Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

Race and the lessons of 1916

insurrectionAt the end of Easter 2016 week I feel somewhat 1916-ed out. I spent the week watching Insurrection, the wonderful day by day series about the 1916 Rising produced and directed by my late husband Louis for RTE in 1966 and which was re-broadcast for the first time only this year, fifty years after it was made. I also attended exhibitions and other events, and strolled the festive streets of Dublin. Despite the attempts by our right wing (non) government to write out the revolutionary Rising leaders in favour of reformers such as O’Connell, Parnell, Redmond and Grattan, Dublin did itself proud, with streets festooned with flags and shop windows, from banks to souvenir shops, displaying copies of the 1916 Proclamation and pictures of the 1916 leaders.

Historians encouraged us to remember not only the Rising, but also colonial violence and the fact that Ireland was the first small nation to rise against the British Empire. The events made me reflect on the revolutionary zeal of the republican and socialist leaders of the insurrection and wonder what Ireland would have looked like had they not been executed by the British.

The celebrations made me reflect on post 1916 Ireland, left to De Valera, who kept the island divided and collaborated with the Catholic hierarchy to create a reactionary, priest-ridden, anti-women, pro property owners and anti-foreigners Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

No foothold for racists

antipegida-rally1I was thrilled to stand on O’Connell Street on Saturday 6 February as part of a large coalition of people, Irish and migrants, who congregated in front of the GPO to say no to racism and Islamophobia and to counter Pegida Ireland’s plans to hold its inaugural meeting. Pegida stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident’ (in German Patriotische Europaer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). It was established in October 2014 in Germany, where thousands of neo Nazi fascists have since marched in opposition to Muslim migrants, though the ‘Islamisation’ of the West is of course a figment of the racists’ imagination as Muslims remain a small persecuted minority throughout the West.

Like all far right groupings, including Identity Ireland, Pegida presents itself as defending European values and providing a legitimate opposition to migration. However, it’s worth remembering that the German term Abendlandes derives from The Downfall of the Occident, a 1918 book penned by one Oswald Spengler, whose racist ideas about the division of history into discrete cultures fed Nazi racial superiority that led to the extermination of millions.

The European far-right regards Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to publicise its anti-immigrant message. During the last months of 2015 there were 208 rallies in Germany, up from 95 a year earlier, and Pegida members set fire to refugee hostels, instilling fear in the million or so migrants who have reached Germany mostly from the war-torn Middle East. Racist rallies were also held in Calais, home to thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty, in Amsterdam, Prague and Birmingham. Wherever they go, Pegida members –holding flags and chanting nationalist chants – attack counter demonstrators who support migrants, attack centres where provisions for refugees are collected, throw stones and bottles. Pegida members often complain that by preventing them from marching, they are deprived of freedom of speech and right of protest against what they see as legitimate targets.

Since the 1930s when the precursors of Fine Gael, the Blueshirts, described by Look Left magazine as ‘the most serious fascist movement to emerge in Ireland’, had 48,000 members across the Free State, and apart from some insignificant attempts by tiny groups such as the Immigration Control Platform and Identity Ireland, Ireland has not had a significant extreme right wing political party. Judging from government restrictive migration policies and the ongoing incarceration of asylum seekers in direct provision hostels, as well as Ireland’s reluctance to play its part in admitting refugees from Syria, some say that Ireland does not really need an extreme right party. Yet the establishment of Pegida Ireland was a step too far. This was why the anti-Pegida coalition, led by groups such as Anti-Racism Network Ireland and the European Network against Racism amongst many others, decided to mount the counter rally last Saturday.

We were guided by several important principles, among them the need to hold the space of the 1916 Rising for inclusion and against racial hatred. Thus most of the rally speakers were members of ethnic minorities and migrant communities, all of whom spoke of their sense of belonging to an inclusive republic that they and their children call home. Although we invited all political parties to endorse this inclusivity, only representatives of minority parties spoke, while the government parties preferred absence. In the presence of many supporters, the largely peaceful rally claimed the streets of Dublin as our own, and yet again, managed t prevent the extreme right from setting up its stall on the 1916 scene.

Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’: Still not letting them in…

refugees-nazisLouis Lentin’s documentary ‘No More Blooms’ was broadcast on RTE on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 1997. Based on scrupulous archival research, the film documented Ireland’s consistent refusal to give refuge to more than 60 Jewish people fleeing Nazism between 1933 and 1946. Prior to the screening, Lentin told The Irish Times, ‘If you had been told in 1939 that when the war started, the policy of genocide would be implemented, would you have believed it?’ However, and although neutral Ireland was not unique in closing its borders, as the war progressed, and despite the Irish population being shielded by strict state censorship from knowledge about the excesses of the Nazi extermination programme, it became apparent that Jewish (and Roma) people were being systematically annihilated. Yet, even after the war, when the Irish Jewish community applied to allow 100 Jewish orphans into Ireland, permission was given only providing the Jewish community look after the children, and providing they left the country after one year stay in Clonyn Castle in County Westmeath.

