No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland
When I was in first year in secondary school in 1997, a girl in the year above me was pregnant. She was 14. The only people who I ever heard say anything negative about her were a group of older girls who wore their tiny feet “pro-life” pins on their uniforms with pride. They slagged her behind her back, and said she would be a bad mother. They positioned themselves as the morally superior ones who cared for the baby, but not the unmarried mother. They are the remnants of an Ireland, a quasi-clerical fascist state, that we’d like to believe is in the past, but still lingers on.
The news broke last week of a septic tank filled with the remains of 796 children and babies in Galway. The remains were accumulated from the years 1925 to 1961 and a common cause of death was malnutrition and preventable disease. The Bon Secours “Home” had housed thousands of unmarried mothers and their children down through the years. These women had violated the honour of their communities, by bringing shame on their families through “illegitimate” pregnancy and therefore had to be hidden at all costs, and punished for their transgressions. The children died as they lived, discarded like the refuse of society that the Church considered them and the mothers that gave birth to them to be. Most of the children who survived were put to work in industrial schools under the supervision of perverts and sadists.
Thousands of the healthy ones were sold abroad – mostly to the US – for “adoption.” For the ones who remained, the outlook was poor. Mortality rates of 50% or 60% were common in these homes. In the case of the ones that died, either the Church did not feel they were valuable enough to feed and care for, or they actively worked towards their death. The risk they posed to the social order by virtue of the circumstances of their conception and birth was too great to let go unchecked. These children certainly did not die for lack of money or resources on the Church’s part (they had an income from the children they sold), and the fewer children of this kind there were, the less threat there was to the church’s control over society.
If the Church had allowed them to grow up to be functioning adults in Irish society it would have ran the risk of demonstrating that the institution of marriage was not absolutely integral to the moral well-being of a person. Women were not allowed keep their babies because the shame that their existence brought upon the community would be far too great. They were imprisoned within Magdalene Laundries to atone for their sins of honour, and their babies were removed from them as part of their punishment – women who dishonoured the community were deemed to unfit to parent.
Contemporary Ireland feigned shock when stories of the Laundries and residential institutions emerged. Perhaps the shock of those who were too young to be threatened with being put in one for “acting up” was genuine, because the institutions started to close as the years went on. But people in their fifties and sixties now, will remember how the “Home Babies” sometimes came to schools, and were isolated by other (legitimate) children, and then sometimes never came back. While those school-children may not have comprehended fully the extent of what happened, their parents and teachers, and the community of adults surrounding them knew.
Ireland as a whole was complicit in the deaths of these children, and in the honour crimes against the women. They were the “illegitimate babies” born to the “fallen women” who literally disappeared from villages and towns across Ireland in to Magdalene Laundries. Everybody knew, but nobody said, “Honour must be restored. We must keep the family’s good name.”
The women themselves served a dual purpose in the Laundries. They were a warning to others what happened when you violated the rule of the Church, and they were financial assets engaged in hard labour on behalf of the Church. They were not waged workers; they did not receive payment. They could not leave of their own free will, and their families, for the most part, did not come for them; the shame on the family would be too great. Ireland had a structure it used to imprison women for being sexual beings, for being rape victims, for not being the pure idolised incubator for patriarchy, for not having enough feminine integrity, or for being simply too pretty for the local priest’s liking. Ireland has a long tradition of pathologising difference.
People did know what went on in those institutions. Their threat loomed large over the women of Ireland for decades. On rare occasions when people attempted to speak out, they were silenced, because the restoration of honour requires the complicity of the community. Fear of what other people will think of the family is embedded in Irish culture.
The concept of honour means different things in different cultures but a common thread is that it can be broken but restored through punishing those who break it. We are familiar with the hegemonic concepts of “honour killing” and “honour crimes” as a named form of violence against women in cultures other than ours. The papers tell us it is not something that people do in the West. Honour killings, and honour crimes are perpetually drawn along racialised lines and Irish and UK media happily present them within the context of a myth of moral superiority.
