Here’s why ‘bomb scare’ scares me

scare

This was the scene last week when a bomb scare in Belfast caused the evacuation of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops on a busy Friday night.  Some of my friends are in that picture.

This and other bomb scares in the run up to Christmas have reminded me of an incident I witnessed growing up.

When I was 11 I saw a bomb explode in Belfast.  I never want to see another one. 

It was so utterly normal in those days that it didn’t really scare me at the time.  It does now.

I was standing inside the train station at York Road – now Yorkgate – with my school pals, waiting for a train to take us home.  They used to keep all us schoolkids in a big waiting area before letting us on the platform.  We would visit the shop for ice-pops and frozen drinks while we waited.  I remember it was always a scramble to see who could get the best flavours of ice pops before they were all gone.

york road

And that’s where we were that day, dozens of kids waiting for a train to get home, when there was an announcement to get out of the station: ‘bomb scare’.

In those days it happened all the time.  I remember thinking it was no big deal.  In my childhood innocence I thought it was more of an inconvenience than a threat.  We were taken up the road and stood a few hundred yards from the train station, laughing and joking and wondering how long it would be until we could get back into the station and home.

It wasn’t long – maybe ten minutes – before the bomb went off.  I still remember the explosion.  It seemed to go on forever.  Bits of buildings flew up in the air and took an age to come down.  I remember being shocked at how far the debris traveled towards where we were.  There was the rumble of concrete walls and roofs collapsing, and a big dust cloud where it went off.

It turned out the target of the bomb was not the train station but the hotel next to it.  The bomb destroyed the hotel.  I don’t remember how we got home that day but it wasn’t by train.  The train station was so badly damaged it had to be completely rebuilt.

In those days there was supposed to be an early warning system to protect civilians.  In our case it worked.  We were the lucky ones, many others weren’t so fortunate.

That’s why ‘bomb scare’ scares me.  Bomb scares remind me how incredibly lucky I was.  They remind me that life is precious and short, and that we only get one go at it.  They remind me of my moral obligation to help contribute something positive to the place where I grew up to make it a better place to live.  I’ve always believed doing nothing is not an option.  If you live here you are part of the mess.  It is up to all of us to sort it out.

Jager b

It’s also why I find it distasteful that in the last week some bars are offering ‘bomb scare special’ promotions (see picture on right).  While perhaps not as bad as the more reprehensible ‘Irish car bomb’ shots that are sold in some bars in the U.S.,  I refuse to believe that this is the best Belfast can come up with.  We can do better than this.

I am thankful that I am yet to see another bomb go off in Belfast.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to all those who helped build the peace we now enjoy, as well as those who continue to do so.  The peace process may not be perfect but we owe it to them, and all those who were not so lucky, to keep it going.

‘Your pain is our pain. God bless you.’

A bunch of flowers in the Shankill memorial garden this week that said from ‘the good people of the Ardoyne’.

shankill

(tweeted by UTV’ s Judith Hill)

There was no ‘sorry’.  There are times for ‘sorry’ and there are times when, if the truth be told, ‘sorry’ doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Many of those who were victims or who lost loved ones don’t want to forgive and they don’t think they should have to either.  And who are the rest of us to judge them, they who are haunted by the ghosts of their loved ones daily?

The poet Phillip Whitfield wrote, ‘It is not the dead I pity.’  If you’ve ever looked into the eyes of the survivors you’ll know what he meant.

The flowers were a simple symbolic act of empathy.  True empathy says something like: ‘We know you are hurting. We offer no excuses or explanations.  Without words or preconditions we acknowledge your suffering and, in our own way, we also suffer because you are suffering.’

Empathy and compassion connect me to you, and you to me.  Without empathy and compassion we will be forever disconnected, and forever at war.  Without empathy and compassion there is no peace.  Empathy and compassion can reach out over the abyss of decades of political and social segregation, and connect people who have never met but who have suffered the same loss and felt the same pain.

Frederick Buechner wrote: ‘Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you.’

