Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

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PC and Kevin Myers

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 10 2017.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=27346

 

Misogyny and Anti-Semitism?

There was quite a kerfuffle in Ireland last week when veteran celebrity columnist Kevin Myers was sacked by the Irish Sunday Times. (Please note that this is a Murdoch paper and has no connection to the Sri Lankan Sunday Times or the Irish Times). Myers decided to comment on the news which had been recently released of the very high salaries being paid to some BBC presenters. Of the 96 stars who appear on the list 32 are women. There has been speculation that some of the highest paid male presenters may face pay cuts in order to pay women more.

Myers chose to concentrate on this gender gap and highlighted the fact that two of the highest paid women were Jewish. Vanessa Feltz is paid between £350,000 and £400,000. Claudia Winkeleman (who also writes for the Sunday Times) is listed as being paid between £450,000 – £499,000. Some of the rage that erupted might have been because Myers’s column was given the headline “Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned”, and the writer probably was not responsible for that.

In the article, Myers wrote: ““I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.” He thus left himself open to charges of both misogyny and anti-Semitism as well as bad writing.

Reactions

Kathy Sheridan is another veteran Irish journalist. I recall that she provided excellent coverage from Sri Lanka of the tsunami. In her own column in the Irish Times she showed Myers no mercy. She wrote: “no decent man or woman can afford to shrug off the rank misogyny of last Sunday’s column”. According to Ms Sheridan, Myers has previous in the misogyny department. “All of 20 years ago, I challenged Kevin Myers in print, when he argued that the only reason a decent man was in jail was because of spiteful, whiny females.”

Myers has admitted that he has a tendency to undermine himself with “throwaway lines” but Ms Sheridan is having none of that: “The clear intention was to shoehorn women – any women – into a particular narrative of victimy, spiteful bitches. It was the kind of hateful, utterly unsubstantiated assertion that regularly reduced colleagues to howls of rage.” Myers himself has a tendency to self-pity (on behalf of males as a class rather than himself alone) that is not at all attractive. As my wife often tells me, self-pity is never attractive.

 

Defenders

I am myself somewhat queasy about the fact that a writer should be sacked and his articles deleted because people did not like what he was writing. I have had the unpleasant experience of seeing supposed libertarians calling on editors to ‘silence’ me. I have been fortunate to encounter editors honourable enough to resist such calls for censorship. Myers claims that he has lost his livelihood and his reputation is “in tatters”.

The Jewish Representative Council of Ireland issued a statement defending Myers. Myers had established something of a reputation for himself as a “holocaust denier”. “Branding Kevin Myers as either an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier is an absolute distortion of the facts. More than any other Irish journalist he has written columns about details of the Holocaust over the last three decades that would otherwise not have been known by a substantial Irish audience. “David Quinn, whose father helped establish the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, said “The Most Pro-British and Pro -Journalist in Ireland has been sacked by a British Newspaper for Antisemitism”.

The distinguished Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards was disappointed that some of her Jewish friends should vilify Myers whom she considereda brave man who has incurred a great deal of unpopularity in Ireland by sticking up for Israel and consistently reminding people about what the Nazis did to Jews.”

PC Again

While I am prepared to listen to the arguments of those who deny that Myers is anti-Semitic and I am concerned that a man should lose his livelihood for expressing his opinions, I start to see a red mist when the concept of “political correctness” is introduced into the scenario. Some defenders of Myers find it refreshing that he did not always follow liberal received wisdom. He is contrasted with favourably with Jeremy Corbyn because he took a principled stand against the Provisional IRA.I have also taken a stand against the myths of Easter 1916 and the brutal use to which they have been put. I am completely on the same page as Ruth and Kevin on that subject.

Ben Lowry points out that Myers “was an early critic of appeasement of violent Islamic fanatics. He mocked the naïveté of anti-war demonstrators who inadvertently help protect war-mongering dictators. He was one of the first people to see that if Europe accommodates large numbers of migrants, more will come (or die in the Med). He ridiculed environmental opposition to nuclear power that resulted in more carbon emissions.” He scoffed at the notion of equality.

What is “PC”?

It seems to me that PC is a ruse by which right-wingers attempt to fool everybody else that they are the legitimate guardians of “common sense” and everyone who believes in civility and justice is a cretinous subversive.  Take Donald Trump – please! Trump has shown that he is xenophobic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic and insensitive to people with disabilities. What people like Trump (and people who like Trump) mean when they condemn ‘political correctness’ is, in reality, is that they have no time for common decency, civility and empathy.

Ian Mayes was the first Readers’ Editor, a kind of Ombudsman, of the Guardian. He fought a long but ultimately futile battle against sloppy and hurtful language relating to mental illness.  “I feel a strong commitment to this policy. It has nothing to do with political correctness. It has a lot to do with the way we treat each other, or wish to be treated, and in particular the way in which we relate to each other in times of need.” It was sad to read Mayes’s columns over the years because however many times he returned to this subject he just could not stop Guardian journalists using the word schizophrenic in a sloppy and hurtful way.

Widespread use of the term politically correct and its derivatives began when the political right adopted it in the 1990s as a pejorative term suggesting Stalinist orthodoxy. The right claimed sole ownership of Common Sense. All else was mere ideology. The term Political Correctness used by the right means “excessive deference to particular sensibilities at the expense of other considerations”. Many of the most widely publicized anecdotes about PC were more myth than reality. The British tabloid papers ran a number of fictitious stories about Islington Council going to ridiculous lengths to avoid the word “black”. Boris Johnson floated many myths about EU bureaucracy in his columns written from Brussels. The term “politically incorrect” came into use as implicit self-praise, indicating that the user was not afraid to speak plainly. Some might say they were just rude and insensitive.

Fintan O’Toole wrote about Myers: “He didn’t notice that he was doing something he generally avoids: insulting people who can answer back.” O’Toole saw the Irish Times as being complicit in Myers’s offence. “The paper did him no favours when it decided in February 2005, under the influence of a misplaced anxiety about being seen to censor dissenting views, to publish his column calling single mothers “mothers of bastards” and was then very slow to apologise for this gratuitous kick at the weak. What Myers learned from the episode was not to mind his words but that he would be indulged and rewarded for inverting the usual journalistic imperatives and using his formidable talents to afflict the afflicted.” I do not believe Myers should have been silenced but he is old enough (70) and experienced enough to know that words, like sticks and stones, have consequences.

 

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Mind-Forged Manacles

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 25 2017.

In every cry of every Man, 

In every Infants cry of fear, 

In every voice: in every ban, 

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear 

 

William Blake

 

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=21718

 

Jim Morrison was a big fan of Blake – The Doors got their name from Blake. In Unhappy Girl

Morrison sings: You are locked in a prison/Of your own devise. Perhaps Morrison was also inspired by Richard Lovelace: Stone walls do not a prison make /Nor iron bars a cage. All three poets seem to me to be saying that we delude ourselves when we think that we are independent agents blessed with free will which enables us to make informed rational judgements. In reality, we are restricted from fulfilling our true potential by an accumulation of bad and good habits or addictions, futile daily rituals, false memories, gut feelings, tribal loyalties. We are our own jailers – although Lovelace was actually in a real prison with stone walls and iron bars when he wrote To Althea.

 

Behavioural Economics

 

The first article I published, on 31 October 2008, under the byline ‘Padraig Colman’ was on the subject of behavioural economics. Behavioural economics combines the insights of psychology with the rigour of economics, factoring human unpredictability into market analysis. Nine years on, behavioural economics is still being discussed but it has come to be considered somewhat sinister by some critics despite the efforts of proponents to portray it as a benign form of Libertarian Paternalism.

 

Michael Lewis recently published a book on the subject, which renewed the controversy. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds , describes the friendship and intellectual partnership of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the psychologists whose work provided the foundation for behavioural economics. Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow was a best-seller. The book summarizes research that Kahneman conducted over decades, often in collaboration with Tversky.

 

What Is Behavioural Economics?

 

Behavioural economics studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and resource allocation.

 

Kahneman characterized the human mind as the interrelated operation of two systems of thought: System One, which is fast and automatic, including instincts, emotions, innate skills, as well as learned associations and skills; and System Two, which is slow and deliberative and allows us to correct for the errors made by System One.

In real life, economic behaviour does not fit in with the accepted norms of economic theory. In reality, homo economicus failed to pursue his own self-interest. Decisions were based on received wisdom or bizarre rules of thumb rather than logic. The key factors are inertia, overconfidence, and loss aversion. In their everyday existences, people tend to stick with what they are doing, even if trying something different would be easy as well as beneficial.

Kahneman and Tversky developed heuristics, or rules of thumb, to describe specific flaws in our intuitive thinking: the “endowment effect” (overvaluation of what we already have), “status quo bias” (an emotional preference for maintaining the status quo), and “loss aversion” (the tendency to attribute much more weight to potential losses than potential gains when assessing risk) are all related to an innate conservatism about what we feel we have already invested in. We find it hard to tune out information that should, strictly speaking, not be of high relevance to our judgment.

Behavioural economists have taught politicians and policy-makers that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is not infallible. Their theories and experiments are of interest to politicians because of their relevance to decisions in the public sphere – whether to grant patients buying power in the health service, whether to compel individuals to save for their old age.

Rationalising the Irrational

The systematic errors that psychologists have identified make human irrationality predictable and people can be helped to avoid bad outcomes through “nudges”. Cass R Sunstein devised “choice architectures” or “nudges” that would work with the intuitive apparatus people have in order to guide their choices. For example, if people refuse through inertia to choose between retirement plans, government can help them by automatically enrolling them in the most beneficial plan with the option to withdraw.

Behavioural Economics and Government

 

Richard Thaler has built upon the work of Kahneman and Tversky in books such as Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness which he co-wrote with Cass Sunstein. Thaler wrote a column called Anomalies (sometimes in collaboration with Kahneman, the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for economics).

 

Governments have taken up these ideas. Thaler taught at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and was close to Austan Goolsbee, who was Obama’s economic advisor. Sunstein was for ten years a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School (he is also the husband of Professor Samantha Power, who was Obama’s foreign policy adviser until she resigned after calling Hillary Clinton a ‘monster’). Sunstein oversaw the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House (Obama subsequently created a Social and Behavioural Sciences Team). Thaler was an advisor to David Cameron’s Behavioural, based in the Cabinet Office.

 

Nudge or Manipulation?

The Economist’s columnist, Bagehot, suspects that the theories of behavioural economists appeal to politicians because they provide a cover for a hands-off approach to problems they should be facing head-on. “Nasty behaviour—such as the propensity of some British teenagers to drink too much, get pregnant or stab each other—is often symptomatic of a deeper malaise: skewed values, social atomism, despair and so on.” Problems of this kind might require the smack of firm governance, rather than a gentle nudge, but the term “nanny state” has long been part of the dictionary of political abuse.

Sunstein’s Libertarian Paternalism might well be what philosopher Bernard Williams called “Government House utilitarianism” a moral philosophy underlying the practice of the British Empire that envisaged an elite who knew the moral truth and could put out simple rules for the natives (or ordinary people) to use.

 

Hidden Persuaders

Heuristics have a relevance to business in the private sector for what they can reveal about consumer behaviour. Thaler has an investment company, Fuller and Thaler’s Asset Management Inc. whose mission statement says: “Investors make mental mistakes. Fuller and Thaler’s objective is to exploit them”. More sinister still, Frank Babetski, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence analyst has called Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow a “must read” for intelligence officers looking for ideas about control and coercion.

In 2007, and again in 2008, Kahneman gave a masterclass in “Thinking About Thinking” to, among others, Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sergey Brin (Google), Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft), Sean Parker (Facebook), Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla), Evan Williams (Twitter), and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia). Psychologists helped to develop myPersonality, a Facebook application that allowed users to take psychometric tests and gathered six million test results and four million individual profiles. Scores on these tests could be combined with enormous amounts of data from the user’s Facebook environment. The architects of myPersonality claim that these tests, in conjunction with other data, permit the prediction of individual levels of well-being.

Facebook

Many people manacle themselves to Facebook. As well as possibly being the cause of them not using their time most productively, they are leaving themselves open to manipulation by those expert in the dark arts of behavioural economics.

Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, writing in the Swiss publication Das Magazin, claimed that Cambridge Analytica (a data science firm created by a British company with deep ties to the British and American defence industries) had used psychological data culled from Facebook, combined with vast amounts of consumer information purchased from data-mining companies, to develop algorithms that were supposedly able to identify the psychological makeup of every voter in the American electorate. The company then developed political messages tailored to appeal to the emotions of each one.

As Sue Halpern wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Donald Trump is our first Facebook president. His team figured out how to use all the marketing tools of Facebook, as well as Google, the two biggest advertising platforms in the world, to successfully sell a candidate that the majority of Americans did not want.”

How about that for a nudge!

 

 

 

 

Thomas Meaney on Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 13 2017 under the title “Crawling with Errors”.

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

I recently moved closer to the fleshpots of Colombo after spending nearly fifteen years enduring the privations of life in a remote location in Uva province. I have written about that life in Uva province here:

https://staionarytraveller.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/living-in-uva/

The move meant that I have got rather behind with my reading and have only just got around to reading the issue of the London Review of Books dated February 2 2017. That issue contains an article on Sri Lanka by one Thomas Meaney. Because of my tardiness, two people have already beaten me to the punch and taken Mr Meaney to task for errors in his essay. Michael Roberts and Jonathan Spencer are both academic anthropologists with a knowledge of Sri Lanka that is deep and wide.

Thomas Mallory Meaney

 

Others have challenged Mr Meaney’s contention that the country passively gave itself up to foreign conquerors and was in 1948 handed independence on a plate without having to fight for it. Nobody died, he claimed. We Irish (and I suspect Mr Meaney has Irish antecedents) have long memories and are likely to bring up the massacres of Cromwell at the slightest excuse. Uva Province still bears the scars of what happened in 1818. In retribution for an uprising, the entire able bodied male population above the age of 18 was killed and homes throughout the region were also destroyed. The British also destroyed the irrigation systems, poisoned the wells, killed all cattle and other domesticated animals, and burnt all cultivated fields

I have seen a copy of Mr Meaney’s CV and am confident that he is a very knowledgeable young man. However, leaving false modesty aside, I do not think that Thomas Meaney knows as much as I do about Sri Lanka.  Nevertheless, the prestigious organ has allowed him over 7,000 words to inform readers about the country I have chosen as my home. Unfortunately, he makes many egregious errors.

I am not concerned so much about value judgements like this one: “The Rajapaksa years now look like the most ignominious period in the country’s post-independence history.” Mr Meaney is, of course, entitled to hold that opinion. I was myself (as I wrote in these pages https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/partisan-people-and-fissiparous-parties/) happy that Rajapaksa was ousted, but I do not think that history will judge MR as harshly as Mr Meaney contends. After all, he ended 30 years of fear and improved the infrastructure of the country beyond recognition. Sri Lanka also made it into the “high” category of the Human Development Index during Rajapaksa’s rule. It is ten years since I last left Sri Lanka and I have experienced the warp and woof of daily life here. I certainly felt a huge improvement in the quality of life in Sri Lanka even in the backwater in which we lived. I listen to ordinary people like a couple who sell vegetables on Badulla market. We have known them for 13 years; they used to be prosperous but now they are desperate; they wish Rajapaksa had not been ousted. Meaney writes dismissively about Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s transforming of “Colombo into a city of antiseptic beauty” but many of the affluent are worried about the effluent that is returning to the city because of the laxity of the current government. Many are nostalgic about Gota’s can-do spirit.

Rather than disputing Mr Meaney’s judgements, I am more concerned about factual errors that any decent copy-editor should have spotted and questioned with the author. Jonathan Spencer drew some of these to the attention of the LRB in a letter and the editors allowed Meaney a response. He was oddly offhand: “I thank Jonathan Spencer for clearing up errors for which I have only myself to blame. But some of his objections are unnecessary.” Who else could be to blame for his errors? What is that “but” doing there?

Jonathan Spencer has carried out fieldwork in Sri Lanka since the early 1980s, concentrating at first on rural change and local politics, but writing more recently on ethnic conflict, political violence and political non-violence. His current research looks at the fraught boundary between the religious and the political in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Professor Spencer had pointed out that Mr Meaney’s claim that the British “converted Ceylon’s inhabitants on a much larger scale than the Portuguese and Dutch had” was nonsense because there were four times as many Catholics as Protestants in the population in 1948. Spencer also said that it was plain wrong to describe SWRD Bandaranaike as a member of the ‘burgher class’ when he was a man from the highest caste in Sinhala society. Spencer also questions Meaney’s account of the JVP uprising: “The ‘fifty thousand youths’ who ‘descended on Colombo’ in 1971 are new to me, and I imagine to all other scholars of modern Sri Lankan politics.”

 

There are many more ludicrous errors. Mr Meaney says that Mahinda Rajapaksa was from Matara. According to Wikipedia, he was born in Weeraketiya in the southern rural district of Hambantota. In his opening paragraph Meaney writes: “Solomon Ridgeway Bandaranaike, the anti-colonial head of state who took power in 1956…” Later he writes that “Bandaranaike’s wife, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became head of the SLFP and the world’s first female elected head of state…. “  In fact,  both Bandaranaikes held the office of prime minister. The head of state was Queen Elizabeth II. Also in the first paragraph, Meaney writes: “After independence in 1948, Ceylon alone among the former colonies not only retained but promoted the monarchy”. Did no-one at LRB notice the contradiction?

More confusion about office here: “Prabhakaran participated in the assassination of the governor of Jaffna”.  On 25 April 1978, the LTTE issued an open letter, which was published in the Virakesari, claiming responsibility for the assassination of eleven people including Alfred Thangarajah Duraiappah in 1975. Duraiappah was the mayor of Jaffna (elected by the people) and a member of parliament (elected by the people), not the governor. Jaffna does not have a governor. The Northern Province has a governor who is appointed, not elected. Prabhakaran, of course, was never elected by anybody. Another avoidable blunder was getting the Army Commander’s name wrong. Meaney calls him “Sarnath” Fonseka instead of Sarath.