Honour crimes are acts of domestic violence, acts of punishment, by other individuals – sometimes family, sometimes authorities – for either real or perceived transgressions against the community code of honour. However, it is only when there is a woman wearing a hijaab or a the woman is a person of colour, or ethnicised, that “honour” is actually named as a motivation for the act of violence. It is a term that has been exoticised, but it is not the act itself or the location it occurs, but the motivation behind it that is important in defining it.
Women of colour, and Muslim women, are constructed as the “other;” we are told these women are given in marriage at a young age by controlling fathers who pass on the responsibility for controlling them to husbands. “Protection” of women is maintained through a rigid sytem of controlling their sexuality in a framework of honour and shame. When these women transgress the boundaries of acceptable femininity they are abused and shunned by their community. Punishments range from lashing to death, but include physical beatings, kidnappings and imprisonment.
Imprisoning women in the Magdalene Laundries deserves to be named as an honour crime because of a cultural obsession that believed the family’s good name rested upon a woman’s (perceived) sexual activity that either her father or husband or oldest brother was the caretaker of. Her sentence to the Laundry was to restore the family honour. Read the rest of this entry »
From Waterford Whispers News
Bodies of 800 Children “Were Just Resting” In Mass Grave Claims Catholic Church
THE Catholic Church has responded to the grim discovery of the remains of up to 800 unidentified children buried in an unmarked plot beside a notorious “Mother and Baby Home” in Galway, claiming that the mass grave was a temporary solution and the infants remains are “just resting” there.
The Tuam workhouse for unmarried mothers and their babies was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours (French for “safe harbour”) between the years 1925 and 1961, during which time the bodies of at least 796 children aged from 2 days to 9 years were placed one by one in an unused septic tank, following deaths from TB, malnourishment, pneumonia, and good old-fashioned neglect.
Meanwhile the entire nation has reacted with shock and an unquantifiable disgust at the discovery made by Catherine Corless, a local historian and private citizen, as she carried out research about a church run institution known locally as ‘The Home’. The events that transpired there are a lesson in abject misery and unending sorrow that would even make a Nazi war criminal blush and this was reflected in the word on the street from many Irish people.
“Well, I’m 55 so a bit before my time but when we used to visit my aunt up in Donegal, she would tell us to stay away from the fields down the road because there were babies buried there but if only someone knew about it,” John Drummond, a Dublin native explained, “It’s all changed now though in fairness,” John said of a country that saw 196 children in state care die between the years 2000 and 2010.
“I can’t believe it. What vile creatures must have worked there?” shared a visibly upset Ciaran Giles, from Tipperary,”like there was a Magdalene laundry down the road from my house or so my father tells me but like no one knew, well they knew but they didn’t, you know?”
Others on the streets tried to find some solace at the discovery of the mass grave. “Well, obviously those in the laundries have been compensated, Ireland’s moved on,” shared student Lauren Greene of a country that has yet to pay compensation in full to Magdalene laundry survivors.
“It was a different time, so arguments and the like create a false dichotomy,” shared 24-year-old Sean Cullen, who was told as a child to avoid to walking home by the priest’s house for some reason, “ha yeah, that’s weird isn’t it? Because obviously my parents didn’t know the priest raped children or else they would have done something about it,” he added.
The Catholic church, who were limited to just €128 million in compensation to sexual abuse victims in a 2002 deal, meanwhile sought to explain their stance on the mass grave in Tuam.
“There’s a lot of speculation as to what went on in The Home following these recent revelations” said Monsignor Sean Green, spokesperson for the Irish branch of the Catholic Church Scandal Containment Unit, “people seem to believe that because these children were born to unmarried mothers the church at the time considered them sinful and unworthy of a decent Catholic burial, so basically threw their little remains into the nearest hole they could find”.
“But trust me, that wasn’t the case; I assure you, those bodies are just resting in that mass grave. Cover up the mistreatment of children? Not at all. We’ve always planned to exhume them and bury them properly, and we’re going to get right on it really soon”.
When WWN asked the Government for comment absolutely no one was available for comment.
To donate to the memorial fund which will see a plaque erected with all 796 names written on it contact email@example.com To see a list of the people who can demand justice and bring about accountability in this case please consult the nearest phone book or the latest census.
