A pacifist view of criminal justice

The only justification for any use of force is as a last resort to avert an imminent threat. The force must be minimal: it cannot be minimal in a situation of war, so war is never justified.

All responses to crime after that immediate threat should either be for the good of the offender, or to prevent the offender from profiting from their crime. Crime dislocates relationships within society, so the purpose of the response should be to restore those relationships. Rehabilitation is the only justification for punishment. Deterrence, using the offender to deter others, makes the offender a means to an end, and a human being should not be used as a means to an end. Retribution, fitting punishment to offence, is not possible; apples are not oranges.

Offenders are often victims. Where people do not feel they have a stake in society, they should be helped to feel that, for Every [one] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. We should take care of victims. I remember a man whose sentences only extended to community service and fines resenting that someone who had been imprisoned got a Community Care Grant on release; so this means noticing victims who have not committed crime. We need to bind society more closely together.

It is right to prevent people from harming themselves. Self harm is a sign of mental illness. If assisted dying is permitted, it should be clear that the person dying themself benefits, by alleviation of suffering. Self-harming activity, such as drug use, should be treated as a health and social care issue, not by criminal law. Criminal activity to get money for drugs should be treated by drug rehabilitation where possible.

Mental health problems of offenders should be properly treated. No-one should be left behind. I heard at the weekend of Glebe House, a Quaker initiative to work with juvenile sex offenders with particular mental health problems and disturbed backgrounds. It was found that none of a group studied by researchers was in denial about their own previous sexually harmful behaviour, after completing treatment there. Surely it is worth this work, to avoid the suffering and waste of life of re-offending.

Restorative justice, repairing relationships and damage, should be the purpose of criminal justice.

Here I wonder, about building the potential offender’s empathy with victims, and improving impulse control and appreciation of consequences. This post is not a system of justice, for much of the work to learn how offending might be reduced has not been done. However re-offending rates show the current system is not working. I have seen men whose spirit has been broken by prison: the waste and cruelty sickens me.

Hammershoi, interior of courtyard

For pacifism: but, pacifist?

I have just had David and Abi, two teenagers evangelising with “Awake!” magazine, on the door-step. As usual, I offered to take their magazine if they would take and read Advices and Queries. As usual, they declined. So I read a bit of it to them. She liked it. He guarded his belief-system, wanting to know where the words come from. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I said, refined over centuries. They argue only from the Bible, what it really says, he said.

-Well, it is good that you have a faith. So few people do, he said, but I wasn’t having that.
-I love what Mr Miliband said. He has faith in people. We are made in the image of God- loving, creative, powerful, beautiful, that is what “the image of God” means

(as I note the spots on his forehead, and square off against him)

-that is what Paul was getting at in Romans 1, that all see the glory of God in the goodness of Creation.

They will not be taking my book. They told me their names, I said I was Abigail, and the coincidence delighted her. They wish me a good day.

It seemed after that Abi is my teacher. There was I talking about Openness to the Spirit, or Life, whatever, and she was modelling it. I was merely sparring with David, coming out with lines that I had known before- to defeat a teenager in argument!

They came to share the Good News of God, and I said No, hear mine instead. I cut them off, bustled off to my bookcase, brought A&Q and my pat arguments.

I doubt they had anything new to say. I feel I know the Jehovah’s Witness system well enough, how my friend hates it because it forced her mother to refuse to see her after she left it; how it restricts people; how it requires belief in ridiculous things, like Creation around six thousand years ago, so cannot tolerate independent thought-

yet she seemed to be open, to listening.

He was concerned for her, that she might be too open, for his is the way of Truth and you must not deviate from it.

Perhaps if I had had more time. I could have listened to what they had to say. Often, the Witnesses come round, offering a more in depth meeting with an evangelist later, but not wanting to come in to evangelise now. They offer Awake. There were several teenagers on the street, perhaps just starting evangelism.

I did not like Helen Drewery of Quaker Peace and Social Witness on The Moral Maze. I felt the arguments for pacifism could be put so much better; but that means with more persuasive rhetoric. I like arguing. In her responses, she modelled pacifism.

-Are you not a hypocrite, relying on the army to keep you safe while you pretend to pacifism?

Possibly-

it is a different way of being, of responding, which I can explain but not always be-

The coincidence of names delighted me too, and we grinned at each other. I might have had a different conversation just with Abi; yet if David can drag me into mere confrontation, by challenging questions designed to justify that he has a better way rather than find mine, is mine better? Theory is all very well….

And it is easier to communicate something if the other knows they have been heard; and I have something beautiful, which I love, and I wanted to assert it- for I thought I had no chance of persuading them.

