Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Gun Control Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on July 21 2016.

Colman's Column3

On July 8 2016, there was yet another mass shooting in the US. Five police officers were killed in Dallas, Texas when a gunman opened fire during a peaceful protest about police killing black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Seven more officers and two civilians were wounded by 25-year-old Micah Johnson. Johnson had been a member of the US Army Reserve until April 2015, served in Afghanistan, and lived in a pleasant black middle class suburb. He had no criminal history or ties to terrorist groups.

President Obama is spending the last months of his presidency acting as counselor to a troubled nation. His speech on the Dallas shootings won general acclamation but Conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch said it was only good until it became “a partisan political lecture on gun control, race, and policing”.

 

On June 12 2016 in the UK, Muhiddin Mire was found guilty of attempted murder. He will be sentenced on July 27.

Leytonstone is a station on the Central line, the line which runs roughly west to east through central London and into the north-eastern suburbs. On December 5 2015, Mire stabbed three people at the station before police subdued him with a stun gun and made an arrest. He was reported to be shouting Muslim slogans and “This is for Syria”.

The Metropolitan Police were very quick to describe this as a “terrorist incident”. The Somali-born knifeman had images of Fusilier Rigby (beheaded by a Nigerian Muslim) and British Islamic State executioner Jihadi John on his phone, along with material linked to ISIS.

It later transpired that the assailant, aged 30, had a history of severe mental illness. His name was not on any database of suspects or known extremists, and he was not believed to have been exploited by any known terrorist group or individual. After Mire was convicted of attempted murder and incarcerated in Broadmoor high-security mental health facility, Commander Dean Haydon, head of counter-terrorism for Scotland Yard, said: “I would not class it as a terrorist incident now.”

Mire had a history of mental illness and was experiencing paranoid delusions a month before the attack. He was sectioned in 2006 during an episode “when, essentially he lost touch with reality” and a month before the incident his GP referred him to his local community mental health services. He had missed an appointment with a community mental health team four days before the incident on 5 December 2015. Mire’s family had also become concerned about his mental health and tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to return to Somalia.

Mire had targeted Lyle Zimmerman at random after travelling on the same tube carriage. On video footage, Mire was seen turning Zimmerman over, kicking him six times to the head and chest, and sawing at his throat with a breadknife. Louise McGuinness said in a statement that when she shouted at Mire to stop he turned to her and said: “This is for telling me to stop,” and kicked Zimmerman harder. It seems that his attack on Zimmerman was in emulation of the beheading of Lee Rigby.

Zimmerman, who sustained three large lacerations to his neck that exposed his trachea, testified at Mire’s trial in May 2016, where he said he felt his attacker was “a crazy person, a mentally ill person.”

Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC had told jurors Mire’s mental health problems were not a defence to his intention to kill Mr Zimmerman. Mr Rees also argued Mire had shown interest in ISIS and Islamic extremism before his “relapse” and his decision to give up his job as a taxi driver. The prosecutor said: “He is sympathetic to those who are choosing to pursue jihad against the non-Muslims. It can be no coincidence that he carried out the attack three days after parliament had voted to extend the bombing campaign against ISIS to territory in Syria. The evidence clearly establishes that the motive underpinning this attack was that bombing campaign in Syria. That was at the very forefront at his mind.”

After the jury delivered its verdict, Judge Richard Marks QC, praised those who remained at the station to warn others while Mire carried out his attack. He said: “There are members of the public who showed remarkable courage and good heartedness who became involved in this case.” He praised the “public spiritedness of the people who rushed in to help on the day of the attack”.

Those public-spirited people did not run away and called the police and filmed the attack providing helpful evidence. The police arrived fairly promptly, tasered the assailant and protected him from an angry mob as they took him into custody.

Nobody died.

So here we have a seriously mentally ill person who has become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, He is arrested, put on trial and will be sentenced and probably locked up in Broadmoor for the rest of his life. The attack was horrific for those involved, particularly Lyle Zimmerman, but nobody died because the only weapon Mire had to hand was a fragile bread knife.

In Orlando, a seriously mentally ill person who had become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, a bi-polar wife-beater with repressed homosexual tendencies, killed 49 innocent people and was then killed himself. Omar Mateen could not be stopped by his victims because he was armed, not with a fragile bread knife, but with an AR-15-type assault rifle, which he would only have needed to reload once during his killing spree due to the weapon’s large magazine size. In the state of Florida, anyone over the age of 18 can buy an AR-15 as no state permit is required. AR15s are owned by around 3.7 million American households. The National Rifle Association has defended the mass sale of assault rifles, insisting they are useful for wild hunting and “home defence.” Why would a family need such a weapon for self-defence? It is not a gun suitable for hunting. Its main function is mass slaughter. The AR15 has become the weapon of choice for mass killers in the US.

I was astounded by the utter fatuity of a comment on Facebook. Someone commented in a fit of juvenile snarkiness: “OK – it’s the gun’s fault”. The NRA is always trotting out the cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”. Amend that to, “People with guns kill people, so don’t let madmen get their hands on AR15s.”

I understand why people feel the need to comment on the killing of British MP Jo Cox. It is such a terrible thing for a young woman with two young children and so much to offer the world to be cruelly taken away. We feel we have to say something. We feel we have to say such things should be prevented. We feel we have to seek lessons from this tragic event. I wonder though what lessons there are. Jo Cox’s murderer, Thomas Mair, was clearly mentally ill but we cannot lock up all mentally ill people and he gave no indication of being a danger to anyone. His house was full of books on fascism but can’t send the police around to check everybody taste in reading. People with mental illness should ideally be kept away from guns but how does one do that? UK laws are already stricter than in the USA.

A US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), based in Alabama, said on its website that it had obtained records showing a Thomas Mair had links dating back to 1999 with the neo-Nazi organisation NA (National Alliance). The SPLC posted images showing what it said were purchase orders for books bought by Mair, whose address is given as Batley, from the NA’s publishing arm National Vanguard Books in May of that year. The orders included a manual on how to build a pistol.

 

According to reports collected by the Gun Violence Archive, on the same day as the Orlando massacre there were 42 other shootings in the US which resulted in 18 deaths and 41 injuries. At least five of those killed were children. There have been no mass shootings in the UK since June 15 2016 when Jo Cox was killed. Next week, I will look at how countries other than the US react to mass shootings.

 

Brexit Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 14 2016

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Grievance Vote against the Elites

When Mrs Thatcher came to office in 1979, manufacturing accounted for almost 30% of Britain’s national income and employed 6.8 million people; by 2010, it accounted for 11% and employed 2.5 million. In no other major economy was industrial collapse so drastic, speedy and long-lasting. There used to be a working class; there used to be a working class culture. Ian Jack writes about the life of the manufacturing towns: “much of the country’s former character was also owed to them – non-conformist chapels, brass bands, giant vegetable championships, self-improvement, association football. Surely nothing as significant to the nation’s economy, culture or politics would ever emerge from them again? And then it did: grievance.”

British politicians in the past had a hinterland: Macmillan and Attlee served with honour and were wounded in the First World War. They saw the poverty in the land and tried to do something about. Today’s politicians go straight from university to think tanks or to work for politicians. They have little contact with the real world. Johnson and Gove were journalists who wrote op eds not well-researched investigations.  Politicians like Cameron, Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith see it as a noble mission to dismantle the welfare state that Attlee and Macmillan built and privatise public good for the profit of their cronies. In his 1991 book The Rise and Decline of the English Working Class 1918-1990, Eric Hopkins shows how the affluence of the Macmillan years became the bleakness of the Thatcher years. Manufacturing industry was replaced by the service and financial industries and the working class lost its sense of community with unemployment and the emasculation of the trade unions. There is an unpleasant view on YouTube of Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party haranguing fellow MEPs, telling them they do not know about real life and have never done a proper job in their lives. The man sitting behind him was a cardiac surgeon who was born in a Gulag. Farage was a commodities broker.

Sunderland was the first to declare a result in the referendum and it was overwhelmingly for leaving as were many other areas devastated by Thatcherism and its aftermath – areas kept alive by massive EU subsidies. Wales as a whole voted to leave. Michael Sheen, the Welsh-born actor (who played the role of Tony Blair) from Port Talbot, tweeted: “Wales votes to trust a new and more rightwing Tory leadership to invest as much money into its poorer areas as EU has been doing.” Many people voted Leave as a way out of seemingly hopeless circumstances. Cornwall, which voted solidly for Leave, has already demanded British government “protection”.

Economic Consequences

Standard & Poor’s stripped Britain of its triple-A credit rating. The Conservative Party set great store by London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre. Banks are preparing to shift jobs out of London amid the uncertainty about whether the UK can keep its “passporting” rights allowing them to operate across the EU. Ironically, although the UK was proud of keeping out of the euro, leaving the EU could mean the City will have rules imposed upon it by eurozone countries.

There is no doubt that some financial services jobs will be relocated to Dublin, Frankfurt, and Paris. US bank JP Morgan has warned 4,000 jobs will go from the UK and HSBC has said 1,000 City jobs will move to France. An Irish friend long resident in France tells me that Paris estate agents are being swamped with enquiries from large financial institutions in London looking for apartments for their personnel. “Whatever Osborne might say, that is the reality”. Rumours are sweeping the City that alternative trading sites are being set up in a number of other financial centres, including Luxembourg.

A survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD), found that nearly two-thirds of those polled said the outcome of the referendum was negative for their business. A quarter of those polled were putting hiring plans on hold, while 5% said they were about to make workers redundant. One in five respondents, out of a poll of more than 1,000 business leaders, were considering moving some of their operations outside of the UK.

There will be an immediate, and downward, impact upon GDP as uncertainty about the UK’s terms of trade with the rest of the world will deter even British firms from investing. If businesses stop investing there will be less employment in the UK economy. This will have a bad effect on consumer spending.

Immigration, Stupid!

Many in Ebbw Vale, the constituency of those left-wing icons Nye Bevan and Michael Foot, voted UKIP in the last general election – a town with almost no immigrants that voted to get the immigrants out. A recent survey showed that 77% of UK citizens are concerned about immigration above any other political/economic topic – and concern is strongest and most widespread in constituencies with virtually no recent immigration.

One can, without wanting to join a fascist party, empathise with those white working class people who feel in their gut that decisions that they were powerless to influence were made by people who were cushioned from the consequences of those decisions. One can understand their sense of insecurity as they see familiar areas changing because of immigration. I was shocked to find that the part of my hometown, Gloucester, which had been the birthplace of the poet and composer, Ivor Gurney, was full of Muslims and mosques. However, in the early 50s it had been full of West Indians.

The austere and donnish classicist, Enoch Powell, had dockers marching through the streets in his support. In the sixties, he became the unlikely spokesman for the beleaguered white working class, even winning the endorsement of Eric Clapton. Because he was a contrarian and mischief-maker, it is likely that Powell took delight in raising issues that both parties shrouded in complicit silence. His “rivers of blood” speech raised matters of real concern. In particular, he was right to suggest that areas like Wolverhampton were experiencing acute problems in adjusting to the concentration of recent immigrants.