As Michael Roberts writes: “Thomas Meaney speaks with a certainty that brooks no doubt: ‘At the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the far north-east, Prabhakaran was captured and killed. Photos of his execution and a gruesome video were widely disseminated.’ Since no documentation is deployed in these types of powerful media outlets, we have no means of checking Meaney’s conclusions.” After citing the views of David Blacker who had served in the Sri Lankan Army, Roberts comments: “Alas, the Western world is dominated by journalists and intellectuals who have no experience in jungle warfare (or any form of warfare).” Roberts uses Blacker’s expertise to quash DBS Jeyaraj’s contention that the LTTE leader shot himself and questions the view that he was captured and summarily executed. HL Mahindapala wrote: “Nobody knows who fired the fatal bullet. It seems to be a gun shot fired within a range of about 10 metres.” Roberts surmises: most soldiers will tell you: more often than not, one sprays a round at vague figures of the enemy way in front of you. … a frontline soldier has the luxury of identifying an officer or X and Y to target only on a few occasions”. I have no way of knowing how Prabhakaran died, but then, neither does Mr Meaney.

 

I am disappointed that LRB has seen fit to publish this error-strewn essay rather than giving the job of reviewing books on Sri Lanka to people who have knowledge and expertise in the subject. I am sure that Michael Roberts or Jonathan Spencer would have made a better fist of it. There is insufficient space here to deal with all the dubious statements in the article. I may return to the subject later. Malinda Seneviratne commented: “there seems to be an over-indulgence in off-the-cuff remarks.” As political scientist and former ambassador Dr Dayan Jayatilleka wrote to me: “The usual, wry well-written Orientalism, just like all the LRB pieces on SL through the years. You can’t really pick at this ball of wool, can you?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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China and Sri Lanka Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday February 9 2017.

 

Colman's Column3

China and Sri Lanka Part One

By

Padraig Colman

Donald Trump seems to be determined to annoy as many people as he can. He has made a good start on antagonising China.  The appointment of Peter Navarro, who has forged a career out of condemning China, to the newly- created National Trade Council does not bode well.  Navarro, an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine, published a book called: Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action.

navarro

This seems like a good time to examine Sri Lanka’s relationship with the PCR (People’s Republic of China). February 7 was the 60th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between this island nation  and China.

Ancient History

Professor KM de Silva, in his monumental History of Sri Lanka, describes how this island punched above its weight in ancient times. Sri Lanka, despite its diminutive size, belonged to the big league along with the ancient hydraulic civilisations such as China.

prof-k-m-de-silva

The economic potential of the Anuradhapura region was increased by proximity to the Mahaweli River. Mahasena’s Minneriya tank, plus many smaller tanks and irrigation systems built between the fourth and ninth centuries, helped sustain a considerable local population as well as producing a substantial agricultural surplus for export. The port of Gokanna (Trincomalee) played a part in the development of commercial relations with China and South-East Asia which enhanced the economic potential of the region.

Sri Lanka’s strategic position on the sea route between China and the west meant that from the early days of the Christian era there would have been trade between the island and China which would have been bolstered by religious affinity. However, up until the eleventh century the cohesion that comes from strong diplomatic and political ties was lacking.

The Buddhist connection helped to forge links between the two countries. There is evidence that Sinhalese nuns went to China in the fifth century and helped in the ordination of women there. In 411 AD, the famous Chinese Buddhist traveller Fa Hsien visited the island and stayed for two years.

fa-hsien

However, contacts with Chinese Buddhism were occasional and tenuous.

During the Polonnaruva Kingdom, Sri Lanka was a vital link in the great trade routes between east and west. The unity imposed on the Muslim world by the Caliphs and the peace imposed on China during the T’ang and Sung dynasties allowed trade between China and the Persian Gulf to flourish. Sri Lanka’s geographical position helped it to benefit from this.

In the early fifteenth century, under the Ming dynasty, seven powerful fleets from China visited the ports of the Indian Ocean demanding tribute and obedience to the Chinese Emperor. The Muslim explorer Zheng He (often known as Cheng-ho) was a Hui court eunuch and fleet admiral during the early Ming dynasty. On Zheng He’s, first visit to Sri Lanka in 1405, his objective was to take back the tooth relic from Kandy. In 1284, Kublai Khan had sent a similarly unsuccessful mission for the same purpose. Zheng went back to China disappointed but also aggrieved and he returned five years later to capture the Sinhalese king, Vira Alakesvara, his queen and several notables and took them as prisoners to China. The king was eventually released but his humiliation meant that he could not recover his throne. In 1411, the Chinese emperor sent a nominee to the Sinhalese throne but he was swiftly eliminated by Parakramabahu who began a reign of 55 years.

Relations with Communist China

Fast forward to the Communist Revolution – Ceylon was among the first countries to recognize the   PRC. Ceylon and the People’s Republic of China accorded each other diplomatic recognition in January 1950.

In 1952, Dudley Senanayake had just formed a new government when Ceylon faced a world shortage of rice.

dudley

The country entered independence saddled with a colonial plantation economy which was susceptible to fluctuations in world conditions. The country faced a foreign exchange crisis in 1952 caused by a dramatic fall in export prices after the end of the Korean War and the price of natural rubber declined by 36%. The Rubber-Rice Pact of 1952 further consolidated a cordial relationship with China. The agreement gave the newly-independent Ceylon a large market for its rubber in China, and China supplied China with low-cost rice. This agreement was entered into at a time when China was victim of trade embargoes which cut off imports of strategic materials including rubber.

After SWRD Bandaranaike became prime minister in April 1956, the two countries established full diplomatic relations on 7th February 1957 and set up embassies. A number of bi-lateral agreements strengthened political, economic, trade and cultural bonds. Ceylon/Sri Lanka supported the PRC’s “One China” policy, which Trump is now undermining, and efforts to give the UN’s China seat to the PRC. The USA did not establish diplomatic relations with the PRC until 1979; Japan in 1972; UK in 1972 and France in 1964.

z_p-08-bandaranaike-4

Mao Zedong died on September 9 1976. September 18, the day of Mao’s last rites in Peking, was also declared a day of national mourning and a public holiday in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government declared an eight-day period of mourning to coincide with observances in China. A condolence book was opened by the Chinese embassy.

Mrs Bandaranaike and China

 

mrs-b

The premiership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike further consolidated the gratitude of the PRC towards Sri Lanka. Her commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement provided the country with a great deal of international support and respect. She said: “Underlying the policy of non-alignment is the belief that independent nations, although small and militarily weak, have a positive role to play in the world today. This attitude is completely different from that of washing our hands of these matters, which was perhaps the idea behind the classical theory of neutralism. That was non-involvement — remaining in splendid isolation.”

