Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Peace process piffle makes me want to hit out

The peace and reconciliation 'industry' is based on the premise that we were all either 'combatants' or 'victims'. Malachi O'Doherty is fit to be tied

I am appalled, but I have seen it before. A man is explaining to an audience how he overcame his own bigotry and came to love peace.

It doesn't matter that this man is South African, he has a universal vision of what causes war; it is the stubborn and brutalised heart of every individual. And he can show me how to be more open and loving and bring peace to the world.

I wouldn't much fancy his chances with this message in Aleppo this week but, as usual, it is going down well.

From the early days of the peace process, this has been part of the message; that we are all to blame and that the solution is to recognise that people on the other side are human.

Sting sang about trusting that the Russians love their children, too; Donovan, before that, blamed all war on the Universal Soldier.

In a darker interpretation of the implications of that vision, sectarian killers sought out any representative they could find of a whole community.

It is one thing that the peacemakers and the warmakers agree on; that entire populations can be held to account for the violence that emerges from the few.

Once the NIO invited me and a couple of other journalists to dinner with a South African diplomat.

He told us a story about how a delegate to a conference saw a child, belonging to another delegate from a different party, wander away from the talks' site and get into danger.

He ordered his own helicopter to land and help the child. When the others saw this they realised that the enemy was human, too. This made negotiation easier.

I very much doubted that and said I would not want to be represented by a politician who was so easily swayed. But this, he said, made a difference.

And last week, in Armagh, another South African was telling me about the need to pray with open hands, rather than clenched fists.

The point of all this sermonising we have endured about how to make peace with each other is to absolve those who did the actual killing and to make all of us responsible for what they did.

Those who love that message most are the killers and political movements which encouraged them, because it absolves them.

It seems not to matter to the peacemakers that those groups were always minorities; that peace came about through those groups moving out of the dark corners they occupied to take the very political ground they had previously sought to eradicate.

This blather, however, stems from the language used to initiate the peace process. Before 1993, no one ever called the Troubles a 'conflict'. This was a new word to establish the idea that, at heart, we had a disagreement between equally legitimate positions inherited from history. It was clever, but it was a lie, for it overlooked the simple fact that there were attackers and attacked, that there were assailants and victims.

It even implies that the victims were part of the problem; they wouldn't have been shot, or bombed, if they had not been part of the conflict, too.

If anyone was to blame, it wasn't the person with a gun, but history and the failure of us all to find love and peace in our hearts. I feel like slapping people who say this.

Over the years, I have heard clergy and peace group members and victims at rallies and meetings and summer schools, many many times, call themselves to account for the actions of soldiers and paramilitaries, as if there was something they could have done to prevent the violence they suffered; as if by changing their hearts they could send a message that would reach the killers of tomorrow and change them.

They couldn't. It has never been so simple that all the people were to blame except in the vision of bigots.

Another word that annoys me is 'combatant'. This is the peacemaker's word for those who killed. They are Former Combatants now.

There was precious little combat at all in the whole 'conflict'. It is not combat to shoot a man coming from church, or to put a bomb under someone's car and get away before it goes off. There is combat when the other party is armed and fighting back.

But we have rewritten the Troubles to placate those who did the dirtiest things and to take responsibility back from them.

No one wants the truth: simply that there was a fuzzy line between those who did the deeds and those who made excuses, but that throughout the whole period most people voted for parties opposed to violence on both sides.

Many now want to envelope the past in their propagandist language. Before the creation of this new vocabulary, we had different lies about pogroms and POWs and concentration camps and torture. The plan, then, had been to map the Troubles here onto a vision of the Second World War.

Now it is to map it onto a peace-processed world in which love prevails and no one has ever done anything wrong for a political motive. The template for that is South Africa - universally seen as a spiritual, rather than a political victory. There is no such thing.

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