Whether or not people voting Leave had legitimate concerns about immigration, there is no doubt that the referendum result seems to be giving licence to racists. Many MPs received reports from their constituencies and communities of migrants being intimidated or “told they need to go home”.  Many people, whose parents or grandparents were born in the UK, now say they feel less secure.

Boris Johnson tells us in his Daily Telegraph column (for which he gets paid 5,000 pounds a week) that he wants a “balanced and humane points-based” immigration system, but that’s for the extremely indeterminate future – and everyone can meanwhile look forward to ‘intense and intensifying’ co-operation with Europe, and opportunities to live, travel, work and study on the continent just as they please. The only pledge the Leavites could honour is a points-based immigration system, which the UK has had since 2008.

A likely scenario is that many elderly people living abroad will have to return to the UK, thereby placing a burden on the NHS (which will not be getting the extra funding promised by the Leavites), while young people currently working and paying taxes will leave the UK.

Conclusion

I respect anybody’s right to vote the way they choose. I am angry at the hypocrisy of those who are dismantling the welfare state and the NHS for the profit of their cronies but pretending to be saving the nation from Brussels bureaucracy.

Many who voted to leave the EU blamed immigrants for their reduced circumstances. There are real problems in the areas that voted to leave. Those problems were not caused by the EU or by immigration. They were caused by the deliberate policies of successive UK governments.

It is distressing to watch the rancour generated by this referendum. George Szirtes is a distinguished poet who found a welcome in England when his family was displaced by the Hungarian uprising in 1956. George sees a very different country today and finds it hard to forgive the Leavites: “You have changed not only my life but a great many people’s lives, both here and elsewhere, for the worse. I am not going to shake your hand for that.”

 

 

 

Brexit Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 7 2016.

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George Bernard Shaw, an Irishman, once wrote: “Do not believe the laws of God were suspended for England because you were born here.”

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David Cameron has post-dated his resignation as prime minister of the UK until October. English football manager, Roy Hodgson, resigned immediately after his team put in an appalling performance in the European Championship against Iceland.  Iceland has a population of 330,000 and 100 professional players. Diehard England football fans always think that this time the World Cup or the Euros will be different – until they’re not.

 

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03:  Roy Hodgson, manager of England looks on prior to the International friendly match between England and Norway at Wembley Stadium on September 3, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Many in the EU will be grateful for the UK’s departure, breathing a sigh of relief that they will be spared British exceptionalism and superiority. They will be grateful that the fantasy that Britain is doing the EU a favour is at an end.

In the early 90s, I was talking to a EU insider who compared the behaviour of delegates from the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish went to all the social events in Brussels and got to know everybody, and generally got what they wanted by way of charm and intelligence and working the system. The Brits complained a lot and went to bed early.

Cameron’s Legacy

David Cameron promised to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in order to appease the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party – those John Major called the “bastards”. This cynical ploy has not only led to the possible fragmentation of the EU, with far-right parties, which are strongly represented in the European Parliament, calling for similar exit referenda in their own nations, it certainly means the end of the UK.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and most major cities, including London, voted Remain. The referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 resulted in a victory for those wanting to stay in the UK. I warned at the time that, although the victory could not be challenged, there could be serious consequences if the views of the 44% who wanted Scottish independence within the EU were not considered. In the general election of May 2015, the Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats to become the third largest party in the Commons.

Cameron’s legacy on Ireland could be an end to the peace process. An important element of the Good Friday Agreement was that the terrorists’ goal of a united Ireland was subsumed  because the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were both co-operating within the EU. Cameron’s legacy will be the re-erecting of the border between the six counties and the 26 counties – with all the tensions that will bring. Another scenario, however, is that Northern Ireland might join the Republic – Sinn Fein have already called for a referendum on removing the border. In a bizarre twist, Ian Paisley Jr, son of the fire-breathing pastor who bellowed “No surrender!” has advised his constituents to apply for Irish passports. Another border issue now looks rather different – in Gibraltar, 95% voted to Remain, so that outpost of doughty Englishness may become part of Spain to stay in the EU.

What Was the Plan?

Some of the more cogent arguments for remaining made by derided “experts” indicated that a divorce after 43 years of marriage was likely to be extremely complicated, messy and acrimonious. Disentangling trade agreements and establishing a host of new bi-lateral agreements with individual states will be a nightmarish task which will take decades and require the input of armies of experts and bureaucrats.

The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond warned that the Leavites needed to tell voters how they planned to reconcile “mutually incompatible” promises made during the referendum campaign over restricting immigration at the same time as continuing free trade.

That Is Not What We Meant at All

As soon as the result was known, the Leavites started backtracking. The 17 million or so who voted for Brexit were being told almost from the moment the polls closed that they weren’t going to get any of what they had voted for anyway. Michael Gove had been happy about leaving the single market and damn the economic costs. Others now concede the UK will have to stay in the single market. Daniel Hannan MEP admitted that free movement of labour might continue. While votes were still being counted, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party confessed that it had been “a mistake” for Vote Leave to pretend that there would be an extra £350m a week for the NHS. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s promise to scrap VAT on energy bills were obviously fanciful with an economy slowing down and they are irrelevant when there is no government.

Take Me to your Leader

Who is in charge? Cameron quickly announced his resignation but he will be hanging on until October. Michael Gove and Theresa May have announced they will be running for the leadership of the Conservative Party but Boris Johnson has said he will not run – apart from running away from the mess he has created. The opposition Labour Party is in disarray with a majority of MPs calling on Jeremy Corbyn to resign from the leadership.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty


Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty sets out how an EU country might voluntarily leave the union. The UK will be the first full member state to invoke Article 50. The only precedent is Greenland leaving the EU in 1985 after two years of negotiation. It has a population of 55,000, and only one product: fish.

Failure to conclude new arrangements within two years results in the exiting state falling out of the EU with no new provisions in place. If negotiations are not concluded within two years, Britain risks having to leave the EU with no deal at all.

Leavites and Cameron seem reluctant to get the withdrawal moving. However, some EU bigwigs do not want to indulge their delaying tactics. Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU commission president, said: “It doesn’t make any sense to wait until October to try and negotiate the terms of their departure. I would like to get started immediately”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi insisted there could be no formal or informal talks about Britain’s new relationship until the Article 50 had been activated.

The UK will have to renegotiate 80,000 pages of EU agreements, deciding those to be kept in UK law and those to jettison. This will keep parliament busy for decades. Successive governments have made swingeing cuts in the civil service supposedly in the interests of economy and efficiency. The Leavites have excoriated “Brussels bureaucracy” and it is a karmic irony that they have succeeded in unleashing a bureaucratic hell on Whitehall with too few people to deal with it.

Any Turning Back?

The result of the referendum was, legally, purely advisory. To put withdrawal into action it requires the endorsement of parliament. There is another irony in that. A major theme of the Leave campaign was bringing back sovereignty to the UK. The sovereign power of the UK is the monarch in parliament. Lord Heseltine has pointed out: “There is a majority of something like 350 in the House of Commons broadly in favour of the European relationship …There is no way you are going to get those people to say black is white and change their minds unless a) they know what the deal is and b) it has been supported either by an election or by another referendum”. Another estimate is that less than 200 of the 650 MPs supported leaving.

Geoffrey Robertson QC writes: “Before Brexit can be triggered, parliament must repeal the 1972 European Communities Act by which it voted to take us into the European Union – and MPs have every right, and indeed a duty if they think it best for Britain, to vote to stay.”

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More next week on why this happened.

President Hillary Clinton and Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 30 2016

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It is hard to imagine what a Donald Trump presidency might bode for Sri Lanka because Trump makes a virtue of avoiding fixed positions on foreign policy – and he lies. We might surmise that Hillary Clinton as president would probably be bad for Sri Lanka because we can examine her track record as Secretary of State at the time that GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) was trying to defeat the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Clinton chaired the UN Security Council session on September 30 2009 when it adopted Resolution 1888, which dealt with conflict-related sexual violence. The official transcript of her address contained this: “We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks.” This is not an off-the-cuff remark – she was reading a prepared speech to a session of which she was the chair.

Sri Lankan prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake’s initial response was off-the cuff. He said that Clinton had apparently forgotten the Monica Lewinsky affair and should tend to her own backyard before alleging that women are being maltreated in other countries. This was not very statesman-like but in those days the prime ministership was not an important job.

The Sri Lankan government lodged an official “note of protest” (omitting any mention of Lewinsky) with the US Embassy in Colombo. Professor  Rajiva Wijesinha, then Secretary to the Human Rights Ministry, told The Island that the government would like the US to reveal any specific allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and  that it was unfortunate that those who had failed to save the LTTE from being crushed, at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army, were now harassing Sri Lanka.

 

Trump has been taking every opportunity to embarrass Clinton on the issue of her e-mails. The controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server led the US government to release some of the e-mails. This enables us to see what her thinking on Sri Lanka was behind the scenes.

A letter from the State Department to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama claimed that “numerous cases of rape and sexual violence in Sri Lanka, particularly acts committed against women held in detention by the government” had been detailed over the years by the US government and international human rights groups. This misses the crucial point that Clinton was not merely saying that rapes had occurred but that the Sri Lankan state had officially adopted sexual abuse as a weapon of war.

 

The letter was signed by Melanne Verveer, ambassador at large for global women’s issues at the State Department. She did concede that “in the most recent phase of the conflict, from 2006 to 2009 … we have not received reports that rape and sexual abuse were used as tools of war, as they clearly have in other conflict areas around the world.” She made sure that she got the last word and set the scene for Clinton’s future actions in getting Sri Lanka’s war record examined by the UNHRC. “Secretary Clinton believes that Sri Lanka must focus to the future and move forward on the promotion of peace and the protection of human rights,”

 

On Oct 3, 2009, Lissa Muscatine, a senior aide to Clinton, acknowledged there had been a lack of due diligence in clearing Clinton’s UN statement.  State department spokesperson Philip Crowley wrote that Clinton was open to the idea of the response coming from someone other than herself. “She feels that this has generated a great deal of media commentary in various quarters, including prominent outlets in this country and in Asia that we have no choice but to respond in a public way. Government supporters are saying that she is listening to the Tamil Diaspora”.

Verveer’s letter was not a retraction and did not come from Clinton. Clinton was still appeasing those who had been calling for an international inquiry into the Vanni offensive. The idea that GOSL used rape as a weapon of war still hung there. Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Major General Shavendra Silva, asserted that allegations of rape, during the conflict, as well as in the  post-war period, were meant to justify demands for withdrawal of the Sri Lankan army from the Northern Province. The UN repeated the allegation, in early 2014, in relation to the post-war period also.

 

On 6 May 2009 Deputy Assistant Secretary Mike Owens declared “We, of course, have designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and we certainly have no sympathy for some of the things that they’ve carried out, but I think you do have to ask a very legitimate question: Why did they have a following in the beginning? And I think it’s because some in the Tamil community do have legitimate grievances, and we need to find — I think it’s imperative for Sri Lankans to find a way to give everyone in the community, all Sri Lankans a legitimate voice in their government.”

