Betty Williams

Remarks at Soka University - Jan. 6, 2011

Betty Williams
January 06, 2011— Aliso Viejo, California
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Thank you everybody. It's a wee bit difficult when you're sitting down there and you're saying all this great stuff about you, you know, and you have to get to know the person like Shirin Ebadi and myself so that's what I'm going to try and do today.

But first thing please—would you all stand up? Now give each other a hug. [hugs Ebadi while audience shares hugs] I do that for several reasons, and one of them is I need the hugs. It's very selfish, really. No, the reason I do it is because I deeply believe arms are for hugging, not for killing, and if we hugged each other more we'd kill each other less.

I want to thank particularly at this point Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, who is a hero of mine. I absolutely loved the man. And when you see what he has done in the field of education, we should all love him.

I was asked over lunch yesterday, you know, how did the peace movement begin? Well, because you don't know me very well, I suppose I should give you a synopsis of what happened and then you'll get to know a little bit better why the women of Ireland did what they did.

I was driving home one day from my mother's house. Now, my mother is a devout Catholic and I used to have to go and light a wee candle in St. Mary's church before I went home, and then I'd pick up a few pastries and go on have a cup of tea with my mother.

And that day I had forgotten the light the candle…well, that's not quite true—I just couldn't be bothered, you know—I was tired and I had my daughter in the car and I thought, "Your mommy won't know." But if your mother was like my mother, she knew. You couldn't tell her a lie, you know. She knew to look at you. And so we had a cup of tea and I had my daughter in the car beside me—she was at this stage but for four years and three months old—and I heard the gunshots ring out.

And it was only then I realized how sick I was, because I could distinguish gunfire. Can you imagine being able to distinguish gunfire? I heard the shots of an Armalite rifle, which was used by the IRA, and then I heard the return fire of an SLR—self-loading rifle—which was used by the British Army. So the IRA had opened up on a British Army foot patrol, missing. British Army foot patrol returned fire, killing the driver of the car, a young man called Danny Lennon.

And as I was just turning into the road where I lived off Finaghy Road, this car came careening around the corner. Because I had my daughter with me I kind of moved the car over. And I remember pushing my daughter's head down—"Stay down"—because that's what mothers did, we pushed the children in the car down for safety or we'd get out of the car and run somewhere and hold our children so as they wouldn't get killed.

And I came upon a scene which was carnage beyond belief—three beautiful, stunningly beautiful children wiped out in one senseless act of useless violence.

Now, you don't you don't see my angels, but I never go anywhere without them. Their names are John, JoAnne and Andrew Maguire. And every talk I give, I do it in honor of these three beautiful children.

And I can remember going home but I don't remember much of it really. It was…the whole day was this three hours of my life I've never got back. I don't remember. And a psychiatrist told me it must have been I was in shock but my next memory was I was out in my garage and I was screaming, so I guess that was my way of getting out of shock which was good because it probably would have cost a fortune to get me out of shock any other way, you know.

But after that I had an anger—which I still have, by the way. Every time a child dies in our world from conditions of malnutrition, from slave labor and from war, I get angrier and angrier and angrier. But I'm so blessed because I have great teachers in my life—Dr. Ikeda, his holiness the Dalai Lama—and I've been able to be taught how to transfer anger into something absolutely positive.

The young people of our world have never known what it's like to live in a peaceful world. Our work is to help create a just and peaceful society that people can live in, particularly children.

Why should a child die in war? You know, if my grandbaby could walk through this auditorium and declare war on any of you, then maybe war would make a little bit more sense. But a child's not capable of that. They have no voice. Nobody hears the child's voice when there's screaming wars going on.

And when you take a child's life, you take 95 percent of the mother's life, too. She is never the same. Because Mairead Corrigan's sister, Anne Maguire, never recovered from the loss of her children, and four years later committed suicide. So the pain among the women of Northern Ireland was extraordinarily deep.

But I would go into shops and would hear hear women—they always talked in whispers, you know, like they were afraid that somebody would hear them, perhaps they'd get hurt—and I knew how the woman felt. Well I knew how I felt. I had two young children and I didn't want anybody taking my babies.

So the night the Maguire children died, I went into Provisional IRA territory and I started banging on doors. And I was screaming at the women, "We can't go on like this!" The anger was just [growls] fierce. And I called a rally for the following Saturday, a spot where the children were killed, and one of the women who turned up at that rally—I had a peace petition with me and I had nothing written on it, and I said, "Sign this!" to one woman and she said, "What am I signing?" and I wrote Peace Petition on the top of it. And that lady told me afterwards she was afraid not to sign the peace petition. I must have terrorized her on her doorstep.

Then I got a call from Mairead. Mairead Corrigan—when you meet her, you'll know what an incredible human being she is. And the pain that that family gathered— Mairead had had to try and help the whole family as well as be in the middle of a peace movement. And Mairead called me and said, "Listen. I've heard what you're doing and my family would like you to attend the funeral of the children."

