Friday 23 August 2019

What policy? Cherish our Muslims and crush Daesh

Credit: Jim Cogan
Credit: Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Let me start with an apology to the majority of moderate Irish Muslims for an angry article I wrote in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders last January.

In the course of the article, I made charges which I believe are still broadly true. But they needed more nuance.

First, quoting the brave Somalian woman writer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I said Muslim moderates are hampered by the fact that the Koran sanctions violent jihadi radicalism.

But I should have added the same holds true for the Bible. Both sacred books tell us to love our neighbour - but also have passages enjoining believers to extirpate unbelievers.

In sum, the Devil may quote scripture for his own purposes. The Crusaders did so to justify killing Jews as well as Muslims, just as the devils of Daesh do today.

Second, I drew attention to polls suggesting that a minority of Irish Muslims support radical jihad.

I should have added that this is analogous to southern nationalists who might have sneaking regard for the Provisional IRA but would not support the murder of Jean McConville.

But if I believe my column of last January is broadly defensible, why am I so determined to add more context in retrospect?

First, out of respect for Irish Muslim leaders who have gone out on a long limb to challenge any sneaking regarders in their ranks,

Second, because of my lifelong loathing for mobs. Especially mobs worked up by some journalists to juice up ratings and readership.

Luckily, most Irish journalists did not lower themselves by mixing the Paris killers, Daesh and suffering Syrian refugees into a poisonous broth.

Last Sunday, Shane Coleman on Newstalk put together a programme which he will be able to play back to his grandchildren.

Coleman did not lay down any liberal line. He raised awkward issues about the difficulty of integrating some Muslims into the majority community.

But he raised them with a decent reticence. And Barry Andrews, the CEO of GOAL, answered with courage and conviction.

Andrews said we should accept Syrians because they have a right to asylum - and are human beings.

Enda Kenny spoke eloquently in the Dail about defending Western values. The chief one is the New Testament injunction to love your neighbour.

Likewise, if the Irish Republic is to remain true to Tone's pluralist vision, it must cherish all of our children equally: Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter - and Muslims.

This Republic also has the right to protect its citizens from foreign and domestic foes.

Abroad, this means supporting Simon Coveney's robust response in sending our troops to help France, even indirectly, in the battle against Daesh.

At home, it means revoking the passports of the 40 Irish jihadis who Alan Shatter says have gone to fight with Daesh.

But looking at the wider picture, we should stop panicking, as if Daesh posed a mortal threat to Western civilisation.

Islamic State is not even a state. It is nothing more than what Edmund Burke called an armed doctrine.

Adept at mass rape, Daesh does not do well against hardy troops. The formidable Kurdish Peshmerga has steadily forced it to give ground.

The West could wipe it out in a year with a two-pronged civil and military campaign. In Europe, it should spend treasure in ending the economic and cultural exclusion of major Muslim ghettoes.

In Syria, Nato must put special forces on the ground to support local proxy troops and guide a relentless day and night bombing campaign to destroy Daesh

It's not rocket science- but the rockets have to be directed at the right target.

* * *

Last week, political reporter Mary Minihan sat down for a chat with Billy Kelleher, the newly appointed Director of Elections for Fianna Fail.

By the time it was over she had a minor scoop on her hands. Foolishly attempting to do a Leo Varadkar, Billy Kelleher decided to be frank.

So when Minihan asked him how well he thought Fianna Fail would do at the next general election, Kelleher told her, presumably working from current polling figures.

Big mistake. For nearly five years, his leader Micheal Martin has adeptly avoided answering that question. And with good reason.

First, because "events" plus a powerful election campaign could put Fianna Fail in a strong position.

Second, if you tell voters you won't win enough seats to form a government, why should they vote for you?

Kelleher blithely destroyed a strategy laid down by Martin and diligently followed by savvy lieutenants like Niall Collins, Timmy Dooley and Barry Cowen.

Mary Minihan did not look Billy Kelleher's gift horse in the mouth. She led her Irish Times report with a line that must have lifted the hearts of FG strategists.

"Fianna Fail is unlikely to be part of the next government, the party's new Director of Elections, Billy Kelleher, has implicitly acknowledged."

She went on to report that Kelleher didn't think Fianna Fail could do better than 35-40 seats, figures which brutally translated into "we haven't a hope of going into government."

Like all experienced reporters, Minihan was clever enough to put ointment on a politician's self-inflicted wound.

She told us - although her own story contradicted the compliment - that "Mr Kelleher is a keen and realistic observer of politics as well as an experienced practitioner of the craft."

Not on the basis of that chat. But it got worse. She twice used the lethal adjective "refreshing" to describe Kelleher's remarks.

She described him as "refreshingly frank" at the start of her report and later on as speaking with "refreshing openness".

Now any really "experienced practitioner of the craft" knows that the lethal adjective "refreshing" is code for a politician who has incontinently indulged in over-sharing.

Billy Kelleher may console himself by saying that he was being realistic. But general election results are decided by general election campaigns and not by the petrified figures of past polls.

Kelleher is normally on the ball. But Pat Carey wouldn't have been caught like that.

* * *

Last Tuesday, Senator Mairia Cahill was warmly welcomed to the Seanad by every senator who spoke except by Senator David Norris.

Cahill has never criticised Senator Norris' politics. But she has relentlessly and rightly criticised Sinn Fein.

Despite this, Senator David Cullinane of Sinn Fein, with a commendable display of decency and proper decorum, welcomed her to the house.

Seldom do I say a good word about Sinn Fein. But seldom does not mean never.

Senator Cullinane's civility is far more palatable to the public than the bullying tactics of his colleagues in the Dail.

As my old mentor Jack Dowling used to say: if there can't be love, let there be manners.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss