Archive | November, 2008

Film Review: Lage Raho Munna Bhai

Lage Raho Munna Bhai
Hindi with English subtitles.
Running time 145 minutes.

This film is a Bollywood comedy released in 2006, and a surprise hit sequel to a much less popular forerunner. It won thirty-six separate awards from eleven awarding bodies, grossed nearly £8 million in India alone – the highest that year, and was the first Hindi film to be shown at the United Nations. The Prime Minister of India actually cited the film at the launch of the anti-corruption bill of 2006.

Munna Bhai and his brother Circuit are petty gangsters whose ‘house clearance’ business thrives in the corruption of modern India. Munna falls in love with the voice of Jhanvi, the beautiful DJ on a Mumbai morning radio programme. To meet her, Munna has to pose as a professor of history, and to make his story credible he spends three days in a deserted library learning about Gandhi. Bapu’s spirit appears, and Munna begins to take his advice.

One might think that Gandhiji’s ideas of truth and nonviolence do not readily lend themselves to the plot of a Bollywood comedy musical. But they do. And remarkably, the film manages that in an entertaining way. On its release in India, it caused a wave of ‘Gandhigiri’ protests in which people used the satyagraha techniques in the film to solve real-life issues. Two thousand farmers in Vidarbha garlanded the manager of a bank refusing to sanction loans. Flowers were also sent by Indian US green-card applicants, forcing the authorities to speed up the process. In Lucknow, residents protested at a liquor shop being opened near a mosque and a temple by handing out flowers to the owner and his customers.

The plot is slow for the first thirty minutes but exquisitely crafted, and the comedy is sparse to western eyes, though laugh-out-loud funny on occasions. The casual violence toward Munna and Circuit’s innocent victims, and Circuit’s willingness to wield a knife suggests a harshness to Indian street life which is on occasions hard to watch, particularly with the current alarm in Britain over knife-crime. The PG rating is deserved.

I recommend this film to anyone. But to all Gandhi-ists as Munna calls them, it is essential viewing.

Amazon describe it as region 2 PAL DVD. It is actually region 0 TNTSC, though the quality was fine on my UK DVD player.

Chris Clarke

Gandhian Way: Peace, Non-violence and Empowerment

Gandhian Way: Peace, Non-violence and Empowerment
Celebrating Hundred Years of Satyagraha (1906-2006)
Indian National Congress
Published by Academic Foundation 2007
ISBN 978 81 7188 648 7 HB pp320 £34.50

This large and splendid looking book emerged from a conference held in New Delhi in January 2007. It was attended by more than 300 delegates from 91 countries. It included many politicians but also Gandhi scholars and activists in human rights, peace, economic development, and multi-culturalism.

The text consists of many of the speeches delivered at the conference. Some of the attendees are well known figures such as Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa and Kenneth Kaunda as well as the Indian PM Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Many of the speeches are short and inevitably there is a good deal of overlap but they do serve to show the wide interest in Gandhi around the world. One would have hoped for a greater proportion of women in attendance as it appears to be only around 20%.

Two of the longer papers were of particular interest to me: that of American Gene Sharp and our own Bhikhu Parekh. Gene Sharp has spent a lifetime studying and developing pragmatic applications of nonviolent action. Gandhi was his starting point but he has gone beyond him and has left behind Gandhi’s particular cultural background so that nonviolent struggle can be used as a pragmatic substitute for violent action, including war, in many different settings.

An important aspect of this is that it involves an empowerment of the users. He cites many diverse historical cases and indicates that much nonviolent action theory has still to be refined in the future.

Bhikhu Parekh, in this particular paper, considers Gandhi as an advocate of economic equality. Gandhi is criticised for expecting too much from the wealthy entrepreneurs who, he believed, should become trustees of their wealth using most of it for the welfare of those less fortunate. However Parekh points out that Gandhi did in his mature years advocate a more assertive attitude by those who had
little, recognising that this might involve satyagraha. He also came round to envisaging a role for the state in moving towards a more equal society. Parekh also revives Gandhi’s idea of a national nongovernmental organisation which would represent the views of the poorer sections of society and challenge the established political system.