William Blake, Isaac Newton

Pacifism and World War Two

After the VE Day anniversary celebrations, can a pacifist argue that the second world war should not have been fought? Yes. It was not necessary.

WWII did not prevent the Holocaust. It killed sixty million human beings. It involved atrocities by the Allies, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo. Nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, starting the nuclear arms race which continues today.

The world war is not clearly better than any imaginable alternative. It depends when you start: had Germany not been humiliated and impoverished by the Treaty of Versailles, it might have developed other leadership.

Well-prepared civil resistance in the countries Hitler occupied could have made his control extremely difficult. Norwegian teachers refused to teach the Nazi curriculum. Dutch and French citizens hid Jews. Do not dismiss the possibility that a well-prepared population could defend their rights and freedoms, and protect each other non-violently.

Gandhi wrote, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”. How might a population resist?

One of the reasons for the death camps was that troops’ combat fitness is damaged by mass murder of unarmed civilians. The Nazis had already used gas to murder disabled people, before this was halted by protests from the German public. Oppressors, and particularly their lowest-ranking soldiers, lose the will to kill. The Solidarity union protested, and could not be put down. Eventually, the people took the Berlin Wall down, when the troops would no longer fire on them; though many were murdered before that day.

In the Occupied Territories, International Accompaniers witness life under occupation and give publicity to human rights abuses. While the English-speaking world was free, Nazi oppression of occupied countries would have come at a cost.

Here is the Berghof Handbook, continually updated articles and resources for those engaged in transforming violent ethnic conflict. Conflict may arise over scarce resources, quickly polarising different groups: here is the Wajir Story, of how inter-clan violence spread at a time of severe drought. A group of women, seeing that their market trading had become impossible, got together to ensure peaceful trading could be resumed. Inspired by this, clan elders agreed to prevent the violence of their own clans, and brought it to an end.Sword into Ploughshares

People flourish when we co-operate. People can be brought to see that. All this comes from the wonderful Swarthmore Lecture by Diana Francis, Faith, Power and Peace, also in a book.

 

Seconds, months, years after

After six hours protesting, chilled to the bone, as some of the worshippers were leaving I took the bus back to Reading too. I told Pat about benefit sanctions and reductions, and her uh-huh noises showed she was not interested: she has no room for that campaign, perhaps.

Sitting on the warm Tube in coat and gloves finally got me warm, and I went to St Pauls station, to have that walk round the West end of the cathedral then across the Millennium bridge to Tate Modern. I was ready to get high on art, and that walk through those magical spaces starts the process.

The exhibition is Conflict, Time, Photography, a series of photographs, nearly all monochrome, of places of war, taken moments or years after. As I walk through the galleries, the captions tend to be at the end of the row of pictures, so I puzzle them out first: some appear to be abstract. There is a load of rusting cans and other metal detritus in the Kuwaiti sands after the first Gulf war, and the remains of the Iraqi trenches which the Americans simply rolled over, with all-pervasive machine gun fire, killing everyone in them. There is the Wolf’s Lair, the forward bunker in Poland from which Adolf planned the invasion of Russia. The departing Germans blew it up, and photos show misshapen concrete and sky. There is also misshapen concrete of beach defences from Northern Europe, constructed by Germany against the allied invasion across the channel, now sitting forlorn, derelict and ridiculous.

What made me snigger was the apartment building in Kabul, stripped down to its concrete and steel frame, three floors parallel at 30° because some of the pillars have collapsed. This drew a quick look from the woman nearby, who looked away before I could catch her eye.

The most beautiful piece is my featured image, 99 years after Private George E. Collins was shot for desertion at 7.30am on 15 February 1915. Chloë Dewe Mathews returned at the precise moment 99 years later. In that mist, possibly the last thing he saw was something beautiful.

There are photos from the Ukraine of Holocaust survivors, mundane and quotidian. There are photos of the descendants of an SS murderer, some of whom refused to co-operate, and of drawings on the walls of an SS prisoner of war camp in Wales.

I imagined that look was of contempt at my snigger, and I thought, I have a right to be here, after what I have been doing this morning. A ridiculous thought- I changed it to that I am glad to see this, showing the ridiculousness of war, after taking action to end war. Then I went out into the coffee shop, for this gorgeous view of St Paul’s- strong competition for any of the works in the gallery.

London

Resisting IV

What did I learn?

I found out about lock-ons. These are plastic or metal tubes about a metre long. You put your arm inside, and hold hands with the next protester inside the tube. Perhaps you tie or fasten your hands together. This makes it more difficult for the police to move you. When they try, if you go floppy it is more difficult to lift you: I saw someone attempt this technique but get moved anyway.

