December 25, 2013
November 3, 2013
A couple of days ago an open letter to the American people by Mairead Maguire showed up on left Internet websites in praise of one Mother Agnes, a Syrian nun who is supposedly on a peace and reconciliation mission in the United States. Maguire won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work toward peace in Northern Ireland and her letter is peppered with references to a number of good souls whose path Mother Agnes is following.
Like Mahatma Gandhi in India, the Berrigan Brothers in the Peace Movement and the American Civil Rights Movement show us that the path to freedom and equality is a peaceful one. This journey of transformation in the pursuit of peace and justice is a constant challenge to the entrenched powers which thrive on hatred and war; acting as a constant challenge to blind prejudice and the lies that are necessary for war.
Maguire has been promoting “peace” in Syria for quite some time now. MRZine, a website associated with blind obedience to the Iranian and Syrian dictatorships, posted an article by her in July 2012 that praised Mother Agnes and others striving to defend a “secular and modern country”, codewords for Baathist rule. She called attention to “the thousands of christian refugees, forced to flee their homes by an imported Islamist extreme,” a phrase ripped from the pages of an al-Assad speech.
(For an investigation of the Mairead Maguire-Mother Agnes tag team, go to http://claysbeach.blogspot.com/2013/06/mairead-maguires-syria-connection.html.)
So who is this Mairead Maguire whose bandwagon the “anti-imperialist” and “antiwar” movement is so anxious to board? In 1976 the war against British rule in Northern Ireland was at a fever pitch. What would motivate the Nobel Prize jury to give her an award for working toward “peace”? What did peace mean in a country that was either going to be free of colonial rule or remain unfree?
Maguire became a peace activist as a response to the death of three of her sister’s young children when a car driven by Provisional IRA members lost control after British troops shot the driver to death in an unprovoked attack. A woman’s movement made up of both Catholics and Protestants began demonstrating for “peace” in Northern Ireland with Maguire and Betty Williams in the leadership.
The Provos reacted angrily to the initial march, issuing a statement that said the British military was responsible for the children’s death. Maguire and her cohorts, to the contrary, always held Britain and the Irish freedom fighters to be equally at fault. In a trip to the United States in 1983, Maguire stated that “the dominant emotion in her country is anger – anger directed at both chief antagonists, the British Government and the self-ordained freedom-fighters”, according to the NY Times.
Rob Fairmichael, also a Northern Ireland peace activist, wrote “The Peace People Experience” in 1987, the first chapter of which can be read online at http://www.innatenonviolence.org/pamphlets/peacepeople1.pdf. Here’s how Maguire viewed the role of the British military and the local police as seen by Maguire and company (emphasis added):
Of crucial importance in the perception of the Peace People on either side of the sectarian divide was the issue of informing and how they perceived the army and police. Following attacks on their criticism of army activity at Turf Lodge in October 1976 in which a boy was killed by a plastic bullet, the leaders issued a statement. This was perhaps the most forthright statement they made on such issues, and it included the following;
“We do not equate the vicious and determined terrorism of the Republican and Loyalist paramilitary organisations with those occasional instances when members of the security forces may have stepped beyond the rule of law.”
Peace People policy was:
“We fully support the rule of law, and until the Northern Irish community themselves evolve their own community institutions and form of government, then the RUC and the other security forces are the only legitimate upholders of the rule of law.”
“Our attitude to informing is this: each individual must exercise his or her conscience bearing in mind that while we do not wish to create a community riddled with suspicion, or a landscape dotted with new prisons, such an outcome might be preferable to the unending tragedy of innocents shot, burned or blown to bits.”
In other words, the colonizers and their snitches got off the hook.
Maguire has spent decades in defense of righteous causes such as Palestinian rights, opposition to the war in Iraq, etc. but that does not excuse her from serving as key figure in the pacification (that’s the real word, not “peace”) of Northern Ireland.
Fairmichael describes the attitude of the British ruling class parties to this peace movement:
The political parties of the centre and near right welcomed the Peace People and were certainly willing to hold their fire until they saw which ways the movement headed; Alliance party members made up a strong band within the Peace People who, while supporting the call for peace made by them, were unwilling to let the Peace People stray into what might be called by them ‘political’ waters where it would conflict with the political party they supported.
The British government welcomed the Peace People and interpreted it as support for its policies on ‘peace’. They initiated a poster and propaganda campaign that “7 years is enough” of the troubles; this slogan was quickly adapted in West Belfast to “700 years is enough” – of British involvement in Ireland. Many people thought the poster campaign was initiated by the Peace People rather than the British government.
