Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Fact Is Fiction and TV Reality: @SarahPalinUSA, Manhattan and Sectarian Violence

My mother is a Durkin and her family comes from the Land of Heart’s Desire, County Sligo in Connacht on the northwest coast of Ireland, where William Butler Yeats spent much of his youth. In other words, the Moms is Irish. For my part, I’m a mutt; but being part Irish and growing up in the Chicago area within dead-cat-swinging distance of literally hundreds of thousands of Irish Catholics (which is to say, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting one), it was hard not to identify with them.

Consequently, I grew up with the idea that all thirty-two counties of my mother’s ancestral homeland should someday be one nation; that after 800 years or so of British oppression, it was time for Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to head back across the Irish Sea where they’d come from and to leave Ireland to the Irish. That’s most likely what you thought if you were Irish Catholic in Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s. Even if you were only part Irish.

But, so, anyway, this business with Sarah Palin and the proposed “mosque” in Lower Manhattan in the vicinity of Ground Zero has got me thinking about growing up (partly, at least) Irish Catholic in a heavily Irish and heavily Catholic part of the world. (And by the way, I say “mosque” in quotation marks in the preceding sentence because what we’re talking about isn’t a mosque at all, but “a proposed community center in Lower Manhattan that would be founded by Muslims but serve all New Yorkers.” It just so happens that the community center includes a prayer room, which explains why Sister Sarah’s head nearly exploded.) But, anyway, back to the Irish thing …

As it happens, when I first started frequenting the Madison Street bars in the early 1980s (Madison Street in Forest Park, Illinois, that is – it being the place where just about all the taverns were located in the vicinity of once-dry Oak Park, my home town), the Troubles in Northern Ireland – what the Irish call Ulster – were in full swing. And if you frequented taverns with Irish-sounding names back in the early 1980s in places like Forest Park, or in, say, Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood or in the Southwest suburbs, you were likely to see, as I often did, pro-Irish Republican Army graffiti on the walls of the men’s rooms – nasty things about the personal shaving habits of Queen Elizabeth II, and even nastier things about Margaret Thatcher, Ian Paisely or the UDA – the kind of things that seemed oddly out of place in America in the age of Reagan, darkly threatening and bigoted and ugly; militant in the worst sense of the word.

And what’s funny is, in places like Chicago – and, I’m sure, New York and Boston and any big city with a large Irish Catholic demographic – support for the IRA was not only not uncommon, it was often fairly out in the open. For example, back then my late brother Tom was the lead guitarist in a British Invasion-themed band – you know, four guys in matching white-shirts-with-skinny-ties-and-pointy-shoes type outfits, playing Beatles and Stones and Kinks tunes in front of a huge Union Jack – and, ironically, on at least a couple of occasions they were booked to play private parties that turned out to be NORAID benefits. Maybe the party organizers figured the Union Jack provided cover, or maybe they just didn’t care. But, in any event, according to Tom these were parties with automatic-weapons-toting armed guards at the door, that sort of thing; and at one particular NORAID function, during a break between the band’s sets, the organizers passed around a black coffin-shaped box with an infamous bit of IRA graffiti scrawled on it:

13 Gone and Not Forgotten/We Got 18 and Lord Mountbatten

into which party goers stuffed wads of cash.

And I don’t think any of that money was declared on anybody’s tax return, if you catch my drift.

In fact, in the late ’70s and early ’80s support for the IRA and its sectarian cause was so wide spread, a young Republican Congressman from New York, Rep. Peter King – yes, that Rep. Peter King – openly embraced the terrorist organization:

[King] forged links with leaders of the IRA and Sinn Fein in Ireland, and in America he hooked up with Irish Northern Aid, known as Noraid, a New York based group that the American, British, and Irish governments often accused of funneling guns and money to the IRA. At a time when the IRA’s murder of Lord Mountbatten and its fierce bombing campaign in Britain and Ireland persuaded most American politicians to shun IRA-support groups, Mr. King displayed no such inhibitions. He spoke regularly at Noraid protests and became close to the group’s publicity director, the Bronx lawyer Martin Galvin, a figure reviled by the British.

Mr. King’s support for the IRA was unequivocal. In 1982, for instance, he told a pro-IRA rally in Nassau County: “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.”

That’s worth repeating: In the early 1980s, Rep. Peter King’s “support for the IRA was unequivocal.”

And lest anybody should forget, the IRA was involved in the business of killing people – innocent civilians, civilian politicians and civilian police officers among them – for the purpose of effecting political change. That’s what we call “terrorism” – using violence against civilian targets to terrorize a civilian population and pressure its political leaders to act in accordance with the terrorists’ wishes. Say what you will about the Irish Republican cause – I, for one, have always supported it – the methods of the IRA were despicable and unacceptable, as were the methods of their Unionist opposition in Ulster.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but more than 3,000 innocents died in Northern Ireland’s Troubles from the early 1960s until the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998. And that’s a number that ought to resonate with Americans today.

