Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: Ceylon Today

Anger and Forgiveness

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 17 2017

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=27840

Events in Charlottesville (and more low-key events closer to my home affecting me personally) have led me to think about the subject of anger and its consequences.  I was moved to revisit Martha C Nussbaum’s book Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, and Justice.  Nussbaum looks at the efficacy of forgiveness rather than anger as a response to wrongdoing. She gives many examples of anger and forgiveness ranging over the personal and the political.

Some people live in anger – one might almost say some people love anger, it seems to give them sustenance. As well as looking back in anger they look forward in anger.  I am lucky in that I never really get angry – I have short bursts of sometimes intense irritation but these are not sustained enough to lead to me taking any practical retribution or revenge. Nussbaum calls this Transition Anger and concedes that it “lacks a wish for ill”. She writes: “Though short-term anger is understandable and human, it is rarely helpful, and it certainly should not dictate the course of the future”.

Anger and Self-Respect

Anger is often a result of feeling disrespected. The scenes in Charlottesville happened because a group of people were angry that their standing was not appreciated and their social status was being undermined by “the other”. Trump became president by feeding this anger against elites, minorities, nations that were not the USA. He fomented anger about his country’s alleged loss of influence and power (even though the USA is still the sole superpower). “Make America great again” was his slogan. Respect us or we will be angry and punish you. Anger can be narcissistic. “Sympathy steers anger in the direction of a balanced focus on harm and correction of harm, rather than on personal downranking, with its connection to revenge.”

Nussbaum recognises that most of us are helpless against many of the contingencies of life but we can console ourselves with projects that express our anger. “It feels a lot better if we can form a payback project and get busy executing it (suing the bad doctor, depriving one’s ex of child custody) than to accept loss and the real condition of helplessness in which life has left us. Payback, thus, often has a psychic function.”

 

Retribution

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, the saying goes.  Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury”. Francis Bacon did not think revenge therapeutic: “A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.”

Many cultures are corrupted by blood feuds and ‘honour’ killings. The US has a false foundation myth which places it beyond such crudity but American culture spreads a brutal and infantile message to the rest of the world. The film critic Mark Cousins has noted the current prevalence of vengeance as a theme in Hollywood movies. One of the questions of our time is how a tribe that has been harmed finds peace. Movies which show returning harm to those who harmed seem to give comfort by ventilating an audience’s feelings of impotence. Blog-warriors get some satisfaction by keeping anger alive and espousing vengeance as if life were a movie.

 

Nussbaum writes, “people in modern American society continue to think anger is good, powerful, and manly. They encourage it in their children (especially boys), and they indulge it in both self and others.” Anger is followed by retribution which derives from “deep-rooted

but misleading ideas of cosmic balance, and from people’s attempt to recover control in situations of helplessness. But the wrongdoer’s suffering does not bring back the person or valued item”. It is psychologically damaging for me to want payback, to return pain to one who has caused me pain. “Obsessive focusing on the future suffering of the perpetrator just implicates me in the perpetrator’s hostile and degrading conduct”.

 

Reconciliation

 

We should not ignore bad acts but the recognition of their wrongness should contribute to good in the future. The formula for reconciliation is for offender, victim, and friends to act as though the wrong act and the perpetrator are separate. Nussbaum writes: “the crime is outrageous, but we can see the offender, with sympathy, as someone who is more and better than the crime, capable of good in future”. Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Rwanda, South Africa and many other countries, involved a lot of forgetting. It was not easy. “The apparatus of abasement, confession, contrition, and eventual forgiveness, by contrast, often impedes reconciliation by producing humiliation rather than mutual respect, and it frequently acts as a covert form of punishment, discharging a hidden (or, often, not so hidden) resentment.”

 

Forgiveness

Nussbaum gives the name Transactional Forgiveness to a process described by another philosopher, Charles Griswold. Forgiveness, Griswold argues, is a two-person process involving a moderation of anger and a rejection of revenge. Griswold lists six conditions for the forgiveness process:

Acknowledge responsibility for the wrong

Repudiate the wrong deed and acknowledge the wrongness

Express regret to the injured party

Through deeds and words become the sort of person who does not inflict injury

Show an understanding from the injured person’s perspective of the damage done

Offer an account of how the wrong was done

 

My school in Gloucester was close to 25 Cromwell Street where Fred and Rosemary West perpetrated countless grisly murders. Lucy Partington, the cousin of writer Martin Amis, was waiting for a   bus in Cheltenham when Fred and Rose West offered her a lift. She was never seen again. Lucy’s sister, Marian, forgave the Wests and wrote movingly about Rosemary West: “Her story seems to be about the impoverishment of a soul that knew no other way to live than through terrible cruelty. A life deprived of truth, beauty or love. I imagine that the deviant ignorance that fed her sadistic, egotistical crimes was rooted in her ruined, crooked childhood.” I don’t know if I could be forgiving in such circumstances.

I wonder how forgiving I would be if I lost loved ones to terrorists. My friend the Reverend Harold Good witnessed the horrors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. “I wasn’t isolated in an ivory tower. I know the pain inflicted by terrorists.” In spite of this, he has referred, in a personal e-mail to me, to his “friend Martin McGuinness”.

McGuinness helped bring peace to Northern Ireland and worked with former enemies as part of the devolved government of the six counties. Many found it impossible to forgive the atrocities committed by the IRA when McGuinness was IRA Derry Commandant. Harold worked closely with both Republican and Loyalist prisoners with a view to their resettlement. He was the Director in the 1970s of the Corrymeela community, a centre for reconciliation between the communities. He was chair of NIACRO (Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Prisoners) and part-time prison chaplain at Crumlin Road prison. A key part of the Good Friday agreement was the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners. Harold still comes under criticism as well as praise for his part in the peace process.

 

Some find it hard to cope with the fact that men who committed evil deeds are free and forgiven. In Sri Lanka, some find it disgusting that Karuna and KP are free.

On a visit to Northern Ireland, the Dalai Lama said: “Some differences, some conflicts will always be there. But we should use the differences in a positive way to try to get energy from different views. Try to minimize violence, not by force, but by awareness and respect. Through dialogue, taking others’ interests and sharing one’s own, there is a way to solve the problems”. He put his arms around a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister and tugged their beards.

There is a good deal of research which shows that forgiving is good for the health. When people think about forgiving an offender, it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. The research of Dr Fred Luskin of Stanford University shows that forgiveness can be learned. In Northern Ireland, Luskin found that people who are taught how to forgive, become less angry, more optimistic, self-confident. His studies show a reduction in the experience and physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.

 

 

 

Positives from Negatives

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 6 2017.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=24837

Colman's Column3

 

I have written in recent articles about the spirit of rebellion developing among the public as a result of what disasters have revealed about the shortcomings of the governments of Sri Lanka and the UK.

Lights On, Nobody Home

In 2012, I was asked to do some consultancy work for a London company that organises events and exhibitions on an international basis. They were organising their second Aidex exhibition, held in Brussels, aimed at establishing networking and marketing opportunities for organisations providing goods and services in emergency and development situations. I was asked to establish contacts between Aidex and Sri Lankan organisations. The obvious place to start my research was the Ministry of Disaster Management. It was initially encouraging to find that the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers (even residential numbers) of personnel at the ministry were publicly available. I wrote to all these people and telephoned a large number of them. I did not get a single reply and no-one picked up the phone.

I published an article in advance of the Aidex event in which I wrote: “Surely there must be some Sri Lankan organisations similar to those who participated in AidEx 2011 and found it so beneficial to their business! Surely there are some Sri Lankan organisations who could make tremendous gains from participating in AidEx 2012.” Aidex 2012 was very successful. Not a single Sri Lankan attended.

Crisis, What Crisis

It was no surprise to find that the Ministry of Disaster Management was not prepared for this year’s floods because they had not been prepared for previous natural disasters. The emergency services in the UK responded magnificently to the Manchester bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire. However, they were stretched very thin because government policies over many years had brought about a reduction in police and fire service personnel (not to mention shortage of nursing staff). Many fire stations had been closed because of austerity measures.

Humanitarian Response from Humans rather than Politicians

How can one see anything positive in this? For one thing, one can feel inspired by the bravery of the firemen in West London and the prompt response of police in a number of terrorist incidents. The Sri Lankan government was slow to get its act together immediately after the tsunami, but a local relief effort that got underway almost immediately is generally agreed to have been a success despite the understandable confusion which accompanied it at times. Even in the poorest, most remote areas people flocked to the roadside to hand over money, clothes, bottles of water and bags of rice and lentils. Temporary shelter for the displaced was provided in schools, other public and religious buildings. Communities and groups cooperated across ethnic and religious differences. An effective, spontaneous immediate response was organised locally, followed by the government and international agencies. This was in sharp contrast to the response to Hurricane Katrina. There are complaints in Sri Lanka today about militarisation but  Sri Lankan soldiers performed heroically and efficiently in the aftermath of the floods as they did after the tsunami, when 20,000 soldiers assisted in relief operations.

