Sunday 25 September 2016

Trump is no role model for Ireland's refugee policy

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

In a week fogged by bigotry and the murder of Jo Cox, Northern Ireland's football victory flashed like a small beacon of hope.

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The feel-good factor came not just from the football but from the background of the two players who rattled Ukraine's net.

Gareth McAuley, a Protestant from Larne, Co Antrim, and Niall McGinn, a Catholic from Derry, gave us a glimpse of a better future for Northern Ireland.

But away from that band of brothers, many public figures preferred to stoke fears that lacked foundation.

Barack Obama was criticised for not firmly linking the Orlando massacre to "radical Islamic terrorism".

But Jeff Goldberg of Atlantic magazine, normally a conservative critic of Obama, had this to say.

"If Obama invokes the magical incantation 'radical Islamic terrorism', will the problem go away? If yes, then he should do it right away."

Many Irish Americans are Trump supporters. One of the most prominent, Congressman Peter King, is also a long-time Sinn Fein supporter. Seamless robe.

How can King and other Irish Americans forget the history of the 1.5 million Irish immigrants fleeing the Famine from 1847 onwards?

Yet, within a few years, these same Irish immigrants were lynching blacks in New York in anti-draft riots during the American Civil War.

Again, in the 1880s, Irish immigrants were prominent cheerleaders in the cruel campaign against exploited Chinese immigrants.

Until Jack and Bobby Kennedy briefly restored their radical credentials, Irish Americans were one of the most prejudiced white groups in America.

Donald Trump, their new white hero, is a dangerous demagogue who despises the truth.

Recently, Trump told Sean Hannity (clock the Irish-American name) of Fox News that Muslim immigrants to America were not assimilating.

"It's almost, I won't say non-existent, but it gets to be pretty close. They come, they don't - for some reason there's no real assimilation."

That is simply not true. In 2007, the respected Pew Report found that Muslims - who make up only one per cent of the American population - were almost fully assimilated.

Seven out of 10 Muslims surveyed believed in the "American dream" defined as "people who want to get ahead in the United States can make it if they are willing to work hard".

And the most recent Pew Report, of December 2015, added the important information that American Muslims make many friends outside their religion.

"Only 48pc of US Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with 95pc in the 39 countries we surveyed," it stated.

Trump would have been on stronger ground if he had compared America to Europe, which rejects tough love assimilation in favour of "multiculturalism".

This means letting Muslim immigrants do their own thing as long as they live well away from us.

Europe's big problem with Muslim immigrants stems from its failure to lay down clear laws on Western democratic norms and exemplary penalties for transgression, such as immediate expulsion.

Normally, I have no time for Obama's laid-back persona. But last week he took on Trump with passion. And hurt him.

Obama is no political pushover like poor Jeb Bush. And his popularity has risen to 53pc compared with Trump's 29pc. Trump is in trouble. Only a month ago, he was neck and neck with Hilary Clinton. Now he's sliding by at least six points.

That's not good news for George Hook, who finally came out as a Trump supporter on Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge.

Hook models himself on Bill O'Reilly (clock that Irish American name too) of Fox, but Hook is a far more formidable television performer.

That's because O'Reilly lacks Hook's humour and because we don't know how well O'Reilly would do with a studio audience.

Hook is a master of audience manipulation, adept at milking its most petty and populist prejudices.

In a naked appeal to all that is noxious in our national character, he set a selfish high bar for immigrants to Ireland.

"I have a problem with mass immigration into this country when we cannot put roofs over the heads of our own people."

The audience applauded loudly, apparently not aware that we have so far taken in about 350 refugees, mostly stuck in hostels.

Hook also criticised Obama's failure to link the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, to radical Islam.

But Hook met his match in panellist Brenda Power. Although no bleeding heart, Power knows that, paradoxically, an Irish audience might also respond to her reasoned summation of Mateen's motivation.

"This young man was motivated by homophobia, he was validated by a religion that has a problem with homosexuality and he was facilitated by the availability of guns."

The weathervane audience also gave her a round of applause. Hook tried to jump on her balanced bandwagon but went too far by associating himself with the views of "the great Teddy Roosevelt".

Putting on his fierce Michael Collins face, Hook set his jaw and told us what Teddy said about immigration.

"Anybody can come to this country but they'd better sing the national anthem and they'd better salute the flag," quoted Hook, adding "and that's where I come from".

Cue more applause from an audience that seemed to have no fixed moral compass on the proper response to suffering strangers.

At least I heard no audible disagreement when Hook said "we cannot make laws on the basis of pictures of children lying in the surf".

Well we should. Because, in the past, before smartphones, every great battle against brutality was actively assisted by popular works of fiction that left indelible pictures on the human heart.

That long list includes Uncle Tom's Cabin, David Copperfield, and Frank O'Connor's Guests of the Nation.

Before smartphones, powerful mental pictures of human suffering, conjured up by popular writers, prompted us to confront slavery, the sufferings of children in the Industrial Revolution, and empathise with English prisoners executed by the IRA.

Julia Roddy's novel Orange Boy Blue is in that proud humanist tradition. But her book is no simple political tract, but rather a riveting Romeo And Juliet love story, featuring a class normally neglected by novelists: the middle class.

Roddy, from a Roman Catholic family, was reared in a Protestant enclave in East Belfast. But she reaches out to the loyalist tradition with an empathy that breaks down barriers.

Edmund Burke, to whom the distinguished philosopher Sir Roger Scruton will be paying tribute at a conference in Bloomfield House, Mullingar today, showed the same empathy.

Burke's famous refusal to condemn American rebels, also rebukes those who want to tar all Muslims with a terrorist brush.

"I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment of an entire people."

Neither do I.

Sunday Independent

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