Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dear Daily Telegraph ...

Dear Daily Telegraph,

I wish to apologise. Over the past few days, I’ve been guilty of some sinful thoughts. I have actually taken some pride in honouring the people who lost their lives in the fight for my country’s freedom.

I know, I know … I should be ashamed of myself. They were “terrorists”, the equivalent of Islamic State today if I was to believe what I read in your newspaper.

Those cowardly men and women stabbed the British Empire in the back at the height of the Great War, they were traitors one and all at a time when Irish people should have known that their real “enemies” were over in Germany, Austria, and Turkey.

Dublin, of course, was a “British” city, part of the greatest empire in the history of the world. It was an empire which civilised the “savages” from Egypt to India, Kenya to Pakistan, for so many years.

It was all the rebels’ fault. England was eventually going to treat Irish people with a modicum of respect. It was just a matter of time before you’d begin to treat us as equals and grant us our independence.

I know, I know. The 1916 leaders’ parents and grandparents had seen thousands of their countrymen and women perish in the Great Famine just 70 years before, but it wasn’t Britain’s fault. There was no famine. Food was still being shipped to Britain as the Irish lay dying on the roadsides.

We have a homelessness crisis today, so we haven’t done a great job at ruling ourselves, although there was a bit more of a homelessness crisis in the 1840s, when starving people still had to pay rent to absentee landlords in Britain.

But let’s not talk about that, or the cartoons in British magazines at the time which depicted the starving Irish peasants as a sub-human species.

You didn’t give Catholics a vote for many years, hell you didn’t even allow them to own any land. But, of course, it was just a matter of time . . .

The “terrorists” in the GPO were murderers and you did wonders for the law and order problem by bringing in the Black ‘n’ Tans in response to their terrible uprising. Do English people even know the atrocities that raggle-taggle band of brothers carried out across my land?

I guess the Black ‘n’ Tans don’t feature too prominently on your schools’ curriculum these days. Might make for uncomfortable reading.

By executing the 1916 leaders, the British Empire was only sending out a message. It was wrong, so wrong, to take over the centre of Dublin when Britain was at war and Home Rule was on the way. Eventually. Maybe not for ten years or 20 years or 50 years, but it was on the way. Eventually.

Ireland was part of a parliamentary democracy and we all know that the MPs who sat in Westminster had the best interests of the Irish at heart.

Your columnists believe that the 1916 rebels were their era’s equivalent of Islamic State, and who am I to disagree?

Can’t imagine why my grandfather despised the British Empire after armed soldiers shot up his house in rural East Galway. You can still see the bullet holes today.

Can't imagine why his neighbour hated anything to do with Britain, after being hunted down for five years while he managed to survive "on the run" in haysheds across the West of Ireland.

Can’t imagine why the people of Ardrahan were anti-British after the Black ‘n’ Tans shot an unarmed woman dead at the door of her house as she held a baby in her arms.     
The executed 1916 rebels, by Jim Fitzpatrick

Can’t imagine why the starving Irish who took the ‘Coffin Ships’ to America – and were damn lucky to survive the voyage – might have decided to send funds back to support the “rebels”.

It has taken Ireland a hundred years to come to its senses, you claim, notwithstanding the fact that millions of people of Irish descent are scattered throughout North America because of racist British policies towards my people in the 19th century.

You condemn “our” terrorists for the “collateral damage” caused by the rebels in 1916, yet I never see you question how many innocent lives were lost when Tony Blair decided to join George W. Bush in his ill-fated Afghan and Iraqi wars as recently as a decade ago.

It’s still ok, it seems, for the former empire’s forces to bomb innocent civilians thousands of miles from home in the 21st century, but not for Irish rebels to take over Irish cities and towns in order to proclaim a republic, where men, women, and children might have equal rights.

When your country kept playing the Irish along, promising but never delivering home rule, you played into the hands of the “terrorists”. Irish people instinctively knew they would never achieve freedom without spilling blood.

When your empire’s forces executed the 1916 leaders, you lost all moral authority over the Irish. People would not have voted Sinn Fein 'en masse' in the following General Election if they did not have genuine grievances over the way the country had been governed by colonisers for centuries.

It’s no fun being treated as a second class citizen in your own land – ask the people of Palestine, another country you meddled with for so long. They are still feeling the pain caused by British meddling in other people's affairs to this day.

When you continued to rule part of the island of Ireland, you played into the terrorists’ hands again in 1972, when your wonderful forces shot 14 innocent people in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

They were guilty, too. Guilty of demanding equal rights in a sectarian state, in a city where a single Protestant had a better chance of getting a Council house than a large Catholic family.

You could not have come up with a better recruitment policy for the IRA than slaughtering innocent people on that horrible January day on the Bogside. In one afternoon, you managed to turn a whole generation of young men in a run-down part of the city into "terrorists". Well done.

So spare us your observations about what a backward, priest-ridden society Ireland became after the Empire left these 26 counties.