Word from the Ground

My friend Amelia Ayewan has been tireless in her efforts to help the victims of Grenfell Tower. One of the great benefits of the much-reviled social media is the opportunity offered to spread news of what is going on, news that you do not get on TV or in the newspapers. Amelia has spoken to many people around Grenfell Tower, including policemen and firemen, and she passes on what she has heard. This is not irresponsible gossip. Volunteers at Grenfell Towers are hearing and sharing things that the government does not want people to know.

Personal stories bring home the reality of government policies. A friend of Amelia’s wrote: “A few days ago I walked into a shop on Portobello and ‘Uncle’ was gone… just an empty chair where he used to be sat, every day- now perished in the fire. I felt so sad. On Saturday evening, I went to buy injera (Ethiopian flatbread) and was relieved to find the regular lovely man serving me…mainly because he hadn’t been there last time…. ‘I am so glad to see you” I said. It turned out that he has lost about 18-19 people in the fire that were coming to his shop to buy injera every week… including a family of 5 that came twice a week every week for years.”

A volunteer passed on what a fireman had said: “He said there are 120 fire engines in London and 60 attended. He said they got there and were shitting themselves but ran in. He went to the 11th floor and got 10 people out, some could walk but the smoke was making people collapse so he had to carry people. They had to make an emergency stop on the way down because he had to give CPR to a six-year-old girl whose body couldn’t cope with the heat, the smoke and the stress. She didn’t survive.” The fireman said one of the worst things was the sound of people on the floors above screaming, sobbing and crying.

The fireman was furious about “the cost cutting that led to the shitty cladding that had no fire breaks and went up like a touch, that it had happened after the election so we could have put an end to the cuts to emergency services.”

End of Ideology?

One positive outcome might be an end to austerity policies. The UK government has had to commit itself to spending millions of pounds to make tower blocks safe. The disaster has shown the utter evil of the ideology of privatisation, outsourcing, deregulation and cutting spending on public services. Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s speech calling for an end to cuts to emergency services was rejected by MPs by 323 votes to 309, a government majority of 14. Nevertheless, there have been hints of wider moves to loosen austerity in the wake of May losing her majority at the general election.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP who chaired parliament’s health select committee before the election, said there was considerable strength of feeling among her colleagues on the backbenches and in cabinet that action was needed to ease the pain. There have been signals from a series of influential ministers, including Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Justine Greening and Michael Gove, that the 1% cap on public sector wage rises ought to be reconsidered.

The Home Office minister Nick Hurd told Parliament that increasing police pay was “under active consideration”. As I write, several reports have been published demonstrating beyond doubt that the austerity ideology is mistaken and harmful. A research report by UCL and NIESR was published quietly on July 3 and ignored by the government. The report analyses earnings growth among Pay Review Body occupations. The researchers found that median hourly earnings of UK workers dropped in real terms by almost 6% between 2005 and 2015, with some sectors suffering worse drops than others. The report showed George Osborne’s policy of pay restraint on public sector workers began to bite after 2010, as police officers, teachers, midwives, radiographers, nurses and doctors saw a marked decline in median hourly earnings. Police officers saw median real earnings fall from £20 an hour to £18 an hour over the same period.

There are already alarming staff shortages in hospitals in high cost areas like the south of England, including hospitals  used by constituents of Mrs May and Mr Hunt. Nurses point to evidence of a £3,000 fall in their pay since 2010, and their governing body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, has now reported that for the first time ever, more of their members are leaving the NHS than are joining. Brexit will mean less hospital staff will be going to the UK from the rest of Europe.

As the Guardian put it in an editorial: “U-turns have succeeded U-turns – in a series of hairpin bends leading down to an abyss – which can only reflect a struggle between Downing Street neighbours.” One wonders when the government will resolve the issue and start to invest in the people who rose so heroically to their tasks after the recent disasters.

 

Long Spoon Required

This article appeared in slightly different form in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 15 2017. The article was submitted on June 11 so I have amended it slightly to take account of further developments.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=23308

Pact with the Devil

 

As I write, Theresa May is barely holding on to the prime minister’s job despite her utter humiliation in the unnecessary general election she called in response to bad advice.Many Conservatives are out for her blood. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer whose services  she dispensed with is enjoying the opportunities that his new post as editor of the London Evening Standard affords him to rub salt into her wounds.

 

 

She went from having a majority of 17 to scrabbling around for the support of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party to keep the Conservative Party in power. The DUP is the party founded by the Reverend Iain Paisley. It has fundamentalist views on homosexuality and abortion as well as climate change. More worryingly it has had ties with terrorist organisations.

Ian Paisley marched at the head of masked loyalist paramilitary ranks during the 1974 Ulster Workers Council strike. Peter Robinson, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister until last year, was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things the group did was collaborate with other terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to smuggle arms into the UK. There was a major arms find in County Armagh in November 1988 but some UVF and UDA weapons have never been found.

Peter Robinson

The murder of Colin Horner, in a North Down supermarket car park in front of his three-year-old son last month revived community fears of loyalist violence and racketeering. DUP leader Arlene Foster, who met the senior UDA leader Jackie McDonald days after the killing, was criticised for failing to condemn loyalist violence robustly enough.

May attacked Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged ties with the IRA and is now allying herself with a party founded by former Northern Irish loyalist terrorists.

Who are the DUP MPs?

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr has made many positive comments on Sri Lanka including telling the House of Commons: “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.” However, he has also said that he believes that homosexual “relationships are immoral, offensive and obnoxious.” There have been questions about the probity of his dealings with some property developers. He has consistently drawn attention by his high expenses claims as an MP. He is a friend of Donald Trump and has invited him to visit Northern Ireland for the Open golf championship at Portrush in 2019.

Sammy Wilson has been accused of condoning calls that Catholics should be “expelled, nullified, or interned.” Nigel Dodds attended the wake of paramilitary leader John Bingham with DUP founder Ian Paisley Sr. Emma Little-Pengelly is the daughter of Noel Little who was one of three men arrested in Paris in April 1989, along with a South African diplomat and an arms dealer. During her 2017 general election campaign, she received the endorsement of the three biggest loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was part of Official Unionist leader David Trimble’s negotiating team during the Good Friday Agreement talks in 1998. He came to oppose his leader’s stance, however, criticising the lack of a link between IRA weapons decommissioning and Sinn Fein’s being allowed into government. Donaldson joined the DUP in 2003 and is Northern Ireland’s longest serving MP.

In 2005 David Simpson ousted David Trimble from his parliamentary seat. He opposed same-sex marriage and lobbied to have creationism included in the science curriculum in Northern Ireland schools. Gregory Campbell has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and described homosexuality as an “evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”. Jim Shannon was voted the least sexy MP in 2011.

Funding from Saudi Arabia

The story about the DUP’s shady financial links with Saudi Arabia is too convoluted for me to cover fully here and many facts remain uncovered. Two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet carried a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. It cost £282,000 and was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. The DUP eventually admitted that money came from a much larger donation of £425,622 from the Constitutional Research Council which is linked to the Saudi royal family. The name of Peter Haestrup crops up in connection with this funding. He is a Dane who has repeatedly been linked to a gun running case described by Indian authorities as “the biggest crime in the country’s history”. All the DUP bigwigs claim to be puzzled by all this. The donation seems to be illegal under UK electoral law. If the DUP were   forced to return such a large sum of money it might bankrupt the party.

Cash for Ash

Arlene Foster, the current leader of the DUP, is a divisive figure in Northern Ireland. The “cash for ash” scandal indicated that the DUP were corrupt or at best incompetent and arrogant. A renewable energy incentive scheme for Northern Ireland ran out of control and cost the public purse £500 million. Concerns of fraud were raised initially in 2013 and again in 2014, when a whistle-blower contacted Foster to raise concerns about the scheme. The scheme worked by paying applicants to use renewable energy. The rate paid was more than the cost of heating, however, meaning applicants were making profits simply by heating their properties.

The plan was overseen by Arlene Foster when she was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. She signally failed to introduce proper cost controls, allowing the plan to spiral out of control. Foster said that calls for her resignation were purely “misogynistic”. Foster was succeeded as minister by Jonathan Bell who said in an interview that DUP special advisers and Foster “intervened” to prevent the closure of the scheme. He also claimed that Foster tried to “cleanse the records” by hiding her involvement in delaying the scheme’s closure. Bell was suspended from the DUP. An audit indicated that there were serious fraud issues at 14 of the sites

The affair ultimately caused Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness to resign in protest as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in January 2017 after ten years in office. McGuinness’s resignation meant that Foster was removed from her role as First Minister, which in turn caused the Executive Office of Northern Ireland to fall. The fall of the executive, though triggered by cash for ash, was the inevitable consequence of the DUP’s unwillingness to embrace the vision of a shared and equal society in the north of Ireland which underpinned the GFA.  The DUP has continued to adopt a sectarian approach to most issues undermining the carefully crafted agreement designed to allow a more normal society and body politic to take root and flourish.

Whither Peace?

