Thursday, March 21, 2019

Is it time to legislate against hate crimes?

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A protest against racism in Galway in 2017

"She needs to be taken under control and dealt with once and for all.”

Against my better judgement, but with a morbid curiosity, last night I sat down to watch a live YouTube video from a former newspaper journalist who now sees herself as one of the leading lights of an “anti-corruption” movement in Ireland.

And, just over 11 minutes in, I heard her make this sinister-sounding threat against a Cork woman called Fiona O’Leary, who I have never met, but who I have known to be a campaigner on behalf of people with autism.

Fiona is a mother of five, including two autistic children.

Earlier yesterday, supporters of Gemma O’Doherty began sharing photos of her family home in rural Co Cork on social media.

During the YouTube live video, they also posted threatening messages against Fiona, the majority of them hiding behind anonymous accounts.

“A Syrian family needs that big house Fiona,” wrote one follower, who did not have the courage to go by his or her real name. “You and the assburgers (sic) will have to live in tents like the Irish people you racist!”

A little girl in Syria, which has endured more than eight years of war

How could anyone not be alarmed by such language?

How could any parents sleep well at night, knowing that they and their children have been targeted in such a manner?

Gemma, in case you have never heard of her, once wanted to be President of Ireland. She went all around Ireland late last year, trying to persuade members of various local authorities to nominate her.

She didn’t succeed in getting nominated and it’s doubtful that the few who championed her cause knew the full range of her political views.

But they should know about them now.

Fiona was singled out for abuse because she dared to contact her local hotel in Bantry to express concern that O’Doherty’s new political party, Anti Corruption Ireland (ACI), was planning to hold a meeting there. She wondered were they comfortable with far-right, anti-immigrant, and especially anti-Muslim views.

Fiona was definitely not the only one to do so, but she had the temerity to put up a short video on YouTube to announce that she had contacted the Maritime Hotel.

She recorded a short video to condemn racism and the “anti-vaccine” movement, before right-wing extremists posted photos of her home on social media.

She has long campaigned for the rights of children with autism, and against those who advocate for the use of a substance called MMS as a cure for autism.

And so she was seen as fair game for attacks on social media.

If you speak out against racism, you are now a target for the new “alt-right” in Ireland.

A version of this sign drew huge applause at the St Patrick's Day parade in Galway

Last weekend, the Sunday Business Post reported on an ACI meeting in Ashbourne, Co Meath, where about 180 people were given dire warnings about the growing Islamification of Ireland.

“There is a large Muslim community here now who the Government is bending over backwards to facilitate,” Ms O’Doherty told a meeting at the Pillo Hotel.

In her world view, immigration poses an existential threat to the Irish nation, so much so that she told the meeting that the Irish would become an ethnic minority in our own country by 2040.

Those of us who were shocked by the election of President Donald Trump in the USA in 2016 used to console ourselves that such things would never occur here.

People voted for him even after he claimed that Mexico was deliberately sending murderers and rapists to the United States.

They voted for him even after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the US, even though there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and the extremists of ISIS and Al-Quaeda only represent the views of a tiny minority.

Fascists on the streets of Charlottesville in the USA

My 20-year love of scuba-diving has brought me to places like Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, and Jordan. I have met so many Muslims who have shown me wonderful hospitality – the reality of their lives in places like Dahab and Hurghada, Egypt, and Koh Lanta, Thailand, seems so far removed from the terrible images portrayed on social media.

In Dahab, kind Bedouins used to invite me and my friends into their homes. In Koh Lanta, a Muslim island, I was one of the guests of honour at a Muslim wedding. Hatred tends to evaporate when you travel the world and actually get to know people.

We should no longer fool ourselves that fascism, hate speech and xenophobia have no place in Ireland; a country which should have a greater understanding than any place on earth of the desire of people to move overseas, escape oppression, and improve their lives.

Where would the Irish have been without the ‘coffin ships’ to North America when hundreds of thousands were dying of starvation under the British Empire in the 1840s?

How quick we can be to forget our own history, how keen some of us can be to dehumanise or demonise.