 

There is no denying that Sri Lanka’s military received significant help from the US in its struggle with the LTTE. However, Clinton seemed miffed when President Rajapaksa refused to bow to demands from the international community for a cease fire. Rajapaksa knew fine well that the LTTE used cease-fires to regroup and re-arm and, being so close to victory after 30 years of brutal war, he was not going to fall into that trap.

 

During the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka’s traditional arms suppliers imposed restrictions. GOSL had to look elsewhere and China was willing to help. Following the defeat of the LTTE, the Rajapaksa regime chose to focus on rapid economic revival and development of infrastructure. The US reneged on its commitment to provide $500 million from the Millennium Development Account for road development.

The released e-mails reveal that Clinton tried to block an IMF loan to GOSL and that the IMF did not like it. Clinton was told that the IMF had, during the final stages of the war, lambasted her in a conversation with Timothy Geithner, the then US Secretary of the Treasury, for ordering the IMF to suspend funding to Sri Lanka. In an email sent to Clinton by Burns Strider, a former senior advisor, Strider said people on the ground with the World Bank and the IMF believed the LTTE must be completely defeated.

 

During her previous campaign for the presidential Democratic nomination Sri Lankan Americans who strongly supported her were discouraged by the way her remarks on terrorism were manipulated by pro-LTTE outlets. Clinton visited Tamil Nadu and met Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalithaa, a persistent critic of GOSL, on July 20 2011 and proffered congratulations on her electoral victory. Clinton invited Jayalalithaa to visit US to tell Americans about the great achievements of Tamil Nadu.

 

Clinton has supported regime change in Asia, Africa and South America. She supported the sanctions that did so much harm to Iraqi children. Clinton is supported by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who said on TV that the death of half a million Iraqi children was “worth it”. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran with nuclear weapons. When the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was publicly sodomised with a knife, Clinton gloated: “We came, we saw, he died.” The US might have thought they had got the regime they wanted after Rajapaksa was ousted and the new government “co-sponsored” with the US a resolution on human rights for the UNHRC. However, the UNHRC business seems to be moving slowly and the current Sri Lankan government has found that it cannot live without China after all. Perhaps the new President Clinton will have plans for a Sri Lankan spring and further regime change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can It Happen There? Part Two.

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 23 2016

 

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In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published his dystopian satire It Can’t Happen Here! The novel imagines a charismatic leader winning the presidency and establishing a Fascist dictatorship in the US. Influential American journalist Josh Marshall wrote of Donald Trump: “His public appearances are like a fugue of impulse and aggression, overlapped with charisma and humour and a searching for the spirit of the crowd, a sometimes frantic, sometimes slow mix of neediness, divination and dominance.”

Orlando

Trump said President Obama should “resign in disgrace” for failing to call the Orlando massacre “Islamic terrorism”. Obama was circumspect in his statement expressing sympathy and solidarity with “the LGBT community” and with the people of Orlando. The president expressed inclusiveness while the Republican contender sought to make political capital from divisiveness.

The rifle Omar Mateen used was a Sig Sauer MCX, sometimes known to gun fetishists as the “Black Mamba”. Sig Sauer makes most of its 74,000 semi-automatic rifles sold in the US market at its factory in New Hampshire. In February 2016, Trump toured the factory with his two sons and Trump addressed a crowd at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual trade show where his sons posed for photo opps with Sig Sauer representatives.

Trump has said the existing background check system should be improved, not expanded, and that assault-weapons bans do not work.

Trump on LGBT

Following the Orlando massacre, Trump claimed to be a champion and friend of the LGBT community.  “Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country who suppress women, gays and anyone else who doesn’t share their views or values.”

In reality, Trump must bow to anti-LGBT forces if he wants to win the presidency and is making pacts with them. On 10 June 2016, Trump addressed a meeting of the Road to Majority Summit. Ben Carson, who compared homosexuality to bestiality and paedophilia, moderated the discussion, which was closed to the media, between Trump and hundreds of anti-LGBT activists,.  Trump met major evangelical leaders in New York City on June 21.

American philosopher Richard Rorty predicted back in 1994: “One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion…. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

Judges

During a Trump presidency, a number of Supreme Court vacancies will give him the opportunity to shape the judiciary. His Supreme Court appointments will need to please the evangelicals.  In May, Trump released a list of 11 potential replacements for Antonin Scalia which were alarming for LGBT people and feminists. One of Trump’s choices is Joan Larsen, who worked for Scalia. She served in the Justice Department office that produced the legal justifications for torture. The nomination of President Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, is being blocked by the Senate, so the next president could have a Supreme Court appointment waiting in January 2017.

Trump’s Policies

Trump makes his lack of fixed policy positions a positive virtue: “A lot of times when I speak, people say that I don’t provide specific policies that some pollster has determined are what people want to hear”

We can confidently predict that a Clinton presidency would not be good for this island nation because we can examine her record as Secretary of State. We have very little to go on with Trump. Mark Danner wrote: “What gives a man who knows little or nothing of foreign policy the unsullied conviction to announce to the world that only he can solve, well, Pakistan? Or terrorism?” One cannot imagine that Trump would help Sri Lanka’s delicate balancing act between India, Pakistan, China and the US or help it deal with the legacy of its defeat of terrorism.

Trump does not make any clear foreign policy statements and what does say often turns out to be a lie. He promised to put together a team of experts to help him with foreign policy but the names he announced puzzled many people. He shared the names with the Washington Post. He said five advisers had signed up to be on his team: Joseph E Schmitz, General Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Walid Phares. The team includes two people who played active roles in Iraq. Trump claims to have been against the invasion (a lie) and has accused GW Bush of lying about WMD.

Schmitz left his job as the Pentagon’s inspector general eleven years ago following allegations that he protected top officials in the GW Bush administration suspected of wrongdoing. Senator Grassley, then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accused Schmitz of blocking investigations of Bush administration officials tied to Iraq and Afghanistan war contracts and questioned his ties to lobbyists. On leaving the Pentagon took a job with the Prince Group, the parent company of Blackwater USA, the controversial defense contractor whose operatives killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

General Joseph “Keith” Kellogg was among the first US personnel sent in to try and govern Iraq after the US removed Saddam Hussein. Kellogg had been employed by US government contractor Oracle Corp. in November 2003 when he went to Baghdad to serve as the Chief Operating Officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a position he held for five months. During his time in Iraq, the Iraqi army was disbanded which helped to plunge the country into chaos. He was responsible for poorly managed contracts that led to audits and inspectors general investigations.

Walid Phares is an anti-Muslim Lebanese Christian, who served as a top adviser to a Christian militia blamed for atrocities during the Lebanese Civil War. He was a close adviser to Samir Geagea, a Lebanese warlord whose career developed from leading hit squads to running the Lebanese Forces.

Carter Page was an investment banker with Merrill-Lynch who has close ties with Gazprom and Putin’s Kremlin. Sergey Aleksashenko, a top Merrill executive in Russia at one time and now an outspoken Kremlin critic, described Page as a junior banker with little understanding of Russia. “I could not imagine Carter as an adviser on foreign policy. It’s really surprising.”

George Papadopoulos, a 2009 graduate of DePaul University, is said to direct an international energy center at the London Centre of International Law Practice. He obtained a master’s degree from the University of London in 2010. Almost all his work appears to have revolved around the role of Greece, Cyprus and an Israeli natural gas discovery in the eastern Mediterranean.  Several people in energy policy circles in London, Washington and New York said they knew nothing of him. Papadopoulos served as an adviser to Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

There are those who believe that Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination was initially merely a publicity stunt to boost his business. Now he has got this far, there is a fear that he will use the White House as a business opportunity, and, with his financial interests all over the world, foreign policy would be a prime area. John Wonderlich, of the Sunlight Foundation said that complex diplomacy would be further “complicated and altered by massive personal financial conflicts of interests being present at the same time?”

Ethical Problems

Donald Trump could be president without selling his businesses. Restrictions that prohibit executive branch officials from earning income from their businesses do not apply to the president or vice president. Trump has not committed himself to selling his businesses, and instead he has said that his children and executives would manage them. Kenneth Gross who provided legal assistance to several presidential candidates, said, “He can’t just get amnesia. He’s stuck with the knowledge of what he owns.”

Trump has filed a mandatory personal financial disclosure statement – 104-pages listing his current holdings and their value. With the power of the presidency, Trump could manipulate policy and enforcement to directly benefit his own financial holdings. Trump does a lot of business with the federal government and holds stock in companies, like Boeing, which receive billions of dollars in government contracts.

The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service is appointed by the president and serves at the pleasure of the president. In his campaign, Trump has been strongly critical of the IRS and has bragged that he pays “as little in taxes as possible”. A Trump-appointed IRS commissioner could allow him to avoid any scrutiny at all for his tax compliance. Trump has not released his tax returns since 1981.

Trump could also use the power of the presidency to intimidate banks into making riskier investments for his companies. Trump has huge debts to Deutsche Bank, a foreign entity that was recently caught manipulating markets around the world. What are the implications of the chief executive of the US government owing such a foreign  entity over $100 million?

Loss Aversion Trumps Risk Aversion

Why do people support Trump? Behavioural economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the idea of loss aversion – people feel the pain of losses more than they feel the pleasure of gains. Trump harps on loss. In Trump’s world, things are much worse than they seem: “We’re losing everything.” Trump appeals to a kind of masochism – the median Trump voter is, in reality, better educated and richer than the average American but even people who are not doing as well as they expected feel a sense of loss.

His supporters are willing to take a risk – his unpredictability is a positive. To them he looks like a strong leader – is he a Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Castro, Franco, Pinochet, Chavez? Is American democracy strong enough to survive four or eight years of a Trump presidency? Adam Gopnik thinks not: “Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right…. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak.”

 

Can It Happen There? Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 16 2016.

 

Colman's Column3

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We hacks are very nervous about Godwin’s Law, which was promulgated by American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states that if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will bring up Hitler or Nazism. One needs to be wary offline also. Godwin was not around in 1935 when Sinclair Lewis published his novel It Can’t Happen Here. I have been looking again at that book as I watch, horrified, the rise of Donald Trump. Some commentators have suggested that Godwin’s Law should be put in abeyance during the course of the 2016 US presidential election. In December 2015, Godwin himself commented on the Nazi and fascist comparisons being made by several articles about The Donald, saying that, “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.”

Let us not forget that Hitler, like Trump, was a demagogue with no experience of governing. It is a fallacy to claim that Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor in 1933 by an overwhelming popular vote. The National Socialist Party was indeed the largest party in the Reichstag having won 37% of the vote in a general election but, not having a working majority, were members of a coalition. Hitler became all-powerful because von Papen and other conservatives disastrously thought they could control him.

Trump uses patriotism as a weapon but also points out how the USA is failing – an empire in decline – and he is the one to Make America Great Again. This echoes the masochistic paranoid victimhood of Germany after the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles

Not Hitler

Adam Gopnik commented recently in the New Yorker on Mrs Trump’s remark that her husband was not Hitler, “Well, of course he isn’t. But then Hitler wasn’t Hitler—until he was. At each step of the way, the shock was tempered by acceptance.”

