On political violence


I had an interesting discussion the other day with an intelligent friend of mine. (Yes, Virginia, I do have friends and yes, they are intelligent. Or some of them are.) He was talking about the use of violence for political ends and declared that, as a humanist, he rejected it completely. The idea of taking the life of another human being  – or the idea of another human being trying to take his life – was repulsive and unthinkable. 

I have similar feelings. Human life is an amazing gift, regardless of where you believe that gift came from. Go to the window now – that’s right, press your little nose against the pane. Look at that sunshine. Or rain. Look at the trees blowing and churning in the wind. Look at the sky with its drama of the clouds. Look at your own hand and its complexity. Touch your nose and think of all the smells and odours it can distinguish. This is life and  aren’t we lucky to have it? And wouldn’t it be an abomination to quench the spark of life in another, or have your own spark quenched?

My friend went on to say that not only was political violence revolting but that it was futile. “Does anyone think that people can be forced by violence into doing something? It may work in the short term but in the end it will fail.”

That, I think, is the part where I’d leave him. In the world today – in the world maybe since the first dawn – violence or the threat of it has been used to pressure people into doing what we want. When someone is arrested for theft, or drunken driving, or any of the many other things which the law forbids, that person isn’t asked to please change their ways: they’re put in a cell, by force if necessary, and then they’re given a prison sentence or a fine,  regardless of their wishes. What’s more, all of us accept this form of violence to ensure a working state.

Likewise at the national and international level: war or the threat of war has been used time and time again to shape society and its citizens. It may be that those who issue these threats or visit this violence believe it’s for the greater good of the greatest number, but they don’t achieve their ends by appealing to people’s better nature. They achieve it by killing or threatening to kill people. The notion of appealing to people’s sense of justice or goodness is nowhere near strong enough to  get people to do what you want. Or certainly that’s how it has always been.

BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’ s Sunday Sequence  was looking at this notion in Christian terms. this morning.  I’ve never quite got the notion that war is compatible with being a practising Christian. For example, I was on Nolan’s radio show last week with the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson. Now Jeffrey is a committed Christian – look on his lapel and you’ll see the little fish badge.  Yet  Jeffrey was  calling for the US and Britain to intervene in Iraq (again) for the common good. When he was a warrior…sorry, member of the UDR,  Jeffrey no doubt carried a weapon and was prepared to use it. Yet at the same time he was a devout Christian. And yes, I know the Christian argument for a just war, but it has just one drawback: the founder of Christianity didn’t include any get-out clause when he said “Love your enemies. Do good to those that hate you”.

But as I say, my friend was a humanist. He was right about the taking of human life being an abomination. But he was wrong if he thought that’s not how the world works, for humanists and Christians and most other religious sects.

God, we’re a terrible shower of hypocrites, aren’t we? Doublethink? We could do it all day, even all our lives.

18 Responses to On political violence

  1. giordanobruno August 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    There is indeed hypocrisy aplenty. I would say that those like your friend who are humanist are less guilty of it than the religious. As far as I know humanism does not require one to be a pacifist though some, like your friend, may be both.
    The teachings of Christ on the other hand are, as you say pretty clear on the matter.
    I don’t know why you single out Jeffrey as an example (just picked at random no doubt) when the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin Mcguinness hold Christian beliefs too.
    Indeed I think you believe in all that unlikely stuff yourself, so I reckon best leave the humanists alone on this one.

    • Jude Collins August 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

      Ah gio – you’ll have to stop spotting agendas where there ain’t none. I mentioned Jeffrey because he was the second-last person with whom I discussed the notion of violence to achieve ends. The last person was my humanitarian friend. “All that unlikely stuff” – I’m not sure if you’re saying Christ never said those words or that Christ never existed. As for “leaving the humanists alone”, I’ll do nothing of the sort. The man is my friend.

      • giordanobruno August 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

        Yes I know you have no agenda other than the impartial revelation of truth.
        Leaving aside all the unlikely stuff people choose to believe, it is clear that those who claim to follow the teachings of Christ, whether he was just some guy with a lot of opinions or the son of God born of a virgin, resurrected from the dead,lives at the North Pole etc etc, are largely hypocrites.
        A humanist philosophy would accommodate the use of violence as a last resort more naturally than any religion could.