There is a subtle defence of India’s nuclear weapons by Mani Shanker Aiyar, a Government Minister. He does so indirectly by criticising the Non-Proliferation Treaty as being asymmetrical in that the original nuclear powers do not show signs of renouncing their weapons. This is the voice of the conventional politician rather than Gandhi, but he does point out that Rajiv Gandhi put forward 20 years ago a plan for general nuclear disarmament and certainly that is what the world’s people need as a starting point towards a nonviolent world.

The final Declaration has of course many worthy aims but neither there nor in the Conference in general is there much mention of the environmental problems facing humankind and the planet. In Gandhi’s time these issues were much less important but his ideas of simplicity of lifestyle, local production and consumption, and respect for all life are highly relevant to it.

The book is well illustrated with photographs of delegates, individually and in groups, but also many fascinating pictures of Gandhi and others from the pre-Independence period.

George Paxton

Thomas Merton’s Reflections on Mahatma Gandhi – by Rasoul Sorkhabi

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi 1948 (now sixty years ago) and Thomas Merton, a renowned Trappist monk and author, was killed in a tragic accident in 1968 (forty years ago). These anniversaries are valuable opportunities to reflect on the legacies, works and teachings of these two great men of peace. Gandhi has influenced many minds and movements of the twentieth century. In this article, we review Merton’s impressions of Gandhi and how they are helpful for our century and generation as well.

Thomas Merton, born in 1915, was forty-six years junior to Gandhi. Merton spent the first two decades of his life in France, UK and USA. In 1939, he received his MA in English literature from Columbia University, and decided to become a Catholic monk. The following year, he accepted a teaching position at St Bonaventure University, a Franciscan college in southwest New York State. In 1942, he entered the Abbey of Gethsemane, a Trappist (Franciscan) monastery in Kentucky, as a novice monk. Merton or Father Louis as he was later called at Gethsemane lived the rest of his life there in a quiet and contemplative life and an inspiring natural environment. He kept journals and wrote many essays and poems, and books. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, published in 1948 became a best seller.

In the 1960s, Merton was attracted to Eastern religious thoughts and traditions, including Gandhi’s ideas. Merton wrote two articles about Gandhi: (1) The first entitled ‘Gandhi: The Gentle Revolutionary’ was first published in Ramparts (December 1964), a magazine founded two years earlier by Edward Michael Keating (1925-2003). This article was also included in Merton’s book The Seeds of Destruction (1964), and more recently in an anthology of Merton entitled Passion for Peace (edited by William Shannon, Crossroad, New York, 1995, and an abridged version in 2006). (2) The second article, ‘Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant’ first appeared in the January 1965 issue of Jubilee, a magazine founded in 1953 by Ed Rice (1918-2001; Merton’s friend from school days in Columbia). This article was later included as an introduction to Gandhi on Non-Violence (New Directions, New York, 1965), a selection of Gandhi’s words by Merton from a much larger, two-volume anthology Non-Violence in Peace and War (published by Navajivan, Hyderabad, 1942, 1949).

In both articles, Merton analyses Gandhi’s thought mainly from a Christian standpoint with references to Jesus’ teachings. (For instance, Merton quotes Gandhi as saying: “Jesus died in vain, if he did not teach us to regulate the whole life by eternal law of love.”) This is all understandable given Merton’s background and the fact that both Ramparts and Jubilee were Catholic intellectual magazines. Nevertheless, Merton’s underscoring of ‘Christian elements’ in Gandhian thought is significant as most of the writings about Gandhi’s life and works have been either political history or Indian religious philosophy.

