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Articles from the Peace News log: Violence & nonviolence

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

A report from a Christian conference on nonviolence.

Lucas Johnson, co-ordinator of International Fellowship of Reconciliation

The practice of nonviolence was an integral part of the life, teaching and work of Jesus. This was the message heard by those attending the conference Reclaiming Gospel Nonviolence, sponsored by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, Pax Christi and the Fellowship of Reconciliation held in Kinnoull, Perth on 14-16 July.

John Dear, a Roman Catholic priest from the USA, looked over the life of Jesus and the lives of the early Christians to draw inspiration for the idea that practising peace is the core duty of all Christians and people of faith. 'As a society we are addicted to death', he said, from the wars that have been continually fought for the last seventy-plus years to the dead and fossilised animals we burn as coal, oil and natural gas.

'Change happens when people act. Sometimes this may involve breaking bad laws and facing the consequences', said Dear. This can be seen in the life of Jesus, who Dear described as 'a one-man crime wave' for actions such as overturning the tables in the temple and healing the sick on the Sabbath. He urged participants to be witnesses for peace in their communities, through their actions and their lives, adding: 'We are called to be faithful, not to be successful'.

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Musing on the manifesto....

Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, said yesterday: 'Austerity has failed and we need a peaceful political revolution to get rid of it.' Pippa Bartolotti, the leader of the Wales Green Party, said: 'We can have a peaceful revolution in the UK and still reduce the deficit to 1%

Peace News has long stood for nonviolent revolution, and we recently re-published the much-missed Howard Clark's classic essay Making Nonviolent Revolution (with a new afterword). While the policies in the Green Party manifesto would be a great step forward if they were implemented (and many of them are desperately needed), our definition of 'peaceful revolution' has been more thorough-going.

The idea of nonviolent revolution was advocated from different perspectives by US activist George Lakey and US author Gene Sharp in recent interviews, and critiqued (also in the pages of PN) by Bob Overy and Diana Francis, two important figures in the postwar British peace movement.

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Extended text by Diana Francis on nonviolent revolution

The ‘Arab Spring’ revived and broadened interest in the power of nonviolent popular action to challenge tyranny. However, the level of positive outcome promised by events in Tunisia has not been replicated elsewhere, and the slide of nonviolence into unequal violence in the face of violent repression, or civil war backed by foreign military intervention, has led to disillusion and soul-searching.

In this context a range of questions that have long been forming themselves in the back of my mind have come to the fore. I will name them here and set out my own thoughts on them, as far as they go.

I will end with some reflections on what all this means for the idea of nonviolent revolution and a suggestion for future thought and research.

I am acutely aware that the whole piece, which is brief in relation to the size of its subject matter, is full of gaps – and probably some contradictions. As ever, I am struck by the apparent contradiction between our actual experience of being out of control of the way things go and our ongoing attempts to understand and plan things better. Given the infinite complexity of contexts and processes, in itself beyond our grasp, renders the effect of any human endeavour inescapably unpredictable.

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Peace News' co-editor Milan Rai photographed some of the participants at the "International Symposium on Nonviolence Movements and the Barrier of Fear", held 10-12 April at Coventry University.


Who can you spot?

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“On December 23, April 6 activist xxxxxxxxxxxx … alleged that several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten plan for democratic transition by 2011; we are doubtful of this claim” – secret cable from the US Embassy in Cairo to Washington [1]

“Nonviolent action is not just about non-violence, but also about joy and happiness … [People] saw in Tahrir what Egypt could possibly be in the future and they wanted to be part of this new Egypt” – Wael Adel, Academy for Change [2]

In the popular imagination, mass nonviolent action (“people power”) is often portrayed as a largely improvised and unplanned affair. The reality is usually very different.

Thus, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger and the ensuing Montgomery bus boycott are respectively (mis)remembered as the action of an ordinary woman who was simply “too tired to move”, and a spontaneous public reaction to her subsequent arrest and prosecution.

In reality, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and had recently attended the legendary Highlander Folk School – a crucial training center for civil rights and labour activists. Moreover the local Women’s Political Council had decided to call a boycott at least nine months before Parks’ refusal, and were just waiting for the right person to get arrested. [3]

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A short film by Kim Bullimore, complementing Gill Knight's piece in the April 2011 issue of Peace News.

