Archive for April 30th, 2010

We Are Where We Are

The other day I had planned on writing about something that happened the other day, a conversation I had with a couple of neighbours. And then I started getting engrossed in coverage and commentary on the whole bigot thing, and that put me off. So let me go back to what I was going to write about before, and see if I can fit it in with what has been unfolding in the British election campaign.

About five minutes in, one of them was saying there had been trouble from one house on the estate, a “coloured family” who had moved in recently. You know what “these people” are like, the way a whole load of them move in to the one house. Are there many rented properties on your street?

(“Rented properties”, I learned, was a sort of euphemism for houses where black, brown or Eastern European people lived. “Rented properties” were a growing problem on the estate, undermining the life of those decent homeowners who had bought a house there in expectation that some day they’d be able to sell up and move somewhere nicer. But then the property ladder got kicked away.)

I said I had no idea.

The other one said that the whole place had been going to the dumps. Only that day, he’d been out the front and seen a Roma kid at the gates to the estate picking up a bottle, smashing it against the wall, then hold it as though he was going to use it as a weapon.

“Of course, I didn’t confront him about it. How could you? Sure once they know where you live God knows what they’ll do to you. There was a judge a while back, and he got a lot of stick for it, but he was right: all they are good for is robbing and stealing. They’re total scumbags.”

I was about to object, when:

“So I shouted over to them. And they were speaking in English, but once they heard me they started talking in their own language. And they dropped the bottle and walked on. But as they were passing, of course I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I did hear them say [the name of the estate], and you could tell by the way that they were saying it that they were trying to make out that it was a posh estate, using a sort of snobby tone”

How he was able to tell what a snobby tone in Romani sounds like, I have no idea.

And then the other one said:

“There was a stabbing a couple of years back. Another family of coloureds. Whole load of them living in the same house. Apparently a row broke out in the middle of the night. Guards came straight away, along with the landlord. A couple of them ran out onto the street, and one lifted a knife to the other.”

And then:

“But a couple of days later they were gone. I reckon a special team of the Guards came in the middle of the night and put them all in the back of a van and then onto a plane. Deported. Middle of the night is best time for it, if you ask me. No kids around getting upset.”

He smiled.

I’m being sketchy and leaving out quite a lot of the context here deliberately, but suffice to say that one of the reasons I was meeting them was a slow Garda response to what I suspected was a racist attack on the home of another neighbour. But neither of them knew a) that I suspected it was a racist attack; b) that the other neighbour was black. I’d spoken to the latter about it, and asked him if he thought whether he was the victim of racism, and whether the guards had initially not done anything about it precisely on account of the fact that he was African. On both counts, he said he didn’t want to deal with it that way, that he just wanted the police to do their job. So these two, who’d been prompt to meet with the police about the slow response while I was out of the country, didn’t know anything other than a deeply redacted of the incident when they did so. Fortunately.

Then yesterday evening I was walking back to the house with my wife and son, and there was an Indian family out in the street playing cricket. The little one had never seen cricket being played before, and he was curious. As we approached, a couple of kids sped past on bikes and shouted something like “Look at the fuckin Indians playing fuckin cricket in the fuckin street”. None of the Indians responded; I can’t be sure if they heard.

Are these people bigots? Absolutely. Racist? Of course. But the question to my mind is what good it does to brandish these labels as though they contained some sort of meaningful reproach just so that people living in white middle-class enclaves can feel good about themselves. As though it were a matter of nasty stuff going on in people’s heads that could merely be flushed out by some good old-fashioned liberal education.

I could ply you with a whole load of flannel about how my bigoted racist neighbours do lots of decent things and how they’re both nice and friendly to me, and how they just want a normal life for their kids and so on and so forth. And I could even say, well, they’ve been locked into a system where their sense of self-worth is pegged to the value of their homes and how much they’re getting paid at work (neither of my neighbours has had a pay rise for 3 years, I learned), and how their racism is basically -as Raymond Aron put it- snobbery on the cheap. But none of this is much comfort to people whose lives are being made a misery on account of this. Nor does it arrive at the origins of what produces their racism in the first instance.

As a recent Irish Left Review article in the aftermath of the murder of Toyosi Shitta-bey noted:

there is still a widespread tendency for racism to be portrayed and perceived as an individual, psychological phenomenon that resides in people’s heads or in their hearts.  Official anti-racism policies and initiatives have tended to explain racism in Irish society in terms of fear and ignorance of the cultural norms or customs of particular racial groups, and imply that racism is perpetrated by a few ‘bad apples’ within a society which otherwise welcomes, embraces and celebrates its ‘newfound’ cultural diversity.  Moreover, individual-level explanations tend to be accompanied by accounts of racism as comprising isolated or exceptional incidents perpetrated by these ‘bad apple racists’, which serves to present the Irish nation as one that is largely antithetical to racism, thereby absolving the state of any role in creating or maintaining racial tension.