May’s courting of the DUP augurs badly for power-sharing talks at Stormont. The uneasy peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement owed a lot to the fact that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were both part of the EU so that the border between the six and 26 counties no longer signified. Thanks to Brexit this will no longer apply. Sinn Féin have argued that because the Northern Ireland electorate voted by 56% to remain within Europe last year the area should have special designated status. The DUP are very much in favour of Brexit and will use their influence to insist there would be no post-Brexit deal that could decouple Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The hard border between the six counties and the 26 counties will reappear. It will now also be the land border between the EU and the UK. The success of the GFA depended on the London government being neutral between the nationalists and the loyalists in Northern Ireland. May’s Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire undermined that neutrality. May’s Faustian pact with the DUP will make any pretence of neutrality ludicrous.

There are many who think this anxiety reflects scaremongering and suggest that the DUP’s fundamentalist views cannot affect the rest of the UK. Historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has written many pieces lately advising people to calm down. “The DUP leader – a rural solicitor who saw her father and several friends injured by IRA attacks – has with good grace sat in government with ex-IRA people and their apologists. Her wish-list is, she says, utterly in the national interest. Theresa May can count herself lucky.”

Nevertheless, many people in the UK and Ireland are feeling a sense of betrayal and despair. I lost respect for John Major because of rail privatisation and Edwina Currie. Perhaps Major has not been given enough credit for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. Noe Major is worried. “A fundamental part of that peace process is that the UK government needs to be impartial between all the competing interests in Northern Ireland. The danger is that however much any government tries, they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal, at Westminster, with one of the Northern Ireland parties. The last thing anybody wishes to see is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the community, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence.”

Many British voters will be thinking it was bad enough getting Brexit and Theresa May. They are also getting a gang of ignorant bigots with connections to terrorists, fraudsters and Trump. What fresh hell is this?

 

 

On Bullshit

This  article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 1 2017,

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=22261

Bullshit

By

Padraig Colman

My first article published in a Sri Lankan magazine was for LMD nearly ten years ago. My subject was truth and lies and broken promises in politics and business. The immediate trigger for the article was my reading of Harry G Frankfurt’s best-selling little book (67 pages) On Bullshit.  Since reading Frankfurt, I have also read a book by another philosopher, my Facebook friend Stephen Law – Believing Bullshit. Stephen goes into a lot more detail with practical examples of bullshit and what to do about it. Frankfurt is one of the world’s most influential moral philosophers. This could be a false memory but I seem to recall that the LMD editors were too squeamish to print the word ‘bullshit’.

Post-Truth

Ten years on, bullshit is still around and still being written about. Evan Davis has published Post-Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit and What We Can Do About It, Buzzfeed correspondent James Ball weighs in with Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World, and political journalist Matthew d’Ancona contributes Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back.

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose post-truth as word of the year, with the definition “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Trump spokesperson Kelly-Anne Conway has come up with the phrase “alternative facts” to explain her boss’s s bizarre claims about the weather and the crowds on the day of his inauguration.

Lies, Humbug and Bullshit

LMD could have substituted the word “humbug”, which Frankfurt considers a genteel alternative. There is a subtle difference between bullshit and lies (Sisela Bok’s book Lying is a must-read). Frankfurt argues that bullshit is speech intended to persuade, without regard for truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter only cares whether or not the listener is persuaded. Frankfurt argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. Bullshit need not be untrue at all. Bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything  is true. They change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant.

Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner’s capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. Bullshit is everywhere, because people must create prose about things they don’t actually understand.

Entitlement to Opinion

A cliché on social media is “opinions are like arseholes; everyone’s got one and they all stink”. The Cambridge philosopher, Jamie Whyte wrote: “You are entitled to an opinion in the epistemic sense only when you have good reason for holding it: evidence, sound arguments and so on. Far from being universal, this epistemic entitlement is one you earn. It is like being entitled to boast, which depends on having something worth boasting about.” Der Spiegel wrote about Trump: “He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.”

Facebook

Thanks to Facebook, bullshit is unavoidable when people are convinced that they must have opinions about events and conditions in all parts of the world, about more or less anything and everything – so they rant about things they know virtually nothing about. However, Facebook and the internet in general are tools and we perhaps should not blame them for the way they are used. Columbia University researchers analysed 1.3m articles published online before the US presidential election. The report’s authors insist that it is neither fake news nor Facebook that poses the real challenge to the mainstream media, but a “propaganda and disinformation-rich environment”.
Churnalism

Thanks to parlous economic conditions, newspapers cannot afford to employ reporters to dig out the facts. Like an urban myth or an internet hoax, a story gets passed around and is treated as legal currency. The neologism “churnalism” has been credited to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir who coined the term in 2008. “You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote.” Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” – “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist”.

It seems to me that there is more bullshit around than there was ten years ago. Look at the current President of the United States. Many have written about Trump’s incessant lying but his modus operandi seems to me to be more akin to bullshit. Frankfurt wrote: “The bullshitter is involved in a program of obfuscation, not merely the substitution of truth for lies.”

Twittering Trump

Trump uses Twitter ceaselessly and undermines the efforts of his spin doctors. Trump’s election and the Brexit vote relied on distrust of experts and disregard for knowledge. There are so many opportunities for people to sound off without knowing what they are talking about. It is disturbing when the person sounding off without knowledge is the president of the United States. As I write, I am looking at footage showing the leaders of NATO countries tittering in bemusement as Trump holds forth mistaken views about how NATO works. Trump’s claim that American allies are “underpaying” or owe NATO money has been repeatedly debunked.

Principles of Conversation

Yet another philosopher, HP Grice (1913-1988), described in his 1975 book Logic and Conversation, ‘maxims’ that are assumed by people engaged in conversation. The co-operative principle means that speakers and listeners assume that their interlocutors stick to certain speech norms. There is a kind of unstated contract about quantity, quality, relevance and manner. If the maxims are violated you get bullshit: quantity – too much or too little information; quality – utterances that are intentionally false or lack evidence; relevance – shifting ground from the topic under discussion; manner – utterances that are ambiguous, unnecessarily prolix or disorderly. Grice could be describing Trump. The elements Grice outlines may be added to the condition of the bullshitter’s indifference to the ideal of truth. Another philosopher, Bernard Williams, brings trust into the equation. Williams sees any person lied to or who has bullshit tipped onto him or her as a victim of an abuse of power who has been put in a powerless position that results in resentment and rage.

Blind Faith and Bullshit

Frankfurt comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion: ‘sincerity is bullshit’. Frankfurt rests his case on a critique of those who claim for sincerity a position formerly occupied by a trust in objectivity. He disputes the view that our nature is a more reliable guide to truth than ‘facts’. He has no time for faith or gut feeling, seeing those as part of bullshit.

Stephen Law takes this up and offers strategies for avoiding getting trapped in what he calls the black holes of bullshit – belief systems constructed in such a way that unwary passers-by can be imprisoned. Even the most intelligent and educated, not just the ignorant, are potentially vulnerable. Beware! You might think you are smart but you too can be bullshitted.

I am myself guilty of churnalism and also of having opinions about events and conditions in all parts of the world. I have been confidently condemning Jeremy Corbyn for voting against the Good Friday Agreement. I believed it because I had read it so many times on the internet. I am a bullshitter! I may have to eat my hat. According to Channel4 Corbyn did, in fact, vote for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.
Here is the relevant extract from Hansard showing that Corbyn did support the Good Friday Agreement.

https://www.publications.parliament.uk/…/debte…/80731-06.htm
My apologies to Mr Corbyn.

Fake Editor

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday  April 1 2017.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=20797

Sri Lankans are justifiably proud of their politicians’ corruption and nepotism. However, I have had spirited debates with some Sri Lankans who think such things only exist in Sri Lanka. I have argued that western politicians are even more corrupt but are usually more subtle about it.

Fake Editor

The shock announcement on March 17 by Evgeny Lebedev, (dubbed “two beards” by satirical magazine Private Eye) proprietor of the London Evening Standard that George Osborne was to become editor of the paper in May drew attention to many unsavoury features of British politics. Osborne, who was sacked as Chancellor of the Exchequer when Theresa May became prime minister, blithely announced that he would continue to sit as a member of parliament for the Tatton constituency in Cheshire.

Privilege

His salary at the Standard has not been disclosed. He will not be starving anyway. Since he ceased to be a minister he has declared almost £1 million in speaking fees in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Interests. He has declined to answer those who ask whether he will give up his lucrative little jobs to avoid any suggestion of conflicts of interest. Osborne is paid £650,000 a year for one day’s work a week for fund manager BlackRock. He has earned £800,000 for 15 speaking engagements in the last year, collects a £120,000 a year stipend from a US thinktank and has a book deal on top of his £75,000 MP’s salary.

Private Eye has on its cover a Standard employee saying: “There’s no conflict of interest – he’s not interested in journalism”. Seriously though, as a member of the privy council, Osborne has privileged access to confidential briefings, conflicting with his obligation as a supposed journalist to publish information in the public interest. The Standard has a good reputation for its city coverage. Will that continue with a new editor who has been paid vast sums by the world’s largest asset manager. BlackRock is a major player in the pensions industry and has benefited from the policies of Osborne the chancellor. The money-laundering bank HSBC, in which BlackRock has more than £2 billion worth of shares, also benefitted from Osborne’s policies and received critical coverage from the Standard. Will this continue with Osborne as editor? The new editor will need to recuse himself from every financial story his paper covers.