This was illustrated this week by a powerful moment on UTV live, hosted by Paul Clarke.  Sometimes journalists get a hard time for only reporting bad news and whipping up tension so, with that in mind, it is worth pointing out that some of them do a brilliant job.

Two of the men on the panel were Charlie Butler and Mark Rodgers.  Charlie Butler lost three members of his family in the Shankill bomb.  Mark Rodgers lost his Dad in a revenge shooting three days later at the Kennedy Way cleaning depot.

In the twenty years since, the two had never met but when Mark Rodgers crossed the studio to shake Charlie Butler’s hand, they embraced.

“God bless you,” Mark said.

“And yourself. Your pain is our pain. God bless you,” Charlie replied.

Cornel West wrote: ‘We must never let our own suffering blind ourselves to the suffering of others.’

When we feel the pain of others it is no longer possible to hate them or ignore them, because we are a part of their suffering and they are a part of ours.

Those of us who want to build a more peaceful future must, like Mark Rodgers, cross our own metaphorical studios, whatever they may be, and say, ‘God bless you.’  And along with Charlie Butler, we must be able to say, ‘Your pain in our pain.’  They have shown us how to do it.  The rest of us no longer have an excuse.

In a week when our political representatives were busy yelling whataboutery at each other on the usual television and radio shows, ordinary people were busy moving forward without them.

Thank you Mark Rodgers, Charlie Butler, and the good people of Ardoyne, for showing us the way.

Exposing bigotry or exposing their own bigotry? Loyalists Against Democracy: part 2

LAD R

Part 2 continues with responses that I received from people who wished to comment on the Loyalist Against Democracy website.

From a male church leader with a long history of involvement in peacebuilding:

‘I’m not a huge fan of the site though I have dipped in and out from time to time. I suppose my main problem with it is the same problem I had when the church made statements condemning violence (in either camp) but there was little going on on the ground to change things. The megaphone approach of condemnation or satire by middle class Christians or secular-humanists, unmatched by a willingness to get hands dirty and change hearts and minds is ultimately self-defeating… driving those you pontificate about further into a corner… Especially when LAD has turned its ire on those like John Kyle, who are trying to make a difference. This only serves in fulfilling the paranoia of those who claim to be on the margins already by forcing them further out of “respectable” society. My other problem with it as a satire site is that a lot of it just isn’t funny… That said, the campaign against the facebook site by those within loyalism, be it the repeated claims of harassment getting it banned, or the denigration of it as “Republican” is further proof that large swathes of loyalism are not interested in democracy or free speech, but only in hearing their own perspectives and prejudices repeated… But then they have learned that trick from established unionism with it’s constant criticism of the “liberal” BBC because it shines a light on the poor behaviour of the PUL community… The BBC (and media in general) doesn’t need to do any investigative journalism to uncover the shadowside of the PUL community – we parade it for the world to see… putting it on facebook and youtube… Yet when the BBC or LAD or anyone else draws attention to it then there is a loud cry of foul republican plot… If the PUL community put its own house in order then LAD would be out of business and the BBC would only be reporting the misdemeanours of republicans…’

From a female writer involved in education:

‘I suppose I would start by saying that if they are serious about challenging sectarianism then the way to go about it probably isn’t to only have a go at one side of the community. But aside from that…

The PUL people (who also actually count as ‘the people’ despite the fact that LAD seem to think they represent, er, everyone) may not have legitimate fears but they are certainly real fears, and those fears won’t dissipate through ridicule. I am angry at the flag protestors too. I’m angry that they have harmed their own community so much. The LAD group wants to suggest that they’re only having a go at flag protesters but their page is full of nasty comments about working class PUL in general. Last Christmas I sat and listened to a taxi driver in East Belfast who said he felt suicidal because he’d lost so much business. Those were his people on the street- very possibly people that he agreed with ideologically- and they were crippling him. So when everyone gets lumped in together they include him, and they include the bus driver who, that same evening, had his bus bricked as [my partner and I] sat at the back (the brick bounced off the window but the window completely shattered). He was really rattled, and he had to continue his round.