So the other day I saw plenty of people exulting in how Gordon Brown at least had the good sense to refer to the woman as ‘bigoted’, but paying no heed whatsoever to Brown’s role in engendering this form of bigotry. He is, after all, the head of a party which in government has presided over an orgy of jingoistic chest-puffery as it continued along the neo-liberal path started by Thatcher. First there was ‘Cool Britannia’, then there was the blind imperial arrogance of Britain’s collaboration with the US in Afghanistan and then Iraq: projects for which Brown in his role as Chancellor had effectively declared that money was no object. And then there was Brown’s own attempts to put a nationalist stamp on his premiership with his ‘Britishness’ wheezes. Not forgetting the widespread demonisation of Muslims that the imperial adventures abroad entailed. So fair play, he said the woman was a bigot. From the safety of his car. A hero.

And, if you want to consider Ireland, consider, as I noted in a comment on the Irish Left Review article linked to above, the ethnocentricity of the idea of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and how widespread its usage is. I observed that ‘Aryan Tiger’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, but there’s not a great deal of difference in the implication.

(Coincidentally, I am presently holding a bottle of water with a label on it that reads ‘Celtic Pure’)

Consider the Irish Times editorial that described a slowing in the increase of unemployment on account of immigrant workers returning home as an ‘encouraging indicator’.

Consider the Fianna Fáil TD with the massive bank shareholdings using the Dáil to say that
he opposed “foreigners coming into this country and telling us what to do” .

Or, consider the other Fianna Fáil TD who, at the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, using the same figure of speech used by BNP leader Nick Griffin the other day, railed some years back against the “spongers, the freeloaders, the people screwing the system. Too many are coming to Ireland and too many to Cork in my view…I’m saying we will have to close the doors.”

Then there’s the one-time Minister for Integration who received his appointment after seeing fit to refer to exploited Turkish workers as ‘kebabs‘ in the Dáil. And once he became Minister for Integration he announced he planned to visit Israel to find out how they integrated newcomers there.

Or the Fine Gael TD who proclaimed recently that ‘It is time for the Irish Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs to wake up to the perils of Turkish accession to the European Union. It is a prospect which horrifies most ordinary citizens when they think of the likely implications’, citing the unthinkable ‘dramatic influx of low-paid, unskilled or semi-skilled immigrants’.

Or how about the citizenship referendum arranged by the self-declared ‘liberal’ Justice Minister that moved from legal regulation of citizenship by jus soli to jus sanguinis, in which the simple fact of being born in the state’s territory was no longer a sufficient criterion for automatic citizenship, replaced with the requirement to conform to a defined set of biological criteria.

Or how about the the complete erasure of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (the NCCRI)?

Here are some extracts from the last report published on the NCCRI’s website, covering the six-month period to December 2008. The compilation has a rushed quality to it, as though they were struggling to get the report out before the place got closed down.

A 15 year old student of Iranian decent has been subjected to racial bullying by her peers at a school in Limerick. School students posted racial slurs about her on BEBO, calling her a “paki whore” the students set up a BEBO profile for the girl with racist content and sent it around to other classmates, The school were contacted in relation to the incident but deny any responsibility for addressing the incident.

..

A Nigerian actor on his way home for a night out with friends was violently attacked by a group of men on the North Circular Road in Dublin. The men who attacked him used racist slurs and told him to return to his home country. The attack was so bad that the man had to undergo surgery. Gardai were called to scene after the attack but no charges have been made.

A Nigerian woman reported an incident that occurred in the car park of an adult
education centre she attends. She was threatened by another student who shouted at her “Black nigger I am going to kill you, if you don’t leave my country, I will kill you”. The aggressor proceeded to threaten her and punched the woman in the eye with a set of keys. The Nigerian woman made a complaint to the school principal and the Gardai. The case is currently being investigated.

A man claiming to be a concerned citizen rang MWR radio station to report the arrival of “100 trained killers” to Ballyhaunis in County Mayo. The man was referring to Congolese refugees who allegedly were to be accommodated in Ballyhaunis.

NCCRI received a report that some Irish taxi drivers were sticking “100% Irish” slogans to their taxis. The person reporting the incident claimed the intent of the stickers were to influence customers to take their taxis and not taxis driven by foreign nationals. It was felt that the campaign was racist in intent.

And so on. Adverts on the radio declaring ‘The Difference is: We’re Irish’. 100% Irish Beef. 100% Irish Chicken.

100% Racist Irish State.