Above: “slavery-like conditions” at Magdalene laundries
Vatican ‘must immediately remove’ child abusers – UN
The UN has demanded that the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers.
The UN watchdog for children’s rights denounced the Holy See for adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children.
In a report, it criticised Vatican attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
The Vatican responded by saying it would examine the report – but also accused its authors of interference.
“The Holy See takes note of the concluding observations on its reports… [but] does, however, regret to see… an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person… [and] reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child,” it said in a statement.
And a Vatican official, speaking to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said the statements on homosexuality, contraception and abortion were outside the committee’s remit and “heavily agenda-driven and smacking of acute political correctness”.
The Vatican has set up a commission to fight child abuse in the Church.
The UN committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism.
In its report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said the Holy See should open its files on members of the clergy who had “concealed their crimes” so that they could be held accountable.
The committee said it was gravely concerned that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed.
In the report, the committee expressed its “deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide”.
It also lambasted the “practice of offenders’ mobility”, referring to the transfer of child abusers from parish to parish within countries, and sometimes abroad.
The committee said this practice placed “children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children”.
The UN report called on a commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse “as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them”.
Ireland’s Magdalene laundries scandal was singled out by the report as an example of how the Vatican had failed to provide justice despite “slavery-like” conditions, including degrading treatment, violence and sexual abuse.
The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses where some 10,000 women and girls were required to do unpaid manual labour between 1922 and 1996.
The report’s findings come after Vatican officials were questioned in public last month over why they would not release data and what they were doing to prevent future abuse.
The Vatican has denied any official cover-up. However, in December, it refused a UN request for data on abuse on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
In January, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year periode by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse.
The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the Vatican has set up new guidelines to protect children from predatory priests.
But, he adds, bishops in many parts of the world have tended to concentrate on protecting and defending the reputation of priests rather than listening to the complaints of victims of paedophile priests.
Many campaigners feel the Vatican should open its files on priests known to be child abusers
Not very much attention has been paid to the centenary of the Dublin lock-out, which was reaching its tragic denouement this time in 1913, as near-starvation, together with the TUC’s failure to organise solidarity strike action, began to drive the trade unionists back to work, which often also involved having to sign pledges renouncing union membership.
Thanks to Terry Glavin (via Facebook) for drawing my attention to Des Geraghty’s splendid documentary. Terry writes, “To the blessed memory of Big Jim Larkin and the centenary of the 1913 Frithdhúnadh Mór Baile-Átha-Cliath, the 1913 workers’ uprising in Dublin. An hour well spent, splendid documentary film-making here”:
Below: Sean Matgamna describes events, with particular emphasis on the role of the Catholic church in sabotaging efforts to move the starving children of the locked-out workers to England where they would be fed:
Dublin 1913: Against the priests and the bosses
By Sean Matgamna
In the years before the First World War, the great Jim Larkin organised the savagely oppressed workers of Ireland’s capital city and made them a power in Ireland.
Organisation, labour solidarity, the sympathetic strike by workers not directly in dispute—these were their weapons. These weapons began to mark them out as no longer a driven rabble but a class, women and men increasingly conscious of a common interest, a common identity and common goals.
The bosses organised a ‘union’ too and fought back.
Their leader was WM Murphy, one of Ireland’s biggest capitalists, and a prominent Home Rule nationalist politician. In August1913, they locked out their employees, intent on using starvation to get them to submit and foreswear “Larkinism”. The British state in Ireland backed them, sending hordes of police to attack strikers, some of whom were beaten to death. It turned into a war of attrition.
Here, fighting impoverished workers with no reserves, all the advantages were with the employers. The workers’ chance of victory depended on two things: on an adequate supply of food or money from sympathisers, and on an industrial solidarity that would tie up the whole trade of Dublin. It was to the British labour movement that Dublin’s workers had to look for help.
Magnificent help came. Ships full of food for the strikers came up the Liffey, and all over Britain the labour movement rallied, collecting money and food. But industrial action did not come, and that was decisive: money and food would keep Dublin’s workers in the fight, but only industrial action in Britain —by the NUR and the Seamen’s Union, for example—would allow them to win.
