Marian Price-Political hostage

June 12, 2012

Marian Price- political hostage

A number of weeks ago a relatively politically aware acquaintance of mine asked me who Marian Price was. I was wearing a Free Marian Price badge and it sparked a conversation about her internment. I explained the background to her case which will be familiar to most reading this. To those who aren’t it is simple. Marian price has spent over a year interned in isolation because the British Secretary of State Owen Patterson decided that she should be. There is no crime that she has been convicted of, no charge against her that explains her internment.

Following the conversation two things struck my attention. The first was that my friend seemed shocked at the fact that he hadn’t heard anything about the case, the second was his barely concealed suspicion that Marian had in fact brought this internment upon herself. There has been plenty of protests about Marian’s internment, north and south. The media attention however has been negligible. The human rights groups have utterly failed to rally behind Marian. So we must ask ourselves, what kind of attitude prevails towards Republicans when it is deemed acceptable for one of us to be taken from our family, tortured, isolated and left to suffer. It is simply not newsworthy it would seem apparent. Those liberal critics of despotic regimes around the globe have fallen awkwardly silent at the prospect of a woman being psychologically broken down daily, unfit to attend a show trial in a courtroom where she has no right to see the evidence supposedly held against her nor the right to have a jury hear it.

The so called Socialist groupings have run and hid from the campaign to free Marian. Aside from the contributions of Eamon McCann who has stood effectively alone as a voice of opposition ,the Socialist party and the Socialist Workers Party are guilty of utter moral cowardice. Being Republican today is not only grounds to be interned it also precludes you from solidarity with those who claim to stand for human rights.

There have been many who have come from outside a Republican political standpoint to support Marian. There contributions have meant that finally there has been some media attention directed towards the campaign. The message this sends out is clear. If Pat Ramsey and the SDLP say that Marian Price is being unjustly interned it is credible. If a Republican states that Marian is being held unjust, that Martin Corey is being interned, that the system is rotten and unjust then we are to be ignored.

The primary focus of all our efforts will and must be the release of Marian before her health is allowed to deteriorate even further. However for those who have stood side by side with us calling for her release we must ask them what does Marian’s case tell you about the nature of the six county state today. Marian is not the only internee nor is she the first in recent years. If you are ready to stand and say publicly that this is wrong, morally and politically then what do you say about the system which implements it?

Marian is a political hostage. There is no other way to express the reasoning behind the decision to intern her. She is being used as an example, a threat to all who stand in defiance of the status quo. So for those who support Marian today ask yourselves will you have the moral courage to go a step further. To ask the British government why it uses internment and torture and to question why if indeed power has been “devolved” then why it is one man who can place Irish men and women in prison at his command?

Unless those sitting in Stormont, in the media and elsewhere who rightly condemn Marian’s internment place her case in its political context then there will be nothing learned from it. For as long as there is British rule in Ireland there will be more cases like Marians.


Palestinian Prisoners and the third intifada

May 15, 2012


Occupation, Internment & the Prisoners Intifada


At the time of writing (12/05/12), two Palestinian political prisoners, Bilal Diab and Thaer Hahlahleh are on their 75th day of hunger strike. Thaer has been in prison since June 2010, and has a 20 month old daughter that has never met her father. Twenty Seven year old Bilal has been Israeli custody for eight months. Neither of these men has been charged with a crime and may well have died by the time you read this. However, these two men are merely the forefront of a massive campaign of resistance by the Palestinian prisoners, over 2,000 of whom are currently on hunger strike.

There are currently over 4,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli Jails. Given that the current population of the Occupied Territories is approximately 4.3 million, this makes for some staggering statistics; one in five Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza have been imprisoned by the Israeli state at some point in their lives. Since the majority of these prisoners are male, this figure rises to 40% of the male population.

Over three hundred prisoners, including Bilal, Thaer, and many other hunger strikers, are interned under the Israeli system of Administrative Detention, where they can be imprisoned for a period of up to six months without knowing either the charges or any possible evidence against them. Once the six month time limit has been reached, the detention order can then be renewed for another six months, creating psychologically agonising situation where the prisoners and their families are given a release date to expect and prepare for, only to be denied their freedom once again. It is common for prisoners to spend years incarcerated under this system. Thaer Hahlahleh has spent six years of his life imprisoned as an Administrative Detainee.

Another common feature of the Israeli occupation is the imprisonment of Palestinian children, 218 of whom are currently held in Israeli prisons. Thirty three of these children are under the age of sixteen. The Israeli military practice a barbaric policy of routinely arresting children and holding them for months at a time as a means of terrorising communities into submission, and forcing children to implicate their family members or neighbours. The standard procedure is for the Israeli military to storm the home in the dead of night, and arrest a boy under spurious accusations. These children are often blindfolded, beaten and forced to sign confessions. There have been reports of threatened and sometimes actual sexual abuse inflicted during these interrogations. No contact with the family is permitted until the day of trial, often months after their arrest. The predicament of these children is such that they often choose to sign false confessions and accept a sentence rather than be imprisoned indefinitely.

The high profile cases of Khader Adnan and Hana El Shalabi who spent respectively spent 65 and 43 days on hunger strike, kept the issue at the forefront of the Palestinian consciousness from last December until April, and prompted other prisoners to begin strikes of their own. On April 17th, Palestinian Prisoners day, over 1,200 prisoners announced that they were joining the hunger strike. Within a week, hundreds more had joined. This has done much to much to mobilise the masses of the Palestinian people in support of prisoners and their rights, organising large scale marches across the Occupied Territories, and sparking speculation as to whether or not this could be the beginning of a third Intifada.

The Palestinians have drawn the comparison between their struggle and the 1981 H-Block hunger strikes. In an interview with the Daily Mail, former prisoner Mouayad Abdus Samad claimed that ‘We have studied the Northern Ireland hunger strikes carefully. Ten were martyred, and we are ready to follow their example.’ After her release, Hana El Shalabi issued a statement of solidarity with Irish internee Marian Price.