In ‘Gandhi: The Gentle Revolutionary’, Merton remembers his first encounter with Gandhi in 1931 when the latter was visiting London as a representative of the Indian Congress to attend the Round Table Conference the British government was hosting to discuss the Indian issue. Merton was then a student at Oakham boarding school in Rutland, England. He was sympathetic to Gandhi’s ideals about a free India and recalls an argument he had with his school football coach who believed that Indians were primitive people and needed to be governed by the British Raj. Merton then adds that

“a dozen years after Gandhi’s visit to London there were more hideous barbarities perpetuated in Europe, with greater violence and more unmitigated fury than all that has ever attributed by the wildest imaginations to the despots of Asia. The British Empire collapsed. India attained self-rule. It did so peacefully and with dignity. Gandhi paid with his life for the ideals in which he believed.”

Merton devotes the rest of his article to the significance of Gandhi’s political thought and action. He singles out Gandhi “as a great leader, one of the noblest men of our century” because he was truly and sincerely (not opportunistically or verbally) committed to peace politics. Gandhi resented power politics as a means to empower oneself and to humiliate or wipe out the other party in the battle, and instead suggested Svad-dharma (‘religion of service’) as characterizing his political action. And Gandhi’s political action was based on a thoroughly religious understanding of being, life, love and human’s place in the world. Merton quotes Gandhi: “If love is not the law of our being, the whole of my argument fails to pieces.” Merton refers to Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha (usually translated as ‘Truth Force’) and defines it as “simply conforming one’s words to one’s inner thought.” Merton then explains that “our aims, our plans of actions, our outlook, our attitudes, our habitual response to the problems and challenges of life” more effectively than words ‘speak’ of our inner being.”

Merton also refers to Gandhi’s other formula – Ahimsa (‘nonviolence’) – and remarks that unlike the dirty, greedy politicians who wage wars in the name of catch phrases like liberation, Gandhi did not use the word Ahimsa deceitfully against the English; Gandhi really meant and intended it, and “did not think that peace and justice could be attained through violent or selfish means.” In short, Merton remarks that

“Gandhi is not above all criticism, no man is. But … he was unlike all the other world leaders of his time in that his life was marked by a wholeness and a wisdom, an integrity and a spiritual consistency.”

Merton opens his second article ‘Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant’ with the remark that the white man came to Africa, Asia, and America like a one-eyed giant, “bringing with him the characteristic split and blindness which were at once his strength, his torment, and his ruin.” Gandhi emerged against this background in world history and Asian-African geography. Merton then discusses the salient features of Gandhi’s life mission and legacy which may be outlined below:

(1) Gandhi discovered the East through the West. He was educated in England, read Tolstoy, Thoreau and the New Testament, and rediscovered many Christian values in his own Indian religions.

(2) In his rediscovery of ‘the right mind’ in Indian religions, Gandhi’s approach was not that of a bookish scholar but as a simple human in touch with the Indian people and life. Therefore, “the Indian people were awakening in him” as well.

(3) Unlike the re-awakening process of some Asian nations (for example, Japan), Gandhi did not lead the Indian mind toward intolerance, extreme nationalism or exclusive religion. He reached out for humanity, unity, love and peace both nationally and internationally.

(4) Gandhi’s life was “eminently active rather than merely contemplative.” Although Gandhi prayed, fasted and practised his religion, his spiritual life was not separate from his political life; he participated “in the life and dharma of his people;” “for him the public realm was not secular, it was sacred.”

(5) Gandhi adopted Ahimsa, non-violent methods of struggle against injustice and oppression, not out of naivety, escapism or cowardice,but out of love, caring, bravery (“a kind of bravery far different from violence”) and the wisdom that “to punish and destroy the oppressor is merely to initiate a new cycle of violence and oppression; the only real liberation is that which liberates both the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time.”

(6) Gandhi considered his Indian experience not as a limited national case but as a part and an example of a world experiment to create a new human history.

(7) Gandhi did not consider political liberty and social freedoms as end-products of his mission; Gandhi stressed (and showed by his own example) that inner freedom from selfishness and seeing “all life as one in a sacred cosmic family” are crucially important for the spiritual and social development of humans as well as the humanity.

It was for all these causes and ideals that Gandhi lived and stood, and for which gave his life in the end. Merton concludes his essay: “Gandhi’s principles are, then, extremely pertinent today, more pertinent even than they were conceived and worked out in practice in the ashrams, villages and highways of India.”