The police have stopped cars, found such tubes, and prevented them from going further; but possessing the tube is not itself an offence or a reason to stop the car. When stopped, the driver has to give their name and address, but no other occupant has to.

Some of the protesters seemed a bit blasé about arrest. I would be horrified. Arrests and court appearances cost money; sometimes it seems a person would be arrested simply to get them out of the way of the demonstration. The number of police and police-vans at the north gate was intimidating. If arrested, you must give your name and address, and they can take fingerprints, DNA and photographs. Pat of Pax Christi had been on a recce a few weeks before, and when she took a photo of the timetable at the bus stop, a passing patrol stopped to question her. For her, being completely open about action is part of non-violence, so she explained. The police completed a form about the conversation, which had to give a reason for it. They wrote that she “appeared disorientated”, which she found insulting.

A police officer might press the pressure points behind the ears. This is intensely painful, as I remember from when at school. They are not allowed to do this without consent from their “Silver”, who is at least chief inspector rank. They tend to resort to such tactics when they shut down the protest quickly.

Protesters had legal observers, trained to watch out for police tactics and actions.

Don’t speak to the police, particularly the police “liaison officers”. They seek information about protesters, in the guise of friendly chat. So now writing this I wonder whether what I choose to emphasise might be useful to them in some way. Careless talk costs lives.

Walking to the meeting house, down a ginnel, I passed a man urinating against the wall. Just starting to urinate as I passed, he swore when he perceived me, seeming embarrassed: not disgusting or shameless, then, simply he did not see a better alternative.

Too late back in Swanston to get the bus, I decided to sleep at the meeting house. There was a meeting going on there. I said I was with the Quakers, and asked to use the microwave. Eating my meal in the meeting room, I was interrupted by a man who asked me how Quakers started, I think to test me: first, he asked about our Famous Internee in the burial ground. So I explained that churches were controlled by law during the Civil War, and one man in 1652 thought he knew better. So we worshipped as we saw fit, arrogantly claiming that we were inferior to no-one, and getting imprisoned for it until there was greater religious toleration in 1688. He was nervous, trying to catch me out. “Enjoy your holiday!” I said, as he scuttled off.

Frederic Leighton, Winding the skein

Resisting III

I met Bruce Kent, formerly Monsignor but now desocked- he is not allowed to wear black or grey socks ever again. (Or something, which may even be sillier.) He is 85, and married. When I said I was cold, he told me it was because of my thin shoes in the mud, so I can say I have been advised personally by Bruce Kent on anti-nuclear protest. He was wearing a shabby coat, £10 from a charity shop, initially from Harrods.

It was very cold. It was sunny, but windy. With a Quaker I erected the toilet tent, just beyond the tea stall. A pole broke and someone splinted it with a twig, and added a bit of thick rope as an extra guy. It was nearly blowing away, so we took it down. Twice, older women solicitously offered me a cup of hot tea to warm me up.

I met an old Quaker woman, disabled, less than five feet tall, and a girl of sixteen whose father had protested at Aldermaston and who did not want another generation to have to protest too. Both helped block the Construction gate.

I met Pat, general secretary of Pax Christi, and we sang in worship together. She is soon off to the Palestinian territories to meet peace groups and EAPPI workers. She was in at the start of Trident Ploughshares, and had an additional non-violence principle: they should be completely open about who they were and what they were doing at all times. That was not one of the ones I was asked to assent to:

  • Our attitude will be one of sincerity and respect towards the people we encounter
  • We will not engage in physical violence or verbal abuse toward any individual
  • We will not carry any weapons
  • We will not bring or use alcohol or drugs other than for medical purposes
  • We will clear the blockade to allow emergency vehicles in or out of the site and resume the blockade afterwards

I met Rebecca, vice president of CND, when I joined in with her singing from the Trident Oratorio. When they sang it at Parliament House in Edinburgh, the baillies tried to move them on but the Advocates told them to stay. She has sung it while blockading: the police did not arrest, seeing how harmless they were. She sees how I love singing, and I confessed that being baritone I had to be careful where I sang- she offered me the chance to sing the whole thing, at a protest. I may do.

The rector of the parish church led us in worship. How relevant is Christianity? We prayed,

Lead us from Death to Life,
from falsehood to truth,
from fear to trust
Lead us from hate to love
Lead us from war to peace
Let Peace fill our hearts, our world, our Universe.

Even if you don’t believe in the God to whom we pray, the sentiments are universal. After, we offered one another a sign of peace, and I shook hands with a policeman. We worshipped on our side of the road, committing an offence.