The phrase, The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” is often attributed to Edmund Burke (although no-one has been able to find it in any of his writings). Trump has got this far because many not so good men have done worse than nothing.

Senior Republican figures tolerated Trump’s excesses because he seemed popular and they thought all the outrageous Trumpery was showboating. Their fantasy was that if he won the nomination he would take on the aura of a plausible president. Trump makes a big thing of Clinton using speechwriters and keeps pointing out that he has no teleprompter. An NBC News reporter described a speech at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York as ‘presidential’ merely because he had a prepared text and managed to speak for fifteen minutes without being too offensive. Generally speaking, he has continually ramped up the Trumpery and other Republicans cannot control him.

In 1930, Sinclair Lewis was the first US writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lewis published It Can’t Happen in 1935. This dystopian satire imagines a Fascist dictatorship in the US. The book serves as a warning that political movements like Nazism can come to power when people blindly support a charismatic leader.

From Buzz to the Donald

In Lewis’s novel, US presidential candidate Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip promises to rescue the USA from economic depression. He first wins the Democratic Party nomination, ousting Franklin D Roosevelt. He then becomes president by promising to tax the rich, and stop big business from abusing the common worker.

Windrip is a great showman, but not comfortable with intellectuals. He is swept into office on a tide of revival tent enthusiasm (Lewis covers this theme in Elmer Gantry) and anti-intellectual populism. Despite the reformist facade, Windrip is really the candidate of big business.  He speaks of “liberating” women and minorities, as he gradually strips them of all their rights. Blacks and Jews do not fare well under his rule.

Soon after his election, Windrip puts the media under the supervision of the military. William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day and model for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, directs his newspapers to praise the government. The president forces Congress to provide unlimited funding to the military and to pass stringent, unconstitutional laws. He establishes military tribunals for civilians, and denounces critics as traitors. The most loyal followers become a private army, the Minute Men, answerable to no one. The book documents a rapid decline into barbarity and charts an implosion of American culture: thanks to the weight of mass media, the desire for security and comfort, and endemic nationalism, civil society caves in at the touch of a charismatic politician.

As Goering said: “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Complicity

Sinclair Lewis shows that it takes great courage to resist a totalitarian dictatorship. It even takes courage to withhold enthusiastic support. The novel, and the history of Germany in the 1930s, demonstrate that ordinary people can be persuaded to do extraordinary things out of fear or because they benefited from the system. In Nazi Germany, doctors planned, supervised and participated in sterilisation, unethical experiments on humans, torture, euthanasia and genocide, just as American doctors did in Iraq. Ordinary German policemen and nurses killed in cold blood even when they would not have been punished if they demurred.

Unsavoury Supporters

Trump’s anti-government rhetoric goes beyond tea party fulminations but some of his supporters go even further and may not be controllable by Trump. His campaign approved David Riden to go to the Republican National Convention. Riden is one of many Trump supporters with ties to the Patriot Movement, a loose-knit conglomeration of right-wing militias. According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, nearly 1,000 anti-government groups now operate in the United States, including as many as 276 armed militias. Riden asserts that all three branches of the US government are “way off away from the Constitution right now.” Riden warns that Americans may need to attack with assault weapons and bombs in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. US leaders who violate the Constitution may have to be done away with: “The polite word is ‘eliminated’,'” he said. “The harsh word is ‘killed.'”

Caleb A Bailey, whom the Trump campaign approved to be a Maryland delegate to the Republican National Convention, was indicted on weapons and child pornography charges. Federal investigators found a fortified subterranean room under his 75-acre gated compound stocked with grenades, tear gas, and illegal machine guns.

Establishment Failure

As well as those psychopaths who are prepared to take up arms against  the government there are many people who have more rational reasons to believe they have been betrayed. As long ago as 1997, the American philosopher Richard Rorty wrote that “something would crack” when the nonsuburban electorate come to the realisation that “the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots….”

The Democratic Party used to represent the working and middle classes but now prefers to court the professional classes and those who produce no value, those, like hedge-fund managers, who contributed mightily to the financial crisis, or real estate merchants peddling toxic mortgages. The Democrats thought its natural constituents had nowhere else to go. Then along comes Trump – who made his fortune in real estate and reality TV. If he wins the presidency, it is unlikely that he will have the will or the competence to give the betrayed what they want. The consequences of leaving millions of people feeling abandoned yet again will be the stuff of nightmares, especially when many of the disappointed have been stockpiling weaponry.

 

 

 

 

Next week – what a Trump presidency would mean for the rest of the world, including Sri Lanka.

Gun Control – a Comparison

Leytonstone is a station on the Central line, the line which runs roughly west to east through central London and into the north-eastern suburbs. On December 5 2015, a man stabbed three people at the station before police subdued him with a stun gun and made an arrest. The man was reported to be shouting Muslim slogans and “This is for Syria”. Someone called out: “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv! You’re no Muslim, bruv! You ain’t no Muslim!”

The Metropolitan Police were very quick to describe this as a “terrorist incident”. The Somali-born knifeman had images of Fusilier Rigby (beheaded by a Nigerian Muslim) and British Islamic State executioner Jihadi John on his phone, along with material linked to ISIS.

It later transpired that the assailant, Muhiddin Mire, aged 30, had a history of severe mental illness. He was sectioned in 2006 during an episode “when, essentially he lost touch with reality”. His name was not on any database of suspects or known extremists, and he was not believed to have been exploited by any known terrorist group or individual. After Mire was convicted of attempted murder and incarcerated in Broadmoor high-security mental health facility, Commander Dean Haydon, head of counter-terrorism for Scotland Yard, said: “I would not class it as a terrorist incident now.”

Mire was experiencing paranoid delusions a month before the attack and  his GP referred him to his local community mental health services. He had missed an appointment with a community mental health team four days before the incident on 5 December. Mire’s family had also become concerned about his mental health and tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to return to Somalia, having failed to persuade the health authorities toplace him in a secure institution.

Mire targeted Lyle Zimmerman at random after travelling on the same tube carriage. On video footage, Mire was seen turning Zimmerman over, kicking him six times to the head and chest, and sawing at his throat with a breadknife. Louise McGuinness said in a statement that when she shouted at Mire to stop he turned to her and said: “This is for telling me to stop,” and kicked Zimmerman harder. It seems that his attack on Zimmerman was in emulation of the beheading of Lee Rigby.

Zimmerman, who sustained three large lacerations to his neck that exposed his trachea, testified at Mire’s trial in May 2016, where he said he felt his attacker was “a crazy person, a mentally ill person.”

Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC had told jurors Mire’s mental health problems were not a defence that excused  his intention to kill Mr Zimmerman. Mr Rees also argued Mire had shown interest in ISIS and Islamic extremism before his “relapse” and his decision to give up his job as a taxi driver. The prosecutor said: “He is sympathetic to those who are choosing to pursue jihad against  non-Muslims. It can be no coincidence that he carried out the attack three days after parliament had voted to extend the bombing campaign against ISIS to territory in Syria. The evidence clearly establishes that the motive underpinning this attack was that bombing campaign in Syria. That was at the very forefront at his mind.”

After the jury delivered its verdict, Judge Richard Marks QC, praised those who remained at the station to warn others while Mire carried out his attack. He said: “There are members of the public who showed remarkable courage and good heartedness who became involved in this case.” He praised the “public spiritedness of the people who rushed in to help on the day of the attack”.

Those public-spirited people  did not run away and called the police and filmed the attack providing helpful evidence. The police arrived fairly promptly, tasered the assailant and protected him from an angry mob as they took him into custody.

Nobody died.

So here we have a seriously mentally ill person who has become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, He is arrested, put on trial and sentenced. The attack was horrific for those involved, particularly Lyle Zimmerman but nobody died because the only weapon Mire had to hand was a fragile bread knife.

In Orlando, a seriously mentally ill person who had become further deranged by Islamist propaganda, a bi-polar wife-beater with repressed homosexual tendencies, kills 49 innocent people and is then killed himself. Omar Mateen could not be stopped by his victims because he was armed, not with a fragile bread knife, but with an AR-15-type assault rifle, which he would only have needed to reload once during his killing spree due to the weapon’s large magazine size. In the state of Florida, anyone over the age of 18 can buy an AR-15 as no state permit is required. AR15s are owned by around 3.7 million American households. The National Rifle Association has defended the mass sale of assault rifles, insisting they are useful for wild hunting and “home defence.” Why would a family need such a weapon for self-defence? It is not a gun suitable for hunting. Its main function is mass slaughter. The AR15 has become the weapon of choice for mass killers in the US.

 

I was astounded by the utter fatuity of a comment on Facebook. Someone commented in fit of juvenile snarkiness: “OK – it’s the gun’s fault”. The NRA is always trotting out the cliché, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”. Amend that to, “People with guns kill people, so don’t let madmen get their hands on AR15s.”

 

Michael White’s The Venetian Detective

 

This article appeared in the Sunday Island on May 15 2016

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=145213

 

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This fragrant isle gets a mention in Michael White’s new book. One of the hero’s friends, Lord Pinelli, has a manservant called Ajith who is from India. Another servant, who generally answers the door, is called Pius, named as an insult to the Pope of that name. Pius was originally from the jungles of Borneo and no-one is quite sure how he came to be in a Venetian noblemen’s house in 1592. There is speculation that he arrived on a Portuguese spice ship from Taprobane. Pius is an orang-utan.

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As in Equinox, his first novel, in this new book, The Venetian Detective, Michael White uses the vehicle of the detective novel to explore unexpected connections between the rational development of modern scientific practice and alchemy, occultism, necromancy and religion. Mixed in with that is a gumbo of political intrigue and rivalry, papal dominance versus Venetian republican libertarianism, drug dealing and prostitution. There is also a love story.

Michael White is a British writer based in Australia. Born in 1959, he studied at King’s College London (1977-1982) and was a Chemistry lecturer at d’Overbroeck’s College, Oxford (1984-1991). He used to be a rock star with Colour Me Pop and the Thompson Twins – I saw them live at Hammersmith Palais in the 1980s.  He now lives in Perth, Australia. He is a bestselling author of 39 books, selling over 4 million copies in 40 languages and has appeared on TV and Radio around the world. He has been a science editor of British GQ, and a columnist for the London Sunday Express. He moved to Australia in 2002 and was made an Honorary Research Fellow at Curtin University in 2005.

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Michael White’s books include, Stephen Hawking: A Life in ScienceLeonardo: The First ScientistTolkien: A Biography; and C. S. Lewis: The Boy Who Chronicled Narnia and a biography of Isaac Newton The Last Sorcerer. His first novel Equinox – an occult mystery thriller (with far better writing than Dan Brown’s) reached the Top Ten bestseller list in the UK and has been translated into 35 languages. His most recent non-fiction book is Galileo: Antichrist, a biography of the great scientist and religious radical. Novels following Equinox include: The Medici SecretThe Borgia Ring and The Art of Murder. A further novel features Galileo and Elizabeth I. White has also written novels under the pseudonyms Sam Fisher and Tom West and collaborated on a novel with James Patterson. He has been both short-listed and long-listed for the Aventis prize – Rivals short-listed in 2002 and The Fruits of War long-listed in 2006. He was also nominated for the Ned Kelly Prize for First Novel (for Equinox).