Merton’s selected texts of Gandhi in a small but rich volume, Gandhi on Non-Violence, brings out the essence of Gandhi’s doctrine and practice of ahimsa. He divides the book into five sections: (1) Principles of Non-violence; (2) Non-violence: True and false; (3) The spiritual dimensions of non-violence; (4) The political scope of nonviolence; and (5) The purity of non-violence. There are many gems in this book – words uttered by Gandhi and loved by Merton. Here are three:

“When the practice of ahimsa becomes universal, God will reign on earth as He does in heaven.”

“Man as animal is violent but as spirit is non-violent. The moment he awakes to the spirit within he cannot remain violent.”

“Non-violence is the only thing that atom bomb cannot destroy . . . Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.”

It is true that Gandhi was influenced not only by the Bhagavad-Gita but also by other religious scriptures including the Gospels and the Qu’ran. Reading through Merton’s essays, it appears that only in Gandhi’s political life Merton finds a Christian model of non-violent struggle for world peace for the contemporary generation. This is not surprising. First because the essence of all major religions is “the law of love.” Moreover, in the political history the so-called Christian West, as Merton would have agreed, one finds less and less Jesus and more violence and more greed. Perhaps that is why, in his second article Merton writes: “What has Gandhi to do with Christianity? Everyone knows that the Orient has venerated Christ and distrusted Christians ever since the first colonisers and missionaries came from the West.”

In 1968, Merton went to Asia – his first trip ever to the East. He was to give a lecture at a monastic conference in Bangkok in December. He journeyed to India during October and November, and then went to Thailand. He was killed in a Bangkok hotel by electric shock as he stepped out of his bath and touched an un-grounded electric fan. That was 10 December 1968, twenty-seven years after Merton had entered the Gethsemane monastery, and twenty years after Gandhi had been gunned by a Hindu nationalist fanatic opposing his efforts to bring about peace between India and the new partitioned Pakistan. Today, there is an International Gandhi Peace Prize, which has been awarded annually by the Government of India since 1995, and also a Thomas Merton Award, awarded by the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, since 1972. Gandhi and Merton were brothers in soul, two great peaceful minds of the twentieth century; their legacies and messages are to inspire people of this century as well.

Rasoul Sorkhabi lives in Salt Lake City, USA.
Copyright: Rasoul Sorkhabi (2008).

Reflections on the Troubles in Northern Ireland – by John Rowley

[This is an edited version of a letter I wrote to my children, Poppy and Alexander]

I thought you would like to know more about this year’s Lecture and Award which took place in The House of Lords on 30th October.  Father Alec Reid and The Reverend Harold Good [neat name!] are the two priests who were acceptable to both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland and who were asked to oversee the decommissioning of weapons and explosives.  The world knows now that this was the final stage of a vicious war that had actually been raging since Oliver Cromwell invaded in 1649.  In 1966, The Troubles, as they were euphemistically called, erupted into violence once more and the British Army was sent in yet again.  [For a lucid potted history, see]

For 35 years, most of my adult life, the violence was relentless.  However, over here on the mainland, we managed to largely ignore it.  For example, as a rule there had to be more than two killings to get more than two column inches in any newspaper.  We were told it was a ‘war against Terrorists’ when, in fact, it was a full-blown Civil War.  It was simple and complex at the same time: there was a raft of freedom fighters/terrorists and supporters on both sides.  Put simply, the ‘Nationalists’ [largely Catholic and Celtic] saw Ireland as an island nation and wanted to have ‘their’ Six Counties re-integrated into Eire whilst the ‘Unionists’ or ‘Loyalists’ as they liked to be called [largely Protestant and Scottish] wanted ‘their’ Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom.  The paramilitaries on both sides – Irish Republican Army [and off-shoots] and the Ulster Volunteer Force [and off-shoots] used violence to achieve their visions of the future.  Each side had political parties claiming to have no responsibility for the murders and mayhem and central Governments completely stymied as to what to do.