On Saturday, just hours after the terrible terrorist attack in New Zealand, O’Doherty made it clear that she was not grieving too much for 50 lost Muslim lives.

“New Zealand has all the hallmarks of a classic false flag operation to incite fresh IS attacks, create chaos and fear, allow the globalists to take more control over people and remove freedoms a la 9/11,” tweeted O’Doherty last weekend.

“A professional job. The public are no longer fooled.”

No time to pause or to think of the terrible waste of human life, carried out by a so-called white supremacist – a terrorist – motivated by nothing more than blind hatred of people he knew nothing about, many of whom had escaped war zones or poverty to build better lives.

By all means, let’s have a meaningful debate about immigration or Ireland’s place in a European Union in which the bureaucrats in Brussels seem to be very detached from ordinary Irish people.

Let’s debate PESCO and whether our ‘neutral’ nation is about to be led into a European Army.

Let’s have a debate about the Direct Provision system and whether old, converted hotels in rural Irish towns are appropriate places to detain asylum-seekers, with no right to cook or privacy, for months or years on end.

But how can anyone engage with people who call for refugees, who may have escaped from a terrible conflict in Syria, to be burned alive inside their homes as one “brave” online troll posted just two weeks ago?

That’s not a debate, that’s hate speech.

Can't imagine why people have begun to hate Muslims ... ?

Once you start to demonise minorities, or target the homes of vulnerable people who happen not to agree with you, you are descending into a terrible world of anonymous online cowards, intolerance, and hate crimes.

We now live in a country in which the same few people interview each other online every night about the Islamification of Ireland and how immigrants are posing a threat to some idealised “ethnically pure” land which probably never existed in the first place.

The comments some of them attract to their live streams belong in a sewer.

By all means, question those in authority and debate the homelessness and health care crises which have fuelled so much anger across the land.

But some of these people cannot raise any issue without punching down, attacking the easiest, most visible, and most vulnerable targets and blaming them for all our woes.

It's far easier to blame the black family down the road for the housing crisis than the landlord who owns 50 properties and keeps putting up the rent while forcing ordinary Irish people out of their homes.

BlindBoy from the Rubberbandits once described the comments section of a prominent Irish news website as a "sewer". Many of those who follow these ‘alt right’ groups are guilty of appalling online abuse which should never be given a platform.

And nobody should have to tolerate that kind of abuse from anonymous, cowardly trolls.

If the tech companies won’t regulate themselves, isn’t it time the Irish Government legislated against hate crimes?

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--  * Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world. 

People in Galway mourning the death of an American woman
who was murdered by a white supremacist two years ago.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Hate speech on the rise in 'Land of a Thousand Welcomes'

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

A protest agianst the Direct Provision system in Ireland

by Ciaran Tierney 

"Board up those houses with the c***s in it and petrol bomb the s*** out of it".

Somewhere in Ireland this week, a man called Anthony sat down in front of his computer or mobile device and decided to write the above comment in response to a “news” story on a Facebook page.

The story, written to provoke and elicit shocking views, had appeared on an Irish site which has a history of stoking up racial hatred, stealing news stories from legitimate outlets, running fake competitions, and attacking minorities while at the same time championing “free speech”.

The comment was one of many calling for violence or arson in response to a loaded headline which intended to provoke a response from racists.

The headline claimed that there was “uproar” in one part of Ireland because “migrants” were due to receive “beautiful houses” . . . presumably, or the implication being, at the expense of native Irish people.

At a time of an unprecedented homelessness crisis, with almost 10,000 people not having a place of their own to sleep in at night, you no longer have to look far to find people online who are only too willing to blame migrants, refugees, or asylum-seekers for all of society’s ills.

It’s so easy to blame the “soft” targets, the people at the bottom of our society, for so many of our woes when those who have caused such appalling inequality (the bankers, landlords, developers and politicians) are far less visible or transparent than those who have been branded as “rapefugees”.

Certain sites attract comments which call for migrants
to be burnt out of their homes. 

The truth does not really matter to these people when there are foreigners to be hated, Muslims to be demonised, and bogus asylum-seekers to be sent home, because the commentators claim we have to look after “our own”.

