Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Right Wing Media in Britain has the cheek to criticise Ireland's centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising

The Right Wing Media in Britain has the cheek to criticize Ireland's centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising
                It seems that in Britain, the Right Wing Media is not content with merely criticizing the EU or banging on about immigration.  No, such newspapers, such as the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express, go out of their way to criticize what is quite frankly, other countries' business.  This Easter Weekend, they turned their attention on the Irish, our closest neighbors, over the latter's commemorations of the centenary of the Irish Rising, an attempt by Irish Nationalist Republicans to establish an independent Irish Republic at the expense of British Rule in Ireland, through military insurrection in Dublin.  Such British newspapers are quick to argue that it was an anti-democratic coup which brought a century of misery to Ireland, but it seems that Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, writing for said newspaper didn't think that such a view was harsh enough, and equated the Easter Rising to Islamist fundamentalist terror, and the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels. 
                While there is no doubt that ISIS is a murderous death cult which aims to stamp out all that is liberal, secular and democratic and is known for its cold blooded murder of civilians, destruction of heritage, and desire for world domination, the Easter Rising was based on ideals that were the complete opposite of that and very enlightened for the time; universal suffrage, equal rights for women, religious equality, a democratically elected head of state and anti-imperialism.  While other British Right Wing newspapers haven't been quite so far fetched to make that comparison, an article by John Lewis Stempel in the Daily Express, a newspaper which endorsed UKIP before the 2015 General Election, compared the Easter Revolutionaries to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, of all people.
                Those in Britain like John Lewis Stempel,  who argue that the Easter Rising was an anti-democratic coup attempt by ultra-nationalists, would not be quite so quick to point out that the British themselves were anti-democratic when it came to Ireland in the years after the rising.  In the Westminster Election of 1918 (the First Election in which all men and some women could vote), Sinn Fein, the party which wanted to establish an independent Republic of Ireland just as the Easter Revolutionaries had envisaged, won 73 out of Ireland's 105 constituencies, and refusing to take their seats at Westminster, formed their own Irish Parliament, the Dail Eirrean, and as promised, declared an independent republic.  The British Government at first ignored the result, not taking the subtle hint that Ireland had voted for independence and within a year declared the Dail illegal.  By definition, outlawing a democratically elected parliament is not upholding the British tradition for Parliamentary Democracy; by definition that is being anti-democratic.  Throughout the subsequent Anglo-Irish War, the British state ,ruled by a coalition of Liberal and Tory MPs led by Lloyd George, acted against democracy in Ireland.   Then, in 1922, during the Treaty negotiations between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom for an end to the war, LLoyd George threatened to resume the war if a newly independent Irish Free State did not accept the King as their head of state, despite the fact that it was a republic that the Irish had voted for .  So by criticizing the Easter Revolutionaries for staging an anti-democratic coup against a parliamentary democracy, one should rightfully criticize Charles Moore for not telling History quite how it happened - Britain acted against Parliamentary Democracy in Ireland when the Irish voted for what the rebels  had wanted . 
                 As for comparing Patrick Pearse to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, I would like to point out that actually it was the British government of Lloyd George who behaved just like the Kaiser in the years after the rising.  Lloyd George in 1922, like the Kaiser in 1914, threatened a neighboring country at the point of a gun to succumb to his will, which is particularly ironic given that in 1914 Lloyd George's apparent reason for supporting the war against Germany was that it was wrong for Germany to invade Belgium and that Britain needed to stick up for the 'rights of small nations.'  Eight years later, he sent an ultimatum to the Dail, forcing them to accept a foreign head of state, despite the fact that Ireland itself was a small nation.  And the partition of Ireland into North and South, also forced on the Dail, was not entirely democratic; there were constituencies in the north which had voted for Sinn Fein in 1918 which became part of Northern Ireland. 
                 It is a bit rich for us British to point to Irish civilian deaths during the Easter Rising, although there was more than one instance of civilians being fired on by rebels, when most civilian casualties during the rising were actually caused by the British.  One only has to look at the North King Street massacre when British troops killed 15 civilians out of frustration, and it was the British who used heavy artillery and incendiary shells which destroyed much of the city center.  A disregard for civilian life on the part of the British was later shown during the Irish war of Independence, when, after the death of 14 Irish civilians at the hands of the Black and Tans on Bloody Sunday, 1920, a moderate non-Sinn Fein Irish MP, was shouted down in the House of Commons and physically assaulted for raising the massacre in a debate.     So when one criticizes an apparent disregard for civilian life on the part of Irish Republicans one hundred years ago, the British establishment seemed to care significantly less. 
                Thus the conduct of the Easter Revolutionaries a century ago may not have been perfect; it is true that they did not have a democratic mandate to revolt against British Rule.  But we mustn't forget that Britain was not as perfect a parliamentary democracy as British Ultra-Nationalists like to claim we were - at the time of the Rising, only 30% of adults had the right to vote, all of them men, while it had by 1914, taken more than 30 years of Irish demands for a limited degree of Home Rule to be passed by the British Parliament.  Britain's upper house was a House of Lords which, effectively allowed Britain's aristocracy to delay legislation passed by the elected House of Commons by two years, and even today the House of Lords has not been abolished.  What the Easter Revolutionaries were offering however, was a democratic and egalitarian republic with religious and gender equality, and when, in 1918 , the Irish voted for what the revolutionaries had stood for,  the British refused to accept it, and still didn't in 1922.  The Irish Civil War, tragic and unnecessary, was caused by a British government's anti-democratic and outrageous demands,  one of which was that the Irish people should accept a foreign head of state, which divided opinion in Southern Ireland into two camps.  But even so, scrutinizing the morality of the Easter Rising, is up to Irish public opinion and their press; not us in Britain.
                The fact that such newspapers in Britain take the liberty to criticize another country for commemorating its own independence struggle is quite astounding and is cause for a debate that we, in Britain,  ought to have.  Is this outrageous stance taken by the right-of-center press a sign that Britain, or at least right wing opinion, still ignores our past violations of other countries' sovereignty, while crying wolf at conquered peoples' attempts to resist? If so, then too much of our country is still in a colonial mindset, and hasn't moved in the twenty-first century.  A bit of respect with regards to what is, let's face it, another country's internal affairs would do also such newspapers some good, I think.