The Israeli response has been both cynical and cruel, when Bilal and Thaer’s appeal for release received a hearing it was adjourned without a decision or respect for the urgency of the case, before being ultimately rejected several days later. Reports have emerged of prison guards hosing down hunger strikers cells to destroy the hidden supplies of salt which they have been adding to their water in order to delay their bodies’ deterioration, shortening the length of time they can survive the strike. The Shin Bet Israeli Intelligence agency has recommended in the last week that the old practise of demolishing prisoners family homes be reinstated.

The hunger strikes have received little media attention outside of Palestine. In Israel it is considered a non-issue when compared to the Arab Spring, upcoming elections and the scaremongering surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme. Western media is by and large avoiding the issue. In Ireland, the Irish times and Irish Independent have been focusing their attention on the non-issue of Dervish’s cancellation of several tour dates in Israel and the Minister for Justice’s portrayal of pro-Palestinian activists as ‘cyber-bullies’ and ‘cultural fascists’. The Arab media has surprisingly also left the issue uncovered, symptomatic of the recent rightward shift of outlets such as Al Jazeera.

In Palestine however, the campaign continues to gather pace rapidly. With prisoners passing the seventieth day on hunger strike, the prospect of prisoners dying on strike becomes more and more likely. The prisoners themselves, incarcerated by an occupying military and legal system with little regard for their human rights, see this campaign as the only recourse of action left open to them. The release of Hana El Shalabi and Khader Adnan indicate that the Israeli state is scared of the consequences of allowing prisoners to die on hunger strike, however the international silence on this issue may well mean that no resolution or attention will be given to the hunger strikers until people have died.

American counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan

May 4, 2012

 “Learning from history” What historical lessons did the American military use in their counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The experience of the American military in combatting two insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan has reinvigorated the field of counter-insurgency as a military philosophy. At the very top level of the American military the men commanding the forces in action have given over much time and effort into understanding this military technique. The commanders such as David Petraeus and Stanley MacChrystal are something of a new generation of general. They are educated to a third level with both men having a Phd and are widely read. They have dedicated themselves to developing a clear framework for counter-insurgency and more importantly one which can be replicated.

With this background in education and historical research their ideas and actions have received much attention from both the media and academics. The perceived level of expertise in both military and academic affairs has been hailed as a new model of commander. That both men hail from a Special Forces military background has been held up as the source of their innovative approach and ability to adapt to circumstances.

However I will argue that the American experience in both campaigns has shown that counter-insurgency is not a science and that there is no model of counter-insurgency which can be applied regardless of the country. I will also argue that the much vaunted historical lessons that have been taken from previous campaigns are tenuous at best and at worst blatant distortions of historical events to suit contemporary agendas.

By examining the campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan, the background to each insurgency, the historical analogies and the ultimate outcome of each, this essay will show that success or failure in the campaigns was not the result of any one factor or counter-insurgency policy.

The insurgency in Iraq was the result of many factors. It was neither homogenous or inevitable and it is evident that American mistakes provided a significant factor in exacerbating the resistance. The insurgency was not factored into pre-war planning. This was true of many potential problems. The prevailing attitude amongst the pentagon, state department and white house was one of optimism. The rapid success achieved in Afghanistan by the use of a small, heavily mechanized force using over whelming airpower was expected to achieve similar results in Iraq.[1] This initial expectation was indeed proved correct. When US forces launched their ground campaign against Iraq in 2003 the regular Iraqi army crumbled with little resistance. However this was not necessarily a surprise to astute observers. The Iraqi army had been devastated in its war with Iran in the 1980s followed by its humiliating defeat in 1991 in the first Gulf war. It had suffered from continuous sanctions and the strain of suppressing numerous internal uprising against Saddam. Most of its regular infantry were Shia conscripts who had a deep antipathy to the Sunni regime of Saddam and his family. [2]

The US army was invading with 130,000 ground troops in 2003. This was insufficient for anything other than a cursory operation to remove and defeat regular Iraqi units. To secure Iraqi cities and restore essential services would normally require a far larger contingent of troops. However in 2003 much of this work was outsourced to civilian construction firms, private security companies and others who replace the military in rebuilding Iraq. Within the Bush white house internal critics such as Colin Powell criticized the small number of troops and lambasted it as doing war “on the cheap”.[3] This small number of troops relative to the size of the country was itself deceptive. In reality much of these troops were taken up with providing the logistical support that a modern army requires. This left an even smaller number of troops available for such vital tasks as patrolling regions, roadblocks, stabilization and restoration of order on the streets.

Despite this potential for a severe destabilization of affairs the initial success achieved in 2003 emboldened the Bush administration. On the 1st of May 2003 an Air force fighter jet landed on an aircraft carrier just outside San Diego. President Bush announced the end of combat operations in Iraq underneath a large banner which proclaimed “mission accomplished”. This would later be seen by many to be a strong indication of the hubris which pervaded the American government at this period as over 97% of US casualties were inflicted on the American military after this date.[4]

The American invasion and subsequent occupation was further hampered by a severe lack of local intelligence. Pre-invasion much of the information that they had on conditions in Iraq came from local defectors most of whom had been exiled from Iraq from decades.[5]

As a result when the insurgency did begin in earnest the American military was unable for a considerable time to pinpoint the multitude of factions and the allegiances of the varying forces arrayed against them. This was combined with a severe breakdown of Iraqi civil society. Electricity and water supplies remained below pre-invasion levels into 2006.[6] This was coupled with a large increase in robberies. Kidnapping and looting. Armed militias had control over vast swathes of Baghdad and the Iraqi police were largely corrupt and inefficient.