The world’s first woman prime minister fully understood the importance for Sri Lanka of good relations with both India and China. She had close personal friendships in both countries and was distressed when the Sino-Indian war broke out in 1962. The Chinese Government were feeling somewhat victimised and expressed the view that the Colombo Conference countries were functioning as judges rather than mediators. Mrs Bandaranaike’s mediation efforts were helped by her husband’s and her own history of support for the PRC and her close personal friendship with Chou En-lai.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike paid her first official visit to China in 1962, and made further visits in 1972 and 1977. China was isolated at this time and did not regain its UN seat until 1971. The Chinese government appreciated Mrs Bandaranaike’s visits and she forged close personal connections with the Chinese leadership. At her request, relics of the Buddha were brought to Sri Lanka from China on loan.

Chinese aid, which was on more favourable terms than aid from other countries, started during Mrs Bandaranaike’s premiership. She personally supervised the plans and construction of the BMICH (Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall). Built between 1970 and 1973, the convention center was a gift from the PRC in memory of her husband SRWD Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon from 1956 to 1959.

 

JR and China

Although he led Sri Lanka into a closer relationship with the west, President JR Jayewardene visited China in May 1984. During JR’s rule the USA was Sri Lanka’s main arms supplier and China accounted for only 30%. In the 80s, India strongly objected to Sri Lanka’s evolving relationship with the US, Pakistan, China, as well as Israel. The former Indian Foreign Secretary, JN Dixit, cited JR’s foreign policy as the primary reason for Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987.

jr-jayawardene

Premadasa

ranasinghe-premadasa-1

Premadasa was president of Sri Lanka at the time of India’s disastrous military intervention in 1987. India’s actions, the imposition of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord and the 13th Amendment and the forced merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces as well as the invasion by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force, drove Premadasa towards China. As prime minister, he had visited China in 1979 and received a warm welcome. By the late 1980s China had become Sri Lanka’s main arms supplier, accounting for 58% of all weapons imports, providing warplanes, artillery and tanks. Premadasa invited a senior Chinese political leader to his party-political events and China played a big part in his economic policy.

Gun Control Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 28 2016.

Colman's Column3

There has been a great deal of smugness in Europe about the epidemic of mass slaughter in the US. The recent shootings in Munich remind us that such things to do not only happen in the US. Recent horrors in Europe did not depend on assault weapons – the weapon in Nice was a truck, in Munich an axe bought from a hardware store. The Munich shooter, Ali David Sonboly, used a Glock automatic.

However, just because mass slaughter can be achieved by mentally disturbed people without assault weapons, that is no argument for allowing mentally disturbed people to have access to firearms. Mass shootings are not unknown in the UK but they are so rare that they cause shock and outrage and usually lead to a tightening of gun control.

Hungerford

On 19 August 1987, in Hungerford Berkshire, Michael Ryan shot 16 people dead, including his own mother, using a handgun and two semi-automatic rifles, before committing suicide. Shortly after midday on 19 August, Ryan approached Susan Godfrey, who was picnicking in Savernake Forest. He marched her away from her two young children and shot her 13 times in the back. During Ryan’s rampage, a police officer died and many people were injured. 15 other people were also shot but survived.

No firm motive for the killings has ever been established.  Dr John Hamilton of Broadmoor Hospital and Dr Jim Higgins, a consultant forensic psychiatrist for Mersey Regional Health Authority, both thought Ryan was schizophrenic and psychotic. Hamilton stated: “Ryan was most likely to be suffering from acute schizophrenia. He might have had a reason for doing what he did, but it was likely to be bizarre and peculiar to him.”

The police saw no reason to deny Ryan his firearms certificates in spite of the fact that many people described him as odd. Everyone who knew him thought he was a fantasist who told stories about a non-existent military career. Ryan did labouring work dressed in combat fatigues and was obsessed with guns. He carried his guns in his car and took pot shots at road signs. Given a job clearing footpaths in the town, Ryan would turn up carrying his rifle.

After the massacre, there was an immediate demand for a tightening of the law controlling the possession of guns. “The existing legislation is wholly inadequate …” said the General Secretary of the Police Superintendents’ Association. “There are too many guns in circulation and a lot of people who have guns clearly should not be in possession of them.” The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was passed in the wake of the massacre. The Act bans the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricts the use of shotguns with a capacity of more than three cartridges (in magazine plus the breech).

At the time of the massacre, Ryan legally owned a Zabala shotgun, a Browning shotgun, a Beretta 92FS semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, CZ ORSO semi-automatic .32-caliber pistol, Bernardelli .22-caliber pistol, a Type 56 7.62×39mm semi-automatic, aM1 carbine .30 (7.62×33mm) semi-automatic rifle (a rare “Underwood” model).

Why would a school caretaker need such weapons?

 

Dunblane

On Wednesday 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, drove his van to Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, in Scotland. He cut the telephone cables around the school  and made his way to the gymnasium carrying four legally held handguns — two 9mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers. He was also carrying 743 cartridges of ammunition.

Why would a shopkeeper need such weapons? Why would the authorities grant him a licence to have any weapons at all?

He shot dead sixteen five-year-old children and one teacher before killing himself.

Hamilton seems to have been a paedophile. There had been complaints to police regarding Hamilton’s behaviour towards the young boys who attended the youth clubs he ran. Claims had been made of his having taken photographs of semi-naked boys. He claimed in letters that malicious rumours about him led to the failure of his shop business in 1993. In the 1980s, George Robertson, a  Labour MP, (later General Secretary of NATO and Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, of Islay in Argyll and Bute) who lived in Dunblane, had complained to the local Conservative MP Michael Forsyth about Hamilton’s boys’ club, which Robertson’s son had attended. Robertson acted as a spokesman for the victims’ families. He was also a key figure in the campaign that led to the ban on handguns in Great Britain.

The Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane massacre recommended that the government introduce tighter controls on handgun ownership and consider whether an outright ban on private ownership would be in the public interest. There was a great deal of public and media pressure to totally ban private gun ownership. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee agreed with the need for restrictions on gun ownership but ruled that a handgun ban was not appropriate.

In response to this public debate, the Major government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales. Following the 1997 General Election, the Blair government introduced the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, banning the remaining .22 cartridge handguns in England, Scotland and Wales.