Eventually peace came to Northern Ireland through a combination of British power, the exhaustion of the IRA, and the pressure applied through the “peace” movement. Sinn Fein became a neoliberal handmaiden of British imperialism just as the ANC would become in South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Mairead Maguire had that much in common besides the Nobel trophy.
Is it any wonder that a woman who stood for the right of the British army and the Ulster constabulary to maintain law and order would adopt a similar stand with respect to Syria? Her animosity toward “extremists” responsible for senseless deaths appears both universal and pacifist in the worst sense of the word.
Furthermore, isn’t it obvious that the rebellion in Syria is demonized in the same fashion as the armed resistance to British rule in Ireland was? After all, high-minded liberals in the 1970s were as likely to wring their hands over Catholic threats to women’s liberation as a David Bromwich writing in the New York Review of Books would get his knickers in a twist over Sharia law.
Nobody had a good word to say about the Provos in 1976, just as nobody has a good word to say about the FSA today. The only thing that is curious is why revolutionaries who would have had little use for a Mairead Maguire nodding in approval of British killers in uniform and snitches back in 1976 now find her credible on Syria. But then again, the same sorts of people anxious to stand up for a stinking rat like Bashar al-Assad took the word of Carla del Ponte at face value when she accused the rebels of using sarin gas—the same Carla del Ponte who served imperialism’s interests as a prosecutor at the Hague.
Who knows? Maybe Mairead Maguire is getting paid for services rendered to the Baathists, just as George Galloway. Unlike most Nobel Peace prize winners who give the money away to a foundation or to some cause in consonance with their ideals, Maguire kept the money for her own needs (eventually surrendering it after a hue and cry went up.)
Right now she functions as a cheap propagandist, with no more credibility than the nun she stumps for, a Baathist hand-puppet. On Global Research, an Islamophobic and conspiracist cesspool devoted to the Baathist cause, there’s an article by Maguire that would be laughable if the issues being addressed were not so tragic:
In Lebanon we visited several refugee camps, hosted by Lebanese or Palestinian communities. One Woman said: “before this conflict started we were happy and had a good life (there is free education, free healthcare, subsidies for fuel, in Syria) and now we live in poverty”. Her daughter and son-in-law (a pharmacist and engineer) standing on a cement floor in a Palestinian refugee camp, with not even a mattress, told us that this violence had erupted to everyone surprise’s and spread so quickly they were all still in shock, but when well armed, foreign fighters came to Homs, they took over their homes, raped their women, and killed young males who refused to join their ranks, so the people fled in terror.
This is the kind of shit you would read on an ultraright website like Shara Unveiled. In fact, something like this: At least 15 FSA Rebels Rape and Torture a Young Christian Girl in Syria Then Murdered Her. What a strange, strange, strange world we are living in when a broad section of the left and a website that has a picture of a young girl titled “Please Fight Islam for me” would be circulating essentially the same big lie.
(Hat tip to Dick Gregory for mentioning Maguire’s role on FB. I should add that I am referring to the former member of the British SWP, not the beloved fruitarian African-American comic.)
January 22, 2013
December 24, 2010
December 16, 2008
He deserved better than “Hunger”
If you expect “Hunger”, Steve McQueen’s new movie about Bobby Sands and the hunger strike at Long Kesh prison in 1981, to be anything like Ken Loach’s “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, you will be bitterly disappointed. I had to restrain myself from bolting from my seat several times at last night’s press screening and only stuck around to the conclusion in order to gather sufficient material to put a nail in the coffin of this dreadful movie.
The most obvious antecedents to McQueen’s movie are Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Alan Clarke’s plague-on-both-your-houses “Elephant”. Like Gibson, McQueen has a sadomasochistic streak. The last 15 minutes or so of “Hunger” is devoted to a clinical study of the consequences of Bobby Sands’s hunger strike, with close-ups of bed sores and bloody bowel movements. Michael Fassbender, who plays Sands, lost 33 pounds in order to lend credibility to his character, inverting Robert De Niro’s bloating up for the roles of Jake LaMotta and Al Capone.
If McQueen was truly interested in conveying reality, he would have had his screenwriter put the right words in his main character’s mouth rather than having him lose weight. In the entire movie there is only one scene in which the characters actually discuss politics. That consists of Bobby Sands in a dialog with a Catholic priest who warns him that a hunger strike would be devastating to the families of the strikers. Suffice it to say that Sands defends the tactic as only a “hardened revolutionary” would.
