Thursday 22 August 2019

We need context, not lyrics, about Paris

In the Dail, Enda made a silly speech. He said nothing about sending troops to Mali, writes Gene Kerrigan

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Last Tuesday, the Dail put time aside for lengthy statements on the Paris atrocities. The speeches got hardly any coverage. But they said a lot about our parliament - some of it good, and some of it depressingly bad.

One impressive quality was the total absence of paranoia about refugees. There seems to be an understanding that the horrors inflicted on Paris are precisely what refugees are trying to get their families away from - with this difference: in the war zones, those horrors are much worse and happen every day, laying waste to whole areas.

Mostly, the speeches were lightweight to the point of inanity. Of 36 speakers, only six mentioned Saudi Arabia. David Quinn was the only journalist I've seen comment on Enda Kenny's bizarre speech. And Quinn was exactly right in remarking on the failure of the Taoiseach to identify Saudi Arabia's role in funding some of those who commit atrocities.

Context is important. Without context, we can only recite meaningless pieties about peace and love. If you're told there's an army assembling to invade a neighbouring country, with unprecedented numbers of soldiers and terrifying levels of firepower, you know it's a bad thing.

But, if you're told it's an army assembling in June 1944 to dislodge the grip of fascist forces on France, Belgium, Holland and, ultimately, Germany, context gives it a different meaning.

The Dail statements were criminally short of context. They were mostly delivered in a history-free bubble, an alternative and upside-down view of events. Inside that bubble, most of our politicians seem to assume the following: History began on September 11, 2001, with the Twin Towers atrocities, followed by the barbarism in London, Madrid, Bali and every other place outside the Middle East where murderous gobshites slaughter the innocent.

For some baffling reason, people who hate us come long distances to kill us, meddling in our affairs and seeking to subdue us.

There is an alternative view. It acknowledges two central issues: one, the ferocious enmities between differing factions in the Middle East; two, the long history of manipulation of those enmities by Western forces.

From the removal of a democratic government in Iran in 1953 to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the 2011 military destabilisation of Libya, our culture has long been meddling with the Muslim world. It's about oil and strategic advantage.

To leave such issues out of the equation is to be complicit in the violence.

To leave the murderous Saudis out of the equation - and, to cosy up to them for economic reasons, as our government does - is to be complicit.

Seen from that viewpoint, we can see why so many Muslims see us as the outsiders going long distances to subdue or kill. And the Irish government's donation of Shannon airport to the Western war effort, and our government's behaviour before the invasion of Iraq, make us complicit.

When the murderous gobshites struck in Paris many in the west reacted as though the killers appeared from nowhere, for no reason other than to satisfy an incomprehensible love of killing.

And that, last week, was the way most speakers in the Dail understood the issue.

When I say meaningless pieties, let me tell you what Eric Byrne of Labour had to contribute to an assessment of the problem. Were there lessons for Ireland, he asked? Yes, Eric said, answering his own question, "and we need to learn them quickly".

At which point he announced that he would like to "read into the record" the following sentiments: "Imagine there's no countries," said Eric, "it isn't hard to do".


"Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too."

Stop, Eric, please...

"Imagine all the people, living life in peace..."

That's enough, Eric, that's...

"You may say I'm a dreamer", said Eric...

And so on, to the point where the ghost of John Lennon was running around the balcony of the Dail Chamber, hands over his ears with a stream of obscenities on his lips.

As the Paris events unfolded that Friday night, Mick Wallace tweeted: "So terrible for the victims, but when is France going to stop its role in the militarisation of the planet?"

I saw the tweet and ignored it - what I needed just then was news, not comment. In the minutes and days that followed, Wallace was dismissed as "insensitive" and "inhumane" for daring to put his sympathy in context. Those who denounced him were implicitly more sensitive, more humane. They had an abundance of the empathy that Wallace supposedly lacked.

As it happened, Wallace that evening was worried about a family member who lives, with her three children, on one of the streets where the slaughter was taking place. He didn't need lectures on empathy.

Wallace spoke in the Dail of the nations - including France - that profit from selling arms to the various killers. John Halligan spoke knowledgeably about the issues, and about the Saudi role, as did Ruth Coppinger, Joan Collins, Wallace, Richard Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly.

Speaker after speaker from the right-wing parties mentioned 9/11. Most of us, said Fine Gael's Michael Creed, will remember where we were when we heard about the Paris atrocities - just as with "the events of 9 September, 2001".

(I've no idea what happened on 9 September, 2001, Michael, and I don't remember where I was when it happened - whatever it was. But I remember getting a phone call two days later to tell me to switch on the TV, that a plane had flown into the Twin Towers.)

The worst you could say about most speakers was that they lacked a sense of history - even then, there was genuine compassion in their sentiments.

It was Enda Kenny who brought a unique level of inanity to the debate.

"A Friday evening in winter", he began. "For many, the end of the working week..."

In tones worthy of Eric Byrne, he set the scene.

"In the particular blue - the cobalt blue - of an evening in Paris... in the slipstream of young life..."

For some reason, he threw in the Knights Templar, tortured in 1307 (Enda, dear, that involved King Philip of France twisting the arm of Pope Clement V, to help him justify stealing the Templars' wealth, they having, in turn, stolen that wealth from Muslims during the Crusades). What's the point?

Having empathised with the Templars, who butchered Muslims, Enda then threw in Voltaire's remark about how people who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

Enda, old chum, Voltaire was, of course, referring to Catholicism - is that what you meant?

This was shape-throwing. Inappropriately dramatic speechifying.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach had already spoken to the French ambassador, and responded enthusiastically to a suggestion that we send troops to Mali to replace French troops. Those troops are there to fight Al Qaeda. If we take on the job, they can return to France and fight Isil.

Our parliament was treated to breathless, cobalt melodrama. But offstage the Taoiseach was committing this country to joining the Western effort to dominate the Middle East.

France is in Mali because of its colonial past - which is also the reason a significant number of its citizens are from Algerian backgrounds. If we have any useful role to play it is as a country without such a past.

If the Taoiseach gets away with jumping, in his usual deferential way, to please his EU overlords, we are in danger of throwing away our non-colonial credentials.

Hopefully, there are adults in the cabinet who might explain this to the Taoiseach.

Sunday Independent

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

Don't Miss