Someone commented I was brave, coming so far to this without knowing anyone. I felt the people would be generous and self-sacrificing, and that I would be alright. I was.

Three women in lab coats and drawn-on facial hair brought a cardboard missile, designed to spread Love.

Paris Bordone- Neptune and Amphitrite

Resisting II

The only way to resist Trident is to cut the wire, evade the police and other guards, and get as far in and do as much damage as you can. Doing things the police don’t mind, like a group sit-in blocking not quite all of the entrances, does not disrupt Trident. So I support those who cut the wire, such as Lindis Percy. You see what I mean about being an extremist. I support those who do not pay some of their income tax, because the money is used to kill people and destroy things. I do not feel called to join them: I would hardly write so openly here if I did.

We achieved worthwhile things. There were press photographers present, though my Google for news about the event today (Tuesday at 5pm) found nothing at all. One photographer said that she submitted pictures to The Guardian but doubted they would be interested.

I had my first experience of non-violent resistance. I have blocked the Queen’s highway, a criminal offence, though one so widely defined that a Giles cartoon once alleged that people committed it by queuing at a bus stop. I met inspiring people, and learned a little about resistance techniques. Others there will have learnt, and may have been emboldened to take further action. They may have made useful contacts.

The experience helps you take further action next time. I really did not want to be arrested. Organisers said the police were unlikely to arrest before giving a warning. Arrest costs money, taking up officers’ time. Arrest is unlikely to lead to a court appearance, which also costs money, so often those arrested get a letter telling them to Be Good instead. It is such a complex dance we have in these matters with the police: if we keep our disruption of Government crimes to a certain level, they use reasonable force to prevent us going further. The more we escalate, the more they will. I sat in the road for a bit, surrounded by officers who seemed content to let us stay there as long as we did not try to block the other half of the road. If I did it again, I might sit until warned, so taking what might be a bearable risk of arrest.

Or I might just be discouraged.

I was filmed by the obvious police CCTV camera, and possibly by more covert cameras. I may have been identified- my joke about whether, as a Quaker, I have a secret service file on me becomes slightly more pointed.

I enjoyed it. Others did too. Some of us talked to the police, who may have seen we were people with a stake in society- people with degrees and good jobs- with a laudable, arguable ideal. We exchanged and honed our arguments why Trident is evil: to rely on the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is faithless.

Christianity has this to say to the world: ‘Your reliance upon armaments is both wrong and futile. Armaments are the weapons of organised violence and outrage. Their use is a denial of the true laws of good living. They involve the perpetuation of strife. They stand in the way of the true fellowship of men. They impoverish the peoples. They tempt men to evil, and they breed suspicion and fear and the tragic results thereof. They are therefore not legitimate weapons in the Christian armoury, nor are they sources of security.’

William Dyce, Neptune resigning to Britannia the empire of the sea

Resisting

If I was courageous, I was wonderfully rewarded for it.

Peter drove me to Swanston, feeling a little put-upon, and I took the train to Reading. I started a conversation by complimenting a woman’s black fedora. She had worn it for her little brother’s 18th birthday party, a family affair, but would not wear it in the street. I told her what I was intending, and she was impressed, smiling, eyes widening, voice getting warmer: she wished me well. I walked to the Meeting house, where I met-

How circumspect should I be? Circumspect with other people’s stuff. One man I met there wore a mask all the time. When asked his first name, he said “My name is Anon”. I met- people who impressed me, but do not want to say why. One suffered from ——– syndrome. One had a name which was ————. These small-talkish details which I would put in, normally, are not mine to share. “Don’t be on a database if you don’t have to,” I read. Yet when asked to find what we had in common, Anon remarked that his group all had degrees. At the Meeting-house, I met people rather like those I would normally expect to meet there, though even scruffier than normal- committed, believing or atheist, intelligent.

I am glad I went, and I can’t decide whether it was a failure or not.

 ♥♥♥

We went on Monday to Burghfield, where the warheads for Trident are made. There are three gates to the factory: the “Construction Gate”, and the North and South ends of The Meerings, which sounds like any other picturesque Berkshire lane, except that it is MOD property. There was a green line painted on it. Cross that line without permission, and you have committed a criminal offence under the military by-laws.

At 5 am, groups of more hardened protesters went to the South end and the Construction gate, and blocked them. By 7am, the Christians and some others were at the North end, surrounded by police in yellow hi-vis jackets, apart from the Liaison officers in blue. There, we blocked half the exit. We had a worship service led by the Rector of Burghfield parish church, on the roadway but outside the green line, surrounded on three sides by police officers. We committed the criminal offence of blocking the Queen’s highway, but only the left, exit side: the right lane, for entrances, was closely guarded by the police.