In Britain, militants argued for industrial action, even for a general strike, in support of Dublin. But the trade union leaders—who held a special conference in December 1913 on Dublin—would not agree to take action.
The strike dragged on 8 months, and then, beaten but not crushed, the union, whose destruction had been the bosses’ prime aim still intact, the last workers went back to work, or accepted that they had been sacked.
What follows is the story of an episode in this struggle, the attempt to move starving Dublin children to homes in Britain where they would be fed. It is told as much as possible in the words of Dora B Montefiore, who—62 years-old and in frail health—organised it.
In mid October 19l3, two months into the strike, Dora Montefiore spoke in the Memorial Hall, London—one of many enormous meetings being held all over Britain to build support for the Transport Workers’ Union. As she sat on the platform listening to Larkin talk of Dublin, Montefiore remembered what had been done to save the children of strikers during bitter battles in Belgium and in the USA.
When Larkin sat down she passed a note along the table suggesting that the starving children of working-class Dublin should be evacuated from the labour-war zone, to be looked after by the British labour movement for the duration of the strike. Would he, she asked, back such a scheme?
Larkin passed a reply back along the table: yes, he would. He thought it was a fine idea.
Montefiore then passed a note to another of the speakers, the Countess of Warwick — an unlikely but genuine socialist — asking if she would be the Treasurer. Warwick replied: Yes. So a committee was set up.
Next day, Dora Montefiore explained her plan in the Daily Herald. Soon they had offers of 350 places for children, and more were coming all the time. Labour movement bodies, trade union branches and trades councils offered to take the responsibility for one or more children. So did sections of the militant suffragettes, the WSPU. It was not as critics said and the Stalinist historian Desmond Greaves repeats in the official history of the ITGWU, an irresponsible stunt by busy-bodies, but a properly organised part of the effort of British labour to help Dublin. Dora Montefiore reported to the readers of the Daily Herald on 14 October:
“From Glasgow, Liverpool, London and a dozen other places, come the welcome offers, and I know that if the Dublin mothers could read some of the letters, it would do their hearts good to know the sort of mothers and fathers who are planning these temporary homes for their little ones.
“Several Roman Catholics have written and one friend offers ‘travelling, lodging and board expenses for two Dublin children while the strike lasts’, and suggests ‘boarding them for a time in a convent in Liverpool or London”‘.
And on 17 October she wrote:
“…Plymouth friends offered to house 40 children and 5 mothers, and they wired later that they were in communication with the Catholic parish priest and Catholic medical officer re the care of the ‘kiddies”‘.
On 17 October, Dora Montefiore, Lucille Rand and Grace Neal, a TU organiser who acted as secretary, went to Dublin to organise the migration of the children.
They were given a room at Liberty Hall, the Transport Union HQ and a meeting of wives of strikers was called. These mothers of hungry children eagerly grasped at this offer of help.
“Meetings of wives of the locked-out workers were then called, and we three delegates from the English and Scottish workers gave our message and laid the scheme before them. As a result Grace Neal was kept busy Tuesday and Wednesday registering the names of mothers who were anxious to take advantage of our offer. The passage leading to our room was blocked ’til evening with women and children. We tried to let them in only one at a time, but each time the door opened the crush was so great that often two or three mothers forced their way in….
“When the work of registration was over, 50 children were selected to meet Lucille Rand at the Baths, where a trained woman had been engaged to clean their heads and bodies [of lice, which were endemic]… Grace Neal presided over a batch of volunteer workers at our room in Liberty Hall, who were sewing on to the children’s new clothing labels bearing their names and addresses, and small rosettes of green and red ribbon.”
But if the strikers saw Montefiore’s plan as the rescue it was, so too did the bosses and their friends. They resented this attempt to deprive them of one of their traditional weapons—the power to weaken and break the spirit of strikers and their wives by forcing them to watch while their children starved and wasted. More: they saw the chance to whip up a political and sectarian scandal as a weapon to undermine “Larkin” by lining up Catholic lreland against him. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: Michael Coren exposes himself as a stupid bigot, even in this friendly interview
Standpoint magazine, a publication supposedly dedicated to enlightenment values, seems to be increasingly in thrall to religion – or at least to Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. The mag maintains a hostility to Islam that I would describe as “healthy” but for the evident fact that it takes such a sympathetic line on other religions.
