Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Struggling to come to terms with a hate crime

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year

Gathering in solidarity at a Galway mosque this week

Apart from the wanton destruction, it was the look of despair and anguish on the young boy’s face which left the most lasting impression.

As an adult member of his community brought me on a guided tour of the vandalised mosque, the little boy – no more than nine or ten years old – expressed his bafflement that such vandalism could occur in such a peaceful place.

Why would anyone want to destroy this place where his parents brought him to worship every weekend?

Why is there such hatred for his people in the city he knows and loves?

The Ahmadi Muslim boy with the strong Galway accent was upset and bewildered. As they showed me the broken windows, the flittered books, and the place where the CCTV panel was ripped from the wall, he could not hide his sense of anguish.

The irony, of course, is that many of Galway’s 200 Ahmadi Muslims came to Ireland to seek refuge after being persecuted in other countries.

They are considered non-Muslims, even considered heretics, by many mainstream Muslims and faced persecution or oppression. In May 2010, 84 of them were murdered in the Lahore massacre – the year in which the Maryam Mosque opened in Galway.

Such details were possibly lost on the people who carried out the attack in Ballybrit either late Sunday night or early on Monday morning.

In Galway, the Ahmadis had found a place of refuge. But now their safe place has been attacked twice by vandals in the space of three years.

Adults expressed fear, terror even, when community leaders and politicians from across Galway gathered to express solidarity with them on Monday night.

A discarded Irish flag at the  Galway mosque

The Imam, Ibrahim Noonan, told me he had received an anonymous call three months ago to warn him that a far-right group was planning an attack.

Locks and windows were broken, security camera equipment had been stolen, many of his 2,000 books had been destroyed, family photos were smashed, and an Irish tricolour was thrown outside.
A native of Waterford, Imam Noonan was heartbroken when he saw the scale of the destruction. There was glass all over the place when the alarm was raised on Monday morning.

Nothing seemed to have been stolen, which led members of the community to believe that this was a hate crime. Gardai said that the violent removal of CCTV material from a separate room showed there had been some element of pre-planning.

Politicians from across the political spectrum and community leaders gathered later that night in a show of solidarity in response to the attack.

The gathering at the mosque was organised at short notice to allow people to express their outrage and to show the Ahmadiyya Muslims that the act of vandalism did not reflect the feelings of the local community towards them.

“This act of vandalism was committed by cowards,” said Cllr Alan Cheevers (Fianna Fail). “I can assure you that this does not represent the people of the east side of Galway City. Today was a very upsetting day for me, to see the damage here. I will work tirelessly with the city’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again.”

Gardai launched an investigation into the attack which occurred sometime between 10pm on Sunday and 4am. Rocks were used to break the windows and property was destroyed.

The smashed up CCTV system

“This was a clear, deliberate, and vicious attack being delivered to our community. This gathering tonight is the best possible answer to such people, to show that they don’t speak for the Irish. They don’t speak for anyone in Ireland, for that matter,” said Imam Ibrahim Noonan, whose office was damaged in the attack.

“I think that’s what is important. I have been receiving warnings that the mosque was going to be attacked and that I should be careful about my own movements. I have never allowed such people to intimidate me, because I stand for everything that’s good about Ireland, as an Irishman, and I will not back down to such people.”

Imam Noonan urged Irish people to visit the mosque, have a cup of tea and a chat, and to find out about the belief system of the Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Joe Loughnane, of the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN), recalled that the mosque was also attacked in July 2017, when graffiti was daubed on the walls. Earlier in the day, he had invited people to attend the solidarity gathering to show the Ahmadiyya Muslims that they were not alone.

“When I came here earlier, it was obvious that the people who worship here felt they were alone and under attack. We wanted to prove to them that this wasn’t the case,” said Mr Loughnane.

“People are coming here, drinking cups of tea, and trying to find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. This is a hate crime. In these situations, the community can come to understand that there is solidarity towards them.”

He asked people to call out hate speech when they see it on-line.

In recent months, there has a significant growth in the number of social media accounts which spread hatred and fear of Muslims in Ireland.

