On language, and Vinoth Ramachandra on the use of ‘terrorist’

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties from conservatives to anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. (George Orwell)

I read Vinoth Ramachandra’s wonderful and provocative book ‘Subverting Global Myths’ a few years ago. Some of what he has written on terrorism I have found profoundly challenging.  It’s certainly relevant at the moment although this may not be the best time to post this!

For most of the nineteenth century, however the word terrorist came to refer to all revolutionaries who threatened the monarchies of Europe…

..it was after World War 2, when the British and French empires found themselves vulnerable to nationalist agitation in their colonies that terrorism came to be used exclusively of acts of political violence committed by nonstate actors. The newly independent states of Asia and Africa took over this definition of terrorism and applied it in subsequent years to all those militant guerrilla organisations that challenged state authority. The use of force for political ends, whether in the context of declared war or otherwise, is inextricably bound up with terror… [he goes on to cite examples in Algeria and his homeland of Sri Lanka]

Unless we proscribe to the naive belief that governments do not engage in acts of terror against their own citizens, let alone the civilian populations of other nations, the one-sided use of terrorism by the world’s media is baffling. Violent actions by the Israeli army or Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians are never described as ‘terrorist’ but the term is routinely used in large sections of the Western media for violent acts undertaken against Israelis. Surely journalistic integrity requires that the term terrorism should either be dropped for its vagueness or used even-handedly to embrace all organised acts of terror, including those by governments. The terms militant, guerrilla or insurgent do not carry the same connotations of evil that terrorist does; and hence the hijacking of that term by governments who want to scapegoat those who challenge their legitimacy. ‘Terrorism’ is always what our enemies do….

Many of us who live in societies that have been traumatised by decades of terrorist and counter-terrorist violence slowly become desensitised to it. We are tempted  to justify brutal retaliation by the police and military whenever their our own security is shattered by a bomb attack. We have seen how ‘terrorist’ suspects in most countries are treated neither as prisoners of war nor as criminals. In either case they would come under protective judicial procedures. The category to which they are reduced is that of the subhuman, and so they can be tortured and executed without qualm. This is an affront to the inherent human dignity tat they share with us.

The language that we use is powerful in making those who are different from us into the ‘other’. I know this only too well from my upbringing in Northern Ireland. Even a comment today made in a Facebook debate on Gaza (referring to Hamas) reinforces this:

they don’t value human life we do


Subtext – ‘we’ are better than ‘them’ or in personal cases ‘I’ am better than ‘you’.

In conflict it is only too easy to demonise the other ‘other side’ and forget they too are people of dignity created in the image of God. Vinoth’s words remind me of the importance of trying to pause and be careful about my language, whether it be conflict on an interpersonal level or an international one.


Currently Reading: Invisibles

Amazon recommendations can be wonderful things. This is one that is certainly working so far.

Telling the stories of many of the highly skilled people who by doing their job well become invisible it provides an antidote to the self-promotion and ‘platform’ building all around. [And yes even by blogging about it I recognise a level of irony!]

As David Zweig researched this group he began noticing similar characteristics:

  • ambivalence towards recognition
  • meticulousness
  • savouring responsibility

Not exactly things that tend to characterise most of the ‘5 tips’ ‘6 ways’ etc articles that populate most of our twitter feeds (and I’m guilty of retweeting!) And not characteristics that our culture tends to promote.

Our ever more fragmented news and entertainment fosters an increasingly personalised experience, which research suggests implicitly reinforces a solipsistic attitude. Most of all, as we continue to develop and live through our online versions of ourselves – forever crafting our various social media profiles and avatars – there is the growing notion that we, as individuals, are actually brands to promote. this cacophony of self-importance, of personalised electronic vuvuzelas, has made us like that annoying kid at the front of the class who keeps raising his hand, moaning with distress as he over-tries for the teacher’s attention. and it is tipping us dangerously out of balance.

What can help us maintain a healthy tension to avoid slipping into what he describes above?

David Zweig - Invisibles

A prayer on Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is one of those mixed days. Especially in church, it can be a day many want to avoid (See Rachel on Krish Kandiah’s blog).
I know since losing my mum I tend to feel it. It’s difficult too for all who would love to be mothers and for many reasons can’t be. And then there is the reality – acknowledged more so on Father’s Day that for some they haven’t had a positive experience of mothering.
So leading the service in church today was going to be complex at least. Finding the tension between acknowledging the realities of life and celebrating the many amazing mothers (both natural and spiritual) can be tricky.