For McQueen, the stubbornness of the IRA prisoners is detached from their politics and mainly serves as a device to move the plot forward in a series of scenes that pits the British cops against the prisoners in a test of will. He is not interested in conveying the thinking of the embattled prisoners but in dramatizing their largely futile resistance. In one scene, the naked prisoners run through a gauntlet of cops who beat them bloody. For me at least, these ever-increasingly violent set pieces have about as much interest as the average sadistic horror movie like “Saw” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.
Although McQueen does not go as far as Alan Clarke in making the IRA guerrillas as demonic as their enemies, he does make sure to dramatize the toll that the struggle was taking on the cops. In the gauntlet scene, one cop is standing off to the side sobbing. This was of course calculated to demonstrate the film’s evenhandedness. Whether or not it corresponded to the reality of Long Kesh is another story entirely. My guess is that any cop working there had to be fairly sadistic to begin with.
There are signs that McQueen was influenced by Clarke’s film-making techniques as well. In one scene that lasts a good five minutes, we see a cop mopping up urine from the floor of a hallway between the prisoner’s cells. In Clarke’s “Elephant”, tension is also sustained by having long static shots leading up to the inevitable firing of a gun. In McQueen’s movie, such a scene functions more in my opinion as the “er” or the “um” in conversation.
In keeping with the prevailing ethos of the bourgeois-minded artist, McQueen pointedly regards himself as avoiding “simplistic” notions of ‘hero’, ‘martyr’ or ‘victim’, according to the press notes. McQueen, an artist before he started making films, was embedded with the British military in Basra in 2003 on assignment from the Imperial War Museum. He came up with the idea of turning the images of dead British soldiers into postage stamp-like paintings that were shown in an exhibition titled “Queen and Country” that he hopes to turn into real postage stamps some day. In an interview McQueen insisted that the stamps were neither pro-war nor anti-war. He said, “To be on stamps you have to be either royal or dead. These boys are dead in the service of queen and country”. Of course, no artist living in the hip 21st century would ever want to be confused with Picasso’s “Guernica” or other such preachy works.
Despite his aversion to propaganda, there is evidence that McQueen made “Hunger” partly as a statement on current events. In the press notes, he states:
When Jan Younghusband at Channel 4 approached me at the beginning of 2003 there was no Iraq War, no Guantanamo Bay, no Abu Ghraib prison but as time’s gone by the parallels have become apparent. History repeats itself, lots of people have short memories, and we need to remember that these kinds of things have happened in Britain.
Now this might be an admirable ambition, but not at the expense of the Irish liberation struggle. In order to understand the motivation of the hunger strikers, you have to understand Irish politics something that is of little interest to the production company.
March 5, 2007
You know that you have entered a kind of parallel universe when you read the first paragraph of the press notes for Ken Loach’s “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”:
The English ruling class first invaded Ireland in the twelfth century, when feudal barons staked out their territory. Over the centuries English landlords grew rich at the expense of the Irish people.
The irony, of course, is that Ken Loach’s world is real and the world that a typical Hollywood film depicts is unreal.
The specific slice of reality dealt with in Loach’s latest and perhaps greatest film is the Irish war for national independence, and the subsequent civil war between the Irish Free State regular army and IRA irregulars opposed to the sell-out treaty that ended the first war. As in the past, Loach has demonstrated a willingness to scrutinize revolutionary struggles sans romantic illusions. In his 1995 “Land and Freedom,” which dramatized the clash within the Spanish left about how to resist fascism, he staked out a uncompromising socialist position which argued in favor of organizing around class demands.
This is exactly the same outlook that shapes “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.” This is not only of historic interest. Anybody who has been following the recent drift of the Sinn Fein will understand the relevance. Unless the struggle for national independence confronts the domestic as well as the foreign ruling classes, it is doomed to fail.
Damien and Teddy O’Sullivan, IRA combatants and brothers, symbolize the two opposing currents within the Irish revolutionary movement. Damien (Cillian Murphy) is a medical student who only decides to take up arms after watching British “Black and Tans” beating up the crew of an Irish passenger train that has refused to transport them, on instructions from their trade union. His brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) is less educated but more of a natural leader, who joined the movement earlier than Damien.
Although Teddy was initially the more headstrong and militant of the two brothers, he becomes more and more compromised after the Irish Free State is established. As a Free State military officer, he is responsible for reining in–using deadly force if necessary–the recalcitrant IRA’ers who view the treaty as a violation of Republican principles. They are especially opposed to the rump Unionist state in the North and to Ireland’s fealty to the crown.
