Archive for April, 2010

Sectarianism Kills (Lebanese workers)

April 25, 2010

“Sectarianism kills” and “We are for civil marriage, not civil war” read the colourful banners at Sunday’s protest in the centre of Beirut.
Hundreds of young Lebanese gathered to march for secularism in a country that lives under a deeply divisive sectarian system.

The slogan “Sectarianism Kills Workers”, sometimes shortened to “Sectarianism Kills”, was a prominent theme in Republican Clubs and then Workers’ Party propaganda throughout the Troubles. It appeared not only in posters like the one above, but also written on gable walls. It was a stark message that described the true reality of the relationship between violence and broader society in Northern Ireland. The gunmen and the bombers were merely the most extreme manifestation of the cancer that polluted – and continues to pollute – practically every aspect of life, from education to work to socialising. The terrorists were rejected by the majority of the population, but the sectarian division that led to the violence continues to be embraced by the overwhelming majority of people in the North. That is a harsh reality, but it is one that progressives must acknowledge and confront if we are ever going to defeat sectarianism.

It was with some interest then that I saw this story about the secular protests in Lebanon on the BBC website. Their use of the slogan Sectarianism Kills reflects the reality of a country still riven by deep religious divisions and where each of the 18 officially recognised sects has its own set of laws. The positions of power in the country are also divided along sectarian lines, and have been for decades, including before the civil war that devestated the country between 1975 and 1990. I remember watching the news from Lebanon during the 1980s, and thinking that Christians fighting Muslims didn’t seem that outlandish a suggestion, possibly even logical. Not of course that the situation in NI ever approached anything like that in Lebanon – partly because there were no international power politics at play as there was there – but the fundamental question of sectarianism is one parallel. It didn’t seem so inexplicable as it must have done to people in, say, Surrey.

There are of course good reasons to have power-sharing in Lebanon, but at the same time, the restrictions placed on those who do not wish to be bound by the conventions of religion and religions tradition are fundamentally anti-democratic.

Ziad and his wife Reine say they joined the movement because the Lebanese system had failed them.
They come from different religious backgrounds and, since civil marriage is not permitted in Lebanon, they could not get married.
“Our families fought each other in the civil war and then I had a big fight about my relationship. The social and family pressure is immense,” Reine says.

They had to go to Cyprus and get a civil marriage registered there. Obviously, there are class issues here. Those who can afford to move abroad or to get married abroad will do so. Poorer people will be stuck. The need for secularism is obvious – it not only offers more rights and liberation for all the people of Lebanon, but it also has the potential to foster an inclusive sense of identity that maintaining social divisions along religious lines never can.

That’s what keeps the society so split, so divided. And its also unfair. I don’t want to be associated with my sect, I want to be Lebanese,” says Kinda.

And so the march represents a small step forward towards building an alternative, and perhaps the beginning of a movement for people to rally around. Unless an alternative can be built, then what was and is true in Northern Ireland – where low-level sectarian violence continues – will be true in Lebanon as well.


The one gable wall slogan that still rings true down the years is that “Sectarianism kills workers”

NI Leaders’ Debate: Response at CLR

April 22, 2010

I’ve just posted my response to the first Northern Ireland leaders’ debate over at the Cedar Lounge Revolution. The short version is that I thought it was a disaster of near-Cecil Walker proportions for Margaret Ritchie.

Even Better than the Dog Ate My Homework

April 21, 2010

Charged with being in a car with boiler suits, cable ties, balaclavas, and knives? Here is the most hilarious possible defence.

Mr Mac Carthaigh replied “The car’s not mine. Although I do use a balaclava for sex sometimes.”

When asked to account for the other items in the car and explain why they were there, he said: “I don’t know. An orgy maybe.”

Yes We Can! (screw up abolishing the 11 Plus)

April 16, 2010

Just spotted the poster below over at Sluggerotoole. As a long-term critic of the mess that has been made of the positive act of abolishing the 11 Plus, I must confess I like it.

V: The Visitors Return

April 15, 2010

Anna: quite good, but no Diana

Diana: The original and still the best

So last night, on the newly re-named SyFy, began the much anticipated (by me anyway) remake of V, the classic 1980s mini-series and TV series that feature alien visitors to earth with a dark secret. For a generation, the sight of walking, talking reptiles eating birds and rats whole was the stuff of nightmares. It was great, and Diana, the evil scientist and beautiful visitor leader, was a character never forgotten. There was a certain amount of over-excitement when I heard that V was being remade. The first two episodes of the new series were on. How were they?