Revolving Doors, Revolting People

The Eye has been running a long campaign to expose the inadequacies of Acoba (advisory committee on business appointments) the body which is supposed to regulate the revolving door between government and business. Acoba is supposed to assess any private paid roles taken by former ministers and civil servants in fields they previously regulated in government. The committee seems to approve every move it assesses. Osborne showed his contempt for the body by taking up his new job without waiting for a finding. He has previous on this because he did not consult Acoba before taking a post with Northern Powerhouse.

Contempt

Real journalists, particularly those working at the Standard, feel Osborne’s contempt for them. One said that Osborne’s confidence that he could edit the paper and be an MP “just shows the contempt he has for the newspaper, that he thinks being an editor is a part-time job, that’s the real scandal”. Osborne’s constituents might not be happy at the knowledge that he thinks representing them is a part-time job. Carla Flynn, editor of the Knutsford Guardian, Osborne’s constituency local paper, described the appointment as a “huge shock”. “Since he lost his position as chancellor, constituents thought they would be seeing more of their MP but this hasn’t been the case, and we’ve received an increasing number of letters questioning George’s commitment to Tatton.”

Senior hacks all over the UK are expressing their annoyance at Osborne’s appointment. Peter Preston, former editor of The Guardian thought it was ironic that this appointment should be made at a time of controversy over “fake news”. “George will pen a few words, front a few Lebedev cocktail parties and pocket a few hundred thousand pounds, burying the remains of a once glowing political career. The perfect PR symbol of our times: a fake newspaper editor”.

Marina Hyde was caustic. “Primarily, it is a thrill to see Osborne finally get his break in journalism, over two decades after failing to get on the Times graduate trainee scheme. Bless him for keeping on plugging away – it’s so easy to get discouraged by a setback like that.” She noted that Lebedev had said, “I am proud to have an editor of such substance.”

She asked What substance? Is it crystal meth?” There is footage of Osborne on YouTube which shows him in the House of Commons in a very peculiar state which looks like coming down after some drug induced experience.

Former prostitute and ex-drug user Natalie Rowe claims that Osborne  took cocaine with her in his early 20s, before he became an MP.

http://www.neonnettle.com/interviews/67-neon-nettle-chats-to-natalie-rowe-on-explosive-new-book

 

Marina Hyde continues: “One of the more questionable pleasures of the age has been to watch people who used to be journalists cocking up the country, and people who used to cock up the country becoming journalists. What fluidity there is between these two pursuits. In the former category, we have leave figureheads Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who got their start in journalism. In the latter category, we may now place newspaper editor George Osborne.” Another revolving door!

Austerity Is Not for Everyone

One of the reasons Osborne irritates people so much is that he has led a privileged and sybaritic existence while imposing austerity measures on the rest of the population. He was born in Paddington, London, and christened as Gideon Oliver Osborne. His father Sir Peter Osborne co-founded the firm of fabric and wallpaper designers Osborne & Little. He was educated at independent schools: Norland Place School, Colet Court and St Paul’s School and Magdalen College, Oxford.

At Oxford, Osborne was a member of the Bullingdon Club, noted for its wealthy members, grand banquets, boisterous rituals and destructive behaviour, such as the vandalising of restaurants and students’ rooms. Its ostentatious display of wealth attracts controversy, since many ex-members have moved up to high political posts, most notably former British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Tom Driberg described a typical Bullingdon outing: “Such a profusion of glass I never saw until the height of the Blitz. On such nights, any undergraduate who was believed to have ‘artistic’ talents was an automatic target.”

Failed Journalist

Having failed in his ambition to become a journalist, Osborne took advantage of personal contacts to get a job at the Conservative Research Department in 1994 and rose to high office without too much effort. Like many politicians, he has never done a proper job in his life and has no clue how normal people live, normal people who bear the brunt of his policies. David Cameron denied that his long friendship with Osborne was anything to do with him getting the job of chancellor: “He stayed in my shadow cabinet not because he is a friend, not because we are godfathers to each other’s children but because he is the right person to do the job. I know and he knows that if that was not the case he would not be there.”

Corruption

Osborne’s school and university contemporary, financier Nathaniel Rothschild, said in October 2008 that Osborne had tried to solicit a £50,000 donation from the Russian aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, which would have been a violation of the law against political donations by foreign citizens. In 2009 and 2012 Osborne was criticised for his expense claims, in particular for the claims for mortgage interest payments on his Cheshire properties.

What of the Future?

When Theresa May announced that there would be a general election on June 8, Osborne announced that he would cease to be an MP. Few doubt that he still has ambitions to be prime minister and the editorship will be a useful tool.  Osborne’s first edition will do little to quell rumours that he wants to use London’s freesheet as a platform for his own political agenda. Some see it as a vehicle for future political ambitions, should the Brexit strategy being pursued by the prime minister who sacked him as chancellor go wrong.

 

Orientalism and Sour Grapes

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 20 2017.

Last week, I wrote about the farrago of error that was Thomas Meaney’s article on Sri Lanka in the London Review of Books.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=19109

Dayan Jayatilleka described Meaney’s article thus:  “The usual, wry well-written Orientalism, just like all the LRB pieces on SL through the years.” This prompted me to look at Edward Said’s seminal book, Orientalism.

Wilson, Keppel and Betty

 

Said published his book in 1978 and died in 2003, so he was not able to include in his bibliography a book published in 2016 by Alan Stafford. The book did not win the international acclaim of Said’s work but it did win The Bookseller’s annual Diagram prize for the year’s oddest title. Too Naked for the Nazis is a biography of Wilson, Keppel and Betty. Second place went to Dr Jonathan Allan’s Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus. Apparently, Hermann Göring was outraged by the sensuality of Betty Knox’s dancing. She went on to become a war correspondent and was the first to report Göring’s suicide.

I am old enough to have seen Wilson, Keppel and Betty perform live on more than one occasion. They represented Orientalism at its finest. The “sand dance” that formed the highlight of their act was a parody of postures from Egyptian tomb paintings, combined with references to Arabic costume. The act was usually performed to the Egyptian Ballet (1875), by Alexandre Luigini. I recall them dancing to In a Persian Garden.

 

What is Orientalism?

 

 

Edward Said redefined Orientalism to describe a pervasive Western tradition of prejudiced outsider-interpretations of the Eastern world, which was shaped by the cultural attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is a form of cultural imperialism. Oriental culture is an Other that can be studied, depicted, and reproduced. This implies that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and thereby superior, whilst Oriental societies are inferior for being undeveloped, irrational, and inflexible. Said develops Antonio Gramsci’s of cultural hegemony, and Michel Foucault’s theorisation of discourse (the knowledge-and-power relation).

Said wrote, “The Orient is a stage on which the whole East is confined” in order to make the Eastern world “less fearsome to the West” so that Western nations and their empires could exploit underdeveloped countries, by the extraction of wealth and labour from one country to another country.

Orientalism and Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has been cursed with many “prejudiced outsider-interpretations”. Starting in 2009, I used to write a monthly column on Sri Lanka for Diplo, the blog of the prestigious monthly Le Monde diplomatique. The articles were appreciated by Wendy Kristianasen, the editor of the English-language edition, and for a while she pressed me to send more copy. Most comments on these pieces were along the lines of “professional” and “unbiased”, and one reader in Canada compared me to a famous Canadian journalist. Not everyone was happy. One reader called me a government lackey and another called me a regurgitator of terrorist propaganda. I received an e-mail addressing me as “you crazed Irish monkey, you IRA fugitive. You should be in a zoo or an asylum”.

 

Diplo turned  nasty when Wendy asked for my opinion on a piece about Sri Lanka by a Frenchman called Cédric Gouverneur. “It will be rather a statement of the obvious for you, but it is a good way to get the wider world interested in the country and its complex politics.” My response was that it was unhelpful to get the wider world interested if the wider world gets interested in a distorted picture. Her response was : “I think, for what it’s worth, that the West knows very little about Sri Lanka, particularly outside of the UK. …Most ordinary people simply know that there was a long, difficult conflict. That’s all. Whereas what goes on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and particularly Israel, is widely reported on, in every detail, and closely followed. Every ordinary person has an opinion on those subjects, and may even feel him/herself to be an armchair expert.”

 

Cédric Gouverneur wrote about Sri Lanka back in 2004: “Many observers would wager that the LTTE will evolve mid-term, influenced by the Tamil diaspora (accustomed to Western democracy after 20 years of exile) and their own pragmatic leaders, who are increasingly political and less warlike.” So much for that armchair expert! That ludicrous prophesy did not stop Le Monde diplomatique giving him another shot at analysing Sri Lanka in 2010.

As well as many highly debatable judgements gleaned after interviews with LTTE supporters the article was riddled with factual inaccuracies. There many serious howlers in the historical timeline headed “Thirty years of civil war”. I will not bore you with all of them. The thirty years begins with 1815 (surely something wrong with the arithmetic!). “The British finish colonising the island, previously divided into three kingdoms – two Sinhalese, one Tamil”. The most egregious error is “December 2009. Rival candidates President Rajapaksa and the former chief of staff, Sarath Fonseka, dispute the election results”. How could they dispute the results in December 2009 of an election which did not take place until January 2010?