A new member of Galway City Council, Owen Hanley, told the congregation that he had canvassed every house on the east side of the city in the run-up to the local elections in May.

“This act doesn’t represent the east side of the city,” he told the gathering. “Galway is a city of openness and love. Sadly, there is a small but growing number of people in this country who are full of hate. But ‘Peace and Love’ are the first things you hear when you visit this mosque.”

Imam Noonan reminded the congregation that ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ is the slogan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. It’s a slogan which attracts a sustained round of applause when his congregation take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Galway every year.

A member of the congregation who converted to Islam last year, Roscommon native Alan Kelly, said it had been a traumatic day for the community when word spread that the mosque had been attacked.

He received a call at work, to tell him about the attack, on Monday morning.

“Everyone was so was shocked. We didn’t know how this kind of thing could occur in such a peaceful country. I am Irish and I grew up in this country. We need to join together. Everyone should be united, to create a better life. I don’t see why people have to judge other people or criticise their religion.

“The support we have received today from across Ireland has been amazing, but it is sad to think that there are people out there who want to cause destruction and spread fear without knowing anything about us. I don’t know why anyone would do this to us. There is no reason for any of this.”

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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.

Friday, July 19, 2019

How do you like your racism?

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018

Gemma O'Doherty used YouTube to stoke fears about mass immigration

So . . . how do you like your racism?

Do you think it’s all a bit of a laugh when the grandson of a German immigrant and son of a Scottish immigrant tells political opponents who happen to be women of colour that they should “go back” to the countries they “originally came from”?

Even though the man who said this, the President of the United States, happens to be the most powerful person in the world? Or that three of the four women President Trump referred to were actually born in the USA?

Do you think it’s funny or strangely weird that the people of the United States voted for such a buffoon? Or that his language of division and hate has no consequences for people living on this side of the Atlantic Ocean?

Do you fool yourself into thinking that the kind of hate speech emboldened by Trump’s election victory and the Brexit vote in the UK could never take on here?

Or are we living in denial of the hate speech, the fear, the division and demonisation of minorities which has sprung up in Ireland in recent years?

Recently, for example, a lot of people enjoyed a bit of a chuckle when a former British soldier who describes himself as an Irish “patriot” had a milkshake chucked at him while filming a live stream in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim.

Rowan Croft, who goes by the name Grand Torino, is one of a number of far-right activists who regularly use YouTube to broadcast their thoughts on migrants and asylum-seekers and how “mass immigration” is allegedly destroying the social fabric of Ireland.

Many people laughed at the sight of the former British Army soldier, referred to by some as 'Tan Torino', getting doused in milkshake, but what they may not have picked up on was the kind of thing he was saying during his online broadcast.

“Many of the people down in Rosslare said they said they weren’t having it, they were going to burn the hotel down. Pretty much like what had happened back in the day and I’ve no problem saying that,” he said.

Given that three buildings designated as Direct Provision centres have been subjected to arson attacks in recent months, this could be seen as justification for hate crimes.  Direct Provision centres are mostly places, such as disused or run down-hotels, where asylum-seekers can be detained for up to eight years without any right to work or cook for themselves.

The moment a far-right YouTuber got "milkshaked" last week

If you wandered down to Google’s European HQ in Dublin today, you would see a small group of people protesting outside. These are supporters of a former national newspaper journalist who is outraged that her YouTube channel has been shut down permanently due to violations of the tech giant's policies relating to hate speech.

Gemma O’Doherty and her small band of followers have staged protests outside the European headquarters every day this week in a bid to restore her main channel, which has more than 26,000 followers.

Google, which owns YouTube, confirmed  on Tuesday night that her account has been removed for what were described as repeat breaches of its regulations.

Ms O’Doherty staged unsuccessful campaigns to run for the Irish Presidency in October of last year and the European Parliament in May of this year, when she managed to secure just 1.8 per cent of the first preference votes in Dublin.

But her increasing use of social media platforms to criticise ethnic minorities and migrants, as well as controversial views about vaccinations, has prompted growing concerns about the growth of the far-right here in Ireland. Let’s not ridicule those who vote for Trump while ignoring those who spread hatred and division at home.

