Monthly Archives: July 2014

A life-long Genocide – the Nakba

I was a Nakba child. Born just 11 days before the official start of the great catastrophe that was imposed on the Palestinian people in May 1948, I have been aware from very early in my life of that foul genocide. For all of my life that genocide has continued.

My father Pearse, son of a 1916 revolutionary father and an equally revolutionary mother, always championed the rights of oppressed people throughout the world. No wonder, since James Connolly and Liam Mellows were the significant figures from our revolutionary period that my father held dear. Their parallel political philosophies informed his thinking, and in turn his children absorbed those ideas.

All of us were made aware of the great crimes committed by colonialists against the Native Americans – north and south, the people of Africa, India, Australia – and the Middle East. We were aware of the plight of the descendants of slaves in the US – still effectively slaves, still oppressed, exploited, abused in the 1950s and beyond. We were aware of the intolerable oppression visited by white settlers on the people of Rhodesia and particularly South Africa.

Pearse was a civil rights and human rights activist long before it became fashionable to be so. He rowed against the tide.

We were made aware of the similar experience in all of these colonies to our historical experience in Ireland at hands of the English – the greatest offenders in the past four centuries in worldwide colonisation, exploitation and atrocities against indigenous peoples. As a much older man, I now see the US take up that mantle.

But Palestine figured large in my father’s life. He understood what the Balfour Declaration – issued one year before his birth – had brought about for the people of Palestine. Understanding full well the divisions – largely on religious lines – that had been created in his own country by ‘Plantation’ and ‘Settlement’ policy, divisions that last to this day, he knew what that foul declaration was intended to do to the Palestinian people. And so it came to pass.

My father was an Irish republican, holding dear those Enlightenment values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, embodied in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic together with the explicit anti-sectarianism expressed in that document. He had equal respect for all, regardless of religious persuasion or none. That included Jews, of course.

No surprise that our optician, chosen by my parents, was Michael Stein of Harcourt Road, a Jewish man rated highly as a man, and optician, and friend, by both of them. There were two Jewish families on our road of fifty houses. No surprise that my younger brothers went on Saturdays – the Sabbath – to do those tasks forbidden to Jews on that day, and did it willingly, without question. No surprise, really, that my father raged at the outspoken anti-Jewish sentiment of a Nazi-sympathising Irish politician, Oliver J Flanagan, father of the current Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan – himself now a supporter of Zionist Israel.

No surprise, since my father’s aunt, sister of his revolutionary father, had married a Jewish man.

We, Pearse’s children, knew early on the difference between a Jew and a Zionist – one a religious belief system and the other a political ideology not confined to Jews. One he respected and cherished, the other he despised, not least for the damage it would do to Jews as well as Palestinians. He understood the great crimes visited on the Jews by the Nazis and others. But he also understood the great crime visited on the Palestinians decades before a Holocaust that they had no hand, act or part in creating or executing.

A few days before his death, I sat at my father’s bedside. He said that he was worried that anything he said about Israel or Zionism was unfair or unjust to Jews. I was able to reassure him, in full truth, that that was not the case.

That 27 years after his death that great crime of genocide against the Palestinian people continues unabated, and intensified, would shock him. He would be sickened by the slaughter of innocents in Gaza, by the deliberate targeting of homes, schools, even hospitals by crazed and psychotic and even psychopathic individuals who claim to represent the Jewish people, as if that was not, demonstrably, a great lie.

He would be even more sickened to know that in Ireland we have a government and a media to willingly, and with conviction, mouth Goebellsian propaganda to justify and prolong genocide. That is the polar opposite of James Connolly’s great wish that the Irish Republic would act as a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. How far we have fallen.

We must confess our failure. We must rebuild ourselves as an ethical people. We must put into place in a constitution that is fit for purpose binding provisions to protect oppressed people, wherever they are, and to work actively to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The immediate, pressing issue – the one that has lasted for all of my 66 years – is Palestine.

Rage. Rage against inhumanity. Rage against oppression. Rage against the slaughter of innocents. Rage against genocide. Rage against the perpetrators. Rage against the collaborators.

And channel that rage into ending this obscenity.

Free Palestine, without delay! Free Gaza, now!