After a while, when yet another bomb, torture, massacre or assassination was reported, the predominant attitude amongst my class and our media mentors was “Let the buggers get on with it”, “They deserve each other”.   There was the familiar voyeuristic fascination with the details, the blood and gore, the warnings, knee-cappings and summary executions but each was quickly forgotten as we became habituated, putting it into the mental bag called ‘Irish’ and slinging it into memory’s backyard.  So few of us showed any real, pro-active loving-kindness, it is almost criminally shameful.  The whole of the UK knew that the vast majority were innocent, frightened, scarred, angry but we English did little but send in yet more trained killers and set up H-blocks at the notorious Long Kesh prison for the few they caught.  The Irish Government ducked and dived, flapping their hands and shrugging their shoulders: the Catholic Gardai and Protestant Police aiding and abetting their separate agendas.  The millions these politicians and police spent talking to each other came to nought.  And yet over 3000 of our own citizens were slaughtered and thousands more wounded physically and psychologically for life.

When I joined The Gandhi Foundation in 1991, I had an ideal opportunity to do something, to promote Nonviolence, the only possible strategy to bring about peace.  Peter Cadogan tried to drum into my thick head the importance of what was happening ‘over there’ but I decided that neither I [nor we] could make any difference: the violence was too vicious, the prejudices too intractable and a gandhian too alien.  In sum, I gave up hope.  [And here I am on your 20th Birthday, Poppy, the day that will go down in history as the day the man who is giving us all hope stepped up into the White House!]

Only Denise Moll, now the GF Secretary, actually teamed up with Peter.  The GF did invite two of the three Northern Ireland Nobel Peace Prize Laureates [Mairead Maguire in 1998 and John Hume MP in 2002] to give our Annual Lecture but they were ‘trophy talks’ having little impact elsewhere.  Peter, bless him, refused to attend Hume’s Lecture on the grounds that his integrity was by then far from intact!

My own shame is enhanced when I tell you that I had witnessed this war myself even, in a sense, took part.  My first job as a management consultant in 1974 was with Gallaher’s cigarette company in Belfast.  We had a contract to run a project on what was then called Job Enrichment. You make cigarettes with a huge [German] machine which takes the compacted dried leaves at one end and churns out an endless stream of cancer sticks at the other, beautifully packaged in small cellophane-wrapped, gold boxes called Benson & Hedges Gold Cut.  We were charged with making the jobs of those serving this huge machine ‘more interesting’ on the grounds that this would improve productivity and reduce absenteeism.

You have to imagine a vast, square, red-brick building, ten times taller than the surrounding terraced pygmy two-up/two-downs.  The only way in was through 20ft high, black, bomb-proof, metal gates.  HM Customs & Excise had total control over the raw tobacco from the moment it entered British waters until the moment the manufacturer paid the tax.  The reason for this is simple: our Government, like every other, draws a major revenue stream from this the most addictive drug of all drugs.  [Note: nicotine has an addictive potential of 100%, alcohol of 81%, marijuana 21% and ecstasy 20% – does this make our legislators appear shamefully stupid, wilfully ignorant or what?].  In Belfast, the whole complex, warehouse, factory and distribution, is patrolled by men with guns.  Every worker [not us, of course] was searched going in and going out – a veritable fortress of capitalism.

The Chairman of the Board told me over cocktails at the end of our first day on site that an additional security policy ensured that no Catholic was ever promoted higher than first-line foreman!  He also told Keith and me, when the alcohol began to liven things up, how to spot a Catholic [spots on the back of the neck, black hair, surname, address, number of children and their school, of course] and some jokes about their sexual proclivities and the Pope.  This was my first job so I laughed: embarrassed but desperate to be seen ‘on-side’.  Personnel had put us in a ‘Prod’ owned hotel 20 miles up the coast on a cliff-top over-looking a spectacular sea with the Mull of Kintyre on the horizon.

“You wouldn’t be safe in Belfast, you see, with your posh English accents: they’ll take you for off-duty army officers and kill you”.