The new insurgency also had access to vast amounts of weaponry. Following the invasion the US forces had failed to secure the many arms dumps scattered throughout Iraq. As a result they were systematically looted both by ordinary Iraqis and by regime loyalists who stockpiled large quantities of small arms and explosives as well as larger ordinances. This was combined with the decision to disband the Iraqi army. This put hundreds of thousands of veteran troops out of work. Many of these individuals has years of experience of commanding troops. They also had extensive military knowledge of military affairs and were highly experienced and capable. This gave the insurgency a large pool of experienced recruits who had a deep resentment of the US presence.[7]

With growing instability, lack of civil control and growing sectarian tension the insurgency escalated rapidly. Whilst in the initial weeks of the occupation US forces had been able to travel relatively freely around Baghdad and other cities they rapidly became confined to base. The insurgents escalated their campaign and showed a growing ingenuity and expertise as well as utilizing a large variety of tactics. Sniper attacks, assassinations, car bombs and improvised explosive devices became regular occurrences. The IEDs in particular were devastatingly effective. Iranian technology and assistance and an increasing use of plastic explosives meant that by 2004 there were no American armoured vehicles that were capable of surviving an elaborate IED. They accounted for over 75% of American casualties.[8]

The US military was confounded by the growing insurgency. They had not been sent to fight such an opponent and were not prepared to do so. They were left with too few troops and insufficient equipment to deal with what a well-equipped and experienced enemy with considerable local support. The man assigned to oversee the occupation General George Casey had neither experience in counter-insurgency nor any desire to descend further into the rapidly deteriorating quagmire. He was also unfortunate in that the military and political goals were not necessarily compatible. This issue was also clouded by the fact that the Pentagon and State department were at loggerheads over the correct course of action to take in Iraq. The State department favoured greater autonomy for the new Iraqi institutions and government. The pentagon along with the military argued that without maintaining basic security in Iraq the institutions could not function. This was reflected in the shambolic state of the majority of Iraqi ministries which exerted little to no control outside of the heavily fortified green zone.

The insurgency continued to grow whilst the American military and government bickered internally, unable to decide on a unified approach. There were 2,000 attacks a month by mid-2004 with many military commanders privately stating that the actual number was much higher.[9] However the internal political debate in the Bush white house was soon superseded by events on the ground. The insurgency was rapidly turning into a civil war between Shia and Sunni militias. Following the bombing of the Samarra mosque by Sunni insurgents the patience of the Shia militias snapped. A widespread campaign of ethnic cleansing was launched. 100 to 150 bodies were turning up daily in Baghdad, often tortured and shot in the head.[10]

The Shia dominated government offered political protection to many of the Shia militias. Many of them operated as death squads wearing the uniform of the new Iraqi police and army. This resulted in further Sunni alienation and made the prospect of the institutions gaining any popular legitimacy seem even more remote. This increasingly sectarian atmosphere resulted in Iraqi cities and neighbourhoods becoming increasingly homogenous. Whereas there had often been mixed neighbourhoods, particularly in Baghdad increasingly the sectarian geography was becoming more evident.[11]

A new strategy of counter-insurgency began to be discussed in Washington. A Bi-Partisan Iraqi study group had been formed to study the options available to America. There was a growing pessimism within the American public about the conduct of the war. Even the staunchly pro-military elements within the Republican Party such as Senator John McCain were beginning to question not only the conduct of the war but whether it could be won at all.[12] After eight months of investigation, including numerous trips to Iraq and discussions with the senior commanders in the country they issued a report. It included 79 recommendations to the Bush White House. The core of these proposals was a new diplomatic initiative with Iran and Syria and a drawdown of American combat troops gradually.

Having considered these proposals the Bush government chose to take a drastically different course. Rather than a drawdown of troops it was decided to increase troop levels in a new counter-insurgency effort aimed at pacifying Baghdad.[13] They also chose to replace General Casey with a commander more suited to counter-insurgency. This was to be General David Petraeus. He had commanded the 101st Airborne division in 2004-2005 in Mosul and had achieved a measure of success in keeping the insurgency at a manageable level. He was highly educated, articulate and media savvy. When called upon to replace Casey he was in the middle of writing the new US field manual on counter-insurgency. He had translated David Galula’s classic work Counter insurgency; theory and practice. The ideas espoused by Galula formed the basis for much of his own work.[14]

Petraeus accepted the new post and stressed that a necessary number of troops was required to pacify an insurgency. He estimated that a ratio of 20 counter-insurgents was needed per 1000 Iraqis. The surge would not provide this level of troops nor was the American military equipped to provide it without a draft. Petraeus immediately set about initiating his programme of reform. The idea was to replicate previous counter-insurgency campaigns by the British army in Malaysia, Kenya and elsewhere. It was felt that by combing local forces and non-military groups such as aid and reconstruction then the insurgency could be defeated.

It was felt that these counter insurgency campaigns in Malaysia and Kenya had generally been less violent and more successful. Daniel Branch in his essay Footprints in the sand: British colonial counter-insurgency and the war in Iraq argues that this was a facetious analogy and a gross misrepresentation of the actual nature of the campaigns. He quotes Colonel Chris Short as stating “The British in Malaysia was the best example of a successful counter-insurgency, typified by patience and with the right people doing it”.[15]

This was not a true reflection of the brutality of these conflicts. Nor arguably were these campaigns in the long term a “success”. However the US military held the experience of the British army in counter-insurgency in high esteem. The British were perceived to have a lengthy experience in such matters. In 1961 a British tem comprised of veterans of their Malaysian campaign were sent to Vietnam to assist the American troops in counter-insurgency and jungle warfare. They stayed for four years and helped shape American tactics and indeed policy.[16]

In Iraq much emphasis had also been placed on the lessons learned by the French in Algeria. Using the work of Galula they sought to replicate successful tactics. Much like using the experience of the British in Malaysia and Kenya this was somewhat of an odd choice given that the French experience could hardly be labelled as successful either politically or militarily in a campaign noted for its brutality. However Algeria was an Islamic insurgency and therefore of interest to a Military which now found itself combatting Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The surge itself showed little success in its first year. Violence remained high and increasing in many areas. However internal factors in Iraqi politics began to have somewhat of a stabilizing effect. Increasingly the Iraqis were rejecting the foreign insurgents, in particular Al Qaeda. Their brand of Sunni extremism with its emphasis on attacks against civilians did not endear them to the local population. Shia militias began to co-operate with US forces in hunting down these insurgents and in many cases executed them.[17]

The failure of the Iraqi surge became apparent as violence continued. The tactics of counter-insurgency were shown to be successful within certain contexts. The selective use of historical examples had for instance shown that ignoring the glaring failures of British counter-insurgency in many countries showed that there was no way to achieve a replicable set of counter-insurgency rules which could be applied to any situation.

