Thursday, 16 August 2012
Syria and Michael Collins: two sides of the one coin
Are the Irish people a gullible race? I'd like to think not, especially since I'm one of them, but there are times when it's hard not to conclude that we'd swallow anything if it was rammed down our throats skilfully enough and often enough.
Take Syria. We all know what's happening in Syria. A group of brave rebels are fighting to bring to an end some fifty years of rule by the Ba'ath party and to force the President, Bashar al-Assad, to resign. In doing so, they're paying a terrible price as this ruthless tyrant bombards them. They are part of what has been called the Arab Spring and we can't help but admire their fortitude. At least that's how it's been sold to us, through our newspapers and TV.
But then, two days ago, there was an item by the Irish Times religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry. (That's right - religious affairs.) He quotes a nun who's been the superior in a Syrian monastery for eighteen years and was back in Ireland to meet with people at the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference in Maynooth. So what has she to say about media coverage of Syrian violence? "It is a fake" she says. "It hides atrocities committed in the name of liberty and democracy." Most news reports coming out of Syria were "forged, with only one side emphasised". And the idea that the rest of the world is out of step except for Syria, China and Russia is another lie. "There are twenty countries, including some in Latin America". The gallant Arab insurrection contains fundamentalist Islamists, "which is not genuine Islam". "The West and Gulf states must not give finance to armed insurrectionists who are sectarian terrorists, most of whom are from al-Qaeda".
Interesting, eh? It runs completely counter to the version we've been fed. Of course, this nun could be lying through her teeth. But she's the first person I've heard suggest that the Syrian conflict is something more than the cartoon-like goodies and baddies the mainstream media keep pumping into our system.
The other matter that caught my attention was those gold and silver euros. You know, the ones they've minted to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the death of Michael Collins. Michael Noonan was on TV explaining that Collins belongs to us all, not just Fine Gael. "I think Collins is a big enough historical figure and mude such a contribution to Irish life that every person can have a claim on his historic legacy. I think that is the way it should be". Talk about an endorsement. Central to Collins's contribution to Irish life was the skill and daring he showed in organising attacks on the British and their allies in Ireland. . When they were found, Collins had them killed. One such action led to the first Bloody Sunday in Croke Park. Collins didn't live long enough to run for President, but had he lived it's reasonable to suppose he might. And had there been TV cameras around at the time, it's reasonable to suppose that a relative of one of those killed might well have jumped out and demanded, cameras rolling, justice for their lost loved one.
You probably see where I'm going with this. The parallels between Collins and Martin McGuinness are startling. Both gifted military men, both highly effective administrators and politicians. Both proud of what they'd done for their country, in military and political terms. Yet while Minister Noonan tells us generously that Fine Gael isn't going to make exclusive claim to that great man Collins, he belongs to us all, Fine Gael won't so much as countenance the notion of McGuinness's party in coalition with them, and McGuinness's run for President of Ireland is greeted with gasps of horror. And amazingly, most Irish people manage to accept both lines simultaneously: heroic Collins, blood-stained McGuinness.