateur and bypassing the politician.
And yet finally balanced it is. Will the urgency of our situation push human concern to the levels which Jim went to with his golf club and his justifiable emotion?
If non-violence can triumph through the effective way it changes public attitudes, it will create a unique precedent. The UK will have thus succeeded where it is increasingly failing - to set a healthy example to the world.
If not, then same old shit.