‘No More Blooms’ and the history of Ireland’s miserable treatment of refugees since World War II (‘Europe’s darkest hour’) is hugely pertinent today as we watch the march of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and elsewhere in the Global South towards the southern and eastern edges of Fortress Europe. The tide, it seems, cannot be stemmed, as resilient and strong willed refugees crawl under barbed wire fences, and wash off onto the southern shores of the Mediterranean having taken rickety boats to freedom.

For the time being the refugees’ march to freedom is big news. The European media and social media are full of the viral photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned three year old Kurdish toddler lying face down on the shores of Turkey, and of endless YouTube videos of refugees arriving on makeshift boats in Italy and Greece, and breaking through makeshift fences along the Hungarian and Bulgarian borders. News stories tell of heart felt responses by Europeans demonstrating and collecting goods for refugees trapped in Calais. Others report on some European leaders calling on EU states to share the burden and on Europe’s southern citizens giving assistance, and even homes to the refugees. However, the key motif is ‘Europe’s refugee crisis’ and the key discussion point is whether the fortress can cope with what is seen as the onslaught. Solutions such as the mayor of Barcelona calling to establish ‘refuge cities’ or the provision of accommodation places for fleeing refugees, while welcome, are all inadequate partial responses that does not recognise that the days of Fortress Europe are numbered.

Like during the Nazi era, when Germans and other Europeans chose not to know about the Nazi extermination plans, today most Europeans prefer to defend Europe’s white, Christian identity and keep the fortress intact. Responses range from asking Israel about the high-technology anti-refugee fence on its border with Egypt, to talking about quotas, as Europe is intent on maintaining its white supremacy illusion and speaking about ‘these people’ as a problem to be solved at best, and as a threat at worst. In view of Ireland’s laughable offer to admit 600 Syrians, RTE should re-broadcast ‘No More Blooms’ as a reminder of our moral responsibility to the millions fleeing refugees. It would remind the Irish and their government of the futility of pretending that Fortress Europe can remain intact.

Short plays about (racist) Ireland, 4

August 2015, my local bus stop

Elderly Man: You write for Metro Eireann, don’t you?

Me: (Thinking ‘great, here’s someone who enjoys my articles’) Yes.

EM: They pay you?

Me: No.

EM: You pay them?

Me: No.

EM: So why (do you write for them)?

Me: Oh, it’s a newspaper read by many migrants and members of ethnic minorities; I enjoy writing for it on a voluntary basis.

EM: Oh yes? Who owns Metro Eireann?

Me: Chinedu Onyejelem… (EM puzzled)… A Nigerian journalist and entrepreneur.

EM: Oh, entrepreneur, is he? He makes money out of ME then, doesn’t he?

Me: Not much…

EM: How much?

Me: (Beginning to loathe this conversation) I don’t know, and I don’t care… and anyway, what is it, a police interrogation?

EM: Oh no, but we live in a country where we speak English… You said ‘not much’, so you must know how much he makes…

Me: (getting truly pissed off) Would you excuse me (turning my back on him but remaining on my spot)

EM: (keeps silent for a while… then comes after me) You Jewish?

I remain silent.

EM: You Jewish, aren’t you?

I take a photo of him on my IPhone.

EM: Why are you taking my picture? What are you going to do with it? Report me to the police?

Me: Oh no, you have done nothing wrong… apart from being a pest…

EM: So I am a pest now, am I? Am I a pest now? (by which stage I have moved away from him, but he continues to stare at me; when I ignore him, he buries his face in a newspaper, but seems to go on mumbling to himself)

We asked for workers and people came

irish-navy-migrantsLast week we have again helplessly watched people drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt to cross the sea to the safety of Europe. Migration NGOs say that more than 2,000 migrants and refugees have died in 2015 so far. However, the very use of the term ‘migrants’ by European governments and NGOs dehumanises their tragedy, occluding the fact that what the Italian-Jewish writer Primo Levi, speaking of Holocaust victims and survivors, called ‘the drowned and the saved’, are human beings, just like us. In 1972, during the migration of ‘guest workers’ to western Europe, the Swiss writer Max Frisch, whose work focused on issues of responsibility, morality, and political commitment, unforgettably wrote in response to the ‘guest workers’ controversy: ‘we asked for workers and human beings came’. Migrant workers, Frisch insisted, have lives, families, hopes and dreams, just like the citizens of the states they come to live in – an insight too easily lost in the current debates on migrants and refugees.

The people desperately trying to gain entry to Western Europe, be it through the fenced border between Hungary and Serbia, the Channel tunnel between France and Britain, or on rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to southern Europe, are fleeing disasters – such as the catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan, or the dire poverty of African countries - all created or supported by the west. Lest we forget, these humans are fleeing because they want to feel safe and give their children a future, yet, although seeking asylum is totally legal, they are often criminalised by the European migration regime. Read the rest of this entry »

12/18/2017 Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland

Edited by Ronit Lentin and Elena Moreo Palgrave MacMillan, 2012...read more
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