  2. Joe McVeigh August 17, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    We used to make distinctions between different kinds of violence like primary and secondary violence but it would appear that Jesus made no such distinction. But in the real world in order to understand how states and governments behave it helps to define violence in terms of institutional and reactionary, the more morally culpable and the less morally culpable..I do not advocate violence against another human being yet I have to live with it in this not quite civilized world where might is right and the rich and powerful can use any violence they like and where there is a disgusting arms industry backed by all the major governments of the world. Non-violence is a wonderful ideal for the human race but it is not likely to catch on any time soon especially when people professing to be Christians are so ambivalent or even hypocritical. Christian Churches could begin by abolishing the display of all military parpharnalia relating to the British crown. They should also advocate the abolition of all armies and the arms industry

    • William Fay August 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      Yes joe, but do you still believe that some are more guilty of violence than others. In your book, you stated that you could not believe that the IRA would target civilians with a bomb (in Enniskillen), and also disagreed with the statement of condemnation issued by your own bishops. I’m sure you do disagree with the removal of military symbols from churches, does that include the removal of IRA paraphernalia from churchyards, IRA funerals, etc, or would that be different in your view.

  3. Iolar August 17, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    I thought the use of the word “we”, as in “We need a presence in the Middle East” was an interesting comment in the broadcast today, It would appear strange that some aircraft use missiles with precision to kill and destroy former cradles of civilization, while other aircraft drop humanitarian aid to refugees. Mr Donaldson was busy rattling his sabre during the week, about the need for bombing missions while his colleagues on the hill were flying kites and chewing over things, cheap food and mints courtesy of the taxpayer. Mr Donaldson’s experience in what Dr Feeney described as “the last native regiment of foot raised by a British government”, does not prevent the M.P. from continuing to shoot himself in the foot. The M.P.’s role in world politics remains poorly rehearsed and to date thankfully ignored by the British Prime Minister. Walking out of meetings with political opponents may constitute a graduated response in east Belfast but the tactic is a poor substitute in the context of sophisticated political and diplomatic efforts to develop and sustain peaceful resolution of conflict in various theatres throughout the world.

  4. Perkin Warbeck August 17, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    The issue of political violence is a particularly sticky one South of the Border down Wexico way, birthplace of (simply) Redmond. And can often leave the unsophisticated Free Southern Stater scratching his or indeed, her head.

    Where the broadcasting wing of The Unionist Times, RTE, continues to shell its defenceless license payers with incessant programmes, both on telly and on the wireless, celecommemorating those Riverdancing Irishmen who kicked up a chorus line in khaki during the Four Year Peace Rally known as WW!

    But one does not have to travel as far south as the Sunny South East. Take the main drug-dealing drag of Dublin, which features the world-renowned paen to chance and chancers and symbol of the contemporary Celt: Dr. Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium.

    O’Connell Street.

    . Named, of course, in honour of Dan the Man whose devotion to pacificism subsequently made Gandhi look like a goose-stepper.

    The only stain on this elegant thoroughfare’s European reputation is that it also, through no f. of its own, houses the GPO, the infamous building from where P.H. Pearse posted his proclamation of bloodshed, anarchy and mayhem. B.A.M. !

    But, here’s the rub. Which causes heads to be scratched. Though only unsophisticated ones, be it noted.

    In terms of body count the score still stands: D. O’Connell, 1. P.H. Pearse, 0.

    For, in January 1815 one Daniel O’Connell did, during the course of a dawn-time duel, shoot at and fatally wound one, John Norcot D’Esterre, in the Bishop’s Court Demesne, belonging to Lord Ponsonby himself in the County of Kildare.

    The ‘s’ in Demesne, by the way, is silent, as silent as the Sainthood of St.aters, St.oops and St.icks who go marching through T.U.T. and its broadcasting wing, RTE.,on this grave matter.