Last month’s edition carried a particularly crude and self-righteous attack on Richard Dawkins, penned by one Michael Coren (billed by Standpoint as “a broadcaster and columnist in Canada”). A clue as to where Mr Coren was, so to speak, coming from, might have been picked up from his comments about Catholic child abuse (involving “at most 3 per cent of clergy” and “the vast majority of cases were in the past”) as well as his approving reference to a particularly silly quote from the Catholic fake-“Marxist” Terry Eagleton. Oh, go on then: read it for yourself here.
Matters were made worse by the fact that the magazine (as part of its regular “Overrated … underrated” feature, compared Dawkins unfavourably to the egregiously overrated misanthrope and ontonologist, C.S. Lewis.
I intended to write in, mainly to point out Lewis’ grotesquely inflated reputation and all-round unpleasantness, but of course didn’t find the time. The eulogy to Lewis remains unanswered, but I’m pleased to note that at least two Standpoint readers have rallied to the defence of Dawkins and their excellent letters are worth reproducing here (especially as they don’t appear on the mag’s website):
Michael Coren’s foam-flecked hatchet-job on Richard Dawkins (Overrated, November) is one of the most singular examples of the pot calling the kettle black that I can ever recall reading.
He castigates Dawkins for having “this selfish, perhaps genetic, need to be noticed.” This is rich coming from a notoriously abrasive, attention-seeking controversialist who has regularly appeared on shouty talk shows on North American television such as Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions.
Having sneered at Dawkins for having “suburban” views, he proceeds to accuse him of being “snobbish”, albeit in a context which suggests he is ignorant of the meaning of the word.
He claims that Dawkins would be anonymous were it not for his “ostentatious” atheism. His own Catholicism, as expressed in books entitled Why Catholics are Right and Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity, is no less ostentatious. Dawkins’ followers, he alleges, often act in a “cult-like manner”. What is the Catholic Church if it is not a cult? (OED: “a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object”.)
Dawkins, he further alleges, “is a man happy to silence those with ehom he disagrees”. Has no pontiff ever done this?
If Coren doesn’t enjoy the experience of being “ridiculed with contempt” by the likes of Dawkins, the remedy is in his own hands: he can refrain from slash-and-burn polemics in trying to defend the indefensible.
Martin Green, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
So for Richard Dawkins to expect that the prevalence of abusers in the Catholic clergy might be less than 3 per cent was for him to operate with a “deeply flawed premise”.
I am sure that Dawkins will have no difficulty in lowering his future expectation so that it more accurately reflects the empirical evidence. And he might do so even though “the vast majority of cases were in the past” because it is not as if they could be anywhere else.
However, for my own part, I think I shall abstain from expecting that an Emeritus Fellow and retired Professor for Public Understanding of Science be at the “cutting edge” of evolutionary biology. I would not wish to incorporate a false premise into my own arguments.
R. Thomas, Newcastle upon Tyne
Thanks to Comrade Coatesy and also Bob from Brockley for drawing this bizarre business to my attention. You don’t need to be a supporter of the Syrian rebels (certainly, neither Coatesy nor us at Shiraz are) to be appalled at people like Newman’s Socialist Unity blog and Rees’ Stop the War pimping for Assad’s fascistic regime. The following comes from Tendance Coatesy:
Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix will not be attending the Stop the War Coalition’s International Anti-War Conference on the 30th of November.
It seems that two speakers due to speak at the event – Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill – threatened not to come unless her invitation was withdrawn.
The Stop the War Coalition announced on Saturday,
Over the last few days a campaign has developed over the invitation we extended to Mother Agnes — a nun from Syria, who leads a campaign called Mussalaha (Reconciliation) — to speak in London at the International Anti-War Conference on 30 November organised by Stop the War Coalition.
Mother Agnes has now withdrawn from speaking at the conference.