LAD like to make fun of people for poor grammar and spelling, they like to suggest that working class PUL people are thick. I say, if they’re so clever then why are they spending their days on photoshop making crap jokes? If they’re concerned about sectarianism then perhaps they should be championing those people doing community work is difficult areas. Low literacy isn’t a joke, neither are the suicide rates in East Belfast. There are plenty of working class PUL people spending *their* days trying to keep kids off the streets and trying to sort this shit out.’

From an elected PUL male politician:

“LAD was apparently born out the flag protests and quoting them “L.A.D. is a cross-community, non-political group set up to combat the growing tide of sectarianism in Northern Ireland through the use of satire” in effect they have evolved to be an instrument which mainly parodies some within the PUL community. Yes they undoubtedly highlight sectarianism but do seem to ignore other types of sectarianism from within republicanism for example. At times I find myself occasionally agreeing with them when they highlight the unelected ‘leaders of on the ground loyalism’ doing or saying simply stupid things, in fact things that I would imagine would embarrass many Unionists and Loyalists.

I’ve read comments on Facebook from a very unrepresentative section of the PUL community [LAD has then highlighted] which is appalling, sheer hatred of the RC community which has no place in our society. But I would feel confident that similar stuff is written on Facebook about ‘Pradisans’ but LAD choose to ignore it. Perhaps their core readership wouldn’t find it so funny?

One final issue that I would have is how funny does LAD think it is to highlight some within the PUL community who have difficulty spelling? How is that tackling sectarianism? Rather it is simply making light of an issue of educational under achievement which should be addressed but this is certainly not the way to do it. Is LAD then achieving its core aim?  Not by my standards.”

From a male community development worker in a Loyalist area:

‘Mmmmm. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure…I laugh, but I know I shouldn’t. The ludicrousness of loyalist incompetence is vying with genuine compassion for a struggling community. But I’m also aware that there is a darkness to loyalist culture that needs to be exposed and satire is a critical tool in exposing it. So I welcome the satire, though is it just me that detects that whilst in the early days there was genuine comedy in it, in recent weeks a really nasty streak seems to be emerging in the material.

Wonder too whether is is possible to be satirical about republican culture. Maybe I’m just not aware of where it’s happening.’

Male community development worker and peace worker:

If I’m honest, I’ve laughed out loud at some LAD posts and sworn out loud at others. LAD is a sign of the times we live in, lacking depth or accountability. It’s own haste trips itself up and is reactive which is always easier than creative. I find it cruel yet I laugh so what does that make me?

It’s unwillingness to engage face to face is worrying but not untypical of Norn Iron.’

This is more what I was trying to say:

‘It is easier to be against something than for something. And yet, it is much more gratifying to create than to destroy.’ – Miroslav Volf

A final thought from a very experienced community relations worker:

Step back. Point. Laugh. Call it satire. Call it whatever you like (and “satire” can cover a multitude of sins) but when it starts and stops there then in the final analysis its falls far short of any constructive address of Loyalism’s often genuine short-comings. In the final analysis it is very little real use to anyone. It’s easy though (far easier than a genuine involvement) and will get you attention if there are a few laughs to be had (and yes I have laughed at some of their material).

At this point I should also declare my own bigotry. I am from protestant working class unionist stock. Truth be told i jettisoned my unionism many years ago so LAD’s material doesn’t offend my pretty much non- existent Unionism/Loyalism. However when it openly declares its middle class credentials and castigates and ridicules entire working class communities then my working class bigotry can get a quick re-visit. So who am I to talk eh?

Exposing bigotry or exposing their own bigotry? Loyalists Against Democracy: part 1

ladHaving grown concerned about some of the discourse that those behind the ‘parody’ Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD) website were using I contacted them and asked them to meet up and discuss what they felt they were contributing to peace.  I asked them politely several times, all of which they declined.