During our chauffeured drive that first night, we whispered about whether to fly home or not but we didn’t.  Nor did we ever speak out.  We needed the contract.  Can you forgive that?

Our office on the second floor above the gates had half-inch thick chicken wire on the outside, shatter-proof glass and loud instructions on the wall of what to do when the shooting began – basically, get under the desk!  This is exactly what we did when there were shots from the Divis Flats up to the right.  The Divis Flats were Catholic: 20 storeys high, made with cheap, pre-fabricated concrete slabs, tiny windows and staircases open to the elements.  They looked down on the gates.

When the shooting started that first time, I could not resist looking despite the screamed pleadings of the others.  I saw a British Army patrol creeping up the road, a single file line of rifle-armed soldiers, crouching behind an armour-plated vehicle, each in turn popping round its back end to let off a few shots at where they thought the firing was coming from.  It was clear they couldn’t really know as there must have been at least 80 windows to choose from but, like all armies, assumed that everyone was guilty. [“Well, they were harbouring terrorists, weren’t they?” one senior soldier told me over dinner at my Sister’s later that year.]

Over the years there have been many attempts – The Downing Street Declaration [Harold Wilson], The Sunningdale Accord [Ted Heath], The Anglo-Irish Agreement [Thatcher], and The Good Friday Agreement [Tony Blair] – to end the War.  However, it took Senator John Mitchell [US] and General Sir John de Chastelain [Canada] with a little grand-standing from Bill Clinton to get things moving down in the dumps – the weapon dumps, that is.  As it turned out, surprise, surprise, the essential ingredient missing throughout all these was the little matter of Trust.  The politicians, police and soldiers eventually re-discovered that the only way forward was to go to the heart of each community, to the grass-roots, to involve two people who actually lived with and loved the protagonists, who were known and respected by all.  In this religionist culture, they both had to be ‘men of the cloth’.  They found these two men, Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid who were then charged with the task of witnessing the decommissioning of all weapons.  If they could convince each and all that the weapons had been destroyed, gone forever, then the power-sharing could begin, that is, elections could be held with the enemies now behaving ‘civilly’.

Omar, Bhikhu and I met in the Peers’ Entrance where we found Fr Alec and Fr Gerry Reynolds, ‘Alec’s Bodyman’ as he called himself.  I took to them both straight away.  Loquacious is a word perhaps invented for Fr Alec.  His startling blue eyes and the deeply serious lines in his face belie a sparkly almost facetious humour.  When Harold and his entourage arrived, it was clear that the two of them had not seen each other for some time.  There was a lot of love evident between them but I would say that profound mutual respect was the engine of this.

You can read Harold Good’s speech on our website   It will tell you much but not as much as the live delivery full of improvised asides and the rather long interventions of Fr Alec.  Alec always apologised every time he did this which always brought a loving and forgiving chuckle from the packed room.  His most memorable repetition was a moral imperative:

“Make sure you always combine the complementary forces of both female and male, the feminine and the masculine, if you really want to resolve any conflict”.


The dinner afterwards was very moving for me.  I sat next to Bhikhu and opposite Fr Alec.  Alec told me the story of the two British soldiers who had accidentally wandered into a Nationalist crowd mourning the death of two Catholics killed by the British Army.  When the crowd turned on them, beat them and forced them on to the ground, he lay down between them holding both tight.  They were safe for those few minutes but then they were dragged away from him and, instead of being taken to a house to be interrogated and then shot, the usual procedure, they were taken down an alley off the cemetery and shot straight away.  After they had been grabbed, he had sprung up and looked urgently for the IRA Commander he knew would help and told this man to come with him to the house where he expected the soldiers to be taken.  He felt the two of them would have been able to persuade their captors, possibly now in a more measured mood, to simply just interrogate and then release them, given their likely innocence, the cruel retribution likely if they were harmed and the enormous propaganda victory if they were freed.  Fr Alec and the Commander were both deeply unhappy at the summary and, from their point of view which did not accept either British or NI Protestant rules of law, an extra-judiciary execution.  As you would expect, this incident was presented to us over here on the mainland solely from the point of view of the established authorities.  “Two British Soldiers Murdered in Cold Blood by IRA Terrorists!”