I liked them. They succeeded in quickly establishing the shock, uncertainty and excitement caused by the alien landing, the alien claims to being a benign force offering and advanced technology and medicine in return for water, and the harsh reality of their planning to do something – as yet unclear – very evil indeed that would wipe out humanity. Judging from the first two episodes, the new series is trading depth for breadth. There are fewer characters than the original, but we can expect them to be traced in more depth. The new show also, like the Battlestar Galactica remake before it, reflects on the war on terror. Visitors have already been on earth for some time, and the crazy people claiming to have had contact with aliens are in fact telling the truth, and some of them form the bones of a resistance. Equally, the fifth column is also in place. The new female lead is an FBI agent (rather than a scientist) involved in monitoring suspected terrorist cells, and I suspect that the current American paranoia about conspiracy and the enemy within will feature largely in the new show. It’s a good move, both dramatically and in terms of bringing it into today’s world. Other lead characters include a priest struggling with what the visitors’ existence says about his religion, the FBI agents teenage son who joins the visitor youth corps, an engaged professional couple, and an ambitious TV news anchor who seeks to ingratiate himself with the visitors. These characters reflect some of those from the original series, either directly or as composites.

And then there is Anna. Diana started out not as chief commander, but as head of the scientific mission. Anna is in charge. She is more understated than Diana, but also forceful and scheming like her predecessor. If Diana was a power female who could have fit into Dallas or Dynasty, Anna so far seems to be a different personality type, but equally ruthless. She is similar enough in appearance and personality to be something of an homage, but different enough to be her own person. This stripped down alien command structure will also make her a more effective figure I suspect. The new show is also liable to be a lot less silly than the original.

To over-analyse the show, the reduction in numbers of central characters has had the consequence of embourgeoisement. Whereas the original featured characters who were working class, like plant workers or Mexican labourers and their families, the new humans, so far anyway, are all noticeably more affluent and more middle class. That might reflect changing tastes within the US television audience, or a different target audience. Or it could mean nothing at all, though I suspect that it does mean that this show is chasing the young professional market, as well as teenagers seeking to stare at Laura Vandervoort. While the original was something of a kid’s show, this one doesn’t look like being so.

So overall, a good start. Gone however are the red uniforms and the funny voices that originally marked out the visitors, and the V grafitti has already taken on a different meaning than in the original. And also gone – and this was a big mistake in my view – is the music of the original. Enjoy.

Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Sectarianism

April 13, 2010

I have just posted a piece at Cedar Lounge Revolution on what the unionist electoral pact in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Gerry Adams’ proposal for an electoral pact with the SDLP tells us about the sectarian reality of politics in Northern Ireland.

The Workers’ Party and the 2010 General Election

April 7, 2010

The Workers’ Party has decided not to stand in the forthcoming general election, preferring instead to concentrate on next year’s Assembly and Council elections. I have discussed the issues more over at Cedar Lounge Revolution in the context of the NI left in general and this election.

The Pacific

April 5, 2010

Just finished watching the first two episodes of The Pacific, the quarter of a billion dollar HBO 10-part series from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks examining the Second World War in the Pacific from the viewpoint of a number of US Marines. I was a big fan of Band of Brothers which was made by the same people. Band of Brothers was such a great show partly because each episode began with an snippets discussing the events covered from some of the actual people involved who were members of Easy Company whose story the series told. You never knew who was who until the end of the series, and the documentary that accompanied it. I wasn’t sure if The Pacific would do the same, given that it concentrates on fewer people and that being made a decade later there must be significantly fewer survivors. Thankfully, this series also started with interviews with (still anonymous) veterans. It may be a false feeling, but seeing veterans talk, even if only for one or two sentences, before the events is a much more effective reminder of the reality of the war than even the best war film or TV series.

That said, is it any good? The short answer is yes. It was superb, just as good as Band of Brothers was, even if it skipped the training regimen that was covered so well by Band of Brothers. That meant less time for characterisation, but the quality of the writing and the whole production, including the battle scenes, was such that it didn’t matter. What The Pacific had that Band of Brothers didn’t was an element of the view from back home in the United States. And more bad language. Both of which gave added depth of a different nature. Tom Hanks, in the publicity for the show, has been making the point that the war in the Pacific was different to that in Europe. To paraphrase, he has been saying that in Europe, you had people who at least recognised each other as forming part of the same civilisation, and accepting of the same rules of war, such as taking prisoners. He has been saying that in the Pacific it was instead a battle between two sets of people who both believed in their own racial superiority and the barbarism of their enemy. It was thus a nastier and more lethal conflict.

These interviews may cause us to doubt Hanks’ grasp on the war on the Soviet front, but it seems to me there is a lot of truth in what he is saying about racism being an important factor in the way the conflict in the Pacific was fought (it seems to me no accident that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan rather than Germany). Having said that, in the first two episodes there was not much overt sign of the racial element, other than in the odd reference to Japs, Nips, and disparaging references to yellow monkeys and the like. They felt more of a passing nod than anything else, but that may change in the future.

Overall then, this was event television at its very best, bringing home the brutality of the conflict, the desperation and reckless courage of those involved, and doing so in such a manner that it flew by. I can’t wait for next week.

Happy Birthday to the Iraqi CP

April 3, 2010

April 2nd saw the 76th anniversary of the foundation of the Iraqi Communist Party, which has been promoting progressive politics in Iraq in extremely difficult circumstances for most of the time since, whether it was armed struggle against Saddam or holding the line of secular socialism in the chaos of post-invasion Iraq. Full details here.