In inviting speakers to participate in its events, Stop the War has never sought to endorse all their views. We have always provided a platform for a diversity of opinions within a broad anti-war perspective.
John Wight of Socialist Unity writes today,
She has been demonised by her detractors as a ‘pro regime stooge’ due to her support for Assad and his government. But why wouldn’t she? As with the majority of Syrians who support their government – and none more so than Syria’s various minority communities – she understands that the only force capable of preventing her country being turned into a killing field by western and Saudi backed savages is the Syrian Government, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.
The BBC reports on Mother Agnès-Mariam (Extracts)
In recent weeks she has become the focus of media attention because of her attempt to prove to the world that Syrian opposition activists fabricated the videos showing victims of the Damascus chemical attack.
She argues the horrifying scenes – of men, women and children either dead or dying from inhaling sarin gas – which caused such international outrage were stage-managed.
The BBC’s Richard Galpin spoke to Mother Agnes.
Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix sprinkles blessings liberally over our conversation.
I’ve phoned her to request an interview about her strange role as an analyst of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
In her most startling conclusion she alleges some of the people seen in the videos are in fact women and children abducted by rebels from minority Alawite areas of the country. President Bashar al-Assad and his family belong to this community.
The BBC asks, “So how credible are the claims made by Mother Agnes which have been so eagerly seized upon by Moscow as it still tries to save the Assad regime?”
There’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes,” says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, which has produced many detailed reports on Syria.
“She is not a professional video forensic analyst… we have found no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated.”
One by one, Mr Bouckaert rejected the claims, saying:
- There were tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Ghouta area of Damascus, according to very regular reports received by Human Rights Watch
- Children were often sleeping in the basements of buildings in significant concentrations because of the intense shelling and that is why so many died (Sarin gas accumulates at low levels)
- The dead and those injured in the chemical attack were moved from place to place and room to room both at the clinics and ultimately for burial
- There were many men and women who were victims of the attacks. But there were separate rooms for the bodies of children, men and women so they could be washed for burial
- Almost all of the victims have been buried
Human rights researchers have spoken to the relatives of Alawite women and children abducted by rebels. None of them said they had recognised their loved ones in the gas attack videos
It is perhaps not a coincidence that arch-conspiracy theorist lunatics Lyndon LaRouche’s group have diffused (November the 14th) a video of an interview with Mother Agnès-Mariam.
Bob from Brockley has been following this controversy closely.
He comments (yesterday),
Her invitation provoked outrage from Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution, as “Mother Agnes” has been a widely disseminated mouthpiece for the Assad regime’s propaganda, including vigorously denying some of Assad’s war crimes. (Of pictures of dead children in Ghouta, for example, she claims they are only sleeping.) Her lies are widely promoted by Russian media sources, by Christian news agencies, and by the LaRouche network. There are also live allegations about her own involvement in war crimes, and in the regime murder of journalists. Below the fold, I have pasted some information about her, but some good starting points are Linux Beach, Democratic Revolution, and Pulse.
The Stop the War Coalition could do without this kind of “opinion” amongst its “diversity”.
My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)
Above: the wreckage of a Jewish shop in Berlin, the day after Kristallnacht
From the Irish Times:
It took a month – and a pointed request from Dublin – for our man in Berlin to file a report on Kristallnacht, November 9th, 1938.
Now a Berlin synagogue destroyed 75 years ago in the so-called “Night of Broken Glass” is exhibiting Charles Bewley’s “disgraceful and unfathomable” report.
The 13-page document, condemning the “undesirables in the Jewish race”, is notorious in Irish diplomatic and academic circles. But a German curator expects it to cause “astonishment” when it goes on display for the first time on Monday in Berlin.
“That a diplomat let fly like this is singular, I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve read a lot of reports,” said Dr Christian Dirks, curator of the exhibition of diplomatic dispatches on the 1938 pogrom.
After years of official harassment of Jews in Nazi Germany, the state-sanctioned violence against Jews, their businesses, homes and places of worship on November 9th-10th, 1938, is seen as the start of the rapid road downhill to the Holocaust.
