The ignorance which creates ‘Poppy-Fascism’.

Sunday the 10th of November saw another Remembrance Sunday, a day in which a sincere intention to honour the dead becomes dangerously intertwined with aggressive and intolerant British nationalism. While many British (or indeed, Irish) people wear the poppy merely out of a desire to show respect towards those who lost their lives in combat, many others display fascistic tendencies in their efforts to ensure that everybody wears a small red flower on their breast. Almost every November a public figure, often an Irish individual, chooses not to wear the poppy on television and is bombarded with vile, hate-filled abuse for their personal choice. Dara Ó Briain and Eddie Jordan have both been on the receiving end of such abuse and this year footballer James McClean was the scapegoat for the knuckle-dragging borderline fascists of Britain. Twitter instantly erupted with outrage when McClean was seen not to wear a poppy on his Sunderland FC  jersey and I think its worth quoting some of the worst responses here-

Sunderland’s JamesMcClean refused to wear a poppy for their game against Everton. Perhaps he can go back the famine still on?

Just heard that Sunderland’s JamesMcClean refused to wear apoppy on his shirt! Hope you choke on your Guinness you dirty pikey Irish MUG!

Of course, there is always an idiotic fringe element around any cause. The British press have also been remarkably condescending towards McClean’s decision however (The Daily Mail only added the reference to Bloody Sunday following complaints, showing a typical Mail willingness to overlook facts or context in order to fit their narrow bigoted worldview). Channel 4 presenter John Snow famously decried such attitudes as ‘Poppy Fascism’, refusing to wear a poppy on air. The problem is that so many of those who wear poppies sincerely believe that they are serving a worthy cause, including the increasing number of people in Ireland who wear them such as Roscommon TD Frank Feighan.  I believe that many of these people would not wear the poppy if they fully understand its historic significance and current purpose.

One of the greatest myths surrounding the poppy is that it merely pays respect to the soldiers who died in the World Wars of the twentieth century. Were this true, it would certainly be difficult to argue against it being worn as few would begrudge the millions of soliders (Often conscripts) who died in the tragic unexpected slaughter of the First World War or the great struggle against fascism during the Second World War. However, depending on which source you consult, the poppy either commemorates all of Britain’s war dead or all who have died in conflicts since the First World War. In either case, it pays homage to many who died in upholding the British Empire and often engaged in viscous brutality in an effort to maintain British hegemony. I’m sure you are aware of the genocide, slavery and plunder which characterized the British Empire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries- from the crushing of Caribbean slave revolts to its brutal suppression of the 1857 Indian Rebellion, the British military played a terrible role in European imperialism. Yet even if we are to ignore such earlier crimes the twentieth century offers many examples of murder and torture by British troops involved in the upholding of colonialism. The Royal Air Force bombed Iraqi civilians during the 1920’s while the British government has yet to acknowledge the widespread torture and murder which occurred in Kenya during the 1950’s. In addition to such examples of colonial savagery, the British military have a long record of intervention in foreign nations to uphold British business interests intervening in both the Russian and Greek civil wars and invading Egypt in 1956. Examples of war crimes by British troops are easy to find within Ireland too. The Irish War of Independence saw widespread torture, reprisals against civilians and extrajudicial killings not only by the paramilitary Black and Tans or Auxillaries but by regular British regiments. More recently we see many examples of such practices in Northern Ireland with none of the soldiers who committed murder in the Bogside in 1972 ever being brought to justice for their crimes. Many other such instances can be found with eleven civilians being killed in West Belfast six months previously, possibly by the same paratroopers. Given this context, its easy to see why James McClean should not wish to wear a poppy.

The problem with the poppy goes beyond these past crimes however. It not only acts as a legitimization of past colonial violence but also provides legitimization to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died as a result of western invasions in these two countries. In addition to direct deaths brought about by US and UK military forces,   the invasion of Iraq ignited civil war between the countries Shia and Sunni populations. While I have little doubt that many British people believe that wearing a poppy merely pays remembrance to those killed in the conflict and does not condone the invasion which placed British troops in harms way, this ignores the wider picture. The poppy has come to an endorsement of British militarism and has attracted a fascistic cult following. All too many of its wearers fervently demand that all others should wear it, lest the military be disrespected by its absence. The poppy has come to stand for a ‘support our boys’ attitude but this is not a helpful attitude. Britain does not need to ‘support its boys’ more, as virtually all conflicts in which British troops have historically been involved have been campaigns of murder and plunder. Currently involved in a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan (Its fourth invasion of that nation incidentally) and unwilling to confront the many past war crimes carried out by its soldiers, Britain needs to question attitudes towards military and empire. While I understand the benevolent motives of many British people in wearing poppies, I view them as being symbolic of  widespread ignorance and denial towards the nations past and I do not support the poppy appeal.