The Americans faced not one insurgency but war on two fronts. Whilst Iraq had descended into anarchy the war and occupation in Afghanistan became the “forgotten war”. The invasion initially had seemed an easy victory. This was unsurprising given the lack of infrastructure and the fact that the Taliban were more of a tribal militia than a regular army.

The Taliban were an ethnic tribal movement. In Afghanistan loyalty was primarily given to an individual’s tribal ethnicity and the concept of an Afghani nation was somewhat elusive. The Pashtuns were the largest ethnic group with over 17 million members. Their tribal area also crossed the Pakistani border, a fact which would be a headache for the American counter-insurgency effort.[18]

The Taliban had taken power in the 1990s and established a Islamic state with brutal consequences for the people of Afghanistan. The invasion however was conducted with a great deal of co-operation between the American military and the collective of warlords and mercenaries known as the Northern Alliance. These men were long time opponents of the Taliban but had scarce regard for human rights or instituting reform. Rather they set about ethnically cleansing many Pashtu tribal villages in retaliation. Captured Taliban prisoners were tortured and there were mass executions. These events helped turn many Pashtuns against an occupation that they had been sceptical about at best.[19]

18 months after the invasion the American forces began to realize that the Taliban may not have been destroyed but rather driven underground. The first suicide bomber of the war attacked a bus carrying international forces killing 7.[20] This was merely the first noticeable incident in what rapidly became an insurgency which gripped the entire nation. The Taliban found that they were gaining support by providing basic security for everyday Afghanis tired of the lawlessness gripping their country. American troops bogged down in Iraq were unable to fight a war on two fronts and Afghanistan had been downgraded as a priority. The Taliban rapidly secured control of the rural areas, particularly their stronghold in Helmand. Outside of the capital the occupational forces had little real authority.[21]

The Taliban had significant allies within the Pakistani military establishment. Constantly worried about their long running rivalry with India in the region the Pakistani Military saw Afghanistan as being part of their zone of influence.

They supplied the Taliban with weapons, finance and intelligence. Their leaders were provided with safe havens in Pakistani cities where they could raise funds and direct operations against the American forces. The Americans attempted to quell the insurgency. They found that Afghanistan was a country which was not only suited to guerrilla warfare but which had a rich history of engaging occupying armies. The Russians and British had both lost wars in Afghanistan against determined local combatants.

The Russian war held many lessons for the Americans and they attempted to use similar tactics. They developed a heavy reliance on airpower as the Russians had but found that their helicopters were as vulnerable to a resourceful enemy as the Russians had been.[22] They also replicated other tactics from the British including the use of selective assasiantion of enemy leaders. In their war against the IRA in Northern Ireland the British military had funded and aided local loyalist paramilitaries in an attempt to break the back of the insurgency. They had provided them with weapons, intelligence and finance. This use of locally recruited forces to carry out extra judicial murder had resulted in many questions being raised about the extent of collusion.

In Afghanistan there was less scrutiny and Special Forces acted as death squads sent to kill selected targets. Drone strikes violated Pakistani sovereignty regularly further inflaming Pakistanis already resentful of the American presence in Afghanistan.[23] However there was a general acknowledgement amongst NATO that the war was being lost. Leaked intelligence documents showed the Afghani army incapable of winning engagements without significant American support.

As a result it became clear that rather than a counter-insurgency effort an attempt to politically accommodate the insurgents was needed. This approach was particularly advocated by the British government who pointed to the success in Ireland where they had succeeded in bringing the Provisional IRA into a political accommodation which secured British interests in the region. David Miliband publicly called for talks with moderate Taliban elements. Although rebuked initially the Obama regime had admitted that this is likely to be part of any final settlement in the region.[24]

The cases of Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate that the practice of counter-insurgency is not a science. The use of poor historical analogies has not served the US military well. By ignoring the wider social context of the counter-insurgency campaigns in Kenya, Malaysia, Ireland, Algeria and elsewhere they were unable to achieve a proper resolution to each conflict. Whilst these conflicts remain on-going and it is hard to declare definitively how they will end it is clear that in both Iraq and Afghanistan a political settlement will have to include elements of the insurgency in any new government. This is a failure to militarily reach a solution to insurgency. It also brings into question as to whether the popularity of historical analogies in the practice of counter-insurgency is a case of poor use of historical examples or a case of political expediency in a difficult context.

In conclusion it is clear that despite having highly intelligent and resourceful commanders the US military was unable to successfully conclude either conflict using military resources. To the extent that counter-insurgency is reaching a successful resolution which precludes a political solution this represents a failure on their part and a blow to those who espouse the doctrine of counter insurgency as one which can have basic frameworks for success regardless of context.













Branch, Daniel, Footprints in the sand: British colonial counter-insurgency and the war in Iraq, Politics society, June 2010

Burke, Jason, On the road to Kandahar, Penguin books, London, 2007

Cockburn, Patrick, The occupation war and resistance in Iraq, Verso, London, 2006

Cooley, John, Unholy wars, Pluto press, London, 2002

Goodson, Larry, Afghanistan’s endless war, University of Washington press, Washington, 2001

Gray, John, Al-Qaeda and what it means to be modern, faber & faber, London, 2003

Steele, Johnathan, Ghosts of Afghanistan, Portobello books, London, 2011



[1] Cooley, John, Unholy wars, London, 2002, p273

[2] Cockburn, Patrick, The occupation; war and resistance in Iraq, London, 2006, p11

[3] Woodward, Bob, The war within, 2008, London, p261

[4] Cockburn, Patrick, The occupation ; war and resistance in Iraq, London, 2006, p3

