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people don't understand the power of non-violence
Violence of the sort that we have been witnessing in recent days is clear evidence of an unwillingness by many to engage in dialogue and rational political argument. It betrays a lack of confidence in the power of political persuasion to facilitate a resolution to the social and political issues that have created a sense of alienation within many working class unionist communities. It must be said, however, that lack of confidence in dialogue and the political process stems as much from the corruption that has increasingly become characteristic of post-Agreement politics as it does from any unwillingness by people on the ground to engage in political action.
Rather than provide an excuse for violence, the corruption of the political process and the alienation felt within working class unionist communities presents us with fresh political challenges. Violence will exacerbate, rather than halt, the process of marginalisation and alienation felt within those communities. The degree of damage inflicted in terms of broken human relationships, the weakening of community infrastructures and the negation of democratic principles makes violent responses to the process of political and social marginalisation of working class communities self-defeating in the long term. It is something that we must reject and I would urge all who value a citizenship that is based on peace, stability and respect for diversity to embrace policies and programmes of non-violence as a means of addressing the problems facing our communities.
Dialogue and political activism may take some considerable time before real progress is achieved and it takes strength of character and resilience to stick with the lengthy and frustrating process of dialogue. There are no short-cuts to conflict resolution but surely the slow lumbering process of dialogue and political activism is preferable by far to the slow lumbering processions of distraught mourners wending their way down city streets and through country lanes to our cemeteries and churchyards.
Non-violent activism is not a soft option. It demands much in terms of commitment, courage, self-control and moral argument. As Martin Luther King Jnr once pointed out, the non-violent activist “is passive or non-aggressive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive towards his opponent. But his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken”.
It has been said that many of us who now oppose violence have spent too long in jail - that somehow the prison experience has softened our hearts and broken our spirits. I have a video recording of a television documentary in which a local preacher-politician ridicules people like myself as the "hard men who have gone soft". If "going soft" means rejecting the prejudice and the bigotry that leads to violence, then perhaps he is right. If "going soft" means exchanging the weapons of death for the weapons of dialogue, then perhaps he is right. None of us should have to apologise for that sort of “softness”.
Meekness may be used as a synonym for softness. But there is a vast difference between meekness and weakness. The strong and the confident have nothing to be afraid of, they can afford to be meek.
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