Forgotten heroes.

If I were to ask you for an example in American history of a small group of rebels heroically fighting for freedom against government forces despite being completely outnumbered and outgunned, what would be the first event to come to mind? Sadly, the first thing to come to mind for most people is the Battle of the Alamo fought between a small force of around 200 Texan rebels and over 1’800 Mexican troops in 1836. I say sadly, because the primary motivation for the Texan rebellion against Mexico (A country gracious enough to allow large-scale American settlement in its Texan territories, a favour not being returned by the US government today) was the desire to continue holding slaves contrary to Mexican law.  Despite the pride many Americans take in the abolition of slavery following the Civil War, few seem to recall that the Texan’s at the Alamo were fighting for the opposite cause- the desire to preserve the institution of slavery. As for an example for a small group who truly were fighting against government forces for the cause of freedom, one need look no further than the example of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in which Brown led a twenty-one men in a effort to ignite a slave rebellion throughout the United States.  Most died in battle, while many of the remainder were executed afterwards, including Brown himself. Sadly, Brown is often forgotten in American history and has frequently been portrayed as a villain both by historians and in popular culture.  It brings to mind Malcolm X’s words-

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Today is the 153rd anniversary of Brown’s raid, an event which receives disgracefully little commemoration in America. Hopefully he will some day achieve recognition as one of the few white figures in nineteenth-century America who actively opposed slavery and was willing to give his own life for its abolition.



Typical misinformation on drugs.

Saturday night’s concert in Phoenix Park saw what were surely the most tragic events to occur at any concert or festival on this island in many years. Two young men died of as-of-yet unknown causes and nine people were stabbed, although none fatally. It if of course very unfortunate that so many people came to be killed or injured in the course of what should have been an enjoyable occasion. It is however also very unfortunate that people should use these tragic events to promote tired agendas or peddle misinformation.

It’s obvious that a large amount of alcohol was consumed at this concert. I won’t deny that excessive  consumption of alcohol can lead people to behave in a violent and aggressive manner its a clear fact that it does. I don’t think the consumption of alcohol can be used to explain such horrific levels of violence however. The people responsible for these vicious assaults were surely not solely motivated by drinking I have no doubt they are individuals with a prior history of violent behaviour whether this is reflected in a criminal record or not. Even if we can show that alcohol is responsible for a great deal of the violence on Ireland’s street, I think we can accept as a society that there is little alternative to allowing the free consumption of alcohol by adults as I’m sure everybody is familiar with the consequences of previous efforts to prohibit its sale. And it is grown adults we are talking about here, despite pointless statements by Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland

‘”We need to look at how we regard alcohol,” she said.”It’s not a grocery like bread or milk…It is a drug, a licensed substance and it should not be easy for 15- and 16-year-olds to buy a drug.”

Well Fiona, the two men who died following the concert and the man accused of several stabbing incidents were 20, 21 and 22 years of age respectively, making such concerns irrelevant. This is actually a typical tactic of many campaigners for tighter regulation of the sale of alcohol- they link all initiatives to a desire to curb underage drinking whether or not it will have any impact. Earlier off-license closing times and higher taxes on alcohol were among these motions. And have they curbed underage drinking? Not in the slightest. 

All of this brings me on to the more controversial issue of illegal drug use. This charming little piece of nonsense popped up in my facebook newsfeed earlier and I’m thankful to say it was being roundly mocked for its stupidity. Apart from the absurdity of blaming Madonna for promoting drug use among Irish youths (Yes, it was published today, not in 1987) the author has a very poor idea of the effects of MDMA (ecstasy). I’ll just say this much about the dangers of ecstasy- there aren’t all that many. I’m not alone in thinking this- if you want to hear about an interesting case of government censorship, read up on what happened to David Nutt. The author of the Irish Times article appears to acknowledge this, claiming that raves in the 1990s were very safe-

“The inconvenient truth – for the tabloid press at the time – was that ecstasy was enjoyed by millions of clubbers during the 1990s, and with perhaps fewer overdoses than caused by alcohol use.”