Ms Kristianasen was not pleased when I drew her attention to these flaws. She said “I must ask you to commit yourself to responsible journalism”. This schoolmarmish rapping of knuckles was particularly galling because she was not paying me and was passing my articles on to others who were not paying me. One article appeared in the New York Times who did not pay me, ask my permission or even notify me that they were going to publish. Monsieur Gouverneur sent me an angry and abusive e-mail after Wendy forwarded to him my e-mail to her without my permission.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/triumphalism-and-foreign-commentators/

Way Down Yonder

Way back in 2010, Joshua M Schoop, after spending a full three months in Sri Lanka , decided to tell us  -in an article in the magazine Groundview (published by CHA – Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies)- where we were going wrong. “The destitution and ineptitude in Mannar Town and the surrounding area is visible to anyone”. “Natives are suffering immensely from the impacts of the war”. Does anyone use the word “natives” anymore? “In progressive nations, this is where a government would come in to assist.” Josh conceded the government has built new roads which helped the local economy but the roads were“helpful for military operations”. Was the army not doing useful work de-mining and rebuilding? What have the Romans ever done for us?

 

Josh was studying for a Masters in International Development at Tulane. It was very Orientalist for someone from Louisiana to be superior about Sri Lanka. Following the American civil war, Louisiana, was under martial law. Before the civil war, Louisiana’s wealth depended on slavery. White Democrats blocked black voter-registration and institutionalised racial discrimination. 47% of Louisiana’s population in 1900 was African-American – 652,013 black citizens. By 1910, there were only 730 black voters. White Democrats had established one-party rule which they maintained long into the 20th century. Today, Louisiana has poverty, crime and health indicators, particularly for blacks, equivalent to third- world nations. The average life-span of an African-American in New Orleans is nearly as low as in North Korea. Louisiana’s poverty rate is 19.2%; more than 26% of the state’s children live in poverty. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Use of food stamps jumped 13 % in 2008 to nearly 9.8 million U.S. households, led by Louisiana. Louisiana’s murder rate has been the highest in the US for 21 consecutive years. Louisiana’s incarceration rate has been the highest of any state for the last 20 years; it retains the death penalty.

Sour Grapes

Cédric Gouverneur thought I was annoyed because he was in the print edition of Le Monde diplomatique and I wasn’t. Damn right! The chaps at LRB probably think that I am suffering from sour grapes because I have submitted articles to them that they have thought were not up to their impeccable standards. Too true! They have rejected my articles but are quite happy to publish articles that are crawling with errors. I forgive them. I will continue reading and enjoying and being stimulated by LRB. I just hope that the next time they deign to look at Sri Lanka they will ask me -or Jonathan Spencer.

 

 

More on Orientalism and Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 27 2017.

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=19829

 

In previous articles, I have noted that much of what is written by foreigners about Sri Lanka conforms to Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism. Said wrote in that book about “middle-brow journalists, all of them re-cycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations so as to stir up ‘America’ against the foreign devil.” Said’s book contains many telling phrases: “Orientalism has not allowed ideas to violate its profound serenity.”

Fantasies of Virtue

 

In an article in The Atlantic dated 1 July 2009 entitled To Catch a Tiger, Robert D Kaplan acknowledged the success of the Sri Lankan government in defeating the Tamil Tigers. Kaplan asks if the US can learn from Sri Lanka’s success but answers: “These are methods the U.S. should never use.” That is outrageous. The methods Sri Lanka used to defend itself from brutal terrorists within its sovereign boundaries seem benign compared to what the US has done to achieve and maintain world dominance.

 

The US is the only nation ever to have used nuclear weapons. They dropped atomic bombs on civilians. 90,000 (this is the low estimate) died immediately at Hiroshima. The estimate for Nagasaki is 20,000. During the Vietnam War, up to 5 million civilians (including citizens of Laos and Cambodia) lost their lives. Obama killed wedding guests by remote control. Trump drops huge bombs on caves.

 

America is today an imperial power with military bases instead of colonies. George Orwell commented in 1943, “It is difficult to go anywhere in London without having the feeling that Britain is now Occupied Territory.” Citizens of many nations today get that same feeling. Those populations hosting US bases are expected to be grateful that the bases are contributing to democracy and freedom, but instead feel exploited because the bases are used to control trade, resources, local supplies of cheap labour, and the political, economic, and social life of host countries. They also force them to support American imperialism, including foreign wars, despite harmful fallout to local populations.

There are 38 U.S. military facilities on Okinawa. They account for 78 percent of the bases in Japan and use up 30 percent of the land mass of the island. The U.S. military bases on Okinawa also cover over 40 percent of the arable soil, once some of the best agricultural land in Japan.

Figures up to 1998, show that since 1972, 4,905 crimes were committed against Japanese people by U.S. military personnel, their dependents and U.S. civilian contractors and employees. More than ten percent of these crimes involved serious crimes of murder, robbery or rape. In most cases, the Japanese authorities were not allowed to arrest or question the alleged perpetrators.

Perfect Fright

On a somewhat lighter note we have Peter Grimsdale’s unexciting “thriller” Perfect Night which illustrates Said’s comment: “The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is of the most slipshod description.” Said quotes V G Kiernan’ phrase “Europe’s collective day-dream of the Orient.”

Grimsdale’s  narrator Nick Roker(who surely must be the hunky babe-magnet that Grimsdale would like to be) first arrives in Sri Lanka to be met by the beautiful Tamil, Anita Jeyarajah. Her job is to educate him about the country but this irritates him. In this he could be the epitome of many western journalists. “Over the next two days she delivered a continuous monologue on the marvels of the island and her faith in the peace process as we criss-crossed Colombo by tuk-tuk. After the sixth meeting, I called a halt. I grabbed her clipboard and drew a line through all the other appointments. ‘No more old farts. I can’t make a film about peacemakers if I can’t see the war’ “.

Do you see how representative this is? Like many western journalists, he is not interested in the positive aspects of Sri Lanka that enthuse a Sri Lankan. He wants the glamour of war, not boring peace. Incidentally, Roker’s previous experience was making holiday programmes. This nicely underlines the link between the fantasy world of tourism and the delusions of “serious” journalism”.

Here is Said on travel guides: “many writers of travel books or guidebooks compose them in order to say that a country is like this, or better, that it is colourful, expensive, interesting, and so forth. The idea in either case is that people, places, and experiences can always be described by a book, so much so that the book (or text) acquires a greater authority, and use, even than the actuality it describes.”

Grimsdale presents an “actuality” that is full of misconceptions and factual errors about Sri Lanka. I understand that HRF Keating wrote most of his Inspector Ghote books, with the aid of a Bombay street map and telephone directories, without actually visiting India. I do not doubt that Grimsdale did visit Sri Lanka, but it is not the Sri Lanka I know. He might have benefited had he consulted a street map and a telephone directory.

Perfect Night is just fiction, just entertainment. I have no objection to a writer trying to make a few bob writing about Sri Lanka. I am concerned about the infantilising nature of delusion generally in the media, both in fiction and “reportage”. It gives me a queasy feeling when real and tragic events are served up as entertainment and little effort is made to get beyond simplistic stereotypes or to bother with accuracy. In his acknowledgements Grimsdale thanks Chantal Krishnadasan and Shirani Sabaratnam for vetting “all the Sri Lankan and Tamil material”. They have failed you badly Mr Grimsdale.

Here are some examples of Grimsdale’s faux Sri Lanka:

  • There are references to the “British Consulate” in Colombo. Was it not the High Commission in 1995? It was when my father-in-law was working there alongside Anton Balasingham in the 60s. It is the High commission today.
  • A boatman charges 50 rupees to take Nick and the journalist Greer (Marie Colvin? Frances Harrison?) out to a cruiser almost in open sea. Nick was “in too much of a hurry to haggle”. Some foreigners are notoriously stingy in their transactions with “the locals” but in 1995 50 rupees was worth half a British pound.
  • There is a reference to the “Northern Territory”. Isn’t that in Australia?
  • Dr Sivalingam smokes a “bindi”. In Indian restaurants bindi  is “lady’s finger” or okra. An odd choice of smoking material but I have seen people trying to get high smoking bananas! Bidis are smoked by Tamil estate labourers but it is unlikely that a Tamil doctor would smoke them.
  • There is a photographic business whose address is “Witjerwarra Chemist. 310 Galle Road Colombo 7.” Galle Road is very long but none of it goes near Colombo 7. According to Arjuna’s Street Guide the postal address is Colombo 3.I have never encountered a Sri Lankan called Witjerwarra.
  • Greer and Nick are having dinner and wine at a hotel populated by cliché annoying European tourists (you know, not adventurous types like our hero or our author).  A small girl appears at table the selling ball points. I have encountered this on the trekking trails of Nepal but not in a Colombo hotel catering to Europeans.
  • Greer has what seems to be meant a harrowing journey from the hill country to Colombo because her “driver was detained at a roadblock near Kandy”. Would that have been harrowing even in 1995?
  • I always sense that a writer is hovering between ignorance and condescension about the land of Johnny Foreigner when I read references to “tuk-tuks”and “the locals”.