The Nazis dubbed it a “spontaneous expression of outrage” at the murder of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Jewish refugee of Polish parents. But many of the 100 diplomats cited in the exhibition noted that Germans were ashamed of this flimsy attempt to cover up high-level Nazi involvement.
The Bulgarian embassy wrote that it seemed “nothing will be able to stop a permanent solution to the ‘Jewish question’”.
Even Italy, a future Axis ally of Nazi Germany, was shocked by events, writing that it was “simply not imaginable that, one day, 500,000 people will be put up against a wall, condemned to suicide or locked up in huge concentration camps”.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary on November 11th: “We’ll wait for the reactions abroad. For now there’s still silence, but the uproar will come.”
There was much uproar, just not from Bewley. In sober language he describes the growing exclusion of Jews from German public life and describes the events of November 9th as “obviously organised”.
But his report, which begins in the tone of a dispassionate diplomatic observer, soon identifies with claims in Germany of the time that Jews dominated the worlds of finance and entertainment and used their influence to instil what he calls “anti-Christian, anti-patriotic and communistic” thinking.
He says their corrupting moral influence – promoting abortion, controlling the white slave trade – helps explain the “elimination of the Jewish element from public life”.
“Of all the diplomatic reports this one is usually demagogic and nasty,” said Dr Hermann Simon, director of Berlin’s Centrum Judaicum. “He really left no cliche out.”
In the report’s last section, Mr Bewley takes issue with the Irish media for following the pro-Jewish line of the “British press, itself in Jewish hands”, and “Anglo-Jewish telegraph agencies” by displaying prominently news of oppression against Jews but suppressing news of crimes perpetrated by Jews and anti-fascists.
In his conclusion he holds back from advising Dublin on how to correct what he believes is Ireland’s one-sided view of what he calls the “Jewish problem”, while leaving little doubt that he views Jews themselves as the key issue.
The anti-Semitic virulence in Bewley’s report is “unique” among the diplomatic dispatches, according to curator Christian Dirks.
“The report bowled us over,” he said. “It proffers an educated anti-Semitism which doesn’t just blame the Jews for everything but provides alleged reasons for anti-Jewish feeling. In many passages it recalls arguments you hear today from neo-far right thinkers like David Irving. ”
As well as quotes from the Bewley report in translation, the exhibition details his appointment to Ireland’s mission to Berlin in September 1933, his recall in summer of 1939 and subsequent departure from the diplomatic service. He settled in Rome and died there in 1969.
Above: Dawkins interviewed by devout Muslim Mehdi Hasan earlier this year
In case you missed it, Richard Dawkins caused a minor row last week with some comments he tweeted about Muslims, viz:
“All the world’s Muslims have fewer Noble Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
The twitter storm that followed included comparisons between Dawkins and David Irving and the suggestion that he be ‘no platformed’ as a racist.
Dawkins defended himself by pointing out that his comments about Muslims’ lack of (recent) scientific achievement is simply a statement of fact, and that Islamism is a belief, not a form of ethnicity. Both those points are plainly true and the suggestion that Dawkins is any kind of racist is plainly nonsense.
Nevertheless, his comments about Muslims (as opposed to other religious people) are worrying, and the reason isn’t difficult to fathom:
* Dawkins states some ‘outrageous things’ about Catholics – in a vacuum, objectively more provocative than about Muslims.
E.g. Dawkins (defending himself against Mehdi Hasan when challenged on an earlier statement that growing up Catholic is a form of child abuse worse than sexual abuse) states: “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”
But, there is no significant anti-Catholic bigotry / racism in mainland British society at present. The Left is – on the whole – fine with a critique of Catholicism, and can tolerate negative generalisations of Catholics, Catholic priests, etc.
* Dawkins states some ‘outrageous things’ about Muslims – in a vacuum, objectively less provocative than what he says about Catholics.
E.g. “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Noble Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
But, there is significant bigotry and racism specifically targeted at Muslims in the UK right now. Partly for that reason (there are other, less honourable reasons as well) the Left isn’t fine with a critique of Islam (it has a knee-jerk reaction to such a thing being racist), and cannot tolerate negative generalisations about Islam, Muslims, etc.