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Of Vows and Men

For some reason Fridays always take on a religious bent for me in my inclination to write stuff on blogs. And today is no different.

A challenge to authority – The Irish Times – Thu, Apr 29, 2010

A DANGEROUS situation has developed because Garda Representative Association general secretary PJ Stone and his executive appear determined to transform the association into a trade union. If the withdrawal of labour is formally recognised as legitimate action, who will uphold the law and protect citizens? In promoting this agenda, Mr Stone has ignored the findings of the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in Co Donegal and challenged the authority of both the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

All Garda recruits make a solemn declaration to discharge their duties with fairness, integrity and impartiality and to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. Those laws are quite specific concerning themselves. They cannot engage in strike action or withdraw their labour. It is a fundamental requirement. If some members now feel they cannot uphold that oath, they have the option to resign. Flouting the law in order to protest against Government decisions is not acceptable.

| Irish Examiner

An Garda Siochána – Special role means special obligations

Friday, April 30, 2010

THE very special role An Garda Siochána play was underlined yesterday when Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, despite facing the greatest economic crisis in the history of this State, announced that recruitment to the force will resume before the end of the year.

Some of those recruits are needed in the natural course of events, others are needed to replace gardaí who, in recent times, availed of early retirement opportunities because they were worried about the possibility of tax changes hitting retirement packages.

That special place is readily recognised by the majority of people who support the authority gardaí exercise on behalf of the State. This majority recognises too that the gardaí are the proactive arm of the Constitution who aim to protect all Irish people.

This responsibility brings its own consequences and one is the oath all gardaí must take, just like the 216 recruits who graduated from Templemore Training College yesterday afternoon. They vow to remain apolitical, not to join a trade union and not to strike.

There are good reasons for these provisions, the main one being the proper functioning and protection of democracy. The terms and conditions enjoyed by gardaí acknowledge the sacrifice inherent in this oath.

….

Remarks from the GRA’s incoming president – Mr O’Boyce’s successor Damien McCarthy – that he had “no difficulty” in supporting his predecessor’s comments, did little to suggest that equilibrium had been restored, or that he understood how they crossed a line. Mr McCarthy’s endorsement suggests he feels free to ignore the commitment he has made, under oath, to this State and its Constitution. By echoing his predecessor he has undermined the legitimacy of his presidency in the week he assumed office. GRA delegates who gave a standing ovation to Mr O’Boyce need to reconsider the implications of the oath they took on the day they left Templemore too.

Minister should lay down law – Editorial, Opinion – Independent.ie

So, if all these statements are sincere, the police force of this country has displayed open contempt for the elected Government, whose laws and directives it is sworn to enforce. Yet the GRA leaders insist that they are not engaging in politics.

The late George Carlin got to the nub of matters raised here: “At what point does all this stuff just break down and become just a lot of stupid shit that somebody made up?”

Read the full text of the planned GRA speech here.

To what degree is someone bound by an oath?

I remember being at mass one time, and the priest, after reeling off a list of requirements concerning moral and sexual hygiene and habits of religious observation, said something along these lines: “Now a lot of people listening to this may be saying, “well, I don’t agree with any of this stuff. Who is this oul’ fella up here telling me what to do? I never signed up to any of this. I never asked to be baptised a Catholic: I just am because the rest of my family is.” Ah, well it’s true, you never asked to be baptised, but didn’t you renew your baptismal vows when you made your confirmation? Hmmmh?”

I imagine plenty of the assembled adults -those who made their confirmation as children aged 11 and didn’t receive a grilling from the bishop on catechism as part of the process- must have been racking their brains trying to remember what the hell they said in their confirmation vows apart from swearing to give up drink until the age of 18, which isn’t even part of the confirmation vows anyway.

In other Catholic countries, people don’t make their confirmation vows until the age of 17 or 18, once they’ve developed the capacity to have a good grasp of what is being proposed that they should vow. But the Catholic Church in Ireland figures, with an undaunted faith in the young, that an 11-year-old is sufficiently aware of what she or he is getting involved in and would be sufficiently independent to declare, in the face of immense accumulated pressure from authority in the forms of the church, the education system and family, that having weighed things up, they’d pass on making the vows because they don’t believe in God. Or because they don’t think the vows are appropriate to their belief in God.

If you’re wondering what the relevance of this is to the Garda oath, bear with me.

You see, a reasonable objection to the validity of the vows taken aged 11, from the standpoint of an adult weighing things up, is that when they were 11 they had an infantile conception of God, which may have involved them imagining God as a satanic accuser, a figure who was primarily the creation of the people who had instructed them, an omniscient policeman monitoring their every move. And this adult may say, well, on consideration, I don’t think it was right for me to make such  vows since I was subjected to coercive forces. Therefore the vows cannot hold.