Following their refusal to meet up, I decided to address my concerns about LAD on here.  In order to do this I asked a range of writers, academics, church leaders, politicians, and community workers to give their opinion about LAD. The response was so great that I decided that the best thing to do was to publish their opinions in full. The amount and depth of responses mean that I will publish them in two parts.  I have ordered them in the order they were sent to me.

Because LAD are faceless and hide behind a mask, making them unaccountable, I promised my contributors anonymity if they wished. However, I will give a little general information about the background of each person.  What follows are not my opinions, these are the unedited opinions of very experienced practitioners and thinkers who have contributed significantly to building peace in this part of the world.  They are a mix of voices from the Catholic and Protestant communities.  Cumulatively they have hundreds of years of experience in peacebuilding.

Firstly, from an experienced male community relations worker from the Catholic community:

‘You know, I haven’t “liked” it – some of the things I’ve seen linked to from other people’s posts about it are funny, but I have a problem about it – and I reckon that any loyalist friends of mine would feel like it does their cause damage. I’m not a loyalist, and I have major problems with the idea that loyalism is under attack (I don’t believe that at all) but I don’t think that the loyalists against democracy page is helpful.’

From a female community worker in a Loyalist area:

‘whilst sections of their sectarian satire posts can witty, it is a dangerous dark humour which serves no purpose other than to crank up already heightened tensions.’

From a male community worker in a Loyalist area:

‘The LAD site can occasionally be quite humorous and the political satire chewing gum for the mind. However I once heard a phrase about another column entitled Wit & Wisdom and LAD fits the same bill, very little wit and absolutely no wisdom.’

This from a widely published male community worker and writer and on Loyalism and Unionism:

‘..my opinion is that the growth of this kind of satire is fascinating, painful to see and that it will grow. For what was it Karl Marx said about history occurring the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce?  You see the loyalist cultural project is now so eaten through with incapacity that it seems entirely farcical for bands calling themselves Young Conquerers to be so patently losers – and so this invites the kind of vicious comic treatment that LAD offers, made all the more potent because twenty five years ago, loyalism still had tragic muscle and in certain quarters a sharp, grounded and innovative ethos. Yes, LAD is cruel, as all humour can be very cruel and it makes the abasement of the PUL psyche even more grievous but I doubt if the tide of ridicule can be turned, until enough PUL people come to see that one needs to exercise self awareness in order to know how to stop being a butt of humour and a laughing stock. Any school teacher knows that a kid who is mocked will only stop being mocked either when he learns to modify his behaviour or when he is protected by an authority figure, and that authority figure ain’t there so there has to be some quick learning going on, in the art of self-scrutiny and self-remodelling.

[There is] nothing more delicious to a nationalist or to someone who was a rotten Prod than mocking the deposed and neutered Loyalist bully, risky too as he may still have strength for one more knuckleduster punch. Dangerous too. As Nietzsche pointed out, he who fights with monsters must beware lest he too becomes a monster. The mockery of Bryson is in part a fearful class based thing, the derision for the uppity wee skitter from the estate, who wears cheap sports gear and a gold chain and gives you lip at the bus stop.

..superladtube [is] taking it to a whole disconcerting new level of cruelty…however some of the deconstruction of the infamous uvf remuralling project on you tube is utterly brilliant and morally impeccable.’

A female writer wrote:

‘It comes across as really superior and snobbish. As we heard on the news yesterday Northern Ireland’s literacy levels are terrible. It’s nothing to make light of. If they’re so clever, what are they doing to help?’