[5] Weiner, Tom, Legacy of ashes the history of the CIA, London, 2008, p568

[6] Burke, Jason, On the road to Kandahar, London, 2007, p213

[7] Cockburn, Patrick, The occupation ; war and resistance in Iraq, London, 2006, p71

[8] Burke, Jason, On the road to Kandahar, London, 2007, p214

[9] Woodward, Bob, The war within, London, 2008, p18

[10] Woodward, Bob, The war within, London, 2008, p35

[11] Cockburn, Patrick, The occupation ; war and resistance in Iraq, London, 2006, p71

[12] Woodward, Bob, The war within, London, 2008, p260

[13] Woodward, Bob, The war within, London, 2008, p263

[14] Woodward, Bob, The war within, London, 2008, p293

[15] Branch, Daniel, “Footprints in the sand: British colonial counter-insurgency and the war in Iraq”, politics society, June 2010, p4

[16] Branch, Daniel, “Footprints in the sand: British colonial counter-insurgency and the war in Iraq”, politics society, June 2010, p5

[17] Cockburn, Patrick, The occupation ; war and resistance in Iraq, London, 2006, p180

[18] Goodson, Larry, Afghanistan’s endless war, Washington, 2001, p109

[19] Steele, Jonathan, Ghosts of Afghanistan, London, 2011, p285

[20] Steele, Jonathan, Ghosts of Afghanistan, London, 2011, p283

[21] Burke, Jason, On the road to Kandahar, London, 2007, p58

[22] Steele, Jonathan, Ghosts of Afghanistan, London, 2011, p89

[23] Steele, Jonathan, Ghosts of Afghanistan, London, 2011, p351

[24] Steele, Jonathan, Ghosts of Afghanistan, London, 2011, p332

Garda Special branch, Britain’s lackeys

April 26, 2012

Garda special branch- Britain’s lackeys

“Gombeen men lured down from the mountains of Kerry by the smell of fresh meat” so summarised Brendan Behan the men of Special branch over 50 years ago. Some things have changed since then, they now have the odd female detective and on rare occasions you may even hear a Dublin accent from the men in the mondeos. To Republican activists they are synonymous with harassment and thuggery. I hope to give a brief summary of their history and their role in the Free State’s campaign against the Republican movement.

The actual term “special branch” goes back to the 19th century. The Fenians were enthusiastically dynamiting London in what was perhaps the first organized insurrectionary bombing campaign in Western Europe. Scotland Yard formed a new department, the Special Irish branch. Its role was to disrupt and destroy revolutionary Republicanism both in Britain and Ireland. This role was to be supplemented by the RIC in Ireland. Its detective division based in Dublin castle was compartmentalized alphabetically. G section dealt with Republican activists and their time was spent largely monitoring the IRB, GAA and similar organizations.

Following the Tan war and the establishment of the Free State regime it became clear to the new government that they would require a force to supress those Republicans who refused to accept the sell-out of 1922. A new department of An Garda Siochana was created. Its role was little to do with maintaining the peace. It was given a remit to torture, kill and destroy the Republicans waging a new war against the Free State. The headquarters of this new force was in Oriel house. Many of its members had served in the hit squad formed by Michael Collins. They were poachers turned gamekeepers. William Cosgrave laid down the measures the Free State were prepared to take when he stated in August 1922 “I am not going to hesitate and if the country is to live and we have to exterminate 10,00 Republicans then our 3 million will be larger than this 10,000”. Over 80 Republican POWs were murdered by Free State firing squads during the civil war. 3 young republicans putting up anti-Free state posters in Dublin in 1923 were abducted, tortured and murdered by the new political detectives in Oriel house.

Upon assuming power in the 1930s de Valera wished to bring on board as many of the IRA volunteers as possible. To do so he created a new force of the police to be led by Ned Broy. Employing ex IRA volunteers who now supported Fianna Fail this force rapidly became known as “broy’s harriers”. Using their knowledge of their former comrades they ruthlessly hunted down those who refused to accept the constitutional path. This force which succeeded the initial civil war political detectives is the origins of today’s special branch.

Throughout the decades of the 40s, 50s and 60s Republicans were harassed, interned and executed by the Free State. The information used to supress the Republican movement and its adherents were supplied by the men of Special branch. During the Provisional’s campaign they cooperated with British intelligence to attempt to destroy the IRA. The heavy gang of this period beat confessions from Republican suspects. Their brutal tactics were given full approval from such “intellectuals” as Connor Cruise O’ Brien who remarked approvingly in his autobiography on the savage beatings handed out to young Republicans. IRA volunteers and INLA volunteers were murdered by Special branch officers. This was seldom remarked upon by the media yet whenever Republicans killed one of the pro-British militia such as Gerry McCabe it became a national outrage. Following the ceasefire and surrender of the PIRA the Special Branch continued their campaign against those who resisted British rule. On the 1st May 1998 Volunteer Ronan MacLachlann was murdered by a special branch officer during an IRA operation. He was trapped in a car and had not fired a shot despite having the opportunity to do so. This showed the length to which this force was willing to go to to serve British interests.

Today the Special Branch has an essential counter revolutionary role. Their campaign of harassment and intimidation must not be detached from its over-arching political motivation. They are an integral cog in Britain’s counter-insurgency effort in Ireland. Throughout its history the British government has used locally recruited forces in an attempt to supress those seeking to remove them from their native lands. In Kenya, Malaysia, Oman and elsewhere their local allies have hunted down their fellow countrymen for British wages.  The current Special branch budget is not open to public examination. They cooperate extremely closely with British intelligence and are fed information, funds and equipment from MI5.

The tactics utilized by this reactionary force are well known. House raids, stop and searches, internment, harassment of families, surveillance and threats are all used in their attempt to try and dissuade Republicans. It is essential that Republicans stand in solidarity with those who suffer from this campaign. This force must be highlighted for what it is, a colonial relic no different from those who assisted the Black and Tans as they murdered and intimidated. The fact that the Special branch regularly harasses those who pursue progressive issues such as shell to sea shows that the state will use its thugs to try and crush any who oppose it’s right wing and reactionary politics.