Now, on the other hand, an adult looking back may deem that the vows were and therefore continue to be valid, even if they recognise that at the time they held an infantile conception of God and so on, because man is by nature incapable of fully envisaging God, that there is no such thing as an ‘adult’ conception of God because He is seen through a glass darkly. And therefore the adult may say that it is precisely on account of fidelity to God as God, not as the man-made image cast before them by priests, that the vow holds. Seen in this light, the vows are not a ‘dead’ set of immutable requirements, like always wearing a balaclava no matter what or cutting your toenails every second Tuesday, but the basis for continued fidelity in God in light of experience and changed circumstances. And it is never the fact of having been bound to them back in the day, but the fact they are something to be held to at any given moment.

That, at least, is the cod-theological edifice I have construed from which to address the question of the Garda oath. Because the papers above and the minister (whose general attitude calls to mind a thug fearful that his weapon dog might turn on him) are drawing attention to the Garda oath as the basis for forbidding the GRA to get involved in ‘politics’ (as though the police could somehow not be involved in politics. What is rounding up ‘illegal immigrants’ if not a nakedly political act?) or to form a trade union.

I have had some difficulty tracking down the precise wording of the Garda oath. But I eventually came across this on Indymedia and see no reason to doubt that it is correct, if not complete:

” I ______ hereby solemnly and sincerely declare before God that I will
faithfully discharge the duties of a member of the Garda Siochána with
fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence and
impartiality, upholding the Constitution and the laws and according
equal respect to all people.”

I also understand that Christian members of the Garda Siochána swear this oath on the Bible. So to repeat George Carlin’s question: at what point does all this stuff just break down and become just a lot of stupid shit
that somebody made up? The short answer is never: it is always already just a lot of stupid shit that somebody made up.

But the basis for the government’s and the media’s command to the guards to just shut up and do what they are told and fulfil their function as the distributors of state violence is the fact that they have sworn this oath. And this oath, it follows, is somehow binding.

Well, let’s look more closely. The oath is made ‘before God’. So it is God who establishes the binding nature of the oath. And any guard who is confronted with the accusation that they are not observing the oath are beholden to God, not the State, with regard to whether or not they are observing it.

Now let’s say it’s a good idea to swear oaths before God. You may disagree, but that is neither here nor there. If it is a good idea, then it could only ever be a good idea because God is good, the One, the condition of possiblity for all things, the Alpha and the Omega, and so on and so forth. Therefore swearing to do certain things before God must mean that whatever you’re going to do is approved by God. If there was something that you understood to go against God, like mugging old ladies (assuming it is your understanding that God disapproves of such things), and you swore before God to do this, then your oath, apart from being blasphemous, would hold no weight, because you’d be lying. It is only based on the understanding of God as good that you swear your oath, not because He is the Notary Universal.

OK, let’s say you discover that one of the things you swore you would do is no longer approved by God. Let’s say you discover the Constitution and the laws have become an instrument for oppress the weak and the destitute. Does that mean you are still bound by your oath to God to oppress the weak and the destitute? Of course not, unless you believe God wants you to oppress them for the hell of it. Maybe He does, but on the other hand, maybe He doesn’t. Who knows? Unfortunately, that is a matter for you and God.

Now, does it mean that you have to relinquish your oath? Well, no. The point is to be faithful to God no matter what. So maybe you made the oath at that moment in time, and you still think that the words of that oath are approved by God, but that what is being demanded of you contravenes the spirit of that oath. So maybe God wants you to display regard for human rights. In which case he probably doesn’t want you to allow the laws to deny people free choice of employment or just and favourable conditions of work. So maybe God wants you to enforce that, rather than cracking open people’s heads for opposing a resource grab by a murderous profit-seeking corporation.

Some people might read this and think, yeah, but the whole God thing is just a ceremonial nicety, a piece of symbolic pissing around designed to lend a sense of irrevocability to a declaration that has no ultimate binding character other than the absolute authority of the State: there’s no need to be so literal-minded about it.

Well, perhaps. But if that’s the case, and the individual swearing the oath doesn’t need to believe that the oath has any meaning, then the oath has no meaning other than the meaning invested in it by whoever points to it. So saying “but you swore an oath!” may mean nothing more than ‘but you must continue to obey!”: a demand for obedience to pure authority.

With this in mind, wouldn’t it be easier to say that the State has absolute command over whoever it chooses as its agents in the administration of the monopoly of violence, the waging of class war, and the destruction of all collective structures? Maybe it would. But then who would fulfil the vital function of making a whole load of stupid shit up? Why, the country would descend into anarchy!


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