The book opens: “Venice. Ten Minutes Past Midnight, 10th of November, 1592” with two masked and black-cloaked figures lurking in the shadows of the alleyways by the canals, “their footfalls dampened by practice”. The taller of the two men, called here Saviour “could smell blood before he saw it”. The other man is here called Sin Eater. They are looking for a beautiful prostitute called Antoinette Perugino at Alfonzo’s bordello. The diabolic duo witness Antoinette being attacked by a tall man with a cane and being rescued by a squat burly man. She escapes from those two only to have her throat cut by Saviour and Sin Eater.

This is the first of a series of ritualistic murders that the eponymous Venetian Detective investigates. Serial killing leads to mass murder and an orgy of violence. The detective is Doctor Francesco Sagredo who has returned to Venice at the insistence of the current Doge, Pasquale Cicogna, after fifteen years of exile. Many tales have come back to Venice of Sagredo’s adventures and accomplishments, enough to make his rival Niccolo Celsi intensely jealous “The girls are calling him the new Marco Polo”.

The Doge’s son, the foul-mouthed and low-living Tomasso Cicogna, was Sagredo’s comrade in arms at the Battle of Lepanto and becomes his assistant in his new career as a detective, Lewis to Sagredo’s Morse. There are knowingly anachronistic nods towards modern detectives. Like Sherlock Holmes and Adrian Monk Sagredo, dismisses any thought that he has special powers, that he is a wizard: “It is simply deductive reasoning, looking at the evidence before your eyes and drawing logical conclusions that fit the observed facts”. Sagredo has a Gil Grissom-like tendency to say things like “The dead may indeed speak” and “Follow the evidence, the evidence does not lie”. His forensic techniques, as well as his medical practices – which deviate from the then standard prescription of leeches, mercury and horse excrement – lead some to fear that he is dabbling in the occult. He has learnt arcane lore from wise men in Nepal and alarms people when they witness him practising yoga and meditation.

Historical figures like Caravaggio, Hans Lippershey, Giordano Bruno and Galileo make guest appearances. There is also a knowing nod towards our 21st Century celebrity culture in the magazine published by Titus Rinilto.

The book has been optioned for a TV dramatization and there are many meaty roles for experienced actors – Maggie Smith would make a good Violetta Celsi – “corroded by her own excoriating vitriol”. Perhaps Hugh Jackman would make a good Sagredo. Trevor Peacock could be Carlo Perugino. Either Alan Rickman or Ian Richardson would have been perfect for Niccolo Celsi but sadly they have both left us. I would nominate Nick Dunning (Thomas Boleyn in The Tudors) for the role of Cardinal Severino. It is easy to imagine it a visual treat with the camera lingering on the Venetian buildings as the Morse dramatizations relished the ancient structures of Oxford. There will be plenty of sinister atmosphere in the canals and narrow passageways, as in Don’t Look Now. There will be a feast of colourful costumes, as in The Borgias and The Tudors.” “The gold leaf and the beggars, the smell of church incense and bilge, the gaudy ladies of high society…the winding lanes and the houses flat-faced and daubed in a beautiful cacophony of colour, the maze-like routes from one point to another, the market stalls and shops stinking of fish or blood-dripping poultry”. There is an orgy scene around page 197 which will go down well on the screen.

This book has inspired me to delve some more into the history of Venice. I read James (Jan) Morris’s book on Venice before my own brief visit to the city a long time ago and  I am now inspired to read it again. The brilliant literary critic Tony Tanner has long been one of my intellectual heroes. His book Venice Desired examines Venice in the light of the influence it has had on diverse writers over the centuries. While researching my own travel piece on Venice, Venice and Death, I found much of interest in the work of ground-breaking historian Ferdinand Braudel.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/venice-and-death/

 

Michael White’s book The Venetian Detective is a fine achievement, providing much intellectual stimulation and evocative prose alongside the thrills of the historical mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

MOPE – a Tale of Two Diasporas

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 28 2016

Colman's Column3

Susan Sontag: Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking.

Shedding Blood in Every Generation

Four years ago, I posted a lengthy article on Groundviews which was prompted by a statement in May 2011 by MDMK chief Vaiko in Tamil Nadu. He said that the war for Eelam was not over; Prabhakaran was not dead and would emerge from hiding at the right time. According to Victor Rajakulendran, the LTTE remained a shining example, a “good history,” for all Sri Lankan Tamils to follow. For a very small number of Irish people the leaders of the Easter 1916 Rising remain a shining example. In her new book, The Seven, about the seven members of the Military Council who made the decision to rebel in Dublin, Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards, concludes: “By courting death for a cause that had no popular support, were the Seven different to Bobby Sands and his comrades who committed suicide by starvation? Or from the jihadis who these days joyously sacrifice themselves in suicide bombings? They shared a sense of their own absolute moral superiority as well as an ambition to achieve some kind of immortality”.

Choosing Martyrdom

Ruth Dudley Edwards quotes words of Yeats written in 1939:

Some had no thought of victory

But had gone out to die

That Ireland’s mind might be greater,

Her heart mount up on high;

And yet who knows what’s yet to come?

For Patrick Pearse had said

That in every generation

Must Ireland’s blood be shed.

 

In my Groundviews article, I asked: “Did Prabhakaran ever ask those who are shown in the horrific Channel 4 images if they wanted to be martyrs? Was there a referendum on martyrdom, a focus group?”

 

Unhappy Land of Heroes

Liam Kennedy, Emeritus Professor of Economic History at Queen’s University, Belfast, recently published a collection of essays entitled Unhappy the Land. That phrase comes from Bertolt Brecht: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes”. The subtitle to Professor Kennedy’s book is The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? The acronym MOPE has been used a lot since Kennedy first introduced it in what Ruth Dudley Edwards called “a good essay at the very end of a book containing lots of boring economic history”. Professor Kennedy writes: “It is hard to overestimate the role of self-delusion in in Irish history, whether as a force animating colonial ‘reformers’ in the seventeenth century or Sinn Fein activists in the twentieth”. Self-delusion is not confined to the Irish.

Unhappy

Unhappy Land?

Did Ireland suffer from exceptional disadvantages? Kennedy thinks not  “…the island of Ireland, when viewed comparatively, was favourably circumstanced in terms of soil, climate and biological conditions”. Professor Kennedy contends that no major war was fought on Irish soil after the seventeenth century. With the exceptions of Switzerland and Iceland, “it is difficult to think of any major European society which has enjoyed the degree of isolation Ireland enjoyed from the immediate depredations of war”. During the last three centuries, there have been no major invasions of Ireland. Unlike most Europeans, the Irish have never experienced military conscription. “During the most brutal century that Europe has ever known – the twentieth- Ireland escaped relatively unscathed”.

Some might point out the number of Irishmen who perished in the First World War. About 210,000 Irishmen, all volunteers, served in the British forces during World War One and 35,000 of them died. Others might draw attention to the deformation to the Irish psyche caused by being next door to England and being subsumed into the oppressive British Empire.

A Happy Land?

 

Kennedy

As an economic historian, Professor Kennedy confidently states that Ireland was among the fastest growing economies in Europe at the time of the Easter Rising. Apart from slow growth in particular sub-periods such as 1932-38 and 1951-59, “Over the twentieth century as a whole, the growth performance of the Irish economy has been close to the western European average and well ahead of eastern Europe. The Irish Republic and Northern Ireland today rank among the richest regions in the world in terms of income per head”.

Professor Kennedy also challenges received wisdom that the introduction of the Penal Laws at the end of the seventeenth century repressed the religious rights of the majority Catholic population of Ireland. Kennedy contends that after 1715, the Penal Laws were fiercer on the statute book than in practice. By the 1790s, Catholics and dissenters in Ireland enjoyed freedom of worship, Catholic churches and dissenters’ chapels dotted the Irish countryside and a state-subsidised national seminary for Catholic priests was founded at Maynooth. At the same time, there was vigorous persecution of religious dissent on the European mainland.

The nineteenth century saw the uninterrupted progress of the Catholic Church in Ireland as it developed a vast infrastructure of churches, presbyteries, convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces. Perhaps most important was clerical control of the school system with funding from the British state. Clerical education and clerical appointments were free of state control. As a child, I used to enjoy the rousing hymn Faith of our Fathers. Whatever the words of that hymn might claim, Irish people, from the 1740s, were able to worship without fear of “dungeon, fire and sword”. Kennedy says that at a deep level “there was the image-world of Christianity and its symbolic representation of pain, sorrow and exile – universals of the human predicament – which could be exploited selectively to colour the Irish collective experience”. Patrick Pearse was a master of this. After Ireland became independent the church’s power reached totalitarian proportions.

Diaspora

Emigration has been seen as a downside, a drain on the economy, depriving the nation of its bright ambitious young. Professor Kennedy sees a positive side. The Irish have unlimited freedom of exit and have enjoyed privileged access to two of the highest-wage economies in the world – North America and Britain.

Large-scale emigration began after the Famine and it did not take long for the victims to become victimisers. The New York riots of 1863 (as featured in Scorsese’s film The Gangs of New York) were called the Draft Riots because of protests against conscription into the Union army in the Civil War. In fact, they were race riots carried out by Irish immigrants, the children of the Famine, who feared competition in the labour market from emancipated black slaves. At least 119 were killed in an orgy of lynching and arson.

One of the Seven, Tom Clarke, lived in America and revelled in the atmosphere of grievance and heroic struggle that Irish Americans propagated. He expressed a virulent hatred for blacks. As Ruth Dudley Edwards puts it: “Irish Americans would take the narrative of exceptional Irish victimhood to extreme levels of narcissism, self-pity and absurdity and feed it back to republicans in Ireland in what became a malign circle”.

The Politics of Grievance

Sound familiar? In the same way, genuine grievances of Tamils living in in Sri Lanka get subsumed in the exaggerated claims of genocide uttered by sections of the Tamil diaspora.

Professor Kennedy does not deny that Ireland suffered injustice. “It would be an act of denial… to fail to acknowledge that Irish history is replete with instances of persecution, of evictions, of famines. These form part of a European historical experience that was, time out of mind, brutal, bloody and oppressive. One does not have to go all the way with Hobbes to conclude: the past is not a pleasant place”.

However, he sees the ever-present danger of keeping historical resentments alive. “The library of past and present wrongs, including those of an economic nature, were articulated in a continuous present tense that seemed to give historical depth and legitimacy to newly-minted notions of nationalism”.

Bosnia provides a warning. The horrors of the 1990s came “out of a hate-filled history of victimhood. The sadism of the moment was clouded by the rhetoric of the centuries”. Let us not dwell on self-delusion about “800 years of oppression” or deal with perceived grievance by more bloodshed.

 

Easter 1916

April 24 2016

 

There has been a great deal written about the centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916. Many events commemorated the Rising on Easter Monday March 27 2016. However, because Easter is a moveable feast, the insurrection actually took place on April 24 1916. I am going to use that as an excuse to draw together some of my thoughts about the Rising.