The final extract of part 1 is from Dr. Gareth Mulvenna, a visiting research fellow at Queen’s University, who did not mind his name being used:

‘LAD Fleg may claim to be the creation of a cross-section of our community, including working class Protestants, but one wonders what it actually adds to the debate. Rather than move things forward this type of parody only serves to reinforce liberal, middle-class, stereotypes of a community which is felt to be holding the ‘peace process’ back. More out of step with modern society are dissident Republicans yet we rarely see social media being used to the same extent to highlight the ridiculous, but more threatening, nature of their activities. The loyalist flag protestors, like the white working class ‘chavs’ which Owen Jones wrote about in England, are easy meat for those who have a delusional sense that Belfast begins and ends in the Cathedral Quarter. The dissidents are harder to challenge and pose the most severe threat to the peace due to their violent nature. Flag protestors, particularly the younger ones, should be given the opportunity to be understood – what are their social and economic concerns? Can we educate them about the welfare state and the best aspects of their British culture? That way we can move forward. Laughing and sneering at the loyalist community won’t fix anything.’

Part 2 will contain extracts from other writers, community activists, a PUL politican, and clergy.

Reflections on peacebuilding and Loyalist masculinities (genderpeace conference)

The following is the text from my presentation at the genderpeace conference.  It received lots of feedback on the day which I will address in a future post.   

In trying to formulate a narrative approach to gender conscious practice in peacebuilding, I want to offer some reflections on my own peacebuilding practice and share some of the stories that have informed my own research.  Much of my work has been concerned with what the idea of the transformation of masculinities means in ‘post-violent’ Northern Ireland, in particular the case of Loyalist masculinities.

Rather than one singular story I will use a range of stories and quotes that will illustrate some of the features that have characterised Loyalist masculinities.  These should not be viewed as universal or absolute.  It is important to recognise that there are many forms of masculinities and that they are flexible and changing.

I recently wrote a guest blog post for EamonnMallie.com.  My presentation will expand on some of the themes that I briefly explored in that piece, and also add some other material.

A lot of men are not interested in talking about gender because it involves asking ourselves difficult questions about the nature of gender injustice and our role in it.  In this short presentation I want to address some of the difficult questions about gender and peacemaking and this means, as a man, asking difficult questions about masculinity, specifically patriarchal masculinity.  For the sake of clarification, I would define patriarchal masculinity as the will to dominate power relationships with women and also other men.

I have been greatly influenced by the African-American feminist writer bell hooks.  In her book Teaching Community (p.xi), hooks writes: ‘We believed then and now that the most important measure of the success of the feminist movement would be the extent to which the feminist thinking and practice that was transforming our consciousness and our lives would have the same impact on ordinary folks.’

As a result of reading hooks, I have reflected on what it means to be successful as an academic and as someone involved in peacemaking.  For me, success is not how many papers we have written, or how many book chapters we’ve contributed, or even how many hits our blog gets.  The only measure of our success that ultimately matters is how much our work impacts the lives of ordinary people.

My research allows me to talk about my research only.  It does not qualify me to speak on behalf of Loyalism or for Loyalism.  It also does not allow me to speak about what is going on in Republican/Nationalist/Catholic communities.  I have not attempted to do any comparative work between the two major communities in Northern Ireland.  My guess is that some of the issues facing Loyalist men are unique to Loyalist communities, and others are the same as other communities.

Before we begin to talk about the issue of masculinity, we also need to acknowledge that gender does not exist in a vacuum.  Unless we understand gender within the wider context of economic injustice and racial injustice we have failed before we begin.  Our concern for justice and equality must always transcend our own interests and our own suffering.  Unless we are concerned with injustice and inequality everywhere we cannot claim to be concerned with addressing gender injustice and inequality.

It is within this context that we can begin to understand the gendered identity of Loyalist men.

The theologian Stanley Hauerwas calls the low-class white male the most voiceless person in our society:

‘The most voiceless person in our society is the low class white male….What it means for them to be voiceless is that they don’t have a story that can make their lives intelligible.  The only stories around are, ‘You must be lazy because you didn’t get ahead,’ and I think that is an extraordinary destructive story….Many [lower class white males] live in a hopeless world so what you do is drink, screw, and die.’    (Iconocast podcast episode 17)

The effects of economic injustice are of course not unique to Loyalist communities.  A Republican ex-prisoner I know tells the story that when conducting a workshop with a group of Republican youth, he asked if any of them had ever been in the same room as a Loyalist before.  One of them replied, ‘For fucks sake, we’ve never even been in the same room as a flipchart before.’