Commemoration as manipulation

Imagine the United States suspending Independence Day ceremonies for 36 years, or the French doing likewise with Bastille Day ceremonies. Imagine if the British government announced that, even for one year, there would be no Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph on November 11th. There would be national uproar in any of these countries. Yet, here in Ireland, just such a suspension occurred. There was no state ceremony to mark the 1916 Rising on what was then seen as the National Day of Commemoration, at the GPO on Easter Sunday, between 1971 and 2006 when it was reinstated.

By that time the idea of national commemoration had had its emphasis shifted away from remembering and commemorating the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on April 24th 1916 and the week-long revolution that followed which fueled a partially successful War of Independence. In 1986 a new National Day of Commemoration was inaugurated, but this time it would mark all those Irish who gave their lives in war.

But the questions of ‘what war?’, and ‘in the service of what interests?’, and ‘at what cost to others, including civilians?’ do not, it seems, arise.

Should we simultaneously and equally commemorate the 86 members of the Irish Defence Forces who died on peace-keeping missions along with Irish men who signed up to Uncle Sam and went to visit horrible war on the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with whom we Irish have no argument and no basis for conflict? Should the Irish state put the deceased Irish peace-keepers on a par with Irish men who were part of the British military machine as it exterminated those people that it could not subdue in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia?

No doubt many Irish men have served honourably in wars that were themselves dishonourable. Of the two World Wars of the 20th century the first falls into that category – a war that was about national-imperialist supremacy and resources including colonies. Lured by the ‘Defence of Small Nations’ propaganda many Irish men signed up to do just that. Many others were compelled to sign up for economic reasons in the aftermath of the 1913 Lockout. Were the first group more honourable than the second group?

While the second of those World Wars was, on the face of it, a war to end German fascism – an honourable reason to fight, it was also about national-imperialist supremacy and resources including colonies. It was also about establishing supremacy in the ideological arena between capitalism and socialism, particularly the Soviet brand. Men who had fought, honourably, on the socialist side against fascism in Spain, and who were vilified for that, went on to fight German and Italian fascism, and were praised for that. But not praised at home.

And fascism, despite their courage and sacrifice, is alive and well and thriving today in Europe, and lauded by the US and EU when it is employed in the Ukraine to destablise Russia, and it seems that we are willing partners in that, even if we, the people, weren’t asked if that suited us.

Neither were we asked if it was OK to send members of the Irish Defence Forces to Afghanistan as part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in the war on the Afghani people, with whom we Irish have no argument or cause for conflict. If a member of that Irish contingent was killed in Afghanistan, would it be right to commemorate that person – part of a war on another people – on a par with any of the 86 deceased members of the Irish peace-keeping forces? Article 29 of the Constitution, flawed though it is, places us in the role of peace-keeper, not belligerent.

Commemorating all the Irish who fell in war, even particularly atrocious war, is a ridiculous concept. It is a fudge designed to get us out of the corner of remembering those who fought willingly or through coersion in the first and second of those two World Wars, and of remembering those who fought on either side in the Civil War, which we don’t want to talk about in any event.

Those within the state apparatus who came up with that bright idea have no problem coalescing with the British establishment, a prime architect of global imperialist slaughter over the past two centuries, to run what purports to be our National Commemoration. But they do have a serious problem with commemorating 1916 and the foundational narrative of independent Ireland.

The pomp and ceremony for the Irish who fell in (any) war far exceeds the show put on for members of the political class at the GPO on Easter Sunday from which the public are excluded, barricaded and black-screened away lest they disturb their ‘betters’.

One of the state institutions, RTÉ, plays its part in the elevation of the National Day of Commemoration over the insipid and essentially private 1916 Commemoration at the GPO. Coverage of the 1916 ceremony is usually relegated to the bottom of the schedule on the RTÉ news programmes on the day, whereas RTÉ provides a stand-alone programme of in excess of one hour covering the commemoration of any Irish man who fell in any war. RTÉ is at its core, demonstrably, a relentless propaganda tool for the Irish political class.

Tight control of meaning and of collective memory is hardly surprising in a state that not only fails to defend the integrity of one of the last physical remnants of the 1916 revolution – the GPO Battlefield Site including the National Monument in Moore Street – but seems intent on its virtual destruction to facilitate a bankrupt ‘developer’. Preserve the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, put it centre stage in National Commemoration while destroying the fabric, the memory, and therefore the meaning of 1916. Both historic buildings and sites should be treasured, each with their own story.