I asked Alec whether he knew who did it.  He said no.  I could not ask him whether he could have found out because I did not want to stir it.  My guess is he could have.  We talked then of how ‘men of the cloth’ have to keep the trust of those they minister to.  I know of this more closely, although only second hand, from Fr Joe Collela, a priest of The Order of St Mary, with whom I worked in the 90’s with Bangladeshis of Tower Hamlets.  A man who reminded me once again just how much a Faith can bring a person to full realisation of the who he/she really is [Nietzsche, right?].  Gentle, gentile Christian Joe could go into Muslim houses where women were alone without being escorted because he was a ‘man of God’.  One family, extreme but not unique, was composed of a depressed, illiterate Mother unable to speak English whose husband had gone back to Bangladesh and married a younger woman and brought her back to live close by.  Living with her was her daughter who was ‘on the game’, a middle son who dealt in heroin and a youngest son who never went to school.  Joe did his best to work with the youngest but thought he was achieving little. I always told him I doubted that: how could a man so full of love not make a difference?  I bet he never thought once of going to the police about the other son.

It hardly compares but if Fr Alec had gone to the police with any of the many secrets of murder, torture and robbery that must have been confessed to him, surely the decommissioning would never have happened?

To whom, therefore, do we owe our allegiance? And so, inevitably, to whom do we lie, not tell the whole truth?  Is our integrity defined by those we ally ourselves with?  Can integrity come entirely from within?  Does the idea of God simply help us escape this dilemma?  Should a person of faith ever have to obfuscate the Truth?

The evening of 30th October was a triumph for Omar Hayat and Bhikhu Parekh and so for The Gandhi Foundation but a shame on all the politicians who should have turned up.  Shaun Woodward, the current Minister, did send his apologies but none of the previous Ministers bothered.  Fr Alec was really sorry not to meet Chris Patten [Tory] as he thinks his Report on Policing [1999] is very important although still not fully implemented.  All those Labour NI Ministers – Mandelson, Hain and their PM Blair – who have since taken credit for the successful conclusion of the war should now give the credit due to these two remarkable men, our unsung heroes.

Rev Harold Good had some slides for us beamed on to two large screens at either end of the room.  The predominant one was a sketch of Gandhi.  The most moving were two of Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness.  Paisley was the huge, loud-mouthed leader of The Democratic Unionist Party, very right-wing, inflexible and unforgiving Protestant and tacit supporter of the Prod Terrorists [UVF, UDA, etc]. As a result of The Good Friday Agreement [1998] and the subsequent elections, he became NI First Minister in May 2007.  He was 80 and resigned 18 months later.  McGuinness was IRA Chief of Staff, directly responsible for numerous bombings, tortures and murders [of Catholics and Protestants] and who became after the same elections Deputy First Minister. For 35 years, these two were mortal enemies, hating each other, cursing the worst curses to damn and condemn the other to Hell.  And remember both went to Church at least three times a week.

One picture shows, from the back, McGuinness with his hand gently placed on the much older Paisley’s elbow urging him to be the first through the door into Stormont on that wondrous day in May.  Harold called this The Hand of History: hatred transformed by Trust, the core of any non-violent conflict resolution.

The second picture shows the two men up close sitting next to each other and laughing uproariously, glee in every gesture. There is not a whisker of pretence: you simply know that they are friends.  It brings tears to my eyes even as I write.

POST-SCRIPT.  Unfortunately, I now have to tell you that this rather sentimental ending needs a reality check – my own.  I have just discovered that the Democratic Unionist Party, now led by Peter Robinson, has fallen out with Sinn Fein over what I know not [policing?].  It has meant that the Stormont Parliament has been suspended since May and that, in consequence, all administration is at a standstill and the prospect of yet another descent into violence is beginning to raise its ugly head.  Can they come to their senses?  When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?
P.P.S. Go and see the film “HUNGER”, directed by Steve McQueen.


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