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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Good Friday Agreement? What about the St. Patrick's Day War?

Eamonn McCann • March 17, 2003

Will the shock and awe to be unleashed on the people of Iraq rate a mention in moments of casual conversation between our local politicians and officials of the Bush administration in the White House today?

How will they avoid it? Will party whips move among them urgently muttering---"Don't mention the war"?

Will shifty thoughts tip-toe across their minds as their hosts lecture them with stern benignity about the urgent necessity to renounce the use of force and embrace the rule of law?

Will there be a shuffle of embarrassment, eyes downcast to the carpet, as some remember the City Hall a couple of Saturdays back amidst a vast throng abuzz with fervour against war on Iraq? Will they feel a tremble of unease at the thought that just along the corridor or in an office on the floor above, those they have come to for endorsement of their credentials as peace-makers are making final arrangements for the mass obliteration of conscript soldiers and collateral citizenry?

Will any Sinn Feiner, Women's Coalitionist, SDLPer or Unionist of any stripe shout out---Not in my name! Maybe. But maybe not.

The message from today at the White House is that what happens in Northern Ireland has no resonance with the wider world. That there is no value or ideal contained in the Good Friday Agreement, or for that matter in disagreement with the Agreement, which is in any way applicable to consideration of the war on Iraq. That the issues which arise here are ours alone, entirely local, uniquely distinctive. That we can make clean separation between our struggles---however we configure our struggle---and the hopes and aspirations of the rest of humanity. That we are a petty provincial people, from time to time ferocious with each other in our internal squabble but each putting our best face forward when looking to be patronised by the powerful outside, twisting our caps in clammy hands as we deferentially sing dumb about the propensity of our patron to rampage murderously in other people's homeplaces.

It's this determined exceptionalism which has made our petty provincial problem so intractable. It's because we conventionally construct our politics solely around the idea of communal identify, that we express ourselves in politics and in public life generally exclusively by reference to the local religious community to which, as we say, we "belong"---and what a telling word that is---it's mainly on this account that a solution has proven so damnably difficult to discover.

We cannot solve the problems of sectarianism by setting out to solve the problems of sectarianism only. When we say that first we must agree on how "the two communities" might live amicably alongside one another before we can move on to deeper, wider or just different matters, we imprison ourselves inside the sectarian categories which we purport to wish to abolish. It's when we find a sense of ourselves which isn't dependent on local circumstance, when we relate to people and issues across the wider world, it's then we begin to sense what we share with one another, too.

The euphoria---it's not too strong a word---which engulfed the rally on February 15th had to do with a feeling of liberation from the constriction of local politics, with the heady sense of being at one with millions the world over, as well as with the appalling specifics of the Iraqi situation.

The day after February 15th, a New York Times editorial writer observed that perhaps there are still two superpowers on the planet after all---the US administration and world public opinion. At City Hall we were part of a superpower. Today, our politicans are as supplicants at the court of the other superpower.

It's the superpower we can all be part of which offers the best hope for the world, including our own little patch of the world.

This article was also published in the March 13 edition of the Belfast Telegraph and is carried here with the permission of the author.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

17 March 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Death of an IRA Volunteer
Anthony McIntyre


Sinn Fein @ The Bush Party
John Meehan


Not In Our Name, Bertie and Gerry

Brendan Young


Republicans' Big Risk
Paul Fitzsimmons


The Good Friday Agreement? What About the St. Patrick's Day War?
Eamonn McCann


St. Patrick's Day Message
Jimmy Sands

Only Another Eleven Palestinians
Margaret Quinn


13 March 2003

Anthony McIntyre

One For All & All For One
Paul Dunne


Brave New World, Indeed.

Tommy Gorman


Ireland: Direct Rule Continues
Paul Mallon




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