Monday 18 March 2019

Eoghan Harris: 'Irish silence only condones Imam Khomeini's killing cranes in Iran'

REPRESSION: Ayatollah Khomeini addresses an audience in the airport building in Tehran in February 1979 following his arrival from 14 years of exile
REPRESSION: Ayatollah Khomeini addresses an audience in the airport building in Tehran in February 1979 following his arrival from 14 years of exile
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

My own policy for making peace is very simple: speak loudly about crimes committed by your own side, and shame the other side into doing the same - if they don't you win the battle of world opinion.

That's not a policy that was much followed last week, on Iran, on Brexit or on the Irish Revolution.

Let me start with the caption on a fine photo of the Iranian ambassador and two smiling Irish politicians in The Irish Times last week:

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"Islamic Republic of Iran ambassador Dr Masoud Eslami meets Mick Wallace and Clare Daly at a reception to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution."

Although protocol dictated the presence of clerical and diplomatic dignitaries, Wallace and Daly's singular political presence was likely due to their high profile in the boycott and divestment campaign against Israel.

Patsy McGarry's report records Dr Eslami making an eloquent speech which included flattering comparisons between Iran's and Ireland's revolutionary struggles. Fine so far.

But not so fine was Dr Eslami recalling that in 1979, the Iranian people "under the able leadership of the late Imam Khomeini, ended a long episode of internal repression".

Alas for the people of Iran, heirs to one of the world's greatest civilisations, Ayatollah Khomeini's regime brought its own bizarre brand of internal repression in the form of mass public hangings on cranes.

The distinguished journalist Christina Lamb OBE reported that prisoners were loaded on to forklift trucks in groups of six and hanged from cranes.

Hanged is a kind word. The victims were strangled, strung up loosely and left to suffocate slowly.

According to Mohammad Nourizad (who defected from the regime during the uprisings of 2009), the worst repression took place in the summer of 1988.

Estimates of the numbers executed vary but the top figure is 30,000. Many of those executed were educated college students and graduates.

Wallace and Daly, as professed radicals, might have asked Dr Eslami about the 1,000 heroic communists executed. Did Daly note that 10pc of the victims were women?

The Iranian Revolution was much bloodier than the Irish Revolution - and it did not end with a democracy.

Yes, it is good news that, according to Dr Eslami, Iran's literacy rate has gone up 92pc and that it can now produce its own goods and medicines.

Not so good is the continuing repression of women, and the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

As long as Wallace and Daly campaigns are aimed at Israel and ignore Iran they lay themselves open to charges of political hypocrisy.

*****

Simon Coveney's self-indulgent invective against "kindergarten stuff" in the House of Commons merits two comments.

First, Brexit represents a real division in British society, much like our civil war, and since this division is replicated in parliament, it will take time to secure a consensus.

Second, politicians are not lying on a Freudian's couch. They should not blurt out everything that's on their minds like, well, like children in a kindergarten.

Now is the time to open lines of civility - as the Sunday Independent did last weekend by publishing an important piece by the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Next day, Newton Emerson in The Irish Times observed that Donaldson had "penned a strikingly emollient article" in what Emerson evasively called "the Dublin press" rather than decently crediting the Sunday Independent as I credit The Irish Times.

In contrast, Eamon Ryan, pouring oil on troubled waters in the Dail, gave full credit to this paper for doing the same.

"Jeffrey Donaldson wrote a positive article in the Sunday Independent last weekend saying we need statesmanship and dialogue and that we need to engage. I encourage the Taoiseach to make further such approaches. I know he met with the DUP recently and he should continue on that track."

Meantime, President Higgins in Liverpool and Bertie Ahern in London were shaming our Tory critics with the soft word and the right word.

Apart from Kevin Doyle in the Irish Independent, most of the Irish media shamefully failed to report Bertie Ahern's peerless performance at the good-humoured House of Commons meeting, chaired by Labour's Hilary Benn.

To fully savour the cheerful chemistry between Bertie Ahern and Sammy Wilson - so often seen by southern media as the black beast of the DUP - let me urge political anoraks to check out Ahern's tour de force on YouTube.

Class, in every sense, played a part. Bertie and Sammy are street-savvy politicians and neither are what I call 'college boys'.

Sammy, with a twinkle in his eye, asked Bertie if he rejected Leo Varadkar's rhetoric about troops on the border and so on. Bertie was there to look after Leo, but he wasn't going to spoil Sammy's fun either.

He put his two hands flat on the desk and, as Sammy smiled, delivered this deadpan: "Well you know how much I love all the parties in Northern Ireland, and how much I love all the parties in the south of Ireland. What I've spent my life doing is trying to make sure we have a love-in of all of us, so rhetoric from anybody at anytime isn't helpful."

Later, Gerard Howlin on Prime Time explained in two words why Bertie got on with Sammy: emotional intelligence.

*****

Finally, the second part of The Irish Revolution revealed the limitation of short soundbites. For now just two footnotes.

First, Professor Louise Ryan of Sheffield University referred to rape by Crown forces. Given time for a rounded reply, I'm sure she would have added the IRA was as bad, if not worse.

Six years ago, while filming An Tost Fada with Canon George Salter, I raised the question of sexual pressures on Protestant women caused by IRA billeting, and archived his moving reflections.

Cal Hyland used compensation claims to show the traumatic effect of IRA billeting on women at last year's West Cork History Festival.

Professor Linda Connolly, at the same festival, gave a substantial paper on violence against women during the Irish Revolution and has a book coming out on the subject.

It joins Gemma Clark's Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War and Brian Hughes's Defying the IRA? and clearly the subject needs a separate film.

The film also needed a fast footnote on the murder of Tomas Mac Curtain on March 20, 1920 (later echoed by the murder of Pat Finucane) and the First Cork Brigade's retaliation in shooting dead RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy in Lisburn on August 22, 1920.

The film would have been enriched by briefly telling us that his first cousin was Mary Swanzy, the famous Irish painter, who immediately left her home in Merrion Square as she didn't feel safe.

A fine retrospective of her work moves to the Crawford Gallery in Cork next week, and it's possible that descendants of those who shot her cousin may come to view her genius.

Sunday Independent

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