There’s more of this kind of stuff but I don’t want to bore you. The general effect is the familiar one of parachute dilettantes exploiting our country for local colour for their own fantasies. Tamil terrorism is not seriously addressed. It is just a sideshow. People are dropping like flies (pardon the cliché) all around Nick but neither the Tigers nor the GOSL seem to be to blame –  I can’t tell you why they are dying.

Final Word

I leave the final word with Edward Said: “Knowledge no longer requires application to reality; knowledge is what gets passed on silently, without comment, from one text to another. Ideas are propagated and disseminated anonymously, they are repeated without attribution; they have literally become idées reçues: what matters is that they are there, to be repeated.”

Ungoogling

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 18 2017.

According to this link

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=21262

“4142 readers have read this article !”

See also

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/identity-crisis-part-1/

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/identity-crisis-part-two/

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/identity-crisis-part-three/

Google Docs Phished

On May 3, I read the news that G-Mail accounts were being hacked by means of a malicious email containing what appeared to be a link to a Google Doc file. This leads to a legitimate Google.com page asking you to authorize “Google Docs” to access to your Gmail account. Christopher Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes, said, “There’s a very clever phishing scam going around at the moment – originally thought to be targeting journalists given the sheer number of them mentioning it on their Twitter feeds, it’s also been slinging its way across unrelated mailboxes – from orgs to schools / campuses,” Boyd thought it remiss of Google not to think of preventing non-Google people from calling their apps “Google Docs”.

Ransomware

On May 13, there was news that computers all over the world were being attacked by malware known as Ransomware. This is software that locks a computer and demands payment before allowing access again. Eleven out of fourteen NHS Trusts in Scotland were disrupted. Screenshots shared online purportedly from NHS staff, show a programme demanding $300 (£230) in Bitcoin that looks similar to ransomware known as WannaCryptor or WCry. The US government NSA (National Security Agency) is widely believed to have developed the hacking tool that was leaked online in April and used as a catalyst for the ransomware attack.

Not Lost in Limassol

These attacks make my own experience of hacking seem trivial but I suffered a great deal of inconvenience and embarrassment. As I reported in this column, one of my Sri Lankan editors messaged me on Facebook on 24 July 2016 to inform me that my G-Mail account had been hacked. I was soon receiving messages from friends and bank managers asking if I was OK. The hacker was sending messages to countless people in my G-Mail contacts list saying that he was me and was stranded in Limassol, Cyprus and in urgent need of funds. I soon discovered that he was doing the same from my other account.

My hacker used my G-Mail accounts to gather personal information about me from my correspondence. He managed to convince my lawyer (who has known me in real life for 13 years) that he was me because he could quote things about my business dealings with her. He also got hold of her phone number. He was also using a photocopy of my passport to convince people that he was me.

I tried to report to Google what had happened but was unsuccessful. My hacker changed the passwords of my accounts and effectively prevented me from using them. I could not use the normal authentication procedure because he replaced my phone number with one of his own. He then went on to hi-jack my Facebook account and proceeded to send begging messages to my Facebook friends. The last message I heard about was on September 26 2016.

Fishbird

I refrained from contacting the hacker directly but some of my friends chastised him and he sent threatening messages back to them. Using the name “Spitfire” he sent this message: “Maybe you should just mind your business because your email might be next.PS: tell your friend that this is what happens when he tries to recover the email i already hacked into. If he tries recovering it with any other email then he looses that one too!” I set up an e-mail account with mail.com and he immediately sent me a message: “Signing himself as “Fishbird” he wrote: “I am sorry for all the problems i have caused you this past few days. However, i want you to know the follwing (sic): I don’t know you nor have any particular personal motivation for taking over your mailbox other than looking for little money to survive on. I am willing to hand you all i have taken from you if you will help me with very little money to enable me settle my school bills. I know i have wronged you but please i need your help. I will let you know how to prevent future hacks as creating new emails is not the best line of action.”

I gave up trying to recover my accounts and put the matter behind me. I was moved to take it up again in February when I started receiving irate messages from a Sri Lankan who demanded that I return the 100,000 rupees that he had sent me when I was stranded in Limassol. I explained that I had never asked him for money and had never received any. I suggested that he report the matter to the police. He suggested that we discuss the matter on the telephone. When I said that did not intend to do that, the flood of e-mails suddenly ceased.

Belated Response from Google

I reported this latest development to CERT (Computer Emergency Readiness Team | Co-ordination Center) and they managed to get someone at Google to communicate with me directly. That was another frustrating experience, but, cutting a long story short, I was able to recover my G-Mail accounts. I replied to an e-mail sent by a real-life friend last July. After I had sent it, I realised that it looked as though it was sent by one Avraham Yitzchok Geisler – someone I had never heard of before. My contact at CERT warned me to check my settings as the hackers would have altered them to suit themselves.

On checking the settings for one account, I found that the default country was Nigeria and the signatures were Frank Barry, Atthulla Edirisinghe and Thanja Peiris. On checking the settings for my second G-Mail account I found the default country was Sri Lanka and the signatures were Avraham Yitzchok Geisler, Atthula Edirisinghe, Ray Guinan, and a couple of names in Hebrew, who appeared to be Nadiv and Adi Caspi who, according to Facebook, live in Tel Aviv. It looks to me that the original hacker was Atthula Ederesinghe who passed on my details to people in Israel and possibly Ireland. They have been using my accounts to send messages to people I have never heard of. Looking at my G-Mail accounts was a distasteful experience and I cannot bring myself to use them again. It feels like some rancid dosser has been sleeping in my sheets.

Repair

At the time of the hacking I was using a laptop at home because my desktop PC was being repaired. The technicians in the shop would have been able to access my G-Mail accounts without knowing my passwords because my browser remembered the passwords. My mobile phone number was stuck to the PC so they could contact me. I went to the shop and told them what had happened. They denied that they were at fault. I recently telephoned the owner to ask if he knew Atthula Edersinghe. He phoned me back to say that that it might be the name of a trainee he employed at one time. When I pursued the matter by e-mail he responded: “I felt very sorry and frustrated hearing this incident and I am strongly deny this was  not done by any of my technicians because we have good reputation in our area nearly 17 years of computer service and repairing. And also I advice  you to complain regarding this incident to the Sri Lanka police Cyber Criminal Section so they will be able to find from where your email hacked. And also I don’t know who is Attula Ederesinghe.”

Motive

I often wonder why people do this kind of hack. Only one person has claimed to have sent money to my hacker. Experts estimate that the ransomware hack, despite its large scale, could only have netted about $20,000 for the hackers. Is the motive sheer malice?

Google seems to have reached that point that Microsoft reached a long time ago. It wants to get involved in everything in the world but refuses to respond to the evil effects it itself allows or causes. It has reached a state of near monopoly power which enables it to alienate people who use its products. We are not seen as customers because we do not pay anything. We are a resource that can be treated with impunity. I am disengaging myself from Google starting with G-Mail.

Tired and Emotional

A short version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 6 2017

 

The other day, I was reading HLD Mahindapala’s blog about the last days of Prabhakaran, I was surprised to read this: “In a desperate bid K. Pathmanathan, the arms procurer appointed as Prabhakaran’s sole representative abroad, contacted Western journalists to send messages to George Brown, British Prime Minister, and President Obama.” George Brown died at the age of 70 in 1985.Brown did serve as British foreign secretary (with embarrassing results) from 1966 to 1968. The British foreign secretary in 2009 was David Miliband.

One of the advantages I find from reaching my advanced age is that historians are publishing books about events that I remember because I lived through them. The doyen of post-war British history writers is Peter Hennessy (Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield). He was born the year after me so lived through the same events. Like me, he grew up in an Irish Catholic family. Like me, he was educated at a grammar school in Gloucester. I wonder if I met him when I was playing for the Rugby team of my school, Sir Thomas Rich’s (founded 1666), against the team of his school, Marling (founded 1887). I remember playing rugby at Marling School. The most vivid recollection of the event is being served tea and sandwiches by a team of gorgeous girls. The picture Hennessy paints of the time of my growing up in a series of books Never Again: Britain 1945–51 (1992), Having it so good : Britain in the fifties (2006) and Establishment and Meritocracy (2014)rings true for me.