He quickly changes his mind however and claims that-

“Today’s generation – brought up with binge alcohol tendencies – is popping and dropping indiscriminately. And when you mix a rave drug with large quantities of alcohol, it really is time (for the rest of us) to batten down the hatches.”

This is absolute nonsense. The idea that the people only began binge drinking since the 1990s, the idea that nobody would ever think to mix alcohol with ecstasy during the 1990s and the idea that ecstasy promotes violent behaviour are all total fictions originating in the mind of this “journalist”. The primary effect ecstasy is known for is its promotion of feelings of compassion towards others, quite different from engaging in armed assault at a concert. Of course these facts are irrelevant to those who wish to continue the demonstrably foolish policy of drug prohibition and they will continue to use the tragic events of Saturday night as a justification of increased invasion of individual rights. Because that is the only way in which one can continue to argue for drug prohibition- through lies and misinformation. By preying on a natural desire to protect young people from harm they continue to enforce a policy which instead brings about further tragedy.


If you are interested in this data set you might like my latest post where I use it to make book recommendations.

This one came about because I was searching for a data set on horror films (don’t ask) and ended up with one describing the links between philosophers.

To cut a long story very short I’ve extracted the information in the influenced by section for every philosopher on Wikipedia and used it to construct a network which I’ve then visualised using gephi

It’s an easy process to repeat. It could be done for any area within Wikipedia where the information forms a network. I chose philosophy because firstly the influences section is very well maintained and secondly I know a little bit about it. At the bottom of this post I’ve described how I got there.

First I’ll show why I think it’s worked as a visualisation. Here’s the…

View original post 1,003 more words

Tolerating intolerance- Why the Orange Order should not have been invited into Leinster House.

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”- Malcolm X.

On the 3rd of July Drew Nelson, the Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge of Ireland, spoke before Seanad Éireann. As if this was not already surreal enough, he claimed his organisation would welcome an opportunity to march through Dublin city. I don’t know about Mr Nelson but I remember what happened on the 25th of February 2006.

What was particularly galling about this cosy little visit to our national parliament however, was the Orange Orders attempt to portray itself as a defender of a beleaguered minority. Quick to draw attention to sectarian attacks upon Protestants during the last few decades of conflict, Nelson also criticized budget cuts to Protestant schools in the Republic. This is probably the first time that the Orange Order have attempted to take the side of the oppressed rather than the oppressor- after all, they have plenty of experience in acting as the latter. The organisation was formed amid the Penal Laws of 1790s Ireland and took part in the expulsion of large numbers of Catholics from the province of Ulster. The Orange Order, throughout history, has a track record of upholding the privileges of elites, whether they be the Protestant Ascendancy of the eighteenth century or the bigoted Stormont government of the twentieth. Why is a group which has continually blocked any Irish effort at self-determination and discriminated against those who indentify themselves as Irish permitted to send its members before the Seanad to present a lecture on tolerance and equality? I am keenly awaiting a predominantly African-American city council in the US to receive members of the Ku Klux Klan.

This is not an isolated incident. A prominent trend exists in the Irish media for all blame for the war (Yes, it was a war despite the euphemistic description of ‘The Troubles’) in the north of this island to be attached to republicans. I’m no great lover of Sinn Fein and I do not condone many of the heinous crimes committed by republican paramilitaries. Yet to listen to many prominent figures in the media, one would believe that no atrocities were ever committed by British state forces or, perish the thought, members of the unionist community. In today’s Sunday Independent we have Eoghan Harris criticizing Sinn Fein and claiming nobody should associate a party with a blood-stained legacy. A similar diatribe is to be found in last weeks article, but here Harris also gives himself enormous credit for having dealings with the Orange Order which he believes to be ‘a rational response to particular historical pressures’. The hypocrisy in Harris’ words is astounding. He attacks all actions by the paramilitaries which arose from a colonized and downtrodden people but defends the organisation which enforced this discriminatory social order. If he believes that the blatant bigotry of the Orange Order is historically justifiable, why not the violence of the IRA? Because Harris has fallen into a common trap for Irish journalists and academics- the belief that bringing about peace in Ireland require berating the past violence of any Irish nationalists while justifying or even sanctifying that committed by the British government or its pawns in the unionist community. Such an approach does not aid peace. It allows the thuggish bigoted members of the Orange Order to carry on believing that they are in fact the oppressed. In doing so, it sows the seeds for yet more violence and hatred to emerge from the Protestants of Ulster.