Commemoration is always political. The absence of a state commemoration of 1916 at the GPO between 1971 and 2006 was political. The introduction in 1986 of a new and very differently focussed National Day of Commemoration was political. The decision to reintroduce the GPO ceremonies in 2006 was political, as was the later decision to turn it into an event from which the public were excluded.

The wheeze that is the Decade of Commemoration, initiated in 2012, fits perfectly into the same mould. Determined to undermine the power of our story of revolution and liberation struggle – and particularly of the Proclamation and its true meaning, the political class was handed a device designed to submerge the centenary of the 1916 Revolution under a sea of centenaries of secondary importance.

But the wheeze need not work. Commemoration does not fall solely within the remit of the state. There is the not insignificant body known as the nation – the people.

Commemorating 1916 – the Proclamation, the revolution and the revolutionaries – on its centenary, is safer in the hands of the people. It is a political act, best kept out of the hands of the political class.

As for commemorating any Irish man who fell in any war, best go back to the drawing board. There is an ethical question that looms large there. It is one that should define us. War-makers, or Peace-Keepers?

Despite the hype Labour must wait.

And so we are induced by commentators to believe that the Irish Labour Party is to be saved from total oblivion by its ‘new’ leader, Joan Burton, who will with newly-discovered reformist fervour wipe the slate clean, disassociate herself and the party from broken promises cynically made in the run-up to the last election, and demonstrate with the assistance of a regime-compliant mainstream media that Labour will from now on be all heart and less head.

Despite this bullshit, it is likely that enough voters can be found to rally to Burton and give Labour some opinion-poll bounce on the basis that she is indeed ‘new’ despite being for almost three decades an integral part of the Labour Party and one of the architects of its acquiescence in putting into practice neo-liberal policies so as to be and remain part of coalition government, and on the basis that she is a woman – that somehow that is a good thing in itself. Countering that notion, Margaret Thatcher springs to mind, as does Mary Harney.

There are some good, strong, principled and progressive women in Irish politics, and some who fall far short. Joan Burton is one of the latter. The fact that she is a woman should not excuse her from her share of the blame for the punishment inflicted on a very substantial proportion of the Irish people, located principally in the middle and lower socio-economic groups, punishment that includes mass unemployment, enforced emigration, a serious spike in austerity-related suicides, a serious decline in the provision of essential services such as health, housing, education and nutrition, and a widening of the gap between the rich – who have got richer as a result of government policies – and the poor who suffer penury that can be related directly to the policies of the government in which she has been an active, influential member and a defender of the course this government has steered.

Burton has also shown herself to be a hectoring bully, and a spoofer (although the latter trait seems to be standard behaviour for TDs and Senators from each of the three parties of permanent misgovernment). Her loutish and dishonest performance on TV3’s Vincent Browne Tonight show on January 24th 2011 provides all of the necessary evidence to show that. She may be no worse than many of the male politicians in that regard, but she is certainly no role model to encourage either women or young people to become involved in politics.

Despite all that, Labour will get some bounce from the ‘change’ at the top, enough that it will not be a total wipe-out for the party at the next election. But it would be delusional for Labour Party members or supporters to imagine that Burton’s appointment represents something ‘new’ and therefore ‘good’ in Irish politics. It most certainly is neither. It is the same old, same old, just dressed up differently.

Since the Burton leopard is most unlikely to change her spots she will provide an excellent target for Sinn Féin and leftist parties and independents to expose her intemperate, condescending and peevish disposition when challenged. Expect sparks to fly!

Meanwhile, those who want a new and better Ireland should not let-up in the battle between insipid and spurious ‘reform’, and revolution. Nothing less than revolutionary change can create the new and better Ireland that most citizens desperately need and deserve, and that the Labour Party, under each and every one of its 10 previous leaders since 1917, has abjectly failed to deliver.

It falls to Sinn Féin and parties, groupings and independents of the left to formulate policies and develop an electoral strategy to ensure that the real alternative to the current failed state  – a modern, progressive and egalitarian Irish Republic for the 21st century – is offered to the electorate with some prospect of success.

Burton is not the answer. Labour, once again, must wait.

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