Dawkins is a splendid polemicist and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest he tones down his attacks on religion, including Islam. But he can makes those attacks while making it clear that he opposes bigotry and racism directed against Muslims – something he doesn’t do, or at least doesn’t do clearly or outspokenly enough.
None of which should be taken as siding in any way with many of the critics of Dawkins, one of the most egregious being Owen Jones, whose column in the Independent
of 9 August is so bad as to be not even wrong. Amongst the many insults to the intelligence in his wretched piece is this:
“What is really meant [by those who point out that religion isn't race] is that while skin colour is not optional, religious conviction is. This is a claim I simply cannot subscribe to. It understates just how powerful and life-consuming beliefs can be — ironically, something that is simultaneously used as a criticism against religion by anti-theists. Personally, I cannot imagine being me without my atheism or my socialism. For those brought up all their lives in a religious environment, who are strongly emotionally welded to their beliefs, their faith is not something that can be switched off. It is beyond unrealistic to describe religious belief as a “choice” like, say, what clothes you should wear to a friends’s party or whether to have a ham or chicken sandwich for lunch.”
In other words, atheism is appropriate for a sophisticated western intellectual like Owen Jones, but not for poor, uneducated simple folk bought up in “a religious environment.” Dawkins himself has an answer to this sort of thing:
“What patronizing condescension! ‘You and I, of course, are much too intelligent and well educated to need religion. But ordinary people, hoi polloi, the Orwellian proles, the Huxlian Deltas and Episilon semi-morons need religion.’
“… Obviously there are exceptions, but I suspect that for many people the main reason they cling to religion is not that it is consoling, but that they have been let down by our education system and don’t realize that non-belief is even an option. This is certainly true of most people who think they are creationists. They have simply not been properly taught Darwin’s astounding alternative. probably the same is true of the belittling myth that people ‘need’ religion. At a recent conference in 2006, an anthropologist (and prize specimen of I’m-an-atheist-buttery) quoted Golda Meir when asked whether she believed in God: ‘I believe in the Jewish people, and the Jewish people believe in God.’ I prefer to say that I believe in people, and people, when given the right encouragement to think for themselves about all the information now available, very often turn out not to believe in God and to lead fulfilled and satisfied — indeed, liberated — lives.”
Above: secular campaigners of all races. ‘Cardinal’ Newman doesn’t like this.
The misnamed Socialist Unity blog seeks to witch-hunt a Labour Party woman who dares to fight for secularism:
The increasingly bizarre religious apologist Andy ‘Cardinal’ Newman writes:
I first came across Anne Marie Waters when she put herself forwards for the South Swindon selection, and very unusually for a Labour politician Waters gave as her personal reference a Central Committee member of the Worker Communist Party of Iran, Maryam Namazie. It was also very difficult to get a straight answer from Ms Waters what she actually does for a living, and how it is funded.
Both Namazie and Anne Marie Waters signed a letter in 2010 to the Guardian opposing the state visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the UK.
I would submit that Newman’s use of the title “His Holiness” tells us all we need to know about this character’s attitude to religion.
Newman gives his filthy, reactionary, little game away when he admits: “alongside her bigoted anti-religious views she is also a pro-NHS campaigner, there is a danger that the left and some unions may support her for the Labour candidacy.”
The liar Newman deliberately misrepresents Waters when he suggests she made an anti-immigration broadcast. Watch it for yourself, and you’ll see she makes it absolutely clear that she’s not arguing against immigration.
Mind you, if you did want to find an example of anti-immigration agitation within the labour movement at the moment, you could do worse than check out the resolutions passed at the recent GMB congress (Mr Newman is an enthusiastic supporter of the GMB leadership), and especially motion 239 (passed with support from the leadership):
“This Congress calls on the GMB, along with the Labour Party, to present a constructive policy on future immigration, in time for the next election, to stop the growth of the smaller political parties, which in most cases are anti-trade union and racist.”
I’m sure we call all work out what that really means.
So Newman’s a rank hypocrite as well as a religious bigot and enemy of democracy, the enlightenment, and secularism.
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