David Kynaston has ploughed the same furrow. He was born in 1951; like me and Peter Hennessy, he lived through the period he was writing about. He published Austerity Britain, 1945–1951 In 2007 and it was highly praised, named “Book of the Decade” by The Sunday Times. I have it in the form of two volumes entitled A World to Build 1945-48 and Smoke in the Valley 1948-51. I found Kynaston’s work hugely enjoyable and generally reliable, although my confidence wobbled a little when he referred to boxer Randolph Turpin as Dick Turpin. I recall listening to Turpin’s fights on the radio (commentary by Eamonn Andrews, inter-round analysis from W Barrington Dalby) with my father. Kynaston intends to chronicle the history of Great from the end of World War II to the ascension of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

Dominic Sandbrook is engaged in an exhaustive survey of the period I have lived through. In 2005, Sandbrook published Never Had It So Good, a history of Britain from the Suez Crisis to The Beatles, 1956–63.  The sequel, White Heat, covering the years 1964–70 and the rise and fall of Harold Wilson’s Labour government, was published in August 2006. Sandbrook continued the history of post-war Britain with State of Emergency (2010), covering the period 1970–1974, and Seasons in the Sun, which took the story up to the election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1979. He has said that a fifth volume, covering the period 1979–1984 and provisionally titled Who Dares Wins, may follow. Sandbrook’s books have won high praise but I am less enthusiastic. To my mind, he does not write as well as Hennessy and Kynaston and is prone to errors (one example is referring to the comedy duo Mike and Bernie Winters as “Frank and Bernie Winters”). He often uses the horrible phrase “bored of”, which I first noticed in 1994. Sandbrook was born in 1974 (but has less hair than me) and often displays a tin ear for the period he is writing about. It really does not matter if more people liked Englebert Humperdinck than liked The Beatles but he keeps going on about it. There is little original thought in his books as his intention is to gather together what other people have written. He has been accused of plagiarism (by Michael C Moynihan, cultural news editor for The Daily Beast/Newsweek and the managing editor of Vice magazine – the man who exposed the plagiarism of Jonah Lehrer. He suggested that Sandbrook was shielded from criticism by his social connections, saying: “There is an element of protection. Media buddies who go to the same dinner parties and all the rest of it.” Sandbrook rejected the allegations and maintained that he “footnoted his sources, and if popular history books sometimes sound familiar that is because there are only so many ways to say things.)” Despite my doubts, Sandbrook has compiled a fascinating catalogue of George Brown stories.

George Brown

 

When he was Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, George Brown’s drunken antics caused great amusement to an electorate depressed by poor economic news. This story is probably apocryphal but I wish it were not. Brown attended a function somewhere in South America, having already laid a substantial alcohol foundation at a previous function. He is said to have made a bee-line for a gorgeously crimson-clad figure. George said: “Excuse me, but may I have the pleasure of this dance?” The recipient of Brown’s amorous intentions demurred and gave three reasons: “The first, Mr Brown, is that you’ve had too much to drink. The second is that this is not, as you suppose, a waltz that the orchestra is playing but the Peruvian national anthem, for which you should be standing to attention. And the third reason why we may not dance, Mr Brown, is that I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”

Once, when he was presented to Princess Margaret at a reception, he knelt on the floor to kiss her hand only to find himself unable to get up again. In the words of his biographer, Peter Paterson, Brown was “accident-prone, outspoken to an extent rare among modern politicians, intensely patriotic, hardworking, even harder drinking, quick as a Gascon to take offence”. He was as swift to apologise for any offence given: he probably wrote more letters of apology than any politician in history”.

Emotional and Tired

Paterson called his biography Tired and Emotional. Private Eye has for many decades used the phrase “tired and emotional” as a euphemism for hopelessly inebriated. I often heard Brown’s slurred tones on the BBC Radio programme Any Questions. He would begin drinking whisky at lunchtime, and top up throughout the day, so he was usually drunk by the time he appeared in the Commons in the evening. “He started two gins ahead of everybody else,” one of his friends later recalled. “He’d go mad, suddenly berserk, on a couple of glasses of wine …Alcohol, no matter how small the amount, used to change him, change his personality so that he became very aggressive.”

 

A Life on the Right of the Left

 

Brown’s antecedents were in County Cork. He  was born in poor circumstances at Flat 22, I Block, Peabody Buildings, Duke Street, Lambeth, in his maternal grandmother’s flat built by the Peabody Trust, a housing charity. Soon after his birth, his family left and moved to the Peabody Trust block at Peabody Square, Blackfriars Road, Southwark, near Waterloo station. His father, also called George Brown, had worked as a grocer’s packer, lorry driver and served in World War I as a chauffeur to senior  British Army officers. He did not go to university but left school at 15.

 

Early Promise

 

Brown ran as a moderate candidate for the Chairmanship of the Labour League of Youth but at the Labour Party conference in 1937 he was defeated by Ted Willis, a left-wing candidate later known as the television creator of Dixon of Dock Green. In 1963, Brown had a drunken argument with actor Eli Wallach on American TV after the JFK assassination when Brown made a fool of himself by claiming a close friendship with Kennedy which never existed. Brown taunted Wallach for not knowing who Ted Willis was.

Member of Parliament

At the 1945 general election Brown won Belper with a majority of nearly 9,000. Brown was generally popular within the Parliamentary Labour Party. He briefly worked as PPS for Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Dalton from April 1947. Brown launched an unsuccessful plot to have Clement Attlee replaced as Prime Minister by Ernest Bevin, although without consulting Bevin.

Attlee knew about Brown’s plot but appointed him as Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries as he thought it would be best to keep him busy. In April 1951, Brown was Minister of Works.

Opposition

When Labour lost the 1951 general election, Brown found himself forced to rely on an inadequate parliamentary salary. In 1953 he was hired as a consultant by the Mirror Group newspapers, enabling him to stay in politics. His natural campaigning ability became prominent, but also his tendency to be rude to those with whom he had disagreements.

After Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell’s sudden death in January 1963 Brown made his challenge for the party leadership. At the first Shadow Cabinet meeting after Gaitskell’s death, Brown and his leadership rival Harold Wilson agreed to a clean fight. Wilson, who was accused by the right of undermining party unity, then informed the press that each agreed to serve under the other, which countered his reputation for plotting; Brown repudiated any such agreement, laying himself open to that accusation.

Serving under Wilson

Brown was given a new ministry to promote growth and national resurgence. However, the Department of Economic Affairs proved a disaster. The failure of the National Plan was a severe blow to Brown’s prestige and blamed its collapse on the machinations of Callaghan and his Treasury officials, whose deflationary emphasis destroyed his hopes for growth. Many historians, like Brown, have blamed Harold Wilson for encouraging two different departments to run “diametrically opposed policies”.

British foreign policy after August 1966 was complicated by the fact that George Brown was Foreign Secretary. In 1968, he publicly insulted the wife of the British ambassador to France, Sir Patrick Reilly, at a dinner party at the French embassy in London, and later ended the ambassador’s career over personal differences. At a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference, Brown was observed by Barbara Castle “rolling around sozzled” and complaining about his new job. Effectively Wilson had to take over foreign policy.

There is no reliable count of the number of times Brown resigned. He finally left government in 1968. He lost his seat in parliament in 1970 and accepted  a peerage in the same year. He resigned from the Labour Party in 1976 and joined the Social Democrats in 1981.  He died at the age of 70 in 1985.

Character

Roy Jenkins:” Brown was certainly not a tepid character. He had great qualities both of intellect and personality, although they were balanced by appalling faults. He drank too much, particularly for his not very strong head…. And he confounded the trouble by being also capable of violent switches of mood, even when sober. On the big issues, he was almost invariably right and pursued his conviction with persistent courage.”

Brown always resented the Oxbridge-educated intellectuals like Jenkins who dominated the Labour Party in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957, Richard Crossman was punched by Brown in a House of Commons corridor but the diminutive Brown found himself on the floor with the burly Crossman sitting on top of him.

Brown’s resentments and begrudgeries led to his self-destructive feud with Harold Wilson, who had won one of the most brilliant Oxford Firsts in the 20th Century and defeated Brown in the 1963 leadership election after the death of Hugh Gaitskell. Tony Crosland might have been the kind of intellectual that Brown resented but Crosland preferred Brown to Harold Wilson referring to the contest between the two men for the Labour leadership as a choice between a crook and a drunk.

Although the formidable Barbara Castle thought him “emotion- intoxicated, not drunk”, she also recorded that when she had gone through a division lobby with him he had unbuttoned the back of her blouse and “grinned like a schoolboy”. Even one of his political patrons, the former Chancellor Hugh Dalton, thought that Brown was ‘very awkward, vain, sensitive and fundamentally self-seeking and unfaithful’.

Brown regularly spoke on Capital Radio about having given up alcohol always had a stiff whisky before going on air. He had two convictions for drunken driving. Brown once boasted that “Many members of parliament drink and womanise – now, I’ve never womanised. On 24 December 1982, after 45 years of marriage, Brown walked out on his long-suffering wife, Sophie, with whom he had two daughters, and set up home with his personal secretary Margaret “Maggie” Haimes, who was half his age. They had a daughter.

 

 

 

Martin McGuinness RIP

A short version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 30 2017.

The world watched in horror as Khalid Masood drove a car into tourists and innocent bystanders at Westminster on March 24, 2017. At the funeral of Martin McGuinness on March 23 Gerry Adams described McGuinness, who died on March 21, as a “freedom fighter” rather than a terrorist. There has always been much talk by the Provisional IRA of “the armed struggle”. Unfortunately, freedom fighting and armed struggle is usually not in brutal reality about facing up to the army of the enemy but about killing defenceless women and children as Khalid Masood did. The Reverend Harold Good OBE also spoke at McGuinness’s funeral.  “Our paths crossed many times and often he trod the path that came to our home and that is where you make friendship as you share your own fireside.”

