Witness for Peace

Brings back memories.  Standing in the rubble of Portadown  after the bomb… around a lonely brazier at Alliance Avenue in Ardoyne in the ’70’s .. with Rev Joe Parker in the middle of the night outside the GPO in Dublin .. on peace marches up the Falls Road and across the bridge in Derry.  Just like the decent people who today came out in their thousands as a silent witness against the return of violence in Northern Ireland.

Looking back, it was all useless.  Because nothing will stop those who feel that historic injustice, political ideology, revenge .. entitles them to use violence.  And yet there is integrity and power in that dogged silent witness to better times.  What began in me as a soft-hearted idealism about reconciliation became an absolutely visceral distaste for all those who take to themselves an entitlement to bring suffering to others.

I’m right outside all this now.  But just a couple of things.

The new PSNI [police] is one of the unsung success stories of the new Northern Ireland.  It has balanced Protestant/Catholic recruiting and political support right across the community.

Northern Ireland has moved beyond violence but there is still a long way to go.  It’s an uneasy place still even if immeasurably better than it was.  The new institutions are working – if falteringly at times.  But the tasks involved in dismantling division are so daunting that they are hardly yet on the agenda – the need to integrate housing and to find a way of providing more shared education are only the most obvious.


I struggle a bit with my feelings about Gaza.  My e mail is full of people caring passionately and straightforwardly about it.  And I do too.  But I’ve spent a lot of time in my life witnessing for peace.  I gradually came to feel more and more mocked by those who are simply resolutely and unshakeably determined to use violence – either terrorists or securitat-minded governments.  It takes more than marches.  But these are some of my thoughts …

Disproportionate.  The idea that one would use tanks in one of the most densely-packed civilian populations on earth is extraordinary.  Disproportionate in scale – disproportionate in the cost in lives.  Not therefore just.

The link between a civilian population and terrorist groups is subtle and difficult.  What happens is that the civilian population does not agree with terrorist actions – but has an underlying sympathy with the aims.  And the more the population as a whole feels under attack, the more successfully can the terrorists claim to be their defenders.  To wage war without addressing the underlying political issues which connect the terrorists to the civilian population from among whom they arise is just inadequate.

And then there is the secure/insecure question.  The Israelis appear to be the most powerful military force in the region .. yet they seem to be perpetually insecure, ever-conscious of the Arab nations all around them.  That has a sort of familiar feel .. living among the Ulster Protestants – a majority in Northern Ireland but perpetually insecure – a minority in the whole of Ireland.

May peace come soon.

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