The challenge for Loyalist young men growing up is dealing with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  My own workshops with Loyalist young men sometimes involve an exercise called ‘What is my dream?’  When faced with this question many young men answer that their dream is to win the lottery or to become a porn star.  Young men are growing up in a place so devoid of hope and opportunity that their greatest dream is to win millions of pounds or to get paid to have sex.

The crisis facing Loyalist communities is one of abandonment: economically; socially; and politically.  It is only when people can see a way out that they will have hope.

In my article on Eamonn Mallie’s website, I described Loyalist masculinity as ‘the elephant in the peace process’, to which someone replied: ‘There are a lot more elephants in that room’.  And that may well be true, but the reason I chose that analogy was because in my view Loyalist masculinity has been mostly ignored, largely maligned, and often misunderstood.

I think there is so little education around masculinities because there is so little understanding about what masculinity is and how it can be approached.

In her book The Will To Change, ‘bell hooks’ argues that if we take away the privileges that patriarchy has given men then we would find that they are suffering just as much as women.  In the case of Loyalism, patriarchal masculinity has left Loyalist men brutalised and suffering, with nowhere to go.

The dominant form of Ulster Loyalism that emerged during the period of ‘the troubles’ was defined by heavily militarised notions of masculinity.  In many areas men were often willing to take up arms, of one sort or another.  For some this meant joining the British army, for others this meant joining Loyalist paramilitary organisations.  In the same way that young men are told that the army will turn them into ‘real men’, so too ‘real men’ joined the ranks of paramilitary organisations.  A UVF ex-prisoner told me:

‘Men in this area would still, always down through the history of this area…always want to be in the army of some sort.’

On the walls of public housing estates and inner-cities, the figure of the Loyalist ‘warrior’ became immortalised in the form of murals.  A UDA ex-prisoner recalled:

‘Gunmen in our estates, and the places where we lived, were idolised.  They were heroes.  They were heroes, full stop.’

Young men growing up in Loyalist areas often had to deal with the triple effects of poverty, an education system which rendered many of them second class by the age of eleven, and the wider effects of deindustrialisation and the loss of jobs.  In this context paramilitary organisations provided many men with a story that gave them both meaning and status that was difficult to attain elsewhere.  The UDA ex-prisoner summed up his attitude towards education growing up:

‘When we grew up, ‘Education’s for fruits!’ You know?  It was for gays. You know?  ‘Pffft, don’t touch that, we want guns!   Gimme guns, gimme guns!’’

He went on to describe the attraction of the figure or the Loyalist ‘warrior’:

‘Bonfires where I grew up, see every eleventh night?  Six, ten, sometimes fifteen Loyalist – UDA – gunmen, out to the bonfire, all machine guns, the lot, all the kit [makes noises of machine guns going off], the full monty.  You’re standing there with wee lads seeing all these big lads coming out with AK47s and all, do you know what I mean?  And giving it large.  It was like rock n roll and toy soldiers right in your front garden, you know what I mean?  Wow, give us some of that!  No more ‘A-team’, I want in there, know what I mean?  That is what you were aspiring to, you were seeing that, you know?  So you had that planted in your head.  Gimme that, gimme that.  And you seen the power it give the men, you know what I mean?  It give them recognition within the community, you know what I mean?  That’s what the kids aspired to do.  Kids wanted to go out and kill Catholics, as simple as that.  That’s it.  We didn’t play cowboys and Indians.  We played Provies and UDA, do you know what I mean?  Seeing who could stiff the most, you know? That’s the way we played it when we were growing up, you know?’

It was while conducting a focus group with Loyalist women that I first became aware of the deep suffering of Loyalist men as a result of patriarchal masculinity.  When asked about men and their emotions, one woman replied:

‘I look at some people now and I think they’re dead behind the eyes.’