This sporting life.

For a twenty-one year old Irish male, I have surprisingly little interest in sport. The majority of the worlds major sporting events pass me by almost unaffected. The sole consequence I can never escape however, is the awkwardness of my conversations with those who assume I’d watched Ireland’s rugby game or Rory McIlroy’s golf tournament and find themselves at a loss for words when I have no opinion on such matters. Nevertheless I found myself cheering on Ireland during Euro 2012, supporting the team much as I had during the World Cup campaign of 2002. 2012 was also the year I found myself cheering on my childhood team of Manchester City as they won the Premier League- in a way, I rediscovered the game of soccer after a hiatus of about eight years. More than any other sport however I follow Gaelic football, attending virtually every Mayo game for much of the last decade and formerly playing the game at underage level. So why do I  follow both of these codes(Or at least, used to)  and care little for any others? Well, I’m going to approach this question from an Annales School viewpoint and go back a few centuries to the origin of spectator sports (Surprisingly, this is relevant).

Different sports are played in different countries and often in different regions within the country. This is often due to differences of terrain or climate- it comes as little surprise that Ice Hockey is so much more popular in Minnesota than it is in Texas. What interests me however, is when the popularity of a certain sport is related to matters of class or ethnicity. The split between Rugby League and Rugby Union came about because of divisions between the working-class players of northern England and the upper-class former public schoolboys of the south. In Australia soccer is regarded as a sport played mainly by Mediterranean immigrants and their descendants leading it to receive the rather offensive name of ‘wogball’ (Australia is also home to a regional divide between Australian Rules Football and Rugby, although this appears to be unrelated to any issues of class, politics or race.)

I don’t believe any nation is home to historical divisions in sporting allegiances more interesting than those in Ireland. The predominance of any team in a given sport can be traced back to the social conditions of the nineteenth century or even earlier. Look at any of the regions where Hurling is a popular game and you will see they are all agriculturally prosperous regions- the importance of good relations between landlord and tenant for the promotion of hurling has been noted before, and although hurlers do not like to be told that they play a ‘landlords sport’ it is historically the case. The divide between hurling and Gaelic football is particularly noticable in counties historically strong in both codes- in Galway for example, the Hurling strongholds lie in the low-lying plains of the south, while football is centred around the boggier regions in the north and west of the county. This map confirms the divide.  The most successful county in either code illustrate this further- Kilkenny is a county of low rolling hills and green fields, heavily contrasted with Kerry’s mountain and bog. Despite allegedly being Ireland’s national game, a very small number of Irish people have ever played hurling. To a Mayoman like myself, the game means very little. Gaelic football always occupied pride of place in my county with hurling only being played in a few scattered areas- I didn’t even know Mayo had a county hurling team until I was twelve years old or so.

What then, of the two codes of football that have come to us from across the Irish sea? Well the historical factors in their geographic spread are also clear to see. Soccer’s strongholds in Ireland are in urban centres- it is centred around Belfast in the north and Dubin in the south. What is also apparent is that it is a working-class game often tied to towns formerly home to large numbers of British troops- Dublin, Cork, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda and Athlone are all former garrison towns. However the game has spread quite effectively outside of these towns, primarily due to its popularity amongst Irish emigrants to Britain, who passed a love of the game on to their relatives. I believe that the high level of emigration from many rural areas has led to the coexistent popularity of Gaelic football and soccer in the same villages- I was quite surprised to learn a hostility still existed between the followers of each game in areas of Leinster.  I recall having the same two men manage me at both Gaelic and soccer for a few months- they weren’t any good at managing either team but at least they weren’t prejudiced. When I was a child all of the other lads in my class supported Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. I chose Manchester City because I like being different and awkward. And although I hadn’t followed the game for years, I still felt a connection to both Man City and the Irish national team as they found success (Or not) this year.