Funny, too, that those who are clamoring to deport asylum-seekers never seem to put as much energy into actually helping out the native Irish people who are forced to sleep out on the streets of our cities at night.

Two and a half years ago, many Irish people were shocked by the election of President Donald Trump in the United States.

We watched with horror the casual racism, sexism, and Islamophobia which surfaced throughout his campaign, and swore such things could never happen in Ireland.

We watched how gullible, ignorant people devoured “fake news” and blamed Syrians, Iraqis, or Central Americans for the injustice, inequality, and neglect which came from years of neoliberalism in the US.

We understood their anger, perhaps, but felt they were blaming the wrong targets and rallying around the wrong man. 

A protest against US President Donald Trump in Galway

This is Ireland, we said. A place with a long and painful history of migration, a troubled history of conflict, and a knowledge of what it means to be demonised or treated as a second class citizen in your own land.

We were the “land of a thousand welcomes”, a people with cousins and friends scattered all across the globe from Birmingham to Boston and Sydney to Seattle. For hundreds of years, we have known what it’s like to migrate in order to flee persecution or seek out better lives.

We were once the nation of migrants.

And we know what it’s like to be discriminated against or told we are not welcome at the end of an arduous journey. 

Surely, the Irish, of all people, could not hate immigrants or migrants or poor people in search of better lives.

Surely, if people fleeing persecution were placed in a disused hotel, we would welcome them with open arms or at least recognise that they needed to be treated with dignity while they wait for their cases to be processed.

Do we really think people want to flee their friends, families, and communities in order to live in a run-down hotel in rural Ireland on €38.80 per week?

Do we really think they enjoy spending up to eight years in a sort of limbo – waiting to see if Ireland will accept them but fearful, at the same time, of being sent home?

The Irish were the impoverished migrants of the 19th century

Two years ago, I interviewed a woman from Nigeria who was living in Direct Provision. She left me waiting in a Galway pub for two hours and did not answer my texts or calls. I became extremely angry, as this had never happened to me in almost three decades of working as a journalist.

That night, her tearful daughter rang me from the Direct Provision centre. They had no credit on their phone and her mother had been called away at short notice.

When she told me her story the following day, about being kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and having to flee her village, all of my anger evaporated. I realised people like me did not have a clue what life was like for a woman in Direct Provision.

And yet we judge.

Two years ago, I read a book about the ‘Alt-right’ in the United States and the role far-right extremists had played in the election of President Trump.

And I swore that kind of thing could never happen in the Emerald Isle.
Well, it’s 2019 now, and it has.

Hate speech against migrants and minorities keeps popping up online, to such an extent that a man feels it’s acceptable to go onto Facebook and call on people to  petrol bomb a house with migrants boarded up inside.

We had a presidential candidate last year who received a huge boost in support when he, cynically and deliberately, decided to target Travellers midway through the campaign.

Peter Casey is no Donald Trump, but he and others saw how effectively criticising an ethnic minority led to a surge in support.

An anti-racism protest in Galway last year

We now have some far-right YouTube channels in which the same presenters interview each other, again and again, about global conspiracies and how our land is being “swamped” by migrants and refugees.

We have hosts who brag about Islamophobia, with little concept of the fact that most of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims want nothing more than peace and prosperity for their families – just like the rest of us.

We have a former newspaper journalist, who says she’s leading a campaign against corruption, attacking multiculturalism.

“We have to reclaim our Irishness,” she told her YouTube channel recently. “If that’s racist, great. Bring it on. But we are going to make Ireland Irish again and I’m sorry if I sound like Donald Trump.”

Those who speak out against racism, those who claim refugees should be treated with respect in Ireland, often face torrents of abuse from online trolls who hide behind anonymous accounts.

And all the time the online debate descends further and further into the mire, so much so that an Irishman now thinks it’s fully acceptable to call for migrants to be locked up and burnt alive inside their “beautiful” new homes. 


Shock as Italian fascists plan meeting in Galway pub: 
my report for Irish Central in December

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportuniities in a digital world.