Village Life
by Gill Knight
from PN 2532, April 2011

During my time working with the International Women’s Peace Service I have witnessed many human rights abuses in the West Bank Palestine – house demolitions, settler violence, army and settler destruction of olive trees and fields, army intimidation of workers – the list goes on.

But none has been more heart rending than the Israeli attempt to crush the nonviolent Popular Resistance to the Occupation in the small village of Nabi Saleh. The objectives of the resistance is to end the occupation of Palestine and to protest against the confiscation of 50% of the village land by the illegal settlement of Halamish. This settlement also cuts off access to the village spring which is now fenced off and out of bounds to the village. The nonviolent demonstrations, that have taken place each Friday since December 2009, are supported by many international groups as well as Israeli activists, particularly Anarchists Against the Wall. Not many villages in the West Bank hold protests now, Bil’in, Ni’ilin, Beit Ommar and Nabi Saleh being the exceptions. After 42 years of Israeli occupation, Palestinians are tired and depressed, I have been told. Also the veneer of an improved life is perceived through the relaxing of checkpoints while, at the same time, basic human rights are still ignored.

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Virginia Moffatt on the "p" word ...

Chris’ recent  stay in Wandsworth Prison has led to some interesting conversations lately. And that’s got me thinking about when I became a pacifist and why I still am one.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint an exact moment in my life when pacifism made sense to me. But I know the milestones. The first was reading the World War 1 poets – particularly Wilfred Owen - whose  lines in Dulce et Decorum Est still resonate  with me today: “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory, /The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”  (The old lie being, ”It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.”) Then there was the terror of growing up in an age where a nuclear war seemed a real possibility. I was an over-imaginative teenager, and spent many a night thinking planes overhead were Russian bombers. Finally, the Falklands War terrified me in a different way, as I realised many friends were turning 18, old enough to join up if the war escalated.

I never did much about it as a teenager. I vaguely thought war was wrong, but most of my reasoning was due to the pity induced by poetry and my own self-interest in imagining the effects of war on me.  Anything more than that was squashed my Dad’s stern warning that MI5 monitored CND protesters, and the sense that the War he’d fought in (World War 2) must have been OK because it got rid of Hitler didn’t it? I certainly never thought about it in the light of  my Christian faith, and at University proudly considered myself apolitical. (In fact, I was anything but, being involved in a variety of community groups, Amnesty International and the student newspaper, I just had a narrow view of politics at the time.)

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Milan Rai reports from the WRI Triennial in India

On the second morning (the third day) of the Triennial, we had our first “reflectors” session. The reflectors were five people who had been chosen to give their reaction to the conference so far. There were four women (all English-speaking, one African, one Australasian, one European, one North American) and one man (Spanish-speaking, Latin American).

Incidentally, this reminds me of something Jai Sen said about the book he co-edited: World Social Forum: Challenging Empires. They set themselves a very difficult standard in terms of contributors: achieving balance between continents and genders. (For more about the book, and other valuable publications on the way: http://www.cacim.net)

Two of the women (I didn’t catch their names, but later found out one was Vanessa Boaz of the International Centre for Nonviolent Conflict) said that we had so far had a lot of “the problem”, but not a lot of “the solution”. One said that we had not lived up to the “nonviolent livelihoods” element of the conference. The other said we had not been sharing the many successes of small movements, no exchange of strategies and tactics. At the moment it felt like the problems were so big, there was no impossible to succeed by nonviolence.

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Milan Rai reports from the WRI Triennial in India

The War Resisters International Triennial (now held every four years, in a cunning ploy to avoid police detection and repression) is being held here in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, at Gujarat University or “Gujarat Vidyapith”. Coming from the recent ice, snow and slush of southern England, Ahmedabad is jarringly hot – but not too hot, dusty but not too dusty. The university, which was closed down three times by the British authorities during the national freedom struggle, was founded by Gandhi, and the library has an extensive section called “Gandhiana” (I just saw it while looking for the internet facilities).

I hadn’t known that Gandhi had agreed to a World Pacifist Meeting in India in co-operation with WRI. He stipulated that it must take place only after liberation from the British occupation. Unfortunately he was assassinated before that took place. This is the third WRI Triennial in India (the first and second were in 1960 and 1985-86). There’s a lot of history around the event: people with long records of struggle were being memorialised yesterday, the long record of speakers was being invoked, a lot has been done to entwine this international gathering with the specificity of long-standing campaigns for justice and peace within India.

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