So we caused some disruption. There would not normally be so many police officers there. Workers at the base, and supplies- we saw a van marked “gardening services”- could enter and exit by one gate only, rather than by three as usual. Those blockading the other gates might even imagine that they were being successful.

The police were reasonably friendly. I saw a woman attempt to sit on the right lane of the road, and be lifted out of the way. Had we attempted to block the whole of the North gate, they could have arrested us for it. We caused a small amount of disruption and expense, but not a great deal.

More tomorrow.

Tiepolo Neptune bestowing gifts on Venice

Extremism

I am a Fundamentalist. My religion is fundamental to my life. I am an Extremist. I take an extreme view of the importance of my religion, and of the obligations it places on me. Indeed, the accusation of the conservative evangelical that the liberal Christian does not take the faith seriously is the one which most riles me.

One example: if I take non-violent direct action against the Trident nuclear missile programme, I would claim to follow the example of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers”; “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword”. I am quite aware that some Christians hold opposite views, believing in the balance of terror, and that deterrence by mutually assured destruction has saved the World from major war, but pacifism is a long tradition in Christianity from its earliest times and particularly now in Quakerism. Atheists may hold to either side: I think of Bertrand Russell in the Aldermaston marches.

I take religious obligation seriously. Generally, it makes me a better citizen, neighbour and associate. In some things it makes me more stubborn and unmoveable- if God is for me, who will be against me?

Abortion also divides Christians. Does the murder of millions of helpless babies where they should be safe, in their mothers’ wombs, not cry out to Heaven for vengeance? I find the woman’s right to choose a saddening necessity, and could produce religious arguments there, though most on my side are secular.

Religion may motivate different types of action, some widely seen as objectionable. Therefore, the words “religious fundamentalist/ extremist” are not of use in preventing actions we disapprove. Reports that the 9/11 terrorists visited a strip club and drank alcohol might indicate that they were not pious Muslims, but would not necessarily prevent some people from supporting their actions. Tempting as it is for some to divide Muslims into “good” and “bad”, from a Multiculturalist desire to welcome the majority as British or to get them on side against the enemy, it is not that simple.

The question whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the Caliph of Islam is a religious question, but part of the answer may depend on whether you are enraged and wanting a fight, and at the same time searching for a simple ideal to make sense of life. Some Muslims who have made a successful worldly life in the West may consider those religious arguments and wonder, should I give up everything I have here for God? Some may. That Atlantic article says most Salafis, while extremist by any definition of religion, are quietist, seeking personal purity not war for the Umma. Again, we should consider whether real crimes such as incitement to murder have been committed, rather than whether someone is a religious “extremist”.

A pacifist considers Remembrance Sunday

William Orpen, a German gunners' shelterMinistry in meeting: I much prefer my little bit of God to the bit of God they have at the war memorial a few hundred yards over there. Yet when they invoke God, God comes. S ministered that peace passes all understanding.

I heard things about Remembrance Sunday which revolt me. Until the 1980s, someone said, they did not allow people maimed in armed service to parade; those parading had to appear normal. I thought, it has to be pacifist, to an extent, thinking of about 850,000 British military deaths in world war one, 450,000 in world war two, and thousands in other conflicts. Even if you see it as “Heroic Sacrifice”, you are still confronted with all that death, and in Britain the popular phrase “lions led by donkeys” encapsulates the thought of thousands wasted by bad strategic decisions of men taking too little care of their own side. I must not get too- “gung-ho” is the word that came to mind, inappropriately- about this, not everyone would see the war in the way I do; but the parade is not just a sentimental UKIPpy Pride in Britain thing.

William Orpen, a grave in a trenchThough when the parade started, and we heard the military drums, I heard how militarist it can be.

Marion went, and reported there were thousands there, perhaps 5-10% of the town. There were various ministers, and a Hindu priest singing prayers.

Of course it is not one undivided They with one undivided view, but a range of people with different motivations for turning up in brilliant sunshine in chilly November at the war memorial. It is not Quakers, the chosen people of God,  following God’s will while the Benighted swarm outside: I can allow them to believe as they do about God, war, remembrance, reality, without it feeling like a threat to me, and that is part of feeling able to hold my own understanding about these things even if others disagree. This understanding of how it might be to be at peace in the chaotic flow of the world’s opinions is not where I am, and not a perfect view of where I might be. Peace passes understanding. But I move towards it, and that is good. God is big enough for all of us.