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How many times can you hear the word 'free'?
The answer is blowing in Iraq. And, back home, the immigration referendum is another ill-wind.
Niall Stokes, 21 May 2004
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been finding it a bit hard to focus on local political concerns recently. The war in Iraq and the ongoing obscenities taking place there have seen to that.
The barrage has come in waves. First, the atrocities themselves; then, the twisted attempts on the part of the Bush government to squirm around the horrifying truth as it emerges. And then, by way of balancing the Book Of Atrocities, there is the revolting ruthlessness of the Islamic extremists…
Looking at American culpability, the torture and degradation visited on Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib represent the dark heart of the matter – you only have to imagine what the experience must have been like for the misfortunates who were being hooded, disorientated, beaten, and otherwise abused to arrive at that conclusion. But listening to the rationalisations and excuses being offered by the US authorities for what happened has been deeply unedifying too.
You can visualise the cynical political hacks concocting the speeches for George W Bush to parrot, knowing that they are lying through his teeth. How many times can you say the word ‘free’? How many invocations are possible of the great God of ‘democracy’? How often can we refer to the ‘plight of the Iraqi people’ – as if this were in some way disconnected from the fact that the United States bombed the shit out of the place, killed thousands of civilians, and that they and Britain are currently, even still, waging war there?
In terms of media spin, perhaps the most sick-making moment, came during the conference in which Bush began to address Donald Rumsfeld directly, and pay a personal tribute to him, while talking to a gallery of reporters. You’d wonder what plonker came up with that see-through ruse. And yet, worse, there was the awful feeling that this low-grade psychological gamesmanship might actually work and that enough of the American people could be convinced that Rumsfeld is on the up and up, to allow him to stay on as Defence Secretary.
He isn’t. He is directly, personally responsible for the fact that prisoners are routinely tortured in Guantanamo Bay. He makes no bones about the decision to break the terms of the Geneva Convention there. And – while anyone with a shred of intelligence would have worked it out anyway – the hard evidence is mounting that he had no problem with the application of the same kind of regime at Abu Ghraib. The thing that sticks in his craw – and that of the puppet Bush – is being caught.
So listen. George Bush is due to meet Bertie Ahern here in Ireland on June 26. Let’s do everything possible to ensure that the pictures that go back to the US make it abundantly clear that there is a fierce level of opposition here to the war in Iraq, and that people in Ireland care passionately about the war crimes that have been perpetrated in Abu Ghraib, in Guatanamo Bay and elsewhere under George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld’s watch.
In the meantime, an anti-war gig has been planned for June 19 in Dublin. It is likely to be a big one. We’ll keep you posted.
There is a referendum on the way – and it isn’t about whether or not Roy Keane should be allowed to play for Ireland again. In fact it is about denying Irish citizenship to a particularly vulnerable class of individuals, who in the past would automatically have been entitled to it. And what sort of people does the architect of the Referendum, Justice Minister Michael McDowell, have in mind? Well, they’re babies, for a start.
Previously, any child born in Ireland was entitled to Irish citizenship. Michael McDowell wants to change that. Specifically, he wants to discriminate against children born here of non-Irish parents.
It is widely recognised that the best way to deal with the issue of constitutional change is slowly. It is generally accepted that it is preferable by far to seek consensus among the political parties and among experts before setting any change in motion – and time is needed to achieve this.
However, Minister McDowell has elected to drive a constitutional change through without demonstrating that there is any genuine need for it, without allowing the time needed for debate, and deliberately against the expressed wishes of all of the opposition parties and of agencies who are involved with immigrant communities.
The only possible motivation for this is opportunistic. The timing of the referendum to coincide with the Local and European elections may allow candidates from Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats to play the race card. Well, screw ‘em if they think that’s going to win extra seats.
There’s a whole new breed of candidate in the local elections, many of whom deserve our support. They are the ones that can best give voice to the concerns of the immigrants who are being targeted by the Referendum. Some are yellow. Some are red. Some, like Tokie Laotan Tirellan – a model and mother of three who is running in Galway – are black. And some are brown.
Watch out for their names on the ballot sheet. Check their policies. They may well be more worthy of your support than anyone else on the list – and they’ll certainly add a bit of colour and variety to council meetings.