All Republicans and Socialists should record incidents of harassment and intimidation. Standing together in solidarity is the only way to face down those who seek to preserve the rotten systems in the six county and 26 county states. For those who stand on the left who ignore the harassment of Republicans they would do well to ask themselves whether some day it might not be their families that will be targeted by Special branch. For Republicans and especially young Republicans it is vital to stand firm and to refuse to allow yourselves to be turned away from Republicanism by Britain’s lackeys.

Onwards to a Socialist Republic!

No time for talking

February 24, 2012

No time for talking

In the past 12 months or so there has been an emerging clamour amongst some sections of the media and political commentators calling for a dialogue process with Republicans. I use the term Republicans, they have used the term dissident Republicans. This differentiation is not just a case of semantics or bitterness at the label. It is in fact part of the key problem for those putting forward their argument that Republicans should engage in some form of dialogue with Sinn Fein. Put bluntly there is as little reason for engaging in dialogue with Sinn Fein as there would be for talking to Fianna Fail or the SDLP.

The usage of the label Republican does not mean that those who use the label subscribe to Republican principles. Sinn Fein has endorsed constitutional politics and an internal settlement which recognizes the right of the British government to declare the six counties part of their jurisdiction. This position is anathema to Republicanism and runs contrary to our basic principles. As such they have joined a long line of movements which have splintered from Republican ideology for compromise. This is not a Sinn Fein bashing exercise it is merely pointing out that the time for recrimination over the nature of their move away and the personalities involved is over. What debate there was ultimately ended with the provisional movement choosing to abandon Republicanism and to embrace the ideas put forward by constitutional nationalism.

Those who have called for engagements with Republicans have not laid out any coherent political rationale for such talks. To put it bluntly there is no reason to engage in talks other than to pave the way for a ceasefire for an armed group or to enter an internal settlement. At no point have those calling for talks even hinted that the constitutional status of the six counties would be on the table. Nor do Republicans really expect it to be at this stage. It is accepted that relative to the Provisionals in the 90s Republicans are in a weaker state militarily. There is also the reality that there are numerous Republican organisations, there would be little point in one engaging whilst the rest chose to stay away from talks. What could be on offer and what is in reality the objective of the British government would be a drawn out process of bringing armed groups “in from the cold”.

There are many ways that exist to draw a political organisation into the status quo. The most effective and subtle of which is the use of community groups, funding and semi state intermediaries. However most of these are introduced at a later stage. The most pressing objective is to engage the opposition at any level and to then build on that relationship. For those who scoff at such notions it should be blatantly obvious that this was in fact exactly what happened to the Provisional movement. The idea of talks with Sinn Fein is a perfect example because the British government are aware that it is more palatable to talk to former comrades than to a representative of MI5. Yet there is in fact little difference as in both cases the objective remains the same. To end Republican resistance.

The argument will be put forward that of course Republicans are entitled to refuse to recognize the Stormont assembly. Just put down the guns while we talk about it! It is astounding the extent to which Republicans historically have been susceptible to government flattery, it is almost as if we become content merely to be listened to and treated as equals. To allow a repeat of this scenario would not merely be an embarrassment for whatever group chose to pursue it but it would also herald their implosion. Our political position must be coherent and we must also be capable of justifying our stance consistently. Republicans do not recognize the legitimacy of the occupation. Therefore the question of armed resistance will remain inextricably linked to the ending of the occupation.

We do not need to be drawn into a discussion about the intricacies of the conflict when the opposition continue to refuse to acknowledge their role as a protagonist. Likewise those engaged in armed resistance must make it their mission to ensure their actions make political sense. This has never been more important. The inherent contradiction of pursuing criminalization whilst having their proxies attempt to engage Republicans will cause the British a headache also. This point should be stressed, if in fact we are “Neanderthals, criminals, thugs” etc. Then on what basis are they seeking dialogue? Surely if republicans are mere micro groups and havens for sociopaths and undesirables then to suggest a political process is a contradiction.

Republicans do not have an easy few years ahead of us. There is little point glossing over the fact that we remain divided and under pressure. However the strength of the Republican message is that it has a framework to challenge the legitimacy of the institutions imposed upon the people of Ireland. At a moment in time when these state institutions are imposing misery via austerity the Republican message has never been more relevant. Republicans most definitely do need to engage and to initiate a dialogue, but it is neither with the establishment nor their lackeys it is with the working class and our own communities.

Onwards to a Socialist Republic!





Britain in the middle east

February 10, 2012

Britain in the Middle East: disaster and decline

The past ten years have seen the British armed forces involved in a number of Neo-Colonial adventures that have left their reputation and capability in tatters. From Afghanistan to Iraq and the bombing of Libya they have intervened resulting in political and military disasters. This is not merely an indictment of military adventurism but also evidence of Imperialist hubris and an inability to accept their decline in importance on the world stage. It has become clear that the capacity of the British army to intervene in any new conflicts has been greatly reduced. It has also become evident that despite their much vaunted experience in dealing with insurgency they have failed to learn the lessons of their occupation of the six counties.

The British army in Iraq was given the role of occupying the southern region and specifically controlling the Basra region. They entered the city in 2003 and were largely welcomed by the Shia inhabitants who had been oppressed by the Sunni Baathist regime. However they failed to implement any sort of post-invasion strategy. Instead they relied on co-operation with local militias to stabilise the area. The death squads of Moqtada Al Sadr were armed and equipped by the British army to act as a local police force. They instead began to abduct and torture their opponents. The city rapidly descended into chaos with random killings and crime rampant. The British troops were confined to their base and the military leadership cut a deal with the local militias. The captured militiamen were released under the agreement that attacks on the British troops would cease. Needless to say once free the militiamen had somewhat of a change of heart and attacks escalated dramatically. Despite having 7,000 troops in the city the British commander reported that he had only 200 for foot patrols.