Cumbria

On 2 June 2010 a lone gunman, taxi driver Derrick Bird, killed 12 people and injured 11 others before killing himself in Cumbria, in north west England. The first killings were of people Bird had a personal grudge against, starting with his twin brother and moving on to the family solicitor and then rival taxi drivers. He then drove through several local towns, firing apparently at random, and calling a majority of the victims over to his taxi before shooting them, many of them in the face. After Bird killed himself, police confirmed that two weapons (a double-barrelled shotgun and a .22-calibre rifle with a scope and silencer) had been used by the suspect in the attacks and that thirty different crime scenes were being investigated.

Bird had held a shotgun certificate since 1974 and had renewed it several times, most recently in 2005, and had held a firearms certificate for a rifle from 2007 onward.

How did the firearms legislation allow a taxi driver to have these licences? Why would he need guns?

Gun Crime in the UK

Less than three per cent of firearms offences in the UK result in a serious or fatal injury. For 2011/12, police in England and Wales recorded 541 offences as homicide, of which 42 (eight per cent) involved the use of firearms — a rate of 0.1 illegal gun deaths per 100,000 of population. The number of homicides per year committed with firearms in England and Wales in the ten years to 2011/12, averaged 56 per year. During the same period, there were three fatal shootings of police officers in England and Wales, and 154 non-fatal shootings, an average of 15.4 per year. Britain has some of the strictest gun regulations in the world. As of the middle of last year, there were 1.8 million licensed guns of all kinds in the country, according a report by the UK government. The UK’s population is just under 65 million.

Britain is proud of its record on gun control but why should there be 1.8 million licensed guns in the country? I can never get my head around why ordinary people should be allowed to have guns at all. The three cases described above show that severely disturbed people were allowed to legally possess firearms when they had no need of them.

A small group, known as the Gun Control Network, was founded after Dunblane. Bereaved families and their friends also initiated a campaign named the Snowdrop Petition to ban private gun ownership. The petition achieved 705,000 signatures and was supported by some newspapers, including the Sunday Mail, whose petition to ban handguns had raised 428,279 signatures within five weeks of the massacre.

The UK legislation that was passed had bipartisan support. Even after the killing of Jo Cox MP, political rivals came together in their grief and shock. One cannot imagine Obama and Trump getting together after a shooting the way Cameron and Corbyn did. This is not because British politicians are necessarily morally superior to their US counterparts. I would argue that British legislation is morally superior on this particular issue.

Next week – the right to bear arms.

 

Gun Control – a Comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody died.

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

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

 

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

 

Easter 1916

April 24 2016

 

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

 

England’s Difficulty

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

The Seven

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Martyrdom and Separatism

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Imperial Oppression

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Collateral Damage

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Anglophobia

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Liam Mellows was born in Lancashire.

Mellows

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

Illuminations-Skinnider-M

 

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

 

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

Childers

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

 

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

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

markievicz

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

Gonne

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

Cesca

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

Lady_Albinia_Broderick-240x300

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

Portrait_of_Piaras_Béaslaí_1919

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

 

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

 

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

brugha

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

Brennan-Whitmore

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

 

A Motley Crew

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

bulmer hobson

Bulmer Hobson

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

 

Theatre of War

 

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

 

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

 

Did the Revolution Improve Social Justice?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Pensions Fit for Heroes?

 

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

 

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

 

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

Post-Revolution

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Rising Today

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Martyring Innocents

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Seamus Heaney wrote:

 

History says, Don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

 

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

Is reachable from here.

 

Seamus Heaney The Cure at Troy

 

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

 

 

I consulted the following books for this essay.

 

The Big Fellow                                                            Frank O’Connor                       1937

Michael Collins                                               Rex Taylor                               1958

The Black and Tans                                         Richard Bennett                      1959

The Easter Rebellion                                       Max Caulfield                                     1963

Ireland’s Civil War                                          Calton Younger                       1968

The Secret Army                                             J Bowyer Bell                          1970

Roger Casement                                             Brian Inglis                              1973

Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure          Ruth Dudley Edwards              1977

Modern Ireland 1600-1972                            RF Foster                                 1988

Paddy and Mr Punch                                       RF Foster                                 1993

The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000     Diarmaid Ferriter                   2004

Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion                     Charles Townshend                 2005

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

Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising                        Fearghal McGarry                  2012

Myth and the Irish State                                 John Regan                              2013

The Seven                                                        Ruth Dudley Edwards              2016

Unhappy the Land                                           Liam Kennedy                         2016

A Nation and not a Rabble                              Diarmaid Ferriter                   2016

Churchill and Ireland                                      Paul Bew                                 2016

Vivid Faces                                                      RF Foster                                 2016

James Connolly                                               Sean O’Callaghan                   2016

 

Noise about Silence

This article appeared in the August 2011 edition of Living magazine.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There has been a lot of noise about silence, a lot of words expended.

For example, Sara Maitland wrote a lot of words about silence.  Before writing A Book of Silence, published in 2008, she spent silent time in silent places – on Skye in the Hebrides; in the Sinai Desert; in forests and mountains; in a flotation tank; in monasteries and libraries. Then she did a lot of talking to promote the book.

I used to live in Lewisham and even without rioters it was noisy. As well as the usual car and burglar alarms, there were police helicopters flying low in the small hours of most mornings. Skulks (that is the collective noun apparently) of foxes used to sun themselves on the surrounding  lawns and at night forage in dustbins and set about reproduction. The nocturnal screaming of ravished vixens was indescribable.

Later we lived  in sparsely  populated rural Ireland and became  used to a certain level of quietness.  Meditation was relatively easy in our little cottage surrounded by fields.  I first visited Sri Lanka in 2001 and spent  twelve days in a meditation centre, practising the art of “noble silence”. Sri Lanka was a bit of a shock to the senses, especially hearing.

I wrote a poem about it at the time.

The Silence Within

A bhikkhu sneezes. Anicca. Bless you.

Inside the meditation hall, buttocks squirm,

Noses sniffle, throats tickle and phlegm.

Geckos squeak. Outside, temples and mosques

Decibel their faithful to prayer. Sirens police the roads.

Helicopters take the air highway to the war.

Semtex gouges rock from the earth. Rifles shoot wild boar.

A demon hectors on my left shoulder, mocking

My ambition of equanimity.