Others added that many Loyalist men were:

‘Closed.  Shut.’  ‘Paranoid.’  ‘Switched off.’  ‘Haunted.’  ‘Desensitized.’

Later, a UDA ex-prisoner described to me how this process of emotional detachment took place:

‘Everybody changed in so many ways….And you do become hardened.  Death means nothing to you.  Even life itself, you know, the value of life.  You’re prepared to give your life.  You’re prepared to go to jail.  You’re prepared to give up your freedom and your family.  So you go step by step by step, [from] being what you would call normal to being a soldier, or a hard-line paramilitary.’

One ex-UVF prisoner described how this took its toll on family life:

‘If you harden your heart, well that’s gonna be hardened towards your relationships and other areas, whether it be your wife, your kids or even the way you talk and treat your friends, you know. In them days you didn’t wanna show sign of weakness.  Everybody was fucking John Wayne.’

Loyalist patriarchal masculinity has claimed more victims than many of us want to admit.  It crushed the souls of those who managed to make it out alive and exiled them to a land of emotional disconnection.  More than one Loyalist ex-prisoner has told me they are afraid to sleep because they might wake up screaming in the night.  It is common to hear stories of Loyalist men, decades after their involvement in the conflict, dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction, and other mental health issues.  Others, unable to cope at all, have taken their own lives.

Some might argue that these men chose their own path and now they have to deal with the consequences.  Some might say they deserve what they get.  Many people are so enraged by the suffering caused by Loyalist men that they refuse to acknowledge that Loyalist men have also suffered.  And yet, if we are to all move forward together towards a shared future for everyone, we can not afford to ignore the elephant in the peace process.  Acknowledging the suffering of Loyalist men might provide a point of connection that ultimately leads to transformation of Loyalist masculinity.

So what about the transformation of Loyalist masculinities?

An article on the bbc website recently included a quote from a UDA leader, on how Loyalist masculinity is changing: ‘We say now arm ourselves with education….Five years ago, two people started university within our organisation; this year 16 people. Sixteen young lads and girls started university, so we’ve been on that journey, we’ve been on the journey of education because education is the new power.’

What is interesting about this quote is that it recognizes that patriarchal masculinity and the old belief that education is for girls and gays has not served Loyalist men well.  However, it represents only a partial change from patriarchal values.  Where it maintains a loyalty to patriarchal values is that he describes education as ‘the new power’.  This is a partial transformation from violent patriarchal masculinity to what hooks calls ‘nice-guy’ patriarchal masculinity.  It does not represent a full transformation of patriarchal values but it is a step in the right direction.  True transformation does not take place in a moment but in the context of a post-violent society it is a slow, discontinuous, and uneven process.  Transformation from patriarchal values means more than changing from violent patriarchal masculinity to nice guy patriarchs, it requires transcending power and the will to dominate.

genderpeace

genderpeaceflyer

‘Genderpeace’ is a one day conference happening tomorrow in Belfast.  It’s organised by Mediation Northern Ireland with the goal to ‘unfold powerful stories about gender and peace’.  Unfortunately for anyone reading this who hasn’t booked a place, it’s full up already, and I believe there is also a waiting list should spaces become available.

Mediation Northern Ireland advertises the event as ‘exploring new ways of understanding gender-conscious peacebuilding through conversations, reflective practice and consultation.’

The phrase ‘gender-conscious peacebuilding’ could be used to sum up the work I’ve been involved in for the last several years, so I was more than happy to be asked to be one of the contributors.

I’ll do a post after the conference which will include my own contribution and also some reflections on the thing as a whole.  My own feeling is that these conversations about the role of gender in peacemaking may, at times, be difficult, but they are hugely important and long overdue, and well done to the organisers for creating the space for them to happen.

Below is a list of the speakers and biographical information, complete with picture of me and my favourite sunglasses (which sadly won’t be making an appearance as they were lost forever up a mountain).