The Americans had little time for the tactics of the British army and were disdainful of their supposed expertise in counter-insurgency. Eventually American brigades were to be dispatched to Basra to rescue the British garrison who by 2009 had become effective prisoners in their base which was mortared regularly. Even the exit of the British from the city was conducted with ignominy when their exit route was chosen and protected by the Jesh Al Mahdi militia. A new history of the campaign Losing small wars by Francis Lewidge analyses the Basra campaign as a total failure of tactics, intelligence and planning for the British military.

As they exited from Iraq the British high command hoped to redeem their embarrassing military failure by fighting a more regular campaign in Afghanistan. Lewidge compares their position at this time to that of the Royal navy pre Falklands war. He states that there was a feeling that they had to deploy successfully or risk losing significant troops numbers in the next round of cuts to expenditure. Therefore their plan in Afghanistan was less about the country itself rather than an outright militarism that was reminiscent of the sabre rattling 19th century colonial occupations of the country. However they were to take control of the Helmand province. A fiercely nationalistic region that had been the site of previous defeats for British forces in the past. The locals had not forgotten their history and were disdainful of the new occupation.

Once again the British forces were tactically inept. They demanded the removal of the local warlord who had managed to bring stability to the region. He obliged the request and sent 3,000 of his men to join the Taliban to return the favour. The British then began a policy of destroying poppy fields. These were the only means of survival for much of the local populace. Resistance attacks began to spike and the British army lost dozens of troops to IED attacks which crippled their ability to patrol an area that is twice the size of Wales. The Taliban controlled the countryside and struck at will whilst the British remained confined to base. The Afghani army was busy attempting to rein in the new police who have abducted hundreds of children from villages and raped and murdered them. Once again these police were armed and supplied by NATO who have been desperate to gain allies.

The British have been unable to gain any control over Helmand province. It remains the epicentre of resistance. A leaked NATO assessment last month concluded that the war was effectively turning in favour of the Taliban. It stated that the Taliban was neither low on morale or supplies. It also concluded that the much vaunted new Afghani army was rampant with corruption and was in many cases actively assisting the resistance.

This is the fourth time in 200 years that a British army has occupied Afghanistan. The lessons have evidently not been learned. The occupation of a sovereign state without the consent of the people will inevitably lead to resistance. The torture of prisoners, the murder of civilians and the destruction of much of the infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan has been the legacy of the British army in the past ten years. Yet there was no hesitation within the British government to intervene in the Libyan civil war and to spend 500 million pounds bombing the people of Libya. Whilst Colonel Gadhafi was undoubtedly a cruel dictator under his rule Libyans enjoyed the highest standard of living in Africa. Thanks to British and French intervention the natural resources of Libya have been signed over to foreign companies. The cities of the country are now run by competing militias. Basic supplies of water and electricity remain out of the reach of many. Islamic fundamentalists have held anti-Semitic rallies in Benghazi and hundreds of prisoners have been tortured and murdered. Of course these activities can be brushed over conveniently by the Western media as they focus on the new enemies of Iran and Syria.

Recent media reports have focused on the reduced capabilities of the British army. There has been much speculation as to whether they will be capable of foreign intervention. Yet none of them seem to have grasped that it is the disastrous foreign interventions that have crippled their military physically and morally. They have been given a bloody nose by the resistance forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been made to pay the price for their actions and have been forced to retreat with their tails between their legs. It is not hard to spot the lesson evident in this for those who seek to end the occupation of the six counties. The British may listen to peaceful means but they leave when they are made to pay the price by the resistance.



Commemoration frustration : the battle for history

February 6, 2012

Commemoration frustration- The battle for History

As we find ourselves entering the second decade of the 21st century the inevitable debate about the centenary celebrations of the seminal events of the early 20th century has re-opened. It is rapidly approaching 100 years since the words of the proclamation echoed around the GPO yet what those words meant and mean remains fervently contested. It is not only the Rising that will be an issue of contention in the coming years. The Dublin strike and lockout, the formation of the Irish Volunteers and other events are all being put under the spotlight. Republicans must not allow the reality of what happened in those tumultuous years be lost to revisionism and distortion. The seeds for this have been sown for some time now. In the following piece I hope to outline the history of such revisionism, its relevance and aims today and how Republicans must respond.

What is termed as the revisionist school of Irish history gained prominence in the 1970s and onwards. Its adherents claimed that they were dispelling simplistic nationalist narratives of history. They claimed that such readings of history were responsible for the militant Republicanism that they saw as a cult feeding on myth and romantic ideas of the past. In reality the historians practicing such history allowed themselves to become apologists for the atrocities and suffering inflicted by Imperialism in Ireland over centuries. Britain was presented as a benevolent ruler; the famine became an unfortunate by product of chance rather than an indictment of laissez faire capitalism, the landlord system and an immoral occupation. Those historians such as Cecil Woodham Smith who sought to present a balanced and objective historical view were derided as nationalists or Provo fellow travellers!

Padraig Pearse was subjected to what amounted to a character assassination by Ruth Dudley Edwards in her poorly researched biography. He was painted as a proto fascist bloodthirsty maniac. Selective quotes of his writings were used to try and distort a complex man with a multifaceted ideology into a simpleton who clung to physical force. The Easter rising was open season for the revisionists. Historians such as Roy Foster, Tom Garvin and Peter Hart extended the attack to the IRA during the war for independence and the civil war. Garvin accused the IRA of being fascistic in their refusal to accept the treaty. The executions of Republicans without trial by the Free State were justified by him as being a necessary response to extremists! Peter Hart went a step further and simply invented history. Portraying the Cork Brigade of the IRA as a sectarian murder gang he falsified sources and altered or edited other material to suit his agenda. His work was hailed by the media and “intellectuals” as an immensely important work in dispelling the myths of Republicanism. His research was clinically demolished by the historian Meda Ryan in her excellent biography of Tom Barry. Despite this his work continues to be sold and cited by those who attack the credibility of the IRA during this period.