 

England’s Difficulty

 

The aim of the 1916 Rising was to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was occupied with World War I. “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Joseph Plunkett travelled to Germany in April 1915 to join Roger Casement to seek help from the German government. They also met the German Ambassador in Washington to seek German support for Irish independence. Plunkett and Casement presented a plan which involved a German expeditionary force landing on the west coast of Ireland. That plan did not work out, although Casement brought guns into Ireland from Germany.

The Rising had no popular support. As the rebel prisoners were marched away under arrest, they were attacked by working-class women, who pelted them with rotten vegetables and emptied chamber pots over them. Many of these were “separation women” – recipients of separation allowance as wives of Irishmen serving in the British Army.

 

In his eyewitness account, The Insurrection in Dublin, James Stephens (poet, novelist and short story writer) wrote: “Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable, but actively and viciously hostile to the rising. This was noticeable among the best-dressed classes of our population; the worst dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed a like antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was ‘I hope every man of them will be shot’.”

The Rising began on Easter Monday, 1916, and lasted for six days. Only about 1,600 rebels turned out in Dublin, with activity in the rest of the country mainly limited to parading. There were isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, but the orders for a general uprising were countermanded by Eoin McNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers. He had no role in the planning of the Rising, which was carried out by IRB infiltrators. When McNeill found out that Patrick Pearse had duped him he placed a last minute news advertisement advising Volunteers not to take part. McNeill was supported by Bulmer Hobson and The O’Rahilly but O’Rahilly joined in the rebellion and was killed in action.

 

The Seven

 

Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has a new book just out – The Seven. This refers to the seven men who made up the Military Council of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood. Following the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, whose purpose was to resist Home Rule for Ireland, by force if necessary, the IRB were behind the initiative which eventually led to the inauguration of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. The IRB intended to use the Volunteers to seek a republic, recruiting high-ranking Volunteers into the IRB, such as Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, and Thomas MacDonagh. These men, together with veteran Fenian Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, constituted the Military Committee. It was just these seven who decided to wage war on the British Empire. On the morning of Easter Sunday 1916, they met in Dublin’s Liberty Hall. By noon, they had printed and issued the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which they declared themselves to be the provisional government of an entity that claimed the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman, even though the people had not been consulted.

Patrick Pearse was a poet and playwright who founded schools to which the Gaelicist intelligentsia sent their offspring to be raised in the high tradition of mythical hero Cuchulainn and to learn the Irish language: “better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour”. Pearse developed an unhealthy obsession with blood sacrifice.  “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”.

 

Though not obviously a fighter, Pearse was enthused by the sight of armed Ulster loyalists and wanted to emulate them: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”. He developed a messianic and sacrificial notion that his cause was, through a symbolic loss of life, comparable with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pearse expressed an ecstatic view of the energising force of the sacrifice of death in the First World War. He frequently celebrated the beauty of boys dying bravely in their prime, before the shoddy compromises of adult life corrupted them.  Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote: ““It would be frequently remarked of Pearse that he had no understanding of the mundane day-to-day concerns that precluded others from showing the same fanatical dedication to his successive causes: he lived and died for a people that did not exist.”

James Connolly was more hard-headed, a socialist and trade unionist who responded thus to an article by Pearse: “We do not think that the old heart of the earth needs to be warmed with the red wine of millions of lives. We think that anyone who does is a blithering idiot”.

Nevertheless, Connolly did sacrifice himself. The rising was planned as a “blood sacrifice” for a society that had become apathetic. There were disagreements among the rebels. Eoin McNeill wished to proceed only on a basis of realistic hope of success rather than staking everything on a gesture of moral revivalism. He thought the blood- sacrifice option intellectually flaccid. Many, however, like 18-year-old medical student, Ernie O’Malley, who had no previous record of nationalist involvement, were strangely stirred by Pearse’s peculiar theology of insurrection. O’Malley became a key organizer and leader in the later guerrilla war as well as one of its most prominent literary chroniclers.

 

Martyrdom and Separatism

 

Four years ago, I posted an article on Groundviews, a Sri Lankan website, in which I explored the theme of martyrdom in the militant separatism of Irish rebels at the beginning of the 20th century and of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) from the 1970s.

 

http://groundviews.org/2012/03/17/martyrology-martyrdom-rebellion-terrorism/

 

The article got 5,000 hits and 115 comments. There was a heated debate, some comments were stimulating, others silly.

 

I posted the article again on Facebook recently to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising. One commenter on Facebook said that she could not see the point of the article. I told her that it had been addressed to a Sri Lankan audience and was warning of the dangers of Sri Lankan Tamils elevating Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran to the status of a martyr for the cause of Tami nationalism. She responded that my article was “intellectually flawed” because it did not deal with the “800 years of oppression” that preceded the 1916 Rising.

 

She presumed to know that her long-dead Irish grandfather would take pity on me for my lack of respect for those who “Fought against subjugation of brutal British rule for centuries”. Professor Liam Kennedy has coined an acronym to cover this kind of thinking – MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever).

 

Imperial Oppression

 

My critic chastised me for not mentioning Cromwell, the Famine and Irish slaves in the West Indies. I have written on all of those subjects elsewhere. It should not be forgotten that Irishmen were also slave traders and overseers. The Scots were the main force in turning Ceylon into a tea monoculture but Irishmen played a role too, backed up by Irish nuns and priest. Thousands of Irish men were loyal servants of the army of the British Empire.

 

How oppressed was Ireland in 1916? The leader of the Home Rule party in the Westminster parliament, John Redmond, in a speech of 1915, claimed that by 1900 the struggle over land was effectively won. Many historians since have claimed conditions were improving in Ireland by 1916. The writer Sean O’Faolain (born John Whelan, his father served the Empire as a policeman), who had made bombs for the revolution, later wrote that by 1916, the historical grievances justifying armed violence, had become a “purely emotional impulse”.

 

Liam Kennedy, Emeritus Professor of Economic History at Queen’s University, Belfast, states: “…the island of Ireland, when viewed comparatively, was favourably circumstanced in terms of soil, climate and biological conditions”. Professor Kennedy contends that no major war was fought on Irish soil after the seventeenth century. With the exceptions of Switzerland and Iceland, “it is difficult to think of any major European society which has enjoyed the degree of isolation Ireland enjoyed from the immediate depredations of war”. During the last three centuries, there have been no major invasions of Ireland. Unlike most Europeans, the Irish have never experienced military conscription. “During the most brutal century that Europe has ever known – the twentieth- Ireland escaped relatively unscathed”.

 

As an economic historian, Professor Kennedy confidently states that Ireland was among the fastest growing economies in Europe at the time of the Easter Rising. Apart from slow growth in particular sub-periods such as 1932-38 and 1951-59, “Over the twentieth century as a whole, the growth performance of the Irish economy has been close to the western European average and well ahead of eastern Europe. The Irish Republic and Northern Ireland today rank among the richest regions in the world in terms of income per head”.

 

Professor Kennedy also challenges received wisdom that the introduction of the Penal Laws at the end of the seventeenth century repressed the religious rights of the majority Catholic population of Ireland. Kennedy contends that after 1715, the Penal Laws were fiercer on the statute book than in practice. By the 1790s, Catholics and dissenters in Ireland enjoyed freedom of worship, Catholic churches and dissenters’ chapels dotted the Irish countryside and a state-subsidised national seminary for Catholic priests was founded at Maynooth and funded by the British goverment. At the same time, there was vigorous persecution of religious dissent on the European mainland.

 

The nineteenth century saw the uninterrupted progress of the Catholic Church in Ireland as it developed a vast infrastructure of churches, presbyteries, convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces. Perhaps most important was clerical control of the school system with funding from the British state. Clerical education and clerical appointments were free of state control. As a child, I used to enjoy the rousing hymn Faith of our Fathers. Whatever the words of that hymn might claim, Irish people, from the 1740s, were able to worship without fear of “dungeon, fire and sword”. Kennedy says that at a deep level “there was the image-world of Christianity and its symbolic representation of pain, sorrow and exile – universals of the human predicament – which could be exploited selectively to colour the Irish collective experience”. Patrick Pearse was a master of this. After Ireland became independent the church’s power reached totalitarian proportions.

Another economist, David McWilliams, wrote recently, “sometimes we get dewy-eyed about the reality of the Irish state”. McWilliams claims that in 1913, Ireland was one of the richest countries in Europe, with income per head matching that of Sweden, Norway and Finland. 75 years after the Rising, Irish income per head was half the income of the Scandinavians. McWilliams asserts: “The Empire project enriched all of Britain and Ireland. In the later part of the 19th century both Irish and English tradesmen got richer together”. During the Famine, Irish carpenters and fitters earned about 90% of what their English counterparts did. In the decades leading up to 1913, both English and Irish tradesmen saw rapid increases in their wages. Wages of unskilled Irish workers and farm labourers rose rapidly after the Famine. The various Land Acts from 1870 to 1909 began the mass transfer of land from the Anglo-Irish aristocracy to the local farmers. The Irish stock market doubled in the late Victorian era. Large-scale sanitation and infrastructural projects were undertaken such as bringing clean water to Dublin from Roundwood Reservoir.

Although it was a hotbed of rebel activity, Cork did well out of the British Empire. I spent many happy childhood times in Cobh, County Cork. I walked through a public park called The Battery to get to a beach. In 1962, I sat reading Ulysses at White Point and looked across the bay to see imposing 18th century buildings. Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour was a major British naval base and defence against Napoleon. Cork exported salted beef, pork and butter to the West Indies and fed the British navy. The unrivalled ability of Cork Harbour to shelter the biggest fleets assembled during the American War of Independence and, later, during the Napoleonic Wars was a major factor in the expansion of the provisions trade in Cork.

 

Collateral Damage

 

On the 96th anniversary of the Rising someone commented in the Irish Times: “This tragic and misguided terrorist action started off with the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed policeman. No amount of rationalization can transform that first murder into an act of heroism and the misleading euphemism of the War of Independence for the subsequent terrorist campaign is dishonest and a travesty of the reality of those years. The warped so-called principles embraced by the terrorists of those times continue to be adhered to by the likes of the Real IRA. “

 

By the time Pearse surrendered after six days, only 64 rebels had been killed. In the World War, 25,000 Irishmen died fighting as members of the British Army. After the Easter Rising, the British Army reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded and nine missing. Sixteen policemen died, and 29 were wounded. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. The Volunteers and ICA recorded 64 killed in action, but otherwise Irish casualties were not divided into rebels and civilians. All 16 police fatalities and 22 of the British soldiers killed were Irishmen. The majority of the casualties, both killed and wounded, were civilians. Details of the 30 children who were killed can be found here:

 

http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/children-of-the-revolution/

 

British and rebels shot civilians deliberately on occasion when they refused to obey orders such as to stop at checkpoints. There were at least two instances of British troops killing civilians out of revenge or frustration, at Portobello Barracks, where six were shot and North King Street, where 15 were killed. Most of the civilians killed were victims of indirect fire from artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells. The British seem to have caused most non-combatant deaths. One Royal Irish Regiment officer recalled, “They regarded, not unreasonably, everyone they saw as an enemy, and fired at anything that moved”.

