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Peace, Women and Peacemaking

Be brave and imaginative when it comes to a world without war

by Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate

(The following is a speech given by Mairead Maguire at the Vatican conference on disarmament in late-November.)

Buon Pomeriggio,

Eminences, Excellencies, Colleagues Nobel Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is good to be with you all, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your work for Peace and Humanity.

Thank you also for giving me the opportunity to speak about the Peace Process in N. Ireland.

N.Ireland is a deep ethnic/political conflict, and Religion plays both a negative and positive role in our society. This was brought home to me, when in the early l970s a young Irish Republican man, told me he was in the Armed Struggle of the IRA fighting a Just War and that the Catholic Church blesses “Just Wars“. We need to throw out the Just War theory, a phony piece of morality. Instead we can develop a new Theology of Peace and Nonviolence and articulate a clear unambiguous rejection of violence. Religion cannot be used to justify war or armed struggle.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Northern Irish conflict. One lesson is that violence never works, be it State, Relational, Paramilitary violence, or the violence of sectarianism, discrimination or injustice. For many years these methods were used and they plunged our country (one and a half million people) into the darkness of death and further segregation and polarization. A Light in the darkness came when in l976 thousands of people, 90% women, marched to call for an end to violence and for peace. They called for all inclusive, unconditional talks, including with those using violence, insisting we must talk to our perceived enemies, be reconciled together and find solutions. They insisted the UK Government uphold Human Rights and International Laws and not put aside the Rights of people, or use means which were illegal and counter-productive. In the first few months of this Civil Society movement for peace and reconciliation, there was a 70% drop in violence.

After a long process of dialogue, and diplomacy, across the communities, between people, paramilitary groups, and politicians, mediated by Civil Community and members of Clergy, eventually a Good Friday Agreement was reached in l998. This Agreement, based on Power Sharing between the Unionists, Nationalists, and others, was a ground breaking achievement in that it brought together many Political parties and tackled hard issues. Unfortunately, many of the Policies agreed upon were not fully implemented and continue to cause dissention within our Executive, Assembly and Community. What could have been set up was an independent body charged with the implementation of the Agreement whose recommendations for resolving disputes would be binding on the parties. In the absence of this, the Executive is obliged to address every crisis on a case by case basis and with no commitment to accepting recommendations to resolve the crisis.

Unfortunately our Executive has had many problems working on a power sharing basis but it is hoped that as time goes on they will adopt a more co-operative and compromising approach in working these institutions. For many the key to progress lies with the community where people live their daily lives. The integration of our society is very important and integrated Education, Peace Education, Therapy, Counselling, etc., will be ways in which to heal and reconcile our society. At the heart of a peace culture is a recognition that every persons life and their humanity is more important than a persons ethnic inheritance. This peace culture only develops when every citizens humanity is valued above that citizens ethnic/religious inheritance. Where a citizens’ vote is sought and cast on the basis of human worth rather than on perceived inheritance or identity. Enpowering local grassroots communities, including women and youth, to get involved in community peacebuilding, job creating, etc., will give hope and build self-belief, confidence and courage.

Post conflict we know how long and difficult the task before us. We accept this challenge to change ourselves and deepen our virtues of compassion, empathy, love, so necessary to change our society. Seeing the person in every one and loving and serving them will help us transcent selfishness, bigotry and sectarianism. Deepening our relationships, with family, friends, society, will keep us strong and give us wisdom and courage in the hard times. In a spirit of enjoyment and enthusiasm, aware of the beauty of life, creation, within and without, we can live joyfully each moment and celebrate the gift of being alive.

We join with everyone around the world to build a demilitarized peaceful world. We thank Pope Francis for his clear moral/spiritual leadership in calling for the abolition of the death penalty and Nuclear Weapons. It is an illusion that we are in control and that these weapons give us security. Above all for any of us to harbour the thought that we have the right to use nuclear weapons and commit genocide is the most disturbing thing of all. We have yet to learn the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An apology to the Japanese people by the US Government, those responsible for the genocidal act of using Nuclear bombs will help the healing of relationships and ensure such genocidal acts will never happen again. The policy of Nuclear weapons, show that we have lost our moral compass. It is long overdue that we abolish nuclear weapons and put resources, human and financial, into abolishing poverty and meeting human security as set out in UN Development goals.

However, we need to do more than this. Be brave and imaginative. Join together for a common vision – the total abolition of Militarism and war. We do not need to limit ourselves to civilizing and slowing down militarism, (which is an aberation and system of dysfunction), but demand its total abolition. We can offer a new hope to suffering humanity. Follow the vision of Nobel on global co-operation to remove the scourge of militarism and war, and implement the architecture of peace based on Human Rights and International Law.

People are tired of armaments and war, which release uncontrollable forces of tribalism and nationalism. These are dangerous and murderous forms of identity and above which we need to transcend, lest we unleash further violence upon the world. Acknowledge that our common humanity and human dignity is more important than our different religions and traditions. Recognize our life and the lives of others are sacred and that we can solve our problems without killing each other. Accept and celebrate diversity and otherness. Heal the old divisions and misunderstandings. Give and accept forgiveness and choose love, nonkilling and nonviolence as ways to solve our problem.

