By Jack Holland
Generally speaking, the only time people pay much attention to foreign policy is when they’re at war. This is certainly true in the United States. Since Sept. 11, people who could not locate Afghanistan on a map are now learnedly discoursing about the tribal politics of Tajiks, Uzbecks and Pastuns.
President Bush’s declaration of war on international terrorism, and his proclamation that in this conflict you are either for us or against us, has placed the activities of organizations such as Sinn Fein and the IRA under the kind of scrutiny that they did not have to endure during the earlier, halcyon days of the peace process, when Sinn Fein spokesmen first found a welcome on the White House mat.
What has that scrutiny revealed? Mainly, the difficulty Sinn Fein and the IRA are having in riding two horses at once. The first horse is the radical politics of their pre-peace process days. The second is the one they mounted in 1994, with the IRA’s first cease-fire, saddling up with the kind of politics that goes with White House invitations, corporate American fund-raisers and cocktail parties, photo opportunities with U.S. congressmen, and senators, and confidential chats with Irish and British prime ministers. What makes it especially hard to ride both horses is the fact that they are usually galloping in opposite directions.
That has become apparent recently and is causing disquiet in radically different quarters.
A Nov. 17 piece on irelandclick.com, the website of the West Belfast weekly The Andersonstown News, denounces Bertie Ahern (the Irish prime minister) and other establishment politicians for their support of America “no matter what barbaric act of murder, genocide or state rape the President of the Land of the Free decides to have committed in the interest of the Yankee oil industry. . . . But I do expect better from Sinn Fein. I for one would like to know where Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein stand.” The Andersonstown News article condemns the attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11 but says that “the American and British response of bombing Afghanistan is worse.”
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Now the weekly does not speak for Sinn Fein, but it has over the years been sympathetic to Sinn Fein’s and the IRA’s politics. It clearly expects Sinn Fein to condemn the U.S. war against Afghanistan, in keeping with the party’s political roots.
It would no doubt have approved of Sinn Fein alderman Larry O’Toole’s presence at an anti-war demonstration in Dublin a month earlier where one of the spokesmen with whom he shared the platform, Richard Becker, was reported to have said: “There is only one terrorist and there is only one enemy and that enemy is the government of the United States of America.” Becker was described as a member of Workers’ World, a Trotskyist organization. O’Toole himself condemned the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
This enraged one commentator in the right-wing Sunday Independent who warned Alderman O’Toole about the company he was keeping.
That has surfaced as a problem also in some quarters in the U.S. ever since the IRA was linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Suddenly, the guest list at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was being scrutinized by anxious Irish-American supporters who erupted with gasps of horror when they saw who was coming: representatives of radical Basque organizations, the PLO and so on. That is, the sort of people who would not be on the invitation list at a corporate fund-raiser.
Clearly, there are contradictions in Sinn Fein’s stance. On Nov. 3, Gerry Adams spoke at a fund-raiser in New York for the families of construction workers who died in the World Trade Center attack, an attack which some people in his party while condemning clearly believe was primarily caused by U.S. foreign policy. But almost none of these contradictions are new — they are just more apparent to Americans since Sept. 11 has made them pay more attention to what is going on in the (dangerous) world around them.
As I have often pointed out, the Provisionals — both IRA and Sinn Fein — have presented a different mask to Irish Americans than the one they wear at home. Take, for instance, the support network the IRA had in the U.S. since 1970. There was Irish Northern Aid, a good, clean, Catholic, conservative money-raising group whose public face was the impeccable Michael Flannery. But behind the scenes it was a different story. George Harrison ran the IRA’s US gun-running network. Harrison is a revolutionary, a supporter of Fidel Castro, and an opponent of U.S. policy in Central and South America. But this is not the face the Provisionals presented to Irish America, even making sure that none of the radical left-wing rhetoric that appeared in An Phoblacht leaked into The Irish People, their U.S. weekly propaganda sheet. After Harrison was exposed in 1981, the next major gun-runner to aid the Provisionals was another radical nationalist, but this time an Arab with a fierce hatred of the United States – the Libyan dictator Gaddafi. The truth is that the two men who are largely responsible for keeping the Provisionals supplied with weapons since 1970 are both revolutionaries, and outspoken opponents of U.S. foreign policy.
This is old news, but events since Sept. 11 have given it a new gloss.
Meanwhile, one wonders if those Sinn Fein supporters who are against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan feel the same about the IRA’s erstwhile bombing campaign? Clearly, when the article in the Andersonstown News called for Adams to condemn the bombing, it was not meant as blanket condemnation of bombing as a “tactic.” It all depends on who you are bombing. The citizens of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Belfast were fair game, but not those of Kabul and Kandahar. And it also depends on who is doing the bombing. How many demonstrations were there in Dublin and Belfast when the Soviets were flattening Afghan villages and killing thousands? Nobody gave a damn.
That is, there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in the Irish anti-war movement (which sometimes becomes an anti-American movement), especially those lefties among them who were ready to make excuses for the IRA every time one of its bombs dismembered some unfortunate either deliberately (a “legitimate target”) or accidentally (with apologizes to the grieving relatives).
For more about Jack Holland and his work click on to www.jackholland.com.