Rugby is a very different matter. Its hardly original to joke about how rugby is a ‘posh’ sport or about how its centred around elitist fee-paying schools. Unfortunately for defenders of the game, all of these claims are or were true. Rugby has found little success in the province of Connacht due to its historical poverty, its lack of an urban middle-class (People tend to forget Munster rugby’s dependence upon the suburbs of Cork and Limerick) and its small Protestant population. The clear association between that once existed between rugby and Britishness is demonstrated by the lack of a divide between north and south- not because of a common Irish identity as in the GAA, but because of a common British one amongst many members of the IRFU during the twenties (The Irish Football Association, for the record, saw the breakaway of the FAI during the War of Independence).  Its assumed by many that these issues are in the past and rugby is enjoyed by everyone in Ireland now. Well I for one have never warmed to the game, not because of the merits of the sport itself, but because I lack a childhood loyalty to any teams competing in it.

This is the crux of the matter for me- I don’t really watch games in which I don’t have a personal interest, whether through supporting a team or backing one in a bet. This is why I support Mayo and, to a much lesser extent, Manchester City. I never identified with the Connacht or Ireland teams as a child as the game was simply not played in my corner of Mayo and I never even had a successful hurling team that I could pretend represented me. Although I’m not in any way a major follower of sports I feel a residual loyalty to my childhood teams and the sports in which I chose teams were decided long before I was born. So when I tell you I haven’t a clue about rugby don’t blame me- I’m a product of society.

Do they ever read their own books?

A letter in todays Irish Independent does quite an excellent job of illustrating a problem which I had already been considering writing on.  Jim Ryan of Co Kilkenny takes issue with an article by Billy Keane in which it is claimed that homosexuality is still a sin in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. Ryan argues that, because of the seventh commandment, adultery is a sin whether it consists of heterosexual or homosexual intercourse and therefore the Church is not discriminatory. I hardly need to point out the idiocy of this argument when gay marriage is not recognized by the Church or indeed by the Irish state. What is particularly relevant however, is that Ryan is wrong. 100% wrong. Homosexuality, in and of itself, is indeed listed as a sin in the Bible. Perhaps he requires a lesson in scripture, so I will list every verse in which this is directly stated (All quotes are from the King  James Version)-

  • Leviticus 18:22 ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.’
  • Leviticus 20:13 ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them’
  • Romans 1:26-27  ‘Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

It is clear that Jim Ryan, despite calling upon the Bible to support his views, has actually read relatively little of it. And this is a major problem in Irish society today- many of the people who describe themselves as Catholic’s or more generally as Christians have very little idea what these terms mean, or what it is that they are supposed to believe in. To a large extent this is actively the result of the education given in Catholic-managed schools which, although keen to indoctrinate children into their faith, were not so keen on filling us in on some of the more bizarre or backward beliefs which were supposed to be held by all Catholics. I often recall being told ‘Jesus died for your sins’ but why or how was never clarified. The doctrine of transubstantiation was never adequately explained, and despite repeated references to the Virgin Mary it took many years for an adult to explain what a  virgin was. Although I’m an atheist I’ve since filled these gaps in my knowledge because I have a longstanding interest in religion of any kind (The thesis I’m currently working on largely deals with the history of religion in Ireland). The problem is that many people who believe themselves to be Catholics are in fact woefully ignorant of the Catholic Church’s doctrines and of the principles of Christianity as a whole. In particular, I find that many people who make reformist demands of the Catholic Church appear to be under the delusion that Jesus was  a nice man and that all of the negative aspects of Christianity were later additions by the Church hierarchy( Billy Keane implies as such in the above article). This  is entirely untrue. Although many controversial doctrines such as the requirement of celibacy for clerics or the prohibition of artificial contraception are indeed complete inventions of the Catholic Church, many others are not. I always find it laughable when people demand that women should be allowed to become priests. According to the Bible, women may not even speak in church- Corinthians 14: 34-35. I’m not saying this view is correct- it’s horribly sexist and is the remnant of a bygone age. But this is entirely my point- if you wish to be a tolerant person who does not subscribe to sexist or homophobic beliefs then you cannot hold on to the beliefs of the Bible. There is modernity and there is Christianity- the only middle ground is hypocrisy.