not a member? click here to sign up
An overdose of hysteria
The role of politicians and the media in drug phobia; what Churchill and Saddam have in common; and the devil fails to get his due in US prisons
Eamonn McCann, 18 Sep 2002
You’d think that an announcement that a widely-used substance wasn’t anything like as dangerous as many had imagined would be greeted by sighs of relief all around. But the recent finding by scientists on both sides of the Atlantic that Ecstasy is relatively safe sparked something closer to alarm. One tabloid denounced the finding as “despicable”, as if the data had a mens rea of its own.
Most outbreaks of drugs hysteria are generated by politicians and media hangers-on out to instill fear in people so they’ll accept measures of social control which they might otherwise reject.
Take the case of Frank Shortt and the Point Inn in Donegal. The framing of Mr. Shortt for allowing his premises at Quigley’s Point to be used in 1992 for the distribution of drugs – he served three years after a conviction which has now been overturned – is the subject of a number of investigations.
Every political party has expressed its concern, demanded no cover-up, called for lessons to be learned. But there’s to be no investigation of the role in the scandal of politicians and media hangers-on.
In the months preceding the garda raid on the Point Inn during which drugs were planted on the premises, local political parties competed frantically with one another in the fervour with which they condemned “drugs barons” and demanded tough action against pubs and night-clubs which were allegedly allowing them to ply their trade.
Sinn Fein and Fine Gael were particularly vocal in castigating the Donegal gardai for inaction. Although not named, the Point Inn was clearly and repeatedly identified as a major centre for the sale and use of dangerous drugs.
In the weeks prior to the Point Inn raid, Sinn Fein hit the local headlines with a claim that the UVF and a renegade faction of the INLA were involved in a dispute as to which had the “right” to supply “a certain border night-spot” with drugs. These groups had plans to bring in heroin and cocaine as well as the ecstasy and speed which they were already supplying, claimed SF. Only the Provisional IRA had the capacity and will to defeat the threat to the local community, ran the message.
Much the same scenario was being played out in other areas, a “drugs threat” exaggerated beyond all measure and this or that party or its associates then presented as the only group with the stomach to combat the threat.
It was against this background that a number of gardai in Donegal appear to have calculated that a major drugs-bust at the by-now notorious Point Inn would surely guarantee personal kudos and career advancement.
Should there not be an investigation into this aspect of the scandal, too?
A number of British commentators have been acting sniffily towards Dubya Bush for comparing himself to Winston Churchill. But surely it’s Saddam who has cause to feel aggrieved.
“I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes,” Churchill once observed of the Kurds. The old booze-sodden thug was referring to the first-ever aerial bombing of civilian targets, by the RAF against Kurdish villages in Iraq in 1920.
Saddam’s emulation of Churchill in ordering the gassing of Kurds and Iranians in 1988 is regularly condemned by the Let’s Have a War Party in the Irish and British media. It obviously can’t be the gassing of Kurds which gets up their noses. Perhaps it’s a feeling that the western powers have had the franchise for committing war crimes in the region for almost a century and that it’s intolerable that some jumped-up local leader is now trying to muscle in.
Observing the effects of the RAF air assault on undefended villages, Arthur “Bomber” Harris – later to direct the carpet-bombing of Dresden and Hamburg – enthused that: “The Arab and the Kurd now know what real bombing means. Within 45 minutes, a full-sized village can be practically wiped out.” A statue of Harris now stands near the entrance to the House of Commons in Westminster.
The RAF was bombing the area in the aftermath of the First World War to terrorise the Arabs – whose revolt had been key to defeating the Turks – into submission to their new masters. Britain had taken control of a swathe of territory covering an ocean of oil, stretching from the Persian border to the Red Sea, out of which it fashioned Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Regarding Iraq, a Foreign Office official noted: “What’s wanted is a king who will be content to reign but not govern”.
Colonial Secretary Churchill selected Emir Faisal ibn Hussain as king. One of Faisal’s attractions was that he wasn’t associated with any particular faction in the country, mainly because, prior to his appointment as king, he had never set foot in the place.
Faisal’s regime kept the oil flowing until its overthrow in 1958. A standard-issue nationalist, Abdul Karim Qasim, then took over, promising land reform and a better oil deal for Iraqis. This was enough for the US, now a major power in the region, to declare Qasim “a threat to his neighbours” and to demand regime-change.
In 1963, the CIA backed the coup which brought the Ba’ath Party to power. The CIA’s Middle East chief James Critchfield recalled: “We regarded it as a great victory.” Young Ba’athist star Saddam Hussein was on his way.
Saddam became a full-blown poster-boy for the western world when he led Iraq into war against the Islamist regime in Iran in 1979. Iranian leader the Ayatollah Kholmeni having been identified as the latest new Hitler, Saddam’s Churchillian use of poison gas provoked no outcry.
At the end of the eight-year war which left as many as two million dead, US envoy John Kelly travelled to Bagdhad to tell Saddam: “You are a force for moderation in the region. The US wants to broaden her relationship with Iraq.”
But Saddam ruined the relationship by invading Kuwait in 1990, threatening to destabilise politics across the region. The invasion didn’t change the nature of Saddam’s regime. But now Iraq was ripe for regime-change. And so, here we are again.