One can hope for quietness but  it’s all relative. In 1952 at  the Maverick Hall  in Woodstock,  New York State, the penultimate piece of a piano recital by the young piano virtuoso David Tudor  was John Cage’s latest “composition”, 4’33”. Tudor shut the piano and sat still. The wind rustled in the maples and rain could be heard falling on the roof.

The American Catholic monk, Thomas Merton wrote: “I make monastic silence a protest against the lies of politicians, propagandists and agitators” . The more accepted theory behind the practice of monastic silence is that it is a means to access the deity, to develop self-knowledge and to live more harmoniously.

Jenny Diski found it difficult to live harmoniously with her neighbours because of their Led Zeppelin albums. She also discovered that she suffered from tinnitus and found that there is a medical condition known as hyperacusis  – an inability to tolerate everyday sounds. Many sounds that were previously perceived as  normal can be painful, annoying, seem amplified, or irritating.

It seems to me that what Sara Maitland is writing about is not silence, which is unattainable, but solitude. One reviewer  of A Book of Silence commented, “One unmentioned side effect of silence, on Maitland at least, seems to be solipsism.” Maitland’s craving for partial isolation raises significant questions as to the nature of silence and relationships. Monastic silence and monastic solitude might be liberating but could also cause derangement and hallucinations. Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote in  A Time to Keep Silence: “I had asked for quiet and solitude and peace, and here it was; all I had to do now was to write. But an hour passed, and nothing happened. …So much silence and sobriety! The place assumed the character of an enormous tomb, a necropolis of which I was the only living inhabitant.”

Visitors from Colombo to our mountain retreat  remark on the meditative calm. However, it is certainly not as silent as the tomb. Sometimes I find Colombo quieter.  Mother Nature is a noisy old whore.  As I write this,  hornbills are cackling derisively, squirrels are noisily complaining about the attentions of the dogs, monkeys are fighting over guavas, parrots are just scolding for the fun of it.

There is no such thing as silence.

Sri Lanka as One Nation

This article appeared in the June 2008 edition of LMD (Lanka Monthly Digest) under my real name of Michael O’Leary. The strapline was: “Will Sri Lanka be able to forget its past and fashion a new entity that subsumes history, culture and ethnicity? muses Michael O’Leary.”

 

In Ireland, nationalist rebels fought to unite the north-east with the rest of the island. In Sri Lanka, nationalist rebels fight to separate the north-east from the rest of the island. ‘Nationalism’ became a common concept in the mid-19th century. Today, most people live in multi-ethnic independent nation-states. Eric Hobsbawm defined a nation-state as “a territory, preferably coherent and demarcated by frontier lines from its neighbours, within which all citizens – without exception – come under the exclusive rule of the territorial government and the rules under which it operates”‘

 

Benedict Anderson wrote: “It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny'”. Nations “loom out of an immemorial past” and “glide into a limitless future”. Kemal Atatürk – founding a modem secular nation – co-opted the Hittites and Sumerians into the project. Ernest Gellner asserted: “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness- it invents nations where they do not exist.”  Paul Ignotus wrote about Hungary: “A nation is born when a few people decide that it should be.” It has been said that the literary renaissance in Dublin, which helped to forge the Irish national consciousness, probably came about because five or six people happened to be neighbours and cordially hated one another.

 

Sri Lankan nationalists such as AE Goonesinha were stimulated by accounts of Parnell, Davitt and the Irish freedom movement, and closely followed Irish events in the late 19th and early 20th century. Ratmalana Sri Dharmarama Thero and Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote of an ancient, highly-developed Lankan civilisation. Modern-day Sri Lankans might echo Adamantios Koraes’s 1803 remarks about his contemporary Greeks’ relation to their classical ancestors. He said: “We must either try to become again worthy of this name, or we must not bear it'”. Anagarika Dharmapala wistfully dreamed of a dazzling past: “We must wake from our slumber … We were a great people'” Ponnambalam Arunachalam wrote in his diary: “Thought much of the unhappy conditions of our country and what a glorious thing it would be for Ceylon to emulate and excel her great past.”

 

Historical symbols are selectively reinterpreted to create a myth of historical continuity, including a community of common ancestry and destiny. Anderson uses the term ‘imagined communities’. He describes how Indonesia, a vast polyglot multi-ethnic accumulation of 3,000 islands under the colonial rule of the Dutch, imagined itself into a nation.

 

A very different nation is Switzerland, a country of three (or should that be four?) languages which was, until recently, poor and backward. The Swiss Confederation was supposed to have been founded 700 years ago. In fact, the Swiss nation only came about in 1891.

 

How did these very different agglomerations imagine themselves into nations?

EM Forster wrote: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”” Orson Welles had a similar attitude: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask: ‘What’s for lunch?”

 

A country is an aggregation of rocks, soil, plants, animals and humans existing under certain climatic conditions in a geographical location. Can the result of a succession of such accidents inspire love? Nations can inspire profoundly self-sacrificing love –Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.  Anderson said: “Dying for one’s country -which usually one does not choose – assumes a moral grandeur which dying for the Labour Party, the American Medical Association or, perhaps, even Amnesty International cannot rival … for these are all bodies one can join or leave at easy will.”

 

Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud exchanged letters on this topic. Freud believed that the human psyche is motivated on one side by erotic instincts that seek to “preserve and unite” and on the other by destructive instincts that seek to “kill and destroy”. Politics embodies an aspiration to promote identification and love, alongside permission to foster aggressiveness. It is unfortunate that love of country often has to entail hatred of something else.

 

Peace has descended on the north of Ireland and the south has been blessed with wealth. Those who sought peace have been marginalised and those who cynically destroyed power sharing and devolution now share power in a devolved statelet, advising other countries – like Sri Lanka – how to achieve peace. After some 30 years and 3 000 deaths, Paisley and McGuinness are now a double act as lovable as Laurel and Hardy. The IRA s bombs failed to achieve a united Ireland. It was the EU that brought peace, because republicans and loyalists could join together in cross-border pan-European institutions without ‘surrendering’ to the institutions of the old enemy’.

 

As the old imperial blocs disintegrated, regions and aspirant nations voluntarily subsumed themselves in other blocs. Could Sri Lanka strengthen its unitary sovereignty and economy by subsuming its disparate parts in a larger Asian association?