I used this prayer, cannibalised from a few places – the Book of Common Prayer, Grove’s booklet on Mothering Sunday  and a blog from messy middle.

On Mothering Sunday
For all mothers who have loved and laughed and laboured as they cared for their children we praise you and thank you God
For the care of mothers – we thank you God
For their patience when tested – we thank you God
For their love when tired – we thank you God
For their hope when despairing – we thank you God
For their service without limit – we thank you God
For those about to be mothers – we rejoice and ask for your protection on them
For those unable to have children, – comfort them God
For those who long to have children we stand and pray with them, bring your comfort
For those who have lost children – may they know your presence and comfort
For those who bear wounds and scars from mothers in this broken world we acknowledge their pain and ask for your healing, peace and renewal
For those who mourn the loss of their mothers – comfort them God
For those who find this day difficult – bring your peace and comfort

Creator and sustainer God we thank you and pray for all those who practice mothering in our midst, in every shape and form that it takes, give them grace, energy, fill them with your Spirit, nurture them as they nurture us.
Fill us with your love that this community, your family in this place will be one where we each have many mothers and fathers and act as mothers and fathers to many.
Now to the One who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, to You be glory in Your son Jesus and in the church, for ever and ever, amen.

Reflections on having spent last week in Kyiv

Each year Innovista’s international leadership team meets in Ukraine. The last two years we met in Lviv. This year it was to Kyiv. A revolution in the week/days before you are supposed to travel always sharpens the mind. In my case constantly checking the news, hoping we would still meet. Not just because I like a little danger but also because this is always a significant time for us as an organisation. On Thursday after over 70 people had been killed things began to calm down and the decision was made to go ahead with our meeting. We arrived in Kyiv on Monday.

For a country that had just experienced a revolution things appeared very normal. The only signs of something happening on our hour-long journey to the seminary on the outskirts of the city we were based in a joint checkpoint between police and protesters and two burnt out army trucks.

On the Tuesday evening we visited Maidan – Independence square in Kyiv. The following day  I wrote:

 Given what happened just 6 days ago it’s remarkable how peaceful it is. There is a sense of quiet awe and remembrance. One of the more bizarre things I noticed were that the pavements are surprisingly clean and tidy! the sea change that has happened could be summed up by the reaction of one protester when we entered one of their large tents “take photos, there are no secrets anymore”.  Amazing.

A few reflections a week later.

This is not just a change in politicians – real change is intended

From journalists putting aside the chance for an exclusive in the public interest – delaying publication of the huge cache of incriminating documents found in Yanukovych’s mansion in order to make them public – yanukovychleaks.org to joint roadblocks with protesters and police together, ensuring police take no bribes. The stand-in president and politicians were informed there would be an end to politicians having motorcades that shut down local traffic for 20 minutes periods. “That’s not how we do things anymore”. The comment about no secrets another example.  The ‘Maidan’ are seeking to end the abuse of power and transform it into serving the population.

The most remarkable thing is how these changes have taken place so quickly

We were able to walk into and around the HQ of the protesters. Incredible.

The people, tired of corruption have risen up and are getting involved in and overseeing all aspects of life. Real change is intended. If Putin and Russia allow it…

The church is near the centre, not on the periphery

This aspect surprised me. On the main square (Maidan) is a stage from which most of us have seen some of the speeches from opposition leaders and protesters.

What isn’t reported is that on the hour, every hour church leaders (Orthodox and Protestant) lead prayers for the nation. The girl who served us breakfast in the seminary was leading worship through the night during the protests. Behind the stage is a prayer tent where churches have come together and are offering prayer 24-7. One of my colleagues in Ukraine volunteered during the protests sorting and distributing medical supplies.  You’ve seen some of the famous pictures of priests standing in the gap between protesters and police.

Life goes on

Prices are rising yes but life is also going on as normal. Just days after a revolution I would have expected a breakdown in public services. Yet as a visitor everything seemed to be functioning as normal.

Putin and Russia are doing their best to derail and cannot be trusted

It’s no secret the revolution and prospect of closer ties with Europe is disastrous to Russia’s geopolitical designs as is being demonstrated in Crimea. When there we heard stories of Russian agitation and passports being handed out in the east of the country – providing Russia an excuse to step in and protect the interests of their citizens. Exactly what happened in Georgia. Of course Russian politicians last week denied any agitation. Lies. A friend told how Russian state media reported how ‘extremists’ had shot and killed a medic. Later they switched over to CNN and the same medic was being interviewed on her survival having being shot by a police sniper. Last week my Ukrainian colleagues were fearful about Russia’s response. This week we are seeing it in its full horror as Russia annexes Crimea.