In key scenes, we see these differences being debated out within the movement, always with scrupulous attention to historical accuracy. After the revolutionaries have taken power in a given town or neighborhood, they begin to institute new institutions of law and order, just has always been the case in conditions of what Marxists call “dual power.” A dispute between a usurious landlord and a poor, elderly woman who owes him back rent is being reviewed by the female judges of a Dail court, who are also members of the Cumann na mBan, the IRA woman’s auxiliary. After hearing both sides, they rule in favor of the woman and order the landlord to pay money to her!
This infuriates Teddy, who reminds his brother Damien–a supporter of the judge’s decision–that the landlord has been a major financial backer of the IRA. A major arms shipment is coming in soon from Glasgow; and without his money, they will not have the guns to fight the British. Damien replies that the movement is not just about replacing British landlords with Irish ones. As a disciple of the martyred James Connolly, Damien agrees with him that “If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.”
After the British announce their intentions to allow the creation of a “free state,” Damien, his brother, and other veterans of the struggle debate how to respond. Teddy, always the pragmatist, argues in favor of accepting the British terms since this will provide an opening for further gains.
These debates are reminiscent of those that take place in Peter Watkin’s “Le Commune,” another film that has a fierce dedication to socialist principles and a belief that ordinary working people are the agents of historical change. Loach apparently has the same kind of ability that Watkins does to motivate his actors to think hard about the political beliefs of their characters.
Cillian Murphy, who plays Damien, is a well-traveled Irish actor who fought off the zombies in “28 Days” and tried to carve up the female protagonist of “Red Eye”. Reflecting on his character in the press notes for “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” indicates the engagement that the cast had with the ideas that Loach was grappling with:
Damien would have read Connolly, and be aware of that way of thinking, but Dan really solidifies these ideas into what sort of a republic must be put in place. Through Dan, and also knowing Peggy and all the hardship that she has lived through, Damien can see that this is the closest Ireland’s ever come to changing for good. Being a doctor, he sees the families of the under-privileged, and how that level of poverty has been a constant all the way through Irish history. He sees how, even though Ireland seems to be approaching the Free State, there’s still the constant of starving families. That’s the thing that he feels we should be changing. Of course, Teddy has never had this kind of experience, and Damien feels this limits his judgment.
After Teddy’s supporters become the majority, a civil war will leave Ireland in the sorry state that it is still in today. Loach’s unstinting portrayal of British manipulation and malfeasance, and a willingness of the formerly colonized political leadership to accept the colonizer’s terms, is unparalleled in motion picture history, with one obvious exception. “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” now joins Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Burn” as the quintessential study of the power of the imperialist to derail freedom struggles. Loach is crystal-clear in the press notes about how the powerful maintain their grip on the less powerful:
I think what happened in Ireland in 1920 -1922 is one of those stories that is of permanent interest. Like the Spanish Civil War, it was a pivotal moment. It reveals how a long struggle for independence was thwarted at its moment of success by a colonial power who, in divesting itself of its empire, still managed to keep its strategic interests in tact. That was the cunning of people like Churchill, Lloyd George, Birkenhead et al. When they were forced into a corner, when it wasn’t really in their best interests to keep denying independence, they sought to divide the country and give their support to those in the independence movement who were prepared to allow economic power to stay in the same hands, who, in the time honored phrase, ‘they could do business with’. There is a pattern you see again and again – this kind of manipulation by the ruling power, how different interests will unite in the face of a common oppressor and then ultimately how those contradictions inevitably have to work their way out. I’m sure you can see it in places like Iraq now, where the opposition to the US and Britain brings together a lot of people who will find that they have different interests when the US and the British are finally forced out.
Considering all the roadblocks that are put in front of serious, political film-making today, it is a testament to Ken Loach’s creativity and professionalism that he breaks through them time and time again. Along with Gillo Pontecorvo and Ousmane Sembene, Loach demonstrates that there is no conflict between political engagement and art. Since the problems of how to achieve genuine national independence are among the most pressing of our time (from Iraq to East Timor), the films of Pontecorvo, Sembene and Loach amount to weapons in our arsenal–important in their own way as the writings of Frantz Fanon or Edward Said.
“The Wind that Shakes the Barley” opens in New York City and Los Angeles on March 16th and elsewhere around the country later on. It is a film for the ages and should not be missed.