independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

An Irish passport cannot be used as a Get Out of Jail card

Ibrihim Halawa and sisters Fatima, Omaima and Somaia are in custody in Egypt

So, some Irish citizens find themselves trapped in a mosque in Cairo as bullets, rubber and otherwise, fly through the air.

They have accidentally, as you do, found themselves in the middle of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood march while they were in Egypt on holidays when they were on a march that became a riot. Again, as you do.

It's easily done, of course.

In fact, I'm pretty bloody sick of going on my holliers every summer and then ending up cowering in a mosque after being part of a protest that turns violent. Every bloody time ...

But as we watch the case of the four Halawa siblings and see the impassioned pleas to Eamon Gilmore to do, in the words of their sister Nosayba Halawa, "what you would do for your children if they were in this situation, just please do the same for my brother and sisters."

A case like this has been a long time coming and it raises a profoundly uncomfortable question for the Government.

Because what does being an Irish passport-holder really mean or entitle you to?

Sure, they are citizens of this country.

But even so, should we really care about the situation they now find themselves in?

After all, anyone who goes on holiday to Cairo as the country descends into sectarian chaos and ethnic cleansing can be reasonably accused of having walked into a situation with their eyes wide open.

In fact, one of the things that has been particularly noticeable is the lack of patience and sympathy many Irish people feel towards the Halawa family.

This can be traced back to a cluster of obvious factors and the fact that they aren't indigenous Irish has absolutely nothing to do with the lack of public sympathy, despite what the Left would have us believe.

After all, the pair of idiots who found themselves on the wrong side of the Gaza border after the Egyptians shut down their side of their fence a few years ago were indigenous Irish.

Plenty of people were equally happy to see them rot in Gaza rather than having our Government jump through hoops to get them out, so racism can hardly be a reason for this public apathy.

Perhaps one of the most notable irritants in all of this is undoubtedly the insistent, presumptuous tone of the Halawa family supporters who have been equally busy denouncing the Egyptian authorities while demanding that our diplomats get their act in gear.

Indeed, the family of the four detained (whose father, lest we forget, runs the biggest mosque in Ireland, in Clonskeagh) was quick to protest to the Egyptians that they had Irish passports and therefore should have been immediately freed – something which the Egyptians were commendably loath to do.

They may well have been innocent, naïve waifs who were caught up in the protests.

When you remove the bluff, the bluster and the political sloganeering from both sides, one incontrovertible fact remains – our Government is now being dragged into a foreign domestic drama that is none of our business and we should have absolutely no part in.

I've long argued that we have an unfortunate reputation for picking the wrong horse when it comes to the Middle East. We are suckers for a sob story and tend to confuse emotion with analysis – you only had to look at the scenes of Irish gay rights activists joining forces with Palestinian members of Hamas to protest together outside the Israeli embassy to see just how utterly, hopelessly, embarrassingly clueless so many of us are when it comes to the most volatile region in the world.

Earlier this week, one reader got in touch from Galway (not a place where this column is particularly popular, I must admit) to comment: "Isn't it amazing the help that a little country like ours can give to our Muslim friends? If we're not flag-waving for Palestinian solidarity we're helping out our new friends in the Muslim Brotherhood."

That was a perfect summation of many of the letters and emails that I've been receiving in the last few weeks – Irish people who are sick of being told that they're meant to care about a conflict which has no good guys, only varying degrees of bad.

In fact, when you look at the mass protests against the military you might even be fooled into thinking that it's a sign of a movement of national liberation – unless you're a Christian, gay, a secularist or a democrat, that is. Then you're likely to be murdered by offshoots of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. How very liberating, indeed.

Because let's be perfectly clear: as difficult as a military junta may be to stomach, Morsi's reign saw a huge spike in anti-Christian murders and attacks – I particularly liked the story of the Catholic nuns who were taken as 'prisoners of war' in rural Egypt before being released last week.

I once had a row with an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs who was sick of Irish consulates providing support for people who were too stupid to keep themselves out of situations they didn't understand.

I thought, at the time, that this was a rather mean- spirited approach until he outlined the cause of his frustration – people who are quick to walk into trouble on foreign lands under the erroneous assumption that an Irish passport can be used, quite literally, as a Get Out Of Jail card.

Well, with time I've come to see that diplomat's position and that's why so many people are apathetic, at best, towards the Halawas.

Because they chose to get themselves into this mess and no amount of screaming about being Irish citizens is going to change that fact.

This isn't an Irish problem.

And the Halawas and their supporters shouldn't be allowed to make it one.

Irish Independent

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