 

Anglophobia

 

One young Sri Lankan who commented on my Groundviews article confidently stated that all the Irish hated the English. Because of the close proximity of the two countries, because their histories are intertwined, because most Irish people have family living in England, the relationship is bound to be more complex than that. John Horgan noted that “the Irish mass audience for TV has never found it difficult to combine a deeply rooted and at times visceral republicanism with a deep fascination with the activities of the House of Windsor”. The residents of the Irish Republic are avid followers of Coronation Street and East Enders and readers of the Sun and the Daily Mirror.

 

Look at the backgrounds of some who have claimed to speak for the Irish to the extent that they thought they had the right to kill the Irish for their own good.

 

Rosamond Jacob visited England on many occasions and wrote contemptuously about everything from the landscape to the faces of people on the street. Desmond Coffey told his girlfriend Cesca Trench that the revolution was necessary so that it would be possible “to hate the English comfortably from a position in which they can’t look d-d superior and smile”. Mabel Fitzgerald wrote to her former employer, George Bernard Shaw that she was bringing up her son to speak Irish and to adopt “the sound traditional hatred of England and all her ways”. Shaw responded: “You must be a wicked devil to load a child’s innocent soul with old hatreds and rancours that Ireland is sick of”. He said she should be telling her son “that the English are far more oppressed than any folk he has ever seen in Ireland by the same forces that have oppressed Ireland in the past. Shaw scoffed at the fantasy of seeking “authenticity in rural life and hoping that the uncorrupted values of the Irish peasantry would rub off on them”. He warned Mabel that her son would probably rebel against her: “Nothing educates a man like the desire to free himself by proving that everything his parents say is wrong”.

 

Many of the most active Republicans were born outside Ireland. Tom Clarke was born in the Isle of Wight and spent his childhood in South Africa where his father was a British soldier.

 

James Connolly was born in Scotland and spent the first part of his life in Edinburgh. He served in the British Army.

 

Liam Mellows was born in Lancashire.

Mellows

Margaret Skinnider was a sniper and the only woman wounded in the action at Easter 1916. She was mentioned three times for bravery in the dispatches sent to the Dublin GPO. She was born in Coatbridge, Scotland.

Illuminations-Skinnider-M

 

Many of those involved in the Rising did indeed revel in hatred of the English and of the British Empire. Many of them hated the English because they were English themselves and Anglophobia was part of a romantic rebellion against their own privileged backgrounds, against families which had long been pillars of the British Empire.

 

Robert Erskine Childers, son of British Orientalist scholar Robert Caesar Childers, was born in Mayfair, London. He grew up steeped in the most irreconcilable sort of Unionism.  He was educated at Haileybury, the elite public school for future army officers and colonial administrators, whose distinguished alumni include prime minister Clement Attlee and the bard of Empire, Rudyard Kipling. Childers was quite well known in England after his success with a spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands, which showed the Royal Navy in a good light, Erskine was initially a steadfast believer in the British Empire and fought in the Boer War but later came to identify himself closely with the country of Ireland, albeit at that stage from the comfortable viewpoint of the Protestant Ascendancy.

Childers

Childers did some gun running for the rebels on his yacht the Asgard. He became a nationalist so intemperate and fanatically obsessed that his opposition to compromise is sometimes blamed for bringing about the Irish Civil War. He survived the Easter Rising because he was in London. Childers was later secretary-general of the Irish delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish treaty but was vehemently opposed to the final agreement. He fought on the losing side in the Civil War. The author Frank O’Connor was involved with Childers and wrote that he was ostracised by the anti-treaty forces and referred to as “That bloody Englishman”. Childers was executed by his former comrades in the Free State government. Churchill said of Childers: “No man has done more harm or done more genuine malice or endeavoured to bring a greater curse upon the common people of Ireland than this strange being, activated by a deadly and malignant hatred for the land of his birth.”

 

Childers shook the hand of every man in the firing squad and asked his 16-year-old son to seek out everyone who had signed his death warrant and to shake them by the hand. I met that son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, in 1974 when he was visiting Cobh as President of Ireland. He had also been born and educated in England and had a distinctive upper class English accent.

Countess Markievicz was a member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. She was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth in London. During the Rising, Lieutenant Markievicz supervised the setting-up of barricades and was in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen’s Green, wounding a British sniper. In prison, she was the only one of seventy women prisoners who was put into solitary confinement. She was sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commuted this to life in prison on “account of the prisoner’s sex.”

markievicz

Yeats’s muse, Maud Gonne, was a fervent Irish nationalist despite being born near Farnham in Surrey, England, the eldest daughter of Captain Thomas Gonne of the17th Lancers, whose own ancestors hailed from Caithness in Scotland.

Gonne

Cesca Chenevix Trench was born into an Anglo-Irish Protestant Unionist family and grew up in a vicarage in Kent. The family contributed much service to the British Empire and Anthony Chenevix-Trent was headmaster of Eton in the 1960s. Cesca changed her name to Sadhbh Trinseach.

Cesca

The Hon Albinia Lucy Brodrick came from an English Protestant aristocratic family which had been at the forefront of British rule in Ireland since the 17th century and were pillars of the British Empire worldwide. The family colonised the part of Ireland in which I lived. Albinia’s brother, St John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton was, in the words of one biographer, “consistent in his low opinion of the Irish [and] he held imperialist views that warmly embraced much of the jingoism associated with social Darwinism”. Albinia initially shared these views but following regular visits to her father’s estate in County Cork, she began to educate herself about Ireland and developed an interest in the Gaelic Revival. She was a staunch supporter of the Rising and joined both Cumann na mBan and Sinn Féin. She changed her name to Gobnait Ní Bhruadair.

Lady_Albinia_Broderick-240x300

Percy Frederick Beazley at the age 23 in Bootle wrote in his diary: “Shall I be despised? Shall I live a poor weak puny life- I who have the strength and will and a fire within me which will not rest”. He fervently idealised Ireland as a result his childhood holidays. “I shall wake up the Gael, appeal to him, trust in him”. He changed his name to Piaras Béaslaí.

Portrait_of_Piaras_Béaslaí_1919

Roger Casement was born in Dublin but served the British Empire as a consul in its diplomatic service and received a knighthood. His father, Captain Roger Casement, served in the (The King’s Own) Regiment of Dragoons. The family lived in England in genteel poverty. Roger’s mother died when he was nine. They returned to Ireland to County Antrim to live near paternal relatives. When Casement was 13 years old his father died, having ended his days in Ballymena dependent on the charity of relatives.

 

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/143/

 

Cathal Brugha (Charles Burgess) was born in Ireland but the family came from Yorkshire. Patrick Pearse’s father was born in Birmingham.

brugha

Michael Collins’s chief intelligence officer, W J Brennan-Whitmore, was born in Wexford but his name worked against him. Tom Clarke despised Brennan-Whitmore, saying “never trust a hyphenated Irishman”. He joined Sinn Fein in 1910, was active in the Irish Volunteers in North Wexford and fought at North Earl Street in the 1916 Rising. He has been written out of Irish history possibly because he contributed to several ultra nationalist anti-Semitic journals. He was a prolific correspondent writing regular diatribes against the European Union in the Irish Catholic press.

Brennan-Whitmore

The Provisional IRA leader in the 1970s, Sean Mac Stíofáin (who was baptized John Stephenson in Leytonstone, England, as a Catholic, despite the fact that neither of his parents was Catholic). His Irish was spoken with a Cockney accent. The leader of the Official IRA, Cathal Goulding, was particularly scathing about “that English Irishman”. “Sean’s problem is that he spends all his time going around trying to prove to everybody that he’s as Irish as they are, and in the IRA he had to show that he was more violent than the rest. “

 

A Motley Crew

The British reaction to the Rising was extreme and incompetent and made martyrs of those who had previously been regarded as clowns. As WB Yeats wrote in his poem “Easter 1916”:

 

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn

 

Yeats and his friends had mocked the rebels but the Rising and the British reaction to it changed everything. Yeats had particular reason to loathe one of those executed, John MacBride  – “a drunken, vainglorious lout” – who had married and mistreated the poet’s muse Maude Gonne.  A “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week, which marks the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice. The Easter Rising is both crucifixion and resurrection.

 

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

A middle class background is often glossed over. Sighle Humphreys and her O’Rahilly cousins went to exclusive private schools, lived in huge houses with servants and fleets of cars. The Plunketts moved between a series of large houses with many servants and were wealthy from rental income. MacSwiney’s wife Muriel was a Murphy and wealthy from the family’s brewing of the nectar that is Murphy’s stout.

 

Many of the revolutionaries came, like Bulmer Hobson and Ernest Blythe, from wealthy Ulster unionist families. The Gifford sisters came from a strict unionist background from Dublin’s upper middle class. Grace  married Joseph Plunkett,  Muriel married Thomas MacDonagh. Both men were executed for their part in the Rising. Kevin O’Shiel and Eimar O’Duffy were brought up in wealthy Catholic homes and were radicalised at exclusive boarding schools in England as were Mary MacSwiney, Maire Comerford and Muriel Murphy. These people reacted against their privileged backgrounds and seized on advanced nationalism and Irish-Ireland values as Roy Foster puts it, “part of general rebellion, partly fuelled by a sense of guilt and compensation”.

bulmer hobson

Bulmer Hobson

Many of those involved in the Easter Rising had advanced views. People ran away together to found communist communes in Donegal. The lesbianism of many key figures went unconcealed. Roger Casement was a homosexual as was Eoin O’Duffy, who went on to lead the fascist Blueshirts. Rosamond Jacob (Róisín Nic Sheamuis)   was an enthusiast for Freud’s writing. Although many of these middle class revolutionaries were bent on self-transformation, the Irish revolution moved from artistic, social and sexual experimentation to repressive conservatism.

 

Theatre of War

 

The Rising had been called a revolution of poets but playwrights and actors were more prominent. Even James Connolly had written plays about the 1867 Fenian Rising for the drama group of the Irish Citizen Army. The theatre was an influence on developing nationalism. Martin Esslin wrote that the theatre is where a nation “thinks in front of itself”. Yeats stated that in the theatre the mob becomes the people”. The Abbey Theatre with Yeats and Lady Gregory put on plays about Ireland’s mythical past and allegorical plays which carried a contemporary message about English domination corrupting Ireland. Arthur Griffith was put off by Lady Gregory’s Ascendancy hauteur (her husband was Governor of Ceylon) but recognised that these plays chimed with Sinn Fein’s call for psychological as well as political autonomy. Roy Foster describes the Abbey Theatre as the “Established Church” with networks of overlapping little theatre companies making up “dissident congregations”. One of these groups was the Theatre of Ireland – its best playwright was Padraic Colum. Patrick Pearse’s brother Willie started the Leinster Stage Society. Their productions did not impress the critic from the Irish Times. He noted that the plays tended to concern “our old friends the fairies, who seem to have fallen on evil days since the introduction of railway trains”. Foster describes the atmosphere of the theatrical world of Dublin as “incestuous and mutually critical”.