Ms O’Doherty generated national headlines when she was fired by the Irish Independent, the country’s biggest-selling newspaper, in August 2013 after reporting on widespread wiping of penalty points by the Irish police force or Gardai.

As part of her investigative work, she had called to the home of the former Irish police commissioner, Martin Callinan, to challenge him about the deletion of penalty points from his own record.

She was forced to take redundancy by the newspaper after being referred to as a “rogue reporter” by then editor-in-chief, Stephen Rae. In December 2014, she won an apology and damages from the newspaper.

Many people felt sorry for her and admired her for speaking out against corruption at the time.

What you see if you try to access O'Doherty's YouTube channel today

Few of those who backed her bid to run for the Presidency of Ireland last year had any idea at the time that she harboured views which could be described as “far right” or extremist. She set up a new political party called Anti-Corruption Ireland (ACI) which, so far, has failed to attract any significant support from Irish voters.

But those who monitor far-right activity in Ireland have been alarmed by the kind of language used on her YouTube channel, in which she regularly interviews other activists, including Croft, with extreme anti-immigrant views and stokes up fears.

Indeed, the growth in the popularity of extreme right-wing social media in Ireland over the past year or so is almost an exact replica of the “culture wars” in the United States in the lead-up to the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016.

Right-wingers interview each other again and again, and constantly blame immigrants or minorities for society’s woes.

“We have to reclaim our Irishness,” O’Doherty told viewers earlier this year. “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.”

Earlier this week, one of Gemma O'Doherty's videos was removed by YouTube after she criticised ethnic minorities in Ireland and her account was suspended for seven days.

She tried to get around this ban by posting new videos under a second account bearing her name, which is a clear violation of YouTube’s rules for users of the video-sharing site.

On Tuesday evening, a Google spokesperson told The Irish Times that it was the policy of the tech giant to terminate the accounts of those who violated policies against hate speech.

Since late last year, O’Doherty has regularly used her YouTube channel to warn viewers that Irish people are set to become a minority in their own country.

Earlier this month, she told her followers that “some African guys” had “some sort of a scheme” which involved getting Irish women pregnant, presumably so that they could stay in the country.

“What sort of fools are these women? What sort of fools? Are they sluts? Are they whores?” she asked her YouTube followers. “They don’t even bloody deserve Irish citizenship, getting involved in dangerous situations like this. It says everything you need to know about the degeneracy of this country at the moment.”

Previous YouTube streams have seen her claim that the country was being “inundated” with migrants who were putting pressure on the health care system and the provision of housing in Ireland.

She still has a Twitter account and a Facebook page, although she does not like to be challenged about her views and tends not to comment when contacted by other journalists.

She was widely condemned after using social media to describe the horrific massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a “false flag” or fake – even though 51 people lost their lives in the massacre.

A few weeks ago, she posted a photo of children from a school in the midlands town of Longford. The photo contained a number of black children and she claimed it demonstrated evidence that Irish people were set to become an “ethnic minority” in Ireland.

Hate speech against migrants and minorities has become a regular feature of online debate in Ireland, to such an extent that a man felt it was acceptable to go onto Facebook recently and call on people to  petrol bomb a house with migrants boarded up inside.

O’Doherty's is not the only Irish YouTube channel on which far-right activists rant about global conspiracies, how their land is being “swamped” by migrants and refugees, boast about Islamophobia, or blame minorities for all of the island’s social problems.

Instead of laughing at the idiocy of Trump and his supporters, it’s time for us all to wake up. Adolf Hitler used to be ridiculed as an ignorant buffoon in the 1930s.

O’Doherty may not be able to spread her disturbing views on YouTube anymore, but the far-right are now sharing views on social media platforms which would have been unthinkable in Ireland just five or ten years ago.

Related post: Is it time to legislate against hate crimes? (March 2019)

--  * 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.

** Please note that Ciaran Tierney is available to write business blogs or opinion pieces about Irish politics and society.