  5. paddykool August 17, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    It’s all a bit of an illusion really, Jude.Here we all are in constant conflict
    With our true human natures.We’re always running away from what being truly human really means .It’s no accident that us humans have reached the pinnacle of success as the top predator…the alpha creature bestriding the earth.Look at us. We are the best flesh and blood killer there ever was.No other animal compares with our skill and skulduggery.

    We like to pretend that we are better creatures than that but the evidence to the contrary is on the news right now as you read this.We can dress it up any way we like…turn our minds inside out with guff about being Fallen Angels .We put up religious pretences about following Biblical sages , but when it comes down to the wire….Thou Shalt Not Kill gets short shrift every time .Our human skin and bone brutality pokes it’s grinning apish visog out and our true selves are remembered.We only became the species we are by being literally unholy hypocrites.We waged violent crusades in the name of a peacemaker.We burned people in fires .We executed and hanged people even while hanging on to the myth of a Christian heavenly renewal

  6. Argenta August 17, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Fr Mc Veigh(above) states that he” does not advocate violence against another human being” but later adds “Non-violence——-is not likely to catch on any time soon when people professing to be Christians are so ambivalent”.Perhaps could explain to us how he rationalises the I R A campaign of violence during the Troubles in Fermanagh where he has spent most of his ministry.

    • Jude Collins August 18, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Interesting question, Argenta. Of course, if Fr McVeigh had chosen as you have to remain anonymous, you wouldn’t have been able to ask the question, would you?

      • Argenta August 18, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

        True,but as you admit,still an interesting question.

        • Jude Collins August 18, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

          But impossible if he remained masked as do you…

          • Argenta August 18, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

            I think Fr Mc Veigh is old and mature enough to be able to speak for himself without your protection!

          • Jude Collins August 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

            I think you’re right, Argenta. I also think I can choose when I can comment on what on my own blogsite, no?

  7. Argenta August 18, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    It’s your blog site.I don’t think anyone ever suggested that you hadn’t the right to comment on whatever you liked.

  8. ANOTHER JUDE August 18, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    Unionists supported violence if it was carried out by good solid loyalists, whether in the uniform of the late unlamented UDR (better known as the the `You`ll Do Rightly`) the RUC (R You Serious?) or any other branch of the British war machine. They weren`t too bothered about the so called loyalist paramilitaries, not surprising seeing as so many of them were also in the previous groups. As for Christian beliefs, I have never been able to get my head round the presence of Churchmen at War remembrance ceremonies. Onward Christian soldiers???

    • William Fay August 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

      Another Jude, you base your statement on what, any decent unionist abhorred violence from whatever quarter. If a member of the Security Forces committed a crime, he deserved the same punishment as any member of a paramilitary group. It is so easy to allege and produce throwaway comments based on nothing but your own republican bitterness, maybe you could produce material that is based on even a small iota of fact. I know no unionist who support the loyalist paramilitaries, maybe I mix in the wrong circles. The number of loyalist paramilitaries who were in any branch of the Security Forces was minute, and those that were deserved the punished meted out by the full rigours of the law. The last part of your comment doesn’t even merit a response.

  9. Wolfe tone August 21, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    William fay

    What if your security forces had directed the loyalist to commit a ‘crime’? Would you support that? If a loyalist is ordered or directed by a government agency to perpetrate a crime no matter how brutal it is, then perhaps it is not a ‘crime’? It is an act by a government. That would explain the doublespeak when people like yourself condemn ‘terrorism’. It would also explain the deafening silence from the unionist community when people were committing terror in their name. Plenty of Nationalists had the honesty to condemn the IRA and declare ‘Not in my name’ etc. I don’t recall the same verve and vigour from the unionist community?

    The image of honest broker,peacekeeper,decency etc had to be maintained within the ranks of the British regimes security terror forces at all times William, as you well know. And that’s why lots of unionists won’t openly declare their support of all unionist violence, be that by British army,RUC and their militia terror groups of the UDA,UVF and the creme de le creme, the UDR.

    I would say the circles you mix in would embrace savage terror….sure didn’t you claim you spent a bit of time in Tel Aviv????