 

More than one commentator has noted that the Easter Rising seemed choreographed as if theatre had taken to the streets. When the insurrection broke out several people mistook it for street theatre. Constance Markievicz was asked by passers-by at Liberty Hall if she was rehearsing a play for children.

 

Did the Revolution Improve Social Justice?

 

Professor Kennedy does not deny that Ireland suffered injustice. “It would be an act of denial… to fail to acknowledge that Irish history is replete with instances of persecution, of evictions, of famines. These form part of a European historical experience that was, time out of mind, brutal, bloody and oppressive. One does not have to go all the way with Hobbes to conclude: the past is not a pleasant place”.

 

However, he sees the ever-present danger of keeping historical resentments alive. “The library of past and present wrongs, including those of an economic nature, were articulated in a continuous present tense that seemed to give historical depth and legitimacy to newly-minted notions of nationalism”.

 

There were undoubtedly social injustices in the Ireland of 1916 (as there were in England). Horace Plunkett of the Cooperative movement produced statistics to show the extent of urban poverty. The death rate for Ireland in 1917 was 16.8 per 1,000 of the population compared to 14.4 for England and Wales. In Ireland there were 2.2 deaths per 1,000 from TB; in England and Wales it was 1.62.Todd Andrews, veteran Irish republican born in 1901, wrote in his autobiography Dublin Made Me about the bleak existence of those at the “bottom of the heap”. “Even those who had regular work were seldom above the poverty line and very many were below it…when I was child, every mother of young children lived in constant dread and sometimes real terror of sickness”.

 

I remember when Cork was dirt poor. Ancient black-shawled women, like one might see in Greece, Sicily or Portugal, moved like shadows in the warrens of alleyways that climbed the steep streets. Beggars sat on St Patrick’s Bridge. However, this was long after the Imperial oppressor had been ejected.

 

Apart from those around James Connolly, not many of those who fomented the 1916 Rising were much concerned about social conditions. The writings of Pearse are concerned with a more spiritual Ireland. Likewise, Standish O’Grady used the legendary figure of Cuchulainn “to galvanise the weakened generations of Ireland into an awareness of their heroic masculinity”.

My father, Jeremiah O’Leary, was still in the womb of Hannah Noonan O’Leary when the rebels took over the GPO. He was born on 29 June 1916, two months after the Rising. Economic circumstances forced him to go to England to find work when he was  in his twenties. His younger brother joined him. My father joined the British Army when the Second World War broke out. Independence precipitated a massive flight of people from Ireland. In the 1950s, 450,000 Irish people emigrated to England alone. The Irish-born population there peaked at over 700,000 in 1971.

 

Pensions Fit for Heroes?

 

In his book A Nation not a Rabble Diarmaid Ferriter has unearthed some interesting material from what does not seem an exciting source – MSPC (Military Service Pensions Collection). “The archive reveals so much about the revolution’s afterlife”. Ferriter notes that there is a huge gulf between the numbers of applications and awards made. Those affected by the events of Easter Week were in drastic financial circumstances and “it is clear that civil war politics intruded in some of the decisions that were made”. One cannot but suspect that simple bureaucratic bloody-mindedness and parsimonious penny-pinching were behind the obstructive behavior of the assessors.   Even James Connolly’s family and Joseph Plunkett’s widow were subjected to delays and humiliations.

 

There was no doubt about the bravery of Margaret Skinnider or of the seriousness of her wounds. She was wounded while she was in command of a squad of five men trying to cut British lines in Harcourt Street. She suffered a bullet wound near the spine and another in her right arm where a bullet had ploughed through the flesh upwards and had blown away the flesh connecting the arm and shoulder. None of this mattered to the Board which adjudicated that Skinnider was ineligible simply because she was a woman. Her wound was not a wound because she was a woman. “It would be illogical… to include female sex under ‘wounded members’…Section 3, which applies to this case, uses the words ‘any person’ as referable only to the male sex…The definition of ‘wound’ in Section16 only contemplates the masculine gender”. Skinnider was informed that her claim was not admissible because the Army Pensions Act “is only applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense”. She appealed but had to wait 13 years before she got a wound pension.

 

William Maher’s file covers twenty years of frustration and no pension at the end of it. Ferriter comments: “The reason for the department’s stalling was an obvious desire to prevent payment of money legitimately due to pensioners”. The Army Finance Officer was given a definite steer which Ferriter interprets as “a cynical move that sought to make savings from the hoped-for ignorance of those affected, and the probability that many of them would not have the means to pursue legal action”.

Post-Revolution

 

Kevin O’Higgins asserted in the Dáil in March 1923: “We were the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution”. De Valera wrote to Mary MacSwiney: “Every instinct of mine would indicate that I was meant to be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, or even a bishop, rather than the leader of a revolution”. John Banville described de Valera’s Ireland as “a demilitarized totalitarian state in which the lives of its citizens were to be controlled not by a system of coercive force and secret policing but by a kind of applied spiritual paralysis maintained by an unofficial federation between, the Catholic clergy, the judiciary, the civil service and politicians”.

 

Countess Markievicz boldly stated “the Catholic church is one of the greatest influences for evil in the world” and found it “incomprehensible how any sane person of any intelligence could be a Catholic”. In spite of this, her revolution established a state which was dominated by the regressive and reactionary ideas of the Irish Catholic church. The economy was ruined and the state even begrudged paying pensions to those who were wounded in the fight for freedom. Some met a worse fate and were executed by former comrades. The material questions around which republicans had organised, including trade union militancy, land seizures and the establishment of soviets, became embarrassing for the national leadership. As historian Tom Garvin put it: “whenever social protest began seriously to threaten the interest of men of substance, republicanism ostentatiously dissociated itself from agitation”.

 

Diarmaid Ferriter wrote: “The revolution did ‘change the relationship between one class of Irishman and another’, not through the creation of a new socialist regime, but through the existence of a hierarchy of benefit”. He quotes Francis Stuart, “we fought to stop Ireland falling into the hands of publicans and shopkeepers”. That seems to be  a fail.

 

Declan Kiberd suggested that the work of Samuel Beckett reflected the failure of the revolution; its rhetoric had been merely aspirational without a grand inclusive programme for Irish development. Beckett saw Irish society as pastiche with no overall purpose and responded by putting futility and despair on stage for people to laugh at.

 

The Rising Today

 

The Rising failed and was followed by a war of independence and a bitter civil war. Although de Valera fought against the treaty partly because of partition, anyone fighting for a united Ireland during De Valera’s long reign was likely to be interned or executed. A republic was not declared until 1949. Ireland is still divided. One might ask whether the violence and suffering of the war of independence and the civil war were worth it.

 

The Republic of Ireland had a general election on February 26 2016 in which the two parties which developed out of the civil war reached a stalemate and Sinn Fein increased its seats. Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) was the anti-treaty party of De Valera.  Fine  Gael  was  the  pro-treaty party  of  Cosgrave,  Collins  and  the  Free  State  government.  De  Valera  fought  against  the  treaty because  it  left  Ireland  divided,  part  of  the  Commonwealth  and  owing  allegiance  to  the  Crown. Ireland is still divided and its freedom of action is restricted by the European Central Bank.

 

As I write, (24 April 2016, one hundred years to the day after the Easter Rising) the Republic of Ireland is without a government.

 

 

Martyring Innocents

 

Someone commented on my Groundviews article: “The IRA and the LTTE had to make the best of whatever resources they had. People, be they majorities or minorities will rise up when they can no longer put up with the oppression that they have to face. The French Revolution, Russian Revolution and the Cuban Revolution were inevitable due to the oppression that people had to face.”

 

The same commenter wrote about “the struggle for freedom – to preserve one’s culture at any cost… There is such a thing as a ‘national consciousness’ in which the abuses of the past are not forgotten but remain vibrant and alive in the form of a collective memory. It is to this category that the ‘martyrs’ belong. They are not remembered for going on hunger strikes or surrendering at the very end – which your article makes a mockery of – but for the stand they take against injustice. Many of them are revolutionaries. None are afraid to die, which is where the hero-worship comes into play. Whether or not you agree with their cause is irrelevant; the mark that they leave on the collective consciousness of a people or nation is indelible.”

 

He continued: “there are many who are willing to live on their knees, but then there are the few who would rather die on their feet then live on their knees be it for a united Ireland or for a separate state called Tamil Eelam…don’t forget that William Wallace or Prabhakaran did not wake up one fine day and decide that they must fight the British or the Sinhala armed forces. It was the many years of oppression that their people had to undergo which made them take up arms against their oppressors.”

 

We need to unpack lethal clichés like these. Where do you draw the line between national consciousness and delusional, dangerous myth-making? The commenter’s knowledge about William Wallace seems to rely solely on Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart which had no foundation in historical fact. Print the legend!

 

Is it a good thing to keep alive the abuses of the past in order to continue the bloodshed? Ernest Renan wrote that nationhood requires forgetting many things. He cited the massacre of Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day as a symbol of the kind of thing France needed to forget in order to be a nation.

 

The Easter Rising of 1916 was not a simple case of a minority being oppressed by a majority. The rebels were ethnically and religiously part of the majority population. The enemy was the imperial power which had colonised Ireland for 800 years. The rebels were a minority in that they had no popular support. I am asking if it was legitimate for them to take it upon themselves to opt for violence in the name of the Irish people as a whole when the Irish people as a whole took no interest in the matter. This happened 100 years ago but has resonance today because a small band of people are still engaged in a bombing campaign with no mandate from the Irish people for a cause that hardly anyone cares about. Innocent people will continue to be killed.

 

Seamus Heaney wrote:

 

History says, Don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

 

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

Is reachable from here.

 

Seamus Heaney The Cure at Troy

 

Enough of martyrs. Enough of revenge. Let us hope a further shore is reachable, in Sri Lanka and Ireland.

 

 

I consulted the following books for this essay.

 

The Big Fellow                                                            Frank O’Connor                       1937

Michael Collins                                               Rex Taylor                               1958

The Black and Tans                                         Richard Bennett                      1959

The Easter Rebellion                                       Max Caulfield                                     1963

Ireland’s Civil War                                          Calton Younger                       1968

The Secret Army                                             J Bowyer Bell                          1970

Roger Casement                                             Brian Inglis                              1973

Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure          Ruth Dudley Edwards              1977

Modern Ireland 1600-1972                            RF Foster                                 1988

Paddy and Mr Punch                                       RF Foster                                 1993

The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000     Diarmaid Ferriter                   2004

Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion                     Charles Townshend                 2005

Terror in Ireland 1916-1923                           David Fitzpatrick (Ed)              2012

Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising                        Fearghal McGarry                  2012

Myth and the Irish State                                 John Regan                              2013

The Seven                                                        Ruth Dudley Edwards              2016

Unhappy the Land                                           Liam Kennedy                         2016

A Nation and not a Rabble                              Diarmaid Ferriter                   2016

Churchill and Ireland                                      Paul Bew                                 2016

Vivid Faces                                                      RF Foster                                 2016

James Connolly                                               Sean O’Callaghan                   2016

 

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