Friday 28 October 2016

Europe and Ireland crave leaders and leadership

Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30

Il‎lustration by Jim Cogan
Il‎lustration by Jim Cogan

Shakespeare was obsessed by the problem of political order. His 10 history plays are about political authority versus political anarchy. Looking across Europe, from Istanbul to Nice, we can see why. As Yeats warned, the centre cannot hold, the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.

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Hard to believe that a week which began with the euphoria of Uefa could end with slaughter on the streets of Nice on a summer's night.

Hard to believe, too, that only seven days ago I was cheering on Portugal to protect a modest bet.

My few bob on Portugal was based not on football form, but on two traits in the Portuguese national character which I admire greatly for two reasons.

First, the Duke of Wellington, not easily impressed, praised the stoic character of Portuguese troops under fire.

Second, thanks to the dictatorial Salazar, Portugal was one of the few countries to reject anti-Semitism at a time when European democracies were willingly rounding up Jews.

Significantly, many Egyptians preferred Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the Muslim Brotherhood, suspecting the "Muslim Spring" would be followed by the winter of Sharia law.

As Shakespeare shrewdly revealed, the majority of people crave order, even at the price of some repression.

So it is not surprising that fragmenting forces flourish. Europe seems to be a continent out of control, lacking strong leaders and leadership.

That is why so many people, even in Ireland, find Theresa May's ruthless new regime reassuring. Here is one politician who seems to know what she wants to do.

Treating of Theresa May's cool, not to say cold, character in the current issue of the online Irish magazine Tuairisc, John-Paul McCarthy reminds us of Gulliver's reply when the king of the Houyhnhnm asked him who was in charge of his country.

"I told him, that a first or chief minister of state, who was the person I intended to describe, was the creature wholly exempt from joy and grief, love and hatred, pity and anger."

But here in Ireland we seem to be catching the same fever as so many other European states, a fever whose first mark is a failure to face up to the real world.

The main form this takes in Europe is to evade the problem of integration posed by the influx of Muslim immigrants, many of whose beliefs are not compatible with Western democracy.

Instead of a robust scheme of state-led (and if necessary state-imposed) integration, immigrants are banished to an imaginary world called multiculturalism.

Although we have taken in shamefully few Syrian immigrants, we, too, have buried our collective head in the sand, particularly in the sand of Palestine.

But currently, the biggest fragmentation in Irish politics comes not from the Trots but from Fine Gael.

Fine Gael is in government with all the goodies that go along with that enviable status. Yet it is not happy.

Why? One reason, according to observers, is it fears Fianna Fail might pull the plug.

Consider that coldly. A party of adults wants to both enjoy the spoils of office and be given a guarantee it will go on that way!

Meantime, it further frightens itself by agonising about a change of leader. That way lies madness.

Fine Gael is suffering from neophobia, a fear of new things. The cure for this is to stop second-guessing the future and get on with the job. As the song says, one day at a time.


Last week, RTE transmitted two documentary reports relating to the Middle East, and indirectly to the armed doctrine of Islamism.

The first test of any documentary is that it can be trusted to give both sides of a controversy.

The second is whether it has anything new to say or is simply recycling conventional wisdoms.

Peacekeepers: The Irish in South Lebanon failed both tests, disfigured both by insidious indictments of Israel and lack of balance.

Moondance Productions cannot claim it was only interested in the human stories of the Irish UNIFIL force in South Lebanon.

The presence of prominent Israeli critics like Robert Fisk, Lara Marlowe and Dr Ray Murphy, with no balancing voices, made it a political programme, and one loaded against Israel.

The after-image left by the programme was that the Irish Army and the Israeli Army were at long-time loggerheads. But Charlie Flanagan, recently returned from the Golan, could have confirmed that the Irish Army and the IDF enjoy good soldierly relations.

It seemed to me that Moondance, an independent company, was allowed to run off the reservation. RTE editors should have ensured better balance.

But there were no problems of balance with Richard Downes's disturbing Prime Time report on the close relations between the Clonskeagh mosque and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Downes made sure that both critics and supporters of the Clonskeagh mosque presented their case in a calm fashion - a calmness all the more crucial on the night that horrifying pictures from Nice were inflaming sectarian passions on social media.

But while balanced, the Prime Time report finally and firmly sounded some warning alarms.

As Sheikh Umar Al-Qadri, imam of the Blanchardstown Mosque, made clear, the battle for Muslim minds and hearts is raging in our midst. A battle from which the State can no longer stand aloof.

Ten years ago, Jim Cusack and Mark Dooley, reporting for the Sunday Independent, revealed that the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi (widely known as the 'Sheikh of Death'), was secretly visiting Clonskeagh mosque to chair meetings of the extremist European Council of Fatwa and Research.

Following this, Al-Qaradawi abruptly stopped coming here. Ten years on, Downes's report showed little had changed. Including, it seems, Clonskeagh mosque imam Hussein Halawa's inability, after more than 20 years in Ireland, to conduct an interview in English.

Cusack and Dooley showed that senior figures in the Clonskeagh mosque were linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The State should have acted on that information at the time. It should do so now.

The Clonskeagh mosque should never have been given the status of speaking as the official voice of Irish Muslims. It makes the work of moderates like Sheikh Al-Qadri that much harder.

Downes's report should also cause some politicians who have taken up the cause of Sheikh Halawa's son, Ibrahim Halawa - who is being held in a Cairo jail after he was caught up in protests - without adequately briefing themselves on his beliefs, to conduct their legitimate civil rights campaign with a bit more moderation.

Irish politicians have a duty to make sure that the Ibrahim Halawa campaign is not allowed to be manipulated so as to damage relations between the Irish and Egyptian governments.

Sunday Independent

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