But, in case you haven’t noticed, we have moved on. Irish people voted overwhelmingly for peace in 1998 and nobody wants to steamroll a million Unionists into a United Ireland. Not against their will, anyways.

We have a President we can be proud of, rather than a “Royal” family – what a quaint and simply absurd concept in the year 2016.

We have an army we can be proud of, who represented us on peace-keeping missions all over the world, from the Congo to the Lebanon.

We have music, games, and a culture we can be proud of, instead of going cap in hand to our bigger neighbours who treated us with disdain – and even racism – for so long.

We still have our ancient language, despite your best efforts to kill it off and to ridicule the peasants who spoke it for centuries.

We didn’t like being subservient to a Government which discriminated against us and we get on much better with the British now, don’t you think, that you treat us as equals.

So, instead of focusing on the shortcomings of our revolutionary “heroes” on this side of the Irish Sea, maybe it’s time to take an uncomfortable look at your own nation’s legacy down through the centuries all across the globe.

Your Empire didn’t “civilise” the Irish, or the Indians, or the Egyptians, or Palestinians, or Malaysians . . . you raped their countries’ resources for as much as you could get and it wasn’t the natives’ fault that you left chaos in your wake, when your beloved Empire began to crumble.

But I guess you don’t teach the lessons of your own troubled history to your children. It might be just a tad too painful to examine how much pain you yourselves have caused for so many years.


* Thanks to legendary Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick for the superb illustration of the 1916 leaders

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Imagine ... there is no war

Today I read a post on Facebook by a Galway man who said he “did not feel safe near any Muslim” following the appalling terrorist attacks in Brussels.

“Can anyone blame me?” he asked, mulling over the fact that the person beside him in an airport, cinema, or train station could be just about to detonate a bomb.

When taken to task by anti-racism activists, concerned that he has a prominent position at a Galway sports club, the man refused to withdraw his words.

Imagine, just imagine, how disgusted people would be if a British person made such a sweeping generalisation about all Irish people during the height of the IRA bombing campaigns in the 1970s or 1980s.

Imagine how awful it would sound if someone made a comment about how unsafe they’d feel beside Jewish people. We saw how the demonization of that particular religion led to the insane killings of six million people in Europe in the 1940s. Well, never again.

There are 1.7 billion Muslims all across the globe, yet now some people in the US or Europe are prepared to demonise them all.

US Presidential candidate Donald Trump would prefer to turn all 1.7 billion of them away at the border, while ordinary people in Galway now say they don't feel comfortable standing beside them at the cinema or the bus queue.

Racism is unacceptable, so is ignorance. Views like that, based on nothing but racism and fear, lead to the kind of mentality which allows people like Donald Trump to demonise minorities.

There is no war between Muslims and non-Muslims.

How can we hate all Muslims? I spent three weeks on a Muslim island in January and the only thing that made me fearful was how crazy some of them were on the roads.

A few extremist yobs use the name of Islam to destroy innocent lives, just as the US military bastardises the word “freedom” when it bombs the hell out of innocent people in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

What happened in Brussels yesterday is appalling and, yes, we should mourn the dead. 

But some lives are more important than others and we can be so selective in our grief. 
What kind of message does it send out when we mourn the loss of innocent lives in Paris or Brussels, but ignore those lost in Yemen or Syria?

George Orwell was right. Some animals are more equal than others. The media make that very clear in the wake of each and every atrocity. Some get wall-to-wall coverage, some are conveniently ignored. Sky News spend a full week reporting on a tragedy in Brussels, but hardly bother to mention the loss of innocent lives in Beirut.

We will have images from Brussels on our TV screens for the next week, before the networks move on to the next 'big story'. But we never, ever see the pain on the faces of ordinary children in Syria or Iraq. We hardly ever get to hear their stories, in contrast to the saturation coverage from the streets of Brussels, including interviews with neighbours where the Islamist terrorists lived.

We should mourn the loss of all innocent lives. 

How ISIS attacks are reported in the news
Most people, whether they are white Europeans or Iraqi Muslims, just want to bring up their children in peace and get on with their lives.
We should ask what motivates young men to blow people up in train stations or airports.

Just as we should ask why innocent people thousands of kilometres away are slaughtered in the name of freedom – and why we never see their anguished faces on our TV screens.

Often the truth is too uncomfortable to face. The young men who commit these atrocities in Europe grow up in our cities, attend our schools, and yet seem so alienated from the Western world. 

Most of them are not, as the Daily Mail might suggest, refugees from the war-torn Middle East who sneaked into Europe along with thousands of migrants, hell bent on destruction.

It's scary that these young Muslim men, after growing up in Europe, can be brainwashed into thinking that they will be whisked to Paradise if they blow up 20 innocent people in a busy airport or train station.

It's equally scary to think that they've seen through the hypocrisy of it all, that spilling blood in some cities generates far more publicity than the loss of life in other parts of the world. Because, most of the media tell us, that's just the way it is.