 

Ernest Renan wrote that nationhood requires forgetting many things. He cited the massacre of the Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day as a symbol of what France needed to forget in order to be a nation. Will Sri Lanka be able to forget and fashion an entity combining all cultural histories as successfully as its cricket team?

Democracy Moves in Peculiar Ways

Colman's Column3This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday September 1 2015.

 

natlist2

Jobs for the Losers

For several days last week, Ceylon Today was carrying a banner headline stating that SB Dissanayake was a “serious contender” for the post of Leader of the Opposition. “Hang on, I said”, to myself (I often talk to myself as it’s the best way to guarantee an intelligent conversation) “was SB not one of those recidivist old lags the voters rejected in the cleansing of the Augean stables that occurred on August 17?” “Yes, indeed he was”, I answered myself, “but he is back in parliament as one of those names on the UPFA National List”.

National List

I try manfully to explain the nature of Sri Lankan democracy to my foreign readers (both of them) but it is not easy. What is the National List? A National List MP is an unelected Member of Parliament who is appointed by a political party or an independent group to the Parliament of Sri Lanka. The number of national list MPs allocated to a contending party or an independent group depends on the proportion to their share of the national vote. 29 national list MPs are appointed.

University Constituencies

One looks in vain to other countries for exact parallels but one might compare the concept to the old University seats in the UK. University constituencies originated in Scotland, where the representatives of the ancient universities of Scotland sat in the unicameral Estates of Parliament. When James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne in 1603, and became James I of England, the system was adopted by the Parliament of England. The system was continued in the Parliament of Great Britain (from 1707 to 1800) and the United Kingdom Parliament, until 1950. The University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford were therefore given two seats each from 1603. The voters were the graduates of the university, whether they were resident or not, who had the vote for their University in addition to any other vote that they might have. Note that the members representing Oxford and Cambridge Universities were not appointed like National List members – they were voted into the Commons. Although the members for the university Constituencies were usually Conservatives, in the later years, Independent candidates began to win many of the seats. In 1948, the Labour government abolished the university constituencies, with effect from the dissolution of Parliament in 1950.

Intellectuals Making a Contribution to the Legislature

The Members for the university constituencies included many famous names: Pitt the Younger and Palmerston both served as MPs for Cambridge University, and Peel and Gladstone served as MPs for Oxford University. In his last years Ramsay MacDonald was MP for Combined Scottish Universities after losing his seat in the 1935 general election.

The idea of University seats was similar to the idea behind the Sri Lanka National List – to have intellectuals, who were not necessarily up for what Alan Watkins called the “rough old trade” of politics, to contribute their wisdom to the national legislature.

One scans in vain the list of University MPs to find many names that have resonance today. One that I recall is AP Herbert. Sir Alan Herbert was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, gaining a First-Class Honours Degree in Jurisprudence. He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1919, but never practised. Herbert served in the Royal Naval Division during the First World War and was mentioned in dispatches after Gallipoli. During the Second World War he combined his parliamentary duties with service in the Royal Navy on patrol boats in the Thames as Petty Officer Herbert. When he was knighted in 1945, The Times noted “his individual niche in the parliamentary temple as the doughty vindicator of the private member’s rights, including not least the right to legislate.”

Throughout his career Herbert lobbied for reform of several laws that he felt to be out-dated, including those on divorce and obscenity. He began contributing humorous articles to Punch in 1910 and used satire to get across his reform agenda. He wrote a series of stories about a persistent litigant, Albert Haddock, called Misleading Cases. The BBC adapted them for television in the late 60s and early 70s. These fictions were Herbert’s vehicles for his law-reform work and carried cogent legal points and are sometimes quoted in real-life judicial decisions  and academic research. Herbert also wrote eight novels and 15 plays, – the comedy Bless the Bride (1947) ran for two-and-a-quarter years in London.  PG Wodehouse wrote: “I want to see an A. P. Herbert on every street corner”.

Intellectuals in the Irish Upper House

Today there are no university constituencies in the Republic of Ireland’s lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann, but there are two university constituencies represented in Seanad Éireann, the Irish upper house. Unlike Dáil Éireann, the Seanad is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by various methods. Its powers are much weaker than those of the Dáil and it cannot veto bills, only delay and seek to improve them. The two university electorates consist of the graduates of University of Dublin (Trinity College) and the National University of Ireland who are Irish citizens, regardless of where they are resident. Each is a three-seat constituency elected under the Single Transferable Vote and the election is conducted by postal ballot. Some politicians have called for university representation to be abolished, on the ground that it is unacceptable that possession of a degree should confer special electoral rights.

One can find many distinguished writers and intellectuals on a list of former senators, including many who have had an influence in global politics: Mary Robinson, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Mary MacAleese, Garrett Fitzgerald, Lord Longford, Oliver St John Gogarty, George Moore, Brian Friel, and WB Yeats.

One would have to look very hard into the history of National Lists to find anyone of the moral standing of Mary Robinson or the intellectual clout of Yeats or Friel. The original intention of the National List was to allow a voice in the legislature for professionals, academics who did not have the networks and resources of professional politicians. Rajiva Wijesinha was a good example of what the National List should have been about. Whether one agrees with his views or not, he tirelessly analysed the micro aspects as well as the macro of what was needed for good governance in this country. Few would complain about Lakshman Kadirgamar being given a seat. Harsha de Silva brought his economic expertise to the benefit of the legislature without having to go to the hustings (although he has now successfully done so). On the other hand, CBK, who is being deferred to on many issues by the current prime minister, appointed Mervyn Silva to the National List after he finished last in Colombo with 2,236 votes. What did he contribute to the quality of debate in the legislature by squeezing a monk’s testicles?

Nevertheless, data on parliamentary activity collected between May 2012 and August 2013 showed that on average, national list MPs contributed 25 per cent more in terms of net productive time in parliament than elected MPs. There were four national list MPs amongst the top 22 contributors (top 10%) in parliament. These were (in order): Anura Kumara Dissanayake (JVP), A.H.M Azwer (UPFA), Harsha de Silva (UNP) and Eran Wickramaratne (UNP). There were also four National List MPs amongst the bottom 10 per cent. The average contribution of an Opposition National List MP was double that of a government National List MP.

Whatever about their performance, is it morally right that 29 members get a seat  in Parliament without being democratically elected? Many of those now coming into parliament and getting ministerial jobs were decisively rejected by the voters.

 

 

 

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