3,000 innocent men and women killed in the name of sectarian extremism. That’s pretty close to the number of people killed on September 11, 2001; and while the IRA and their Protestant extremist enemies may have been less efficient at killing than al Qaeda, they proved they could be no less deadly over time. So, you’d think support of the IRA – as I say, once common in the U.S., at least in the big cities – would carry the same sort of stigma as support for Islamic extremism. You’d think that, but if the political success of Rep. Pete King means anything, you’d be wrong.

But I digress. My point is, this whole thing about the proposed Cordoba House in New York City – and the opposition to it from the usual suspects, including Sarah Palin – has got me thinking how some forms of violent sectarian extremism are, apparently, acceptable in the United States and some aren’t. And it’s equally got me thinking how oddly inconsistent we are in terms of how we deal with broader religious communities that include small, usually negligible, groups of extremists within them. Sarah Palin is offended that a Muslim group wants to build a community center in the vicinity of the World Trade Center, where an unrelated group of extremist Muslims killed thousands of innocent people, as if all Muslims are to be held accountable for the actions of the lunatic few. But no one has ever suggested that all Catholics, or all Irish, or all Irish Catholics, should be held accountable for the actions of the IRA and/or their American supporters.

Just imagine if someone were to contact Rep. Peter King and demand that St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located on Madison Avenue in Midtown, be moved out of Manhattan because it somehow represented or symbolized the IRA’s thirty-five year reign of terror. The very idea is absurd; what does a cathedral named for the Patron Saint of Ireland have to do with sectarian violence in Ireland, after all? Nothing, of course, because we don’t do that in America: We don’t blame the actions of a few extremist Catholics or Irishmen on all Catholics or all Irishmen, even though we know that some American Catholics and some Irish Americans in fact supported those extremists.

So, too, with the Cordoba House, it seems to me. You don’t blame the deranged acts of nineteen Saudi Arabian jihadists on the Muslim Americans who want to build a community center in Lower Manhattan, any more than you blame the violent acts of the IRA on the Catholics, Irish or otherwise, who worship at St. Patrick’s or anywhere else. Sarah Palin ought to know that, and she ought to “refudiate” that type of thinking if she really believes in America and in freedom of religion.

She ought to refudiate right-wing Muslim bashing and intolerance, but you know she won’t. Some people never learn ...


  1. You have hit the nail on the head with this blog post. Palin is just using Frank Luntz's talking points and has no idea what she is even talking about. I doubt she even realizes that it's not a Mosque, but a community center which is really irrelevant either way. But it's the typical fear mongering from the right and categorization of hate against classes of people from the actions of a few in their community that continues to allow them to do this, like the "new black panthers" mantra or smearing Shirley Sherrod using a doctored video. Isn't it funny that this kind of crap didn't happen when the "Fairness Doctrine" was the law of the land? Hmmm.

  2. It wasn't just Chicago. When I was in grad school in 1968 I used to hang out at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. I liked the beer and the Irish music. I didn't pay as much attention as I should have to the jar collecting for the IRA; the Plough, and its sister pub the Plough and Stars in San Francisco, were open hotbeds of IRA support. And now, the IRA is in the government of Northern Ireland. Which still isn't part of the Irish Republic.

    Palin is spouting gibberish because she's operating from sheer prejudice, and prejudice makes no sense. When I took American history in school, the Sons of Liberty were patriotic heroes. The Sons of Liberty were terrorists; ask the shade of any Tory whose house they burned. It just depends on how much you allow yourself to know. I know enough about Islam to know that the mainstream of it opposes killing as much as Christianity does.

  3. Hell Yes. My parents were both born in Northern Ireland, and the casual support of the IRA I have run into in the Bay Area over the years has made me sick.

  4. From the viewpoint of Mars, every mosque is in the vicinity of Ground Zero.

  5. Pity that we can't send futureVP Pallin' around to Mars to get some perspective. I bet we have the technology to get her at least one way. What better way to your name in the herstory books forever, eh Scarah? Except flat-earthers who still say "The Moon landing was a fake" wouldn't believe you. And I believe those are the baggers you call "my base."

  6. 10 years before 9/11, African-American Democratic Mayor David Dinkins renamed a Manhattan street just blocks from the Towers after IRA volunteer Joe Doherty. Seems a more poetic condemnation of 9/11 attacks than your fudged, contrived, opportunistic and morally questionable use of 9/11 deaths to criticize people who had nothing to do with it. You sound a lot like Palin herself.

    The CAIN Project database of fatalities during the "The Troubles" is easily available online. Compiled by middle-of-the-road researchers, it is definitive and generally-accepted by all sides to the conflict. Let's use it as a lens to view your statements.

    Your Lie: The IRA was engaged in a sectarian campaign.

    The Fact: The CAIN Project lists the IRA's aims as engaging State Forces and carrying out economic sabotage. To back this up, the facts show that only 11% of Irish Republican victims are considered sectarian.

    Compare to the 73.5% of Loyalist victims that are sectarian.

    Your Lie: 3000 innocent civilians.

    The Fact: 2,088 non-combatants.

    Your Lie: You spend 12 paragraphs on the IRA, a passing mention of Loyalists, and nada on State Forces, implicating the IRA in all innocent deaths.