Good by Name, Good by Nature

I first met the Reverend Harold Good (former President of the Methodist Union) in 1982 when I worked for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). Harold was a distinguished and effective member of SSAC and impressed me as someone who was good by nature as well as by name. Thirty-five years later we still communicate and Harold is a regular reader of this column. The two most detailed accounts of the complex dealings that took the Northern Ireland peace process to the Good Friday Agreement are by former Irish Times correspondent Deaglán de Bréadún, (The Far Side of History) and Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell (Great Hatred, Little Room). Harold has always refused to discuss his role but both books mention him and it is a matter of recorded history that it was Harold who made the formal announcement that the Provisional IRA had decommissioned their arms, effectively saying the war was over.

2008 Peace Award & Annual Lecture – Harold Good & Alec Reid

Harold has strong credentials as a man of peace so I was somewhat surprised at his response when I asked him what he thought of Martin McGuinness standing for election as the president of the Republic of Ireland. “If elected he would be a circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike president.” He also said that he was proud to call McGuinness his friend. Edward Daly, the Bishop of Derry, once said of the teetotal, non-smoking McGuinness: “He is an exemplary man, honest and upright. My only quarrel is the legitimacy and morality of using violence for political purposes.”

Crimes

Are these respected Christian churchmen talking about the same man who committed or organised many appalling atrocities? Some still regard him primarily as a key figure in the terrorist group that killed almost 1,800 people. McGuinness was the IRA’s chief of staff from 1979 to 1982 and ran the paramilitary movement when Lord Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers were killed on the same day. He was accused of approving proxy bombings, such as the murder of army cook Patsy Gillespie. Hostages were forced to drive car bombs, ­detonated before they could escape. This seems even worse than the suicide bombing tactics of the Tigers. Benedict Kiely depicts this vividly in his novel Proxopera.

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/proxopera-by-benedict-kiely-the-most-humane-literary-response-to-the-troubles-1.2212651

“Terrorists” or “freedom fighters” often use their capacity to intimidate to engage in similar activities to organised crime. In this respect, the provisional IRA were similar to the Tamil Tigers. While they were purportedly striving to reunite the six counties of Northern Ireland with the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, the Provisional IRA were also building up a criminal empire. While this might have begun as a means of financing the republican struggle, crime seemed to become an end in itself. The profits of crime might have been a reason for prolonging the conflict. The IRA established links with organized crime in the same areas of the Costa del Sol where many of Dublin’s top “ordinary” criminals, the “Murphia”, lived. The Murphia became the wholesale middlemen and women who supplied parts of the UK drugs markets after developing links with their British counterparts.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/terrorism-business-politics-and-ordinary-decent-criminals/

A Life

James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, the second of seven children, was born into a Catholic family in the Catholic Bogside area of Derry on May 23, 1950. he grew up in a city where the minority Protestants controlled the council, its housing and most of the jobs. After leaving a Christian Brothers’ technical college at 15, he was turned down for a job as a car mechanic because he was a Catholic, and became a butcher’s assistant. In 1968 he became a violent activist, after seeing images of Gerry Fitt, the Catholic MP for West Belfast, drenched in blood as the RUC baton-charged a civil rights march. The IRA was re-arming, and by the end of 1970 McGuinness had joined the newly formed Provisional IRA.

Within months he was deputy commander of the IRA’s Derry Brigade. More than 100 people died in political violence in Derry between 1971 and 1973, and McGuinness later justified his role in it by saying “a little boy from the Catholic Bogside was no more culpable than a little black boy from Soweto”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk9qyStTNQ8

Change

At only 22, McGuinness was part of a seven-man delegation sent in July 1972 to a secret London meeting with Home Secretary William Whitelaw. He was Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator with John Major’s government in 1995 and with Tony Blair’s from 1997. As Jonathan Powell puts it: “He played a crucial role, risking his life in doing so, to bring about peace in Northern Ireland. And in those negotiations, he was always warm and friendly.” Powell believes that McGuinness’s role after the peace agreement was even more important: “Even more remarkably than making peace, McGuinness made peace work in Northern Ireland as deputy first minister, sharing power with his sworn enemy, the Unionist firebrand, Ian Paisley.” Kyle Paisley, son of the Reverend Iain Paisley, tweeted: “Look back with pleasure on the remarkable year he and my father… spent in office together and the great good they did together …Will never forget his ongoing care for my father in his ill health.”

Blame

I was a Catholic teenager in the 1960s surrounded by Protestants. Luckily for me I was in Gloucester rather than Derry. I did not feel discriminated against in any way. In fact, I felt a little bit exotic. At Sir Thomas Rich’s Grammar School I was excused attendance at prayers but never singled out as inferior. My teachers took great interest in cultivating my talents. If I had been in Derry how would I have reacted to the frustrations of being a second-class citizen with avenues of opportunity blocked off by prejudice and gerrymandering? Would I have taken to violence? I do not think that I would, but who am I to judge Martin McGuinness for doing so?

McGuinness’s only conviction for terrorist activity was for possession of weapons and explosives in the Republic of Ireland’s Special Criminal Court in 1973.

One former senior security source said: “As chief of staff of the organisation for a long period of time he was responsible for its strategic direction and the tempo of its operational activities, so he clearly bore a lot of responsibility for what happened on his watch.” Several well-placed security sources agree that Martin McGuinness would have had advanced knowledge of virtually every Provisional IRA attack in  Derry after he was appointed chief of staff. “The bottom line is that nothing happened in Derry without Martin knowing about it …if he didn’t object, the attack went ahead. If he objected, it didn’t. It was that simple, he had a veto.”

Norman Tebbitt, whose wife was severely disabled by the Brighton bombing said: “”The world is now a sweeter and cleaner place. He was a coward. The reason he suddenly became a man of peace, was that he was desperately afraid that he was going to be arrested and charged with a number of murders.”

Brighton bomb victim Norman Tebbit lifted from the ruins of the Grand Hotel (Britain’s Trade and Industry Minister)1984. The bomb caused extensive damage and two deaths. 

A former senior security source said that over the years McGuinness had transformed from one its most militant leaders to a restraining influence. There have been claims that he was in fact a spy working for the British.

http://www.indymedia.ie/article/74119

 

My Facebook friend Ann Travers is in no mood to join in the praise for McGuinness. “It’s a shame that even when he knew he was gravely ill, Mr McGuinness couldn’t have taken the opportunity to reach out to those people — even by dictating letters — to help them get the information that they need. Now he’s brought it to the grave with him.”

Colin Parry whose 12-year-old son, Tim, was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993 said he first met McGuinness in 2002 when he came to Warrington as Northern Ireland Minister for Education. “I don’t forgive Martin, I don’t forgive the IRA, neither does my wife and neither do my children,” he told the BBC. “Setting aside forgiveness, I found Martin McGuinness an easy man to talk to and a man I found sincere in his desire for peace and maintaining the Peace Process at any cost. “He deserves great credit for his most recent life.”

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/victims-of-ira-violence-react-to-the-death-of-martin-mcguinness-35550917.html

Mairia Cahill, who was raped by an IRA man, writes: “Forgive me for pointing out, when people say he moved away from his past, that he was still in the very recent past deploying some nimble footwork to make it look like he was somewhat sympathetic to the victim, while still covering for the IRA. Old habits die hard.” She recalls the terrifying look of cold anger in McGuinness’s eyes when she called him Art Garfunkel.

Marty Maggs and Sri Lanka

McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness criticized the EU for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organization. He said, “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonize the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.” He may have meant well, but he was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”. In Sri Lanka, there was a military victory over brutal terrorists who steadfastly refused to compromise or accommodate. If Sri Lanka had followed McGuinness’s advice, we would still be suffering from the atrocities of the LTTE. Iain Paisley Jr has often visited Sri Lanka and said in the  House of Commons: “In many aspects, Sri Lanka has made more measurable gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland.”

Constructive ambiguity

The nationalists in Northern Ireland could say that their struggle had entered a new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. David Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and John Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Gerry Adams’s Sinn Féin. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable naysayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

 

After McGuinness

Many high-profile political figures attended the funeral. The Republic of Ireland’s Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, Irish President Michael D Higgins, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire and former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, Alistair Campbell. John Hume, the former leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party whose health was broken by his efforts for peace and who is rarely seen in public these days was there. Folk singer Christy Moore sang the final song – the Time has Come – at the graveside.

Arlene Foster, leader of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party was applauded in the Catholic church of St Columba and she shook hands with Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill.

Bill Clinton was there and in his address said McGuinness “expanded the definition of ‘us’ and shrank the definition of ‘them’”.

Khalid Masood lived in a hate-filled world of them and us. Theresa May rejected rejected Masood’s world view but Brexit means the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. A majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Sinn Féin has been presented with an opportunity to campaign for a united Ireland within the EU. They may do so peacefully. There are others who are still ready to resort to violence.

 

 

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