Significant days for Ukraine. Dangerous days both for Ukraine and the whole of Europe.

What will the ‘West’ do?

As someone who has a vested interest, here on western edge of Europe I feel helpless. I want to step in and do something but what?

If you’re the praying sort EAUK have announced a week of prayer for Crimea.

 The famous piano… More photos hereDSCN0280

Neknominations, Shane Claiborne and Creative Alternatives

#neknominations have been big news in Ireland over the past week. Two people have died in stunts related to this social media craze. Even a judge in Northern Ireland has been caught up in the media storm. There’s much that could be said about drinking culture in Ireland. As a (youth) leader I am only too aware of how my actions (whether I like it or not) influence others and my responsibility as some sort of role model.

My initial reaction to some of it was righteous indignation and to be dismissive of people (some of my friends) who in my mind were being irresponsible. The red mist descended and I saw all the reasons (in my mind) why they were wrong/stupid and I was superior.

On Saturday I was at the justice and mercy themed Rubicon (which was excellent, stimulating and inspiring). I loved the mixture of presenters – a mother and daughter who run Rathmines women’s refuge, John who may well one day run Google, Graham from Solas Project (where my wife works), Shane Claiborne, a wonderfully diverse panel and a couple of Archbishops and many more.

Shane Claiborne told a wonderful story about creatively challenging unjust laws banning the feeding of the homeless in public. His church then held communion in the park which turned into a banquet (well pizza anyway) for all there (including many homeless people). As these church members and leaders were arrested the ridiculousness of the situation highlighted the injustice of the laws. Much in the way MLK did in the civil rights movement.

His line that we need to be creative in overcoming injustice stuck with me.

A day or two later it resurfaced in the whole neknomination thing.

I’m sure most of you may have seen this. Brent Lindeque changed the story. Without condemnation.

Which morphed into raknomination – instead of necking a pint instead carry out a random act of kindness.

My initial reaction was one of condemnation. Of red mist. Of  listing all the reasons why it wasn’t a good idea. I imagine we all do it. It may be justified but it’s also lazy.

What chance did my approach have of convincing someone of the lack of merit of neknominations? What was needed was a game changer. A positive alternative.

Too often I (and we as wider society) see things too starkly. We accept or reject. And there is a logjam.

If we want to see change in hearts, minds and on a larger scale in society often the best way is not to argue the opposite viewpoint, but to find a creative alternative that sneaks around the corner and blindsides us.

Change for the better requires the hard work of forming creative alternatives.

[Up next a few friends who came up with a creative way to highlight the ethics behind the garment industry]

Too much too young

Today one of the girls who grew up through our kids ministry and used to come to youth group died in labour.  She was 20. The baby boy may or may not survive.

She leaves a toddler – who as a baby she used to bring along to youth group.

She is the fifth or sixth friend the teenagers in youth group have said a premature goodbye to in tragic circumstances over the past couple of years – whether through accidents or suicide.

They have dealt with a volume of loss that teenagers shouldn’t have to.

As a friend said:

Praying for all their little hearts that have to endure so much.

There is much that could be said, written and asked about the inner city and why so many young lives end prematurely, or over life expectancy that is so much shorter.

Tonight we gathered over tea, crisps and chocolate cake.

It wasn’t a time for questions or attempted explanations or even God-talk. They have experienced too much pain and loss for that.

We watched photos and videos of them all growing up.
There were stories, hugs, memories, tears and laughter.

For hearts that have endured so much there were moments of beauty and glimmers of hope.

And as leaders we’re praying for all their little hearts that have to endure so much.

The Books I’m Planning to Read in 2014

Gemma inspired me to be a little more intentional with my reading so I’ve put together a list of the books I’d like to read in 2014. I’m sure it will have a degree of flexibility.

Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Canada – Richard Ford
May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes
Best Of Our Spies – Alex Gerlis
The Governor – John Lonergan
Conversations With Myself – Nelson Mandela
Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life – Sari Nusseibeh & Anthony David
Boundaries for Leaders – Henry Cloud
Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman (Psychology as related to coaching)
Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – Sheila Stone &Douglas Heen
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatious
A Theology of Work -Darrell  Cosden
Introducing Liberation Theology – Boff & Boff
Why Cities Matter – Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard
Doing Local Theology – Clemens Sedmak
And looking for some good stuff on Isaiah
Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

musing more than ranting these days

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