Well, that was one place I didn't want to go. But I did, and we put those little babies into a grave and on their gravestone it says, "They died that others may live." And Mairead and myself from that day forward have been doing this work to glorify and keep that truth—they died that others may live—to keep that flowing.

Well, they told us we would never be able to create peace in Northern Ireland, you know, and to which I went "Pffffffft. Get out of my way." You know, because when people tell you you can't do something, those are people that don't really want to do it, so they will tell you it can't be done. Push them aside. There's nothing in the world that cannot be done if you have stick-to-itiveness and not let anybody tell you that you're wrong.

When you're working for justice, you're working for peace. You can't work for peace unless you work for justice and you can't work for justice unless you work for peace.

So for many years in Northern Ireland, we kept slogging at it, you know. And the press were referring to Mairead and myself as "two ordinary housewives." Have you ever met an ordinary housewife? [turns to others on the stage] Have you ever met an ordinary housewife? Never. I've never met an ordinary anything, to be honest with you, but we sort of categorize people, mark the X and put them on the shelf—she's a housewife, so homekeeper…. What are the greatest jobs in the world that you have as a female of the species? It's looking after the fruit of your womb.

I figure you, know, we whether we call our god Buddha, Mohammed, Allah—it doesn't matter. It's the womb that is the most important thing in the world, because we women are the givers of life. We should become the absolute protectors of that life that we give.

To all the young women in this audience who one day will be mothers, you will understand that you love your husband, you love your brothers—there's no love like what you feel for a child. There's nothing can describe it, the love you will feel for your child.

And as such—the givers of life—our voice around the world must get stronger and stronger and stronger, and one day we will make war obsolete.

Now when I say that, you're all probably [applause] you're all probably looking at me and saying "That woman's nuts. She's really not all there, you know." Guess what—it was that kind of belief at the end of the day which brought peace to my country. It will be that kind of work at the end of the day—the Iranian women will be free because Shirin does that.

And I would ask each and every one of you at this time—how many of you in this room know the name Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma? Well, to the students who have never heard of her, she is a beautiful little Buddhist woman who's holding an illegal ruling military junta at bay. She has such strength of character. I want to be just like Aung San Suu Kyi because I really don't think I would have that kind of character to be locked up for 17 years. And if any of you would go on the computer and write a letter to your congressman, do anything you have to do, to try and help us alleviate the pain of Aung San Suu Kyi.

I'm going to hand the floor over very quickly now to…I'll do a little mantra before I do that, but Shirin Ebadi is actually the founder of the Nobel Women's Initiative. She called Jody Williams and talked about this idea that she had and then Jody called me and I called this one, and we said, "What a fabulous idea." There's only seven living female Peace laureates, six of which…well, I'm not so sure how alive I am, but…six of us at least can walk, talk and be free to an extent. Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu, Wangari Maathai , Mairead Corrigan, Jody Williams—who'd I miss?—oh and me! Sorry about that…anyway.

But this was our little mantra every morning when we got up. I've actually started to chant—do you believe that? But I also do the rosary, because, you know, I want to be on the winning side here. But I love the Blessed Mother so I honor the mother of Jesus by saying my rosary.

But our little mantra was this. We have a simple message for the world from this movement for peace. We want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society. We want for our children as we want for ourselves—our lives at work, at home and at play to be lives of joy and peace. We recognize that to build such a life demands of all of us dedication, hard work and courage. We recognize that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb makes the work of peace more difficult. We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence. We dedicate ourselves to working with our neighbors—near and far—day in and day out to building that peaceful society in which the tragedies our world has known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.

That's the mantra of the community of the peace people. [applause]

And my work now, it's a wee bit larger than Northern Ireland. We are building World Centers of Compassion for Children International, which is an organization I founded in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We put the compassion in there, you know, and we are building the first city of peace in the world for children, in the region Basilicata, Italy. And we reclaimed this land from nuclear waste. Berlusconi was going to dump nuclear waste on this land, and I got down and worked with the women down there, and met one beautiful little woman about yea big—why are there all these tiny women of such powerful, you know—she was about this big and she was what you would know is sort of an Italian widow—they wear black forever after their husband died. She was camped out on the land in a tent. She said, "If they're gonna dump 02:41 nuclear waste, they can dump it on me, because I'm not moving." And when I met her she said, "I fought Hitler. I will fight Berlusconi," to which I said, "Move over in your tent. You and I are staying together tonight." So our city begins. By the end of the year we will have housed 29 refugee families from Africa.

That's why say, when they told me at the beginning, "You'll never do that," that's why I said, "Just please get out of my way, you know. Just stop telling me I can't, because that's negative you're throwing at me." I don't accept negative. I accept positive.

Thank you so much for turning up. [applause]