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The Irish census of population is upon us again, asking us to divulge information about home ownership, room numbers, employment, transport to work, age, birth place, gender, children, and so on.
But what are census statistics about? According to the French theorist Michel Foucault, the collection and analysis of statistics, also known as ‘science of state’ and ‘political arithmetics’, reflect a growing governmental interest in the population, its health and illness, life and death, poverty and wealth. Statistics grant state knowledge about the population, and far from enabling the state to improve its services, statistical knowledge allows the state to differentiate between various population types – men and women, young and old, healthy and ill, rich and poor, native and immigrant, settled and Traveller, and thus exercise greater control depending on which type of population you belong to.
Perhaps the most contentious census questions is the ‘ethnic question’, the impetus for which came from Traveller organisations hopeful that enumerating Travellers and locating them in different regions would improve their access to accommodation, health, education and other services. However, in asking us to identify our ‘ethnic or cultural background’, the so-called ‘ethnic question’ is actually a race question. Read the rest of this entry »
The two-hour lecture by the Norwegian emergency doctor Mads Gilbert about Israel’s 2014 air, ground and sea assault of the besieged Gaza enclave, was for me the highlight of Palfest, a four-day artistic commemoration of the destruction of Gaza in July 2014. Dr Gilbert, who engages in the political act of solidarity medicine, mesmerised a capacity audience at the O’Reilly Theatre on July 11, emphasising the impunity with which Israel continues to occupy, blockade, attack and kill the people of Palestine. He also highlighted the role of the real heroes – the medics and paramedics working in Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, where he has served several terms as an accidents and emergency doctor, as well as the ordinary Gazans whose losses are unfathomable. He played the noise of the air bombardment, that together with his photographs of dead and wounded children, women and men brought the atrocities home to his audience. This made a Dublin-based Lebanese woman sitting next to me collapse in tears, remembering the 2006 Israeli attack on Beirut. And as she was sobbing I recalled a member of my Israeli family, a jet pilot who took an active part in the bombardment, and we hugged and cried together – victim and perpetrator united in opposing Israeli aggression.
Palfest was an incredibly effective and well attended volunteer-run initiative by Irish artists – actors, musicians, visual artists, film makers, and poets - aiming to commemorate the anniversary of the Gaza assault, support Palestine and demonstrate the solidarity of the Irish arts community with the people of Palestine.
There were many highlights during Palfest’s action packed four days, including theatre productions, poetry readings, lectures and film screenings. The ‘Sumud / Steadfastedness’ photography exhibition brought together three photographic projects about Gaza. In ‘Gaza seen by its children’ Belgian photographer Asmaa Seba showed the result of working with six children who witnessed the massacre during Israel’s previous bombardment in 2008. Anne Paq’s photographs showed the consequences for Gaza’s ‘obliterated families’, and Dublin-based Fatin Al Tamimi exhibited photos of acts of solidarity with Palestine in Ireland.
Another incredibly moving event was the ‘No more: Dublin remembers the children of Gaza’ installation on Sandymount strand, where 551 children’s vests represented the 551 children murdered by Israel during the 2014 massacre.
It is hard to be optimistic about the possibility of Gaza recovering from Israel’s most recent 51-day attack, leaving 2,251 Palestinians dead, the majority (1,462) civilians, and thousands injured, many of whom will remain disabled for life. The destruction of the tiny enclave, one of the most densely populated areas in the world with the highest (43%) unemployment rate, has been unprecedented. With Israel blocking the importation of building materials, some 100,000 Gazans remain homeless and many have been living in the ruins of their homes through the harsh winter and the current relentless heat. Despite UN reports and civil society pressure, Israel seems determined to continue the siege.
Even though optimism seems remote, Palfest’s commitment to freedom and justice for Gaza and Palestine reminded us that pessimism is a luxury none of us can afford. Many of us shed tears and felt the pain, but it was the determination of Ireland’s amazing artists, culminating on the final night in an energising concert at Liberty Hall, that strengthened our resolve to continue to struggle for an end to the Israeli occupation and siege, and for freedom and justice for all Palestinians, those in 1948 Palestine (the state of Israel), those occupied in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, those under siege in Gaza and those in the diaspora, waiting to return.
Frightened, they silenced
the amorphous us
to swift fury.
Meanwhile in the land
– with people –
the death factory
manufacturing rubble of solar
dust of toxic cement.
the loud twilight song of
won’t stop the amorphous
as anarchic flowers
peep through the
looming cracks of
When I started teaching race and racism about twenty years ago, students’ response was brutal: ‘how can you, a foreigner, say that Ireland is racist? We are a friendly, welcoming people. And anyway, Irish people were victimised by the British – how can they possibly be racist?’ And my favourite: ‘There was no racism in Ireland until “these people” came’ – as if immigrants carry racism powder in their luggage.
It was the ‘as a foreigner’ bit that puzzled me. I was teaching a course that my colleague and co-author Robbie McVeigh had taught before me but there was no objection to him – a Northern Protestant – as there was to me, despite my personal experiences of antisemitism in ‘friendly’ Ireland. Perhaps I was telling it too bluntly. My first students in Trinity were teachers – I shudder to remember how opposed they were to accepting that Ireland is racist, wondering how they were going to deal with black Irish, Traveller, ‘foreign’ children? I do hope this has changed since.
And the denial continues. The ‘I am not a racist but…’ brigade keeps claiming that ‘it is not really’ racism; that it’s ignorance, personal prejudice, ‘bad apples’; that Irish immigration, asylum, direct provision and deportation policies are not ‘really’ racist’ – after all, don’t ‘we’ have the right to determine how many immigrants we let in?
But then in November 2013 you read about the treatment of members of ‘Call to Action Mixed Race Irish’ in state care in the 1950s and 1960s. As Evo Brennan says: ‘you weren’t held because of your colour. When you are held the carers wear gloves because you are contamination. You are the colour of excrement…’ She was told ‘your mother is a whore, your father’s a savage, you’re treated as a robot, as an object, as a monkey.’ Many of these mixed race people had fled to England where they could get lost in the crowd, yet they were and still are part of Ireland’s history, long before ‘these people came’. Read the rest of this entry »
On 14-15 May a Diaspora Forum conference was held in Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dublin. It aimed to celebrate migration, migrants and the contribution the diaspora makes to home countries. Keynote speaker, the Economist business editor Robert Guest celebrated mass migration, which, he said, makes the world brainier. If a century ago, migrants crossed the ocean and never saw their homeland again, today they phone or Skype home the moment their plane lands. Thanks to cheap travel and easy communications, immigrants stay in contact with home, creating powerful cross-border networks that create wealth, spread ideas and foster innovation.
Diaspora, contributors to the conference emphasised, is mostly about economics: through remittances, philanthropy and direct diaspora investment, members of the diaspora are primarily seen as alumni who their original state needs to touch for contributions – a discourse all too familiar to anyone working in today’s neoliberal universities. Workshops debated the role of governments in engaging their diasporas across multiple sectors and constructing strategies aimed to create partnerships between government and diaspora. To copper fasten such engagements, the conference also discussed the payback in terms of granting migrants voting rights, and working for ‘host country integration and return migration platforms’. Read the rest of this entry »