Mairead Maguire: Peace by Peaceful Means

Irish peacemaker Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel peace prize for her efforts, spoke in support of James Nicholas' Toronto appeal (see page 8) at OISE, Toronto, on February 17. We reprint her speech here.

By Mairead Maguire | 1992-07-01 12:00:00

The Toronto Appeal is a very simple message that touches the heart. We can't have peace while two-thirds of our world is dying of starvation. So we must create justness and fairness, so that those who have too much will have less, and those who have nothing will have something. That's not an impossible dream. There is a way to do that by taking money out of the military budgets. We must put that money into jobs and schools, and into liberating the people of the Third World. We have too long allowed them to carry our burden. The real enemies of the human family are poverty, the destruction of the ecology, and the abuse of human rights and democracy. To tackle these problems, we need to act on a world level. Why not take out of the military all the brilliant minds that are there, and put them into solving these problems of the human family? We need money to do this on a large scale. So why not take money out of the military budgets throughout the world and begin to solve these problems in Toronto, and in Russia and in Ethiopia? We have the answer. What is lacking is the will. And we can't just say it's the politicians' and somebody else's problem. This is our priority, and It's up to every single one of us to create the will, to love and to do what we have to do to solve these problems.

People may ask why I am talking about the world's global problems when we in Northern Ireland have such problems. If we haven't solved our problems, how can we solve the world's problems? But Northern Ireland is a living laboratory of the kind of conflict that the world is going to see more and more. We are moving away, thank God, from the Cold War and thank God, from war. Most people in their hearts know that war is ridiculous, and doesn't solve any problems. What did the Gulf War solve? We will suffer the results of the Gulf War for generations to come with bitterness and hatred. We have to find alternative ways of solving conflicts.

Northern Ireland was divided in 1921. The South, where the majority of the population is Catholic, became a republic. The North of Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. There are only 1.5 million people in the North of Ireland, the tiny little thing. Two-thirds are the Protestant majority, with a British Protestant tradition. They are more British than the British. And one-third are the Catholic minority. These two cultures in the North of Ireland have always lived separate, divided lives. They've been separated by the Church and by politicians for their own purposes. So between these two traditions, people don't know each other, and there is fear, there is nervousness. People who value their religion, their identity, will react violently when threatened. That's true of us all. In the North of Ireland people do feel threatened and frightened. I remember a man speaking at a conference who said that we are born with fear in us, every one of us. But fear can be overcome with courage. He said you can lose your fear and enter a fearless stage. That can help us, but it's a tong journey. Still, if we realize that in every conflict situation you are operating with fear -individual fear or group fear-perhaps it will make us a little more compassionate.

We need compassion. The Dalai Lama once said that compassion is not sentimentality, and it's not weeping and crying. Compassion is a feeling of closeness to the other person, and wanting to take responsibility for that other person. This allows us to be happy in our peace-making. We only have one life, and my message to you is to enjoy that life. Be happy in your peace-making. Be kind. If only we could teach people to be just a little bit kinder! If only we, as women, could say to our men: I don't want you to team how to kill, I don't want you to go to war, I don't want you to be macho, I want you to be kind. Wouldn't that be just lovely? A man came to visit me one time. He was walking across the garden, and there was a caterpillar creeping across the garden. He bent and gently picked it up and carried it across to a cabbage leaf. He said, "He has a long way to go, I'll help him home."

I said, "My goodness, do you do that with all the animals?"

He said, "Oh, his little life is precious too."

What we've lost in the world today is our sense that we are each precious, we are created, we are given life. My gift of life, I rejoice in it. I don't want anybody to take that life from me and I will not take another person's life. Under no circumstances, by the grace of God, will I ever take another human life. Each individual is precious and we must respect that precious person. Democracy and dialogue, by themselves, won't solve our problems, but only dialogue built on absolute respect for the other person, no matter what their actions are. That can be done only through love, not through violence. It is wrong to think that on one side of the world are all the good people, all in one country or in one place-and we are the good people. There's always bad people over there. Paradoxically, each one of us is capable of the greatest goodness and the greatest evil. Civilization really is only a very thin veneer. We are murderous. We need to teach nonviolence at every level of our society, starting with our children.

Be hopeful, because we are witnessing the rebirthing of a huge humanity. There are very serious steps to be taken. To those who use violence for political purposes, we say: It is wrong to take human life. In Northern Ireland we have said to the government: Uphold human rights. It's a key to the solution in Northern Ireland. Many people have signed confessions in the police stations in Belfast and are doing prison terms for acts they did not commit. Britain has been brought before the European Commission on Human Rights, has been found guilty of abusing human rights, and has 'refused to uphold international agreements. This is a disgrace. We call on our friends around the world to support us. And we were glad to see American politicians call on the British government to restore human rights for the people of Northern Ireland. You cannot expect people to respect law unless law has respect for people.

We are calling for a spiritual movement and it is happening. People are moving away from materialism. They know that having a bigger car and extra things do not fulfill our needs. There's something missing. The spiritual side of life needs attention.

In the Old Testament it was said: Love your neighbour. In the New Testament the message was clearer: Love your enemy and do not kill. That was a new Christian message, that was to be revolutionary. For three hundred years Christians lived that message, but from the third century until today we have denied it. Christians are responsible for the bloodiest wars of history. As I am sorry that we have not lived the Christian message of love, I am sorry, as someone coming from Ireland, that we haven't loved our English brothers and sisters. The relationship has to be healed between the people of England and the people of Ireland. And the relationships between other people in the world have got to be healed-first by saying "We are sorry". That's why I went to Japan last year, as a Christian, to ask for forgiveness of the Japanese people for the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb. You cannot build reconciliation unless you have the courage to look into your past at what you have done wrong. Truth, that's what Gandhi was talking about. Truth is God. Speak the truth. So we need the churches now to come out and speak the truth.

In Northern Ireland we have a small nonviolent movement. We have a Peace House in Belfast where you are all welcome. We have a nice centre outside the city and a farm, and anybody who likes farming is very welcome. We are small, but we are part of an ever-growing movement. It's exciting for me to go to different countries, and when I speak about these ideas, people say: Yes, yes, we can do that.

The human person is capable of wonderful things. We sent man to the moon, and yet we have not fed the hungry here. We put all our energy into advancing science. My friend Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina has always said: We don't need to go to the stars. Leave the stars for the lovers.

I don't think I'll see the day when we all will be lifting caterpillars, but I live for the day where we, as a human family, should it only be to the neighbour next door, should it only be to the husband and a wife and a child, should it be to your black, yellow, brown brothers and sisters all over the world, we will ever so gently lift them up, and help each other along this hard, hard life that at the same time can be very beautiful.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1992

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1992, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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