    The Fact: Irish Republicans are the LEAST TERRORIST of the combatants.

    The percentage of victims that were non-combatants by grouping:
    Irish republican paramilitaries: 45%
    British security forces: 54%
    Loyalist, pro-British, paramilitaries: 95%

    In pure numbers, too, Loyalists killed more non-combants.

    Your inclusion of the U2 song verges on Bathos. A song about dozens of innocent civilians who were killed on purpose by, no, not the IRA, but...wait for it...the British army.

    Lie: The IRA are extremists

    The Fact: A federal judge in the Joe Doherty extradiction case ruled that the IRA is a revolutionary group with historical roots and popular support. Its organization, structure and discipline shows it is not just another band of criminals or fanatics. At least 8 further decisions supported this ruling.

    Sinn Fein is arguably the largest political party in the 6 counties.

    Your embedded video gives away more than you probably intended, again. Derry's Bloody Sunday was a pivotal event in Irish history. The government clearly and definitively sent the message: if you indulge in peaceful protest, you will be killed. If the violent state response to the peaceful Irish Civil Rights movement convinced most nationalists the statelet cannot be reformed, Bloody Sunday showed them that armed struggle was the last resort, legitimate and necessary.

    Lie-by-omission: Information about British state forces atrocities in Ireland, much of it comes from the Government's own inquiries.

    1. 94.5% of the security force victims were Catholic underlining a selective counter-insurgency strategy. Collusion with Loyalist death squads indicates they were ultimately responsible for much more killings of innocents than accounted for by directing them and/or "allowing" them to take place.

    2. The British Government Stalker Inquiry confirmed that a Shoot-to-Kill policy was secretly in use by your "innocent police".

    3. After lying for decades about working with Loyalist death squads, the government had to fess up when Loyalists videotaped themselves reading classified documents. Three Stevens Inquiries confirmed collusion existed between the state forces and Loyalists. By 2005, thousands of fingerprints were identified on classified documents.

    4. The Irish government's Barron report confirms British collusion in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings - the single most bloody event in "The Troubles" - 33 deaths and 300 injuries, all innocent civilians.

    5. Strong evidence of state force collusion with the Loyalist murderers who carried out the McGurk's Bar bombing, which killed 15 innocent civilians – the single worse death toll in Belfast.

    6. The army's 11 shooting deaths in Ballymurphy after introducing internment, including a Catholic priest.

  7. Lie of omission: The "extremists" began the peace process by initiating talks with a reluctant John Hume as well as organizing grassroots meetings with unionists. NORAID inspired a few Irish American business people "if you refuse to help us, what exactly ARE you doing for Ireland?" to help organize the political will in DC to support the peace initiative, including Clinton's invitation to Gerry Adams.

    Lie of omission: Peter King disassociated himself from NORAID, Sinn Fein, and much of the Republican movement because they were too liberal. Peter King is a bigot and a hypocrite who happens to support a United Ireland. But, you paint the whole Irish Republican movement with your Peter King brush.

    The real question is why do you lie so confidently?

    Could it be that the conflict in Ireland does not contain the usual psycho-social buffers (eg, race) that are needed by white, suburban, middle-class, quasi-liberal, elitists like Bono, Sir Bob (Geldof) and, apparently, you. What cognitive dissonance it must be: whites fighting whites! You must be thinking: but we white folk are civilized, we should be able to work out our problems civilly.

    As the Bono-sycophant, you belittle Irish American supporters with your brother's difficult to believe and probably unverifiable story because the only way you can explain whites fighting whites is to resort to individual pathology: must be crazy, those misty-eyed, Aran-sweater-wearing thrill-seekers don't mind a Union Jack, can you imagine that?

    Sir Bob belittles and berates Nelson Mandela on national TV because Mandela states he supports the IRA. Meanwhile, he works to gentrify Dublin kicking West Indians and other brown and poor white people out. Bono wonders why can't we all forget and get along. And then heckles and curses out African journalist/social worker, Andrew Mbende, at an African aid conference for disagreeing with Bono's 3 decades of failed aid. Imagine that, an African disagreeing with the suburban white guy - doesn't he know his place?

    Ultimately, Bono's, Sir Bob's and your behavior and analysis is, quite simply, white supremacy. Your modernized, Kiplingesque, "white man's burden" may appear on the surface to be different from David Duke, Glen Beck, the English Firsters, the Tea Party, and yeah, Sarah Palin, but it's just the other side of the same coin.

    Finally, it's tragically ironic that an American, whose country, by any measure, has to be one of the most belligerent countries since WWII and which invaded two countries due to 9/11, one of which had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 causing 100,000s of innocent deaths, refers to "innocent civilian" deaths as "collateral damage", demanded that its soldiers be immune to war crime charges, and rationalizes torture, dares to criticize a people, whom Jesse Jackson called "the most oppressed people in the history of the world" for taking up arms against an occupying force following more than 800 years of resistance.

    At the end of the day, you criticizing Palin is the pot calling the kettle black.

    But, hey, perhaps, after Bono and she become best buds, you may not do it anymore.

  8. Nice to know the lunatic pro-IRA fringe has been heard from.