Saturday, 26 July 2014

Justice (and joy)

I was very struck in the early days of this horrific period of violent attacks in Palestine and Israel, by the use of the word 'quiet' as a goal for the Israeli government. They wanted to restore quiet - meaning in their case preventing missile launches from Gaza. As Quakers, quietness is assumed to be a good thing - a state, a place from which and in which insights and a sense of the divine can grow and flourish. But a quiet that is the result of forcible subduing is a very different matter. 

On a smaller scale, I recall a discussion some years ago of people preparing for an act of peace witness. The group was predominantly Quakers, with a small number of non-Quakers joining us. As our discussion became a little heated, the Friend who was clerking/facilitating suggested a period of quiet. After a short while, one non-Quaker friend burst out with frustration; they felt that we were being told to shut up, that legitimate, if divergent, views were not being heard.  Can Quakers use quietness in this way, even if unconsciously, more often than we realise? 

Back to Palestine. In the Jewish writings Pirkei Avot we read  "Our Rabbis taught: ...The sword comes into the world, because of justice delayed and justice denied...". (see )  The MP David Ward got himself into hot water recently when he tweeted  "The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes."  (see: . Well, I'm not in Gaza and I don't condone violence.  But if the silence of a Quaker-led meeting can lead to an outburst of anger, we have to acknowledge that prolonged and sustained, systematic injustice to a community will produce anger that will at times in its turn be violent.  On its website, the American Friends Service Committee states: "...calling for an end to current violence is not enough. To truly make a difference, we must all work to see the situation clearly, identify the root causes of the violence, and work to transform the systems that are perpetuating injustice and death."

I began reflecting on this theme some weeks before the current crisis took the terrible turn that it has. I intended to couple reflections on justice with some thoughts about joy. The poem below seems to be the best way of doing that. Joy is the natural expression of people living life, being happy in each others company. It's life-affirming quality is also probably why peace action very often includes joyful actions, from the music of very first Aldermaston marches to the current whirlwind of activity creating a glorious riot of pink wool that in a short time will be used to draw attention to the continuing commitment by our country to developing weapons of mass-destruction. We can wail, we can weep ... but life is also for loving and laughing. By reminding the weapons-makers and military-planners of our common humanity, they are lovingly challenged to consider that they may well be seriously mistaken. Which is why we weep.

Say No to peace

By Brian Wren
February/March 2004

Say "No" to peace
if what they mean by peace
is the quiet misery of hunger,
the frozen stillness of fear,
the silence of broken spirits,
the unborn hopes of the oppressed.

Tell them that peace
is the shouting of children at play,
the babble of tongues set free,
the thunder of dancing feet,
and a father's voice singing.

Say "No" to peace,
if what they mean by peace
is a rampart of gleaming missiles,
the arming of distant wars,
money at ease in its castle,
and grateful poor at the gate.

Tell them that peace
is the hauling down of flags,
the forging of guns into ploughs,
the giving of fields to the landless,
and hunger a fading dream.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Independence and interdependence

At the heart of our commitment to peace is a strong sense that there is something of God in all people. Over the years this has led Quakers to put efforts into living in a way that does not accept the barriers put up by societal structures or by nation states.  William Penn's Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693) reflects that long history of Quaker concern, in proposing that nation states should be meeting and talking to one another in an early vision of a European parliament.

As the twentieth century progressed it became increasingly clear that we had to think globally, with world wars, a growing awareness of the planet as one ecosystem and wider awareness of the effects of the lifestyles of the wealthier citizens of the world on the lives of the poorest.

In spite of this, the nation state – and indeed the sense of separate nationhood within states – retains its appeal and potency. Whilst our governments seem to have some understanding global roots of conflict, the routes chosen to address security continue to be driven by a mindset that puts 'national interest' first and foremost, not least because of the cycle of electoral politics that means longer-term thinking is made unattractive.

Yet, when a region or a people is dominated within a state by a stronger part of that state that fails to recognise the particular interests and needs of the smaller part, it is entirely understandable that increased separateness and self-determination become such pressing aspirations, as we now see with some clarity from those who seek independence for Scotland.

More widely, the UK is very much beholden to the US, particularly in military matters. The recent, now annual, Independence from America demonstration at Menwith Hill is another clear message – it is not acceptable that the country in which military-linked activities like those in North Yorkshire take place have so little say in what is really going on. This is activity in the US national interest but in the north of England and in many other parts of the globe. This is an inter-dependence we really could do without.

The independence movement that comes with the baggage of isolationism and ignorance is deeply problematic, as we have seen in recent UK electoral politics.  And worse still, is the seeking of separateness from people who might different from us within our own towns and cities. Peace-building at home and internationally must have the overcoming of isolation and ignorance at its core.

For Friends, and for many others who share our commitments to peace, justice and planetary care, we must find approaches that support the most vulnerable in society and in the world - which might mean independence and separateness from oppressive powers - whilst promoting awareness and action that recognises our interdependence on one another and  of other living things to one another throughout the globe, seeking power with others and 'power to ...' take action rather than power over.