Peace and Justice are necessary, and the ways of dialogue and diplomacy must be seriously undertaken, must be insisted upon by the International Community, as shown in the Iranian nuclear deal, and as could work for a North Korean Peace Treaty. We can transform the erroneous mindset that violence and threats of violence works, weapons and war can solve our problems. Punative Policies do not bring peace.

We can take courage and confidence, from the fact that the Science of War, is being replaced by a Global Science of Peace based on love, Harmony, reverence for life and creation. Thank you to Pope Francis and the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Disarmament. Your work of diplomacy, mediation, fearlessly speaking Truth to Power whatever the cost, gives hope to all of humanity.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nobel Peace Laureate: “Nonviolence is the path to human security”

by Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

I come from Northern Ireland and lived throughout the ‘troubles’ in the city of Belfast, in an area deeply immersed in a violent ethnic/political conflict for over 30 years. The ‘troubles’ started in 1969 and in the ensuing thirty years over 3,500 people were killed and thousands injured. In 1969 the UK Government, at the request of Nationalist politicians, sent in British troops to protect the Catholic population. The British government also brought in emergency legislation removing many basic civil liberties of the population, carrying out such draconian measures as internment without trial, torture, etc. However, these measures only served to increase the anger in the Nationalist community and were counterproductive in that many young people joined the ‘armed’ groups for many reasons, but often in reaction to how they were humiliated by British troops when their dignity was ignored and basic human and civil rights were removed.

Living as we did between the violence of illegal paramilitary groups and state repression, many people in the civil community found themselves having to make a choice between violence and nonviolence. One young man, Danny, told me he was in the Irish Republic Army and joined the ‘armed struggle’ because it was a ‘just war’ struggle, and the Catholic Church, he said, blesses just wars. This conversation with a teenager, arguing the Just War Theory, had a profound effect on me. I realized that though I came from a Catholic background, living in a Catholic community, I had never read ‘just war’ theology and had not been taught Jesus’s nonviolence, much less a clear moral calling to reject violence and follow the Sermon on the Mount.

Living in the midst of state violence, I was forced to ask myself: “Can I ever use violence in face of state violence and injustice? Is there such a thing as just war, just violence?” I then read the Just War Theory and decided I agreed with the late American theologian Fr. John L. McKenzie: “The just war theology is a phony piece of morality.”

Finally, I went to the cross and there found my answer. “Love your enemy. Do not kill.” And I came into my own believe that non-killing, nonviolence is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross and that Jesus’s suffering on the cross, calling us to love our enemies, is the greatest symbol of nonviolent love in action. I also came to know that my life and every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other in armed struggles and wars but to seek alternatives to violence. It was then I made the conscious choice to be an active pacifist and not to kill or support nuclear weapons, militarism and war. I also made the choice to commit myself to finding nonviolent solutions to the injustices in society which others took up ‘arms’ to try to change.

Having lived in Northern Ireland, when we witnessed that militarism and paramilitarism did not solve our problems but only deepened the hatred and division, it was only when we began to enter into dialogue and worked on peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, that change began to happen in our country. Peace came to Northern Ireland when people rejected the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence and came to believe that peace is possible, peace is a human right for all.

I would like to see Pope Francis and the Catholic Church call for the total abolition of militarism (an aberration/dysfunction in human history). Also that Pope Francis and the Church renounce war and develop a ‘theology of non-killing and nonviolence’ and reject the just war theology which has, and continues to, lead people to an acceptance of militarism and war as an alleged legitimate way of solving conflict.

Since World War II, over 20 million people have died in wars, and hundreds of wars have been fought often in the name of God and country. Christians have, and continue to participate, in the killing of humans, and the destruction of their countries and environment. We are all aware that since 9/11 many countries have been destroyed in war and proxy wars by allegedly Christian (Western) countries and their armies, made up of many Christian men and women. This is truly shameful and for which we should say ‘sorry’ and acknowledge this is not in the spirit of Jesus, who was so compassionate and loving to all.

maguireI believe we Christians need to deepen our spirituality of nonviolence, and the Church can help by teaching nonviolence as a theology and way of life, in the seminaries, in schools, in Church, and at every level of society, and by encouraging Christians to live the Sermon on the Mount. In an age of increasing violence and war, how can we Christians choose Jesus’s nonviolence if the Church does not teach nonviolence and offer it as an alternative to violence, militarism and war?

But rejecting violence as a means of bringing about change or as a means of defence, leaves us with an enormous challenge: How do we create human security? We, as the human family, have spent so much of our intellect and our resources on building arms, nuclear weapons and war machinery; we have spent little time on building the architecture of peace and instruments of conflict resolution. The Churches and all faith traditions can provide great spiritual leadership in encouraging people to change their mindsets, deepen their spirituality, and through imagination and creativity move to a new consciousness of nonviolence and peace-building for the sake of humanity’s survival and fulfillment, committing to a vision of peace and disarmament.

As we continue to work for peaceful interaction, we need a shared constructive goal of a peaceful, demilitarized world for the human family. Wars start from dysfunctional conditions and relationships, and to solve this we need equality through peaceful interaction. We can build relational equality; for the Catholic Church, this will mean justice and equality for women in the Church and rejecting patriarchy, militarism and war. With fresh thinking, and a new vision, the Church can fulfill its prophetic spiritual leadership role so needed by our human family, seeking a world without militarism and war, based on fraternity among people and nations, no armies, peace and love.