This trend of attacking those who fought against the occupation was powerful and pervaded the Free State media and academia for decades. By now it is no longer a version of history. It has become the accepted history. This has seen statements and events that would have been seen as ridiculous as recent as thirty years ago. One example that would be comical if it weren’t so tragic is the initiative put forward by a Young Fine Gael member in Donegal to commemorate the creation of the UVF this year. This could be passed off as an over eager blueshirt struggling with a severe case of post-colonial guilt but it shows the extent to which apologists for empire have gained influence in directing the historical narrative. This was blatantly evident during the visit of the queen when it seemed more likely that the Free State government would issue an apology for the temerity of the Irish to resist over the years than it was for her to apologize for the atrocities perpetrated by their government and armed forces. Following the visit the retired Garda association has called for a monument in Glasnevin to commemorate the RIC; this would of course be commemorating all the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries who were killed whilst in Ireland. This is the equivalent essentially of the French erecting a monument to the SS and the Vichy collaborators who assisted the Nazi regime.

Having laid out the background to the current debate I think it would be useful to return to three events that will be commemorated over the next four years and how their historical reality reflects how Republicans should treat their centenary. The first is the anniversary so cherished by the aforementioned young Fine Gael member. The creation of the UVF has been included by the Free State government as a part of a number of events that will be commemorated or officially recognised. Allow us then to address what exactly the historical truth is behind the creation of the UVF. It was founded in 1912 to be used as a tool of political intimidation by Unionists. They were opposing a Home Rule Bill which had been passed by the parliament and which had been delayed numerous times previously by the unelected and undemocratic House of Lords. Now to Republicans this merely exemplifies the limits and ultimate failure of constitutional nationalism. However to those who condemn Republicans and who avow proudly their own constitutional commitment this centenary represents an unpleasant reminder of their own failure.

The UVF was openly supported by high society in England. Rudyard Kipling amongst others happily donated large sums for the purchasing of weapons that were to be used to defy the British government and the legislative process. The British military refused to deploy to challenge them when a rumour was circulated that they would be asked to do so. This Curragh mutiny was supported by the Conservative party then in opposition. Having disparaged for years those who argued that Britain listened to force before anything else the Nationalists had been proved spectacularly wrong. Weapons were openly distributed without interference from either the police or army. When the Irish volunteers landed weapons a year later at Howth the police and army attempted to seize them resulting in the bachelors walk shootings when civilians were murdered. The UVF proudly declared that they would not be held to the rules of the government they swore allegiance to. The limits of constitutional means had been shown for all Irish men and women. Those politicians today who will speak at length about the events of 1912 will not dwell on the uncomfortable reality that it was the British establishment who aided the use of physical force in Irish politics. The founding of the Irish volunteers was a natural reaction yet the volunteers unlike the UVF were treated as dangerous subversives.

The Dublin strike and lockout will also be celebrated in the coming years. No doubt figures in the trade union movement, the Labour party and others will attempt to stake their claim to be the inheritors of Larkin and Connolly. The reality is that they have been complicit in the savagery inflicted upon working class people in Ireland by successive governments. The current unions bear little resemblance to the revolutionary and principled men who refused to bend to the demands of Capitalism in 1913. The leadership of SIPTU and other unions live on high wages and work out cosy deals with the government rather than fighting for their workers’ rights. Larkin and Connolly challenged the establishment and fought to ensure that the right to live with dignity was accorded to their members. They were pitted against William Martin Murphy owner of the Irish Independent, a publication which remains committed to the demonization of the public service! The workers were up against the top tier of Irish capitalism. However the bosses also had the aid of the RIC who battered workers who had the temerity to stand up for their rights. The successors of the RIC in An Garda Siochana have continued this tradition. Their brutal attacks against protestors, students and workers in the past two years have shown their true colours. The function of the police in 1913 remains the same today, to uphold the privilege of the few and their grasp on power.

Republicans should treat the anniversary of the strike and lockout with the same respect and attention as we do the Rising. The sacrifice of workers in 1913, the creation of the Irish Citizens Army and the effect it had on Connolly’s thoughts of revolution were all central factors without which the Rising arguably may not have happened. As our communities, families and work colleagues attempt to fight the onslaught of the cuts we must also look to our own role in the class struggle. 2013 should be a year when Republicans bluntly assess the relationship of the national struggle and the social liberation.

2016 will be a momentous year for Republicans. Let there be no doubt that the anniversary of the Rising will be used by constitutional nationalists and the Free State to attempt to bolster their own legacy and credibility. However it will be a year in which Republicans must not only stake our claim to the past but also present our vision of the future. In the midst of the condemnations and attacks we must rise above it and articulate a blueprint for a New Ireland just as Pearse and Connolly did. And just as they did we must stand in unity with those who genuinely share our aspirations. Republican bickering 100 years on from the sacrifice of 1916 would be a poor testament to the legacy of the men who fought and died.

The message of the Rising was that those willing to fight would be those who forced the issue. Words and rhetoric had not delivered the Republic and they still have not. The conviction of those fighting over 100 years ago was that their efforts may not be sufficient but that they had the capacity to force open new avenues to achieve our goals. There was no equivocation over the morality of the use of force. Nor should we in 2016 bend to those who claim that the right to resist the occupation remains in the past.

Republicans have an opportunity in these next few years to push for our vision of a New Ireland. A Secular, Socialist and free country ridden of the twin evils of Capitalism and Colonialism. The path to victory may not always be immediately evident, but the commitment and sacrifice shown by the brave men and women in those tumultuous years leaves us with a burden of responsibility to carry through on their words and to take a stand for the Republican ideals that they cherished.

Policing problems: The fault line exposed

August 10, 2011

Policing problems : The fault lines exposed

The past few months have not been good ones for the PSNI. One PR disaster after another has followed, each one decreasing public confidence in the force as either an impartial one or even a competent one. However it is no longer republicans voicing their discontent to the silence of those unaffected by the actions of the PSNI. The scale of their errors have now brought the debate about policing back into the mainstream media. This is a welcome development but it must be understood in its context by republicans if we are to capitalize on it. The debate must be framed by republicans and engaged with ideologically.

Post GFA policing remained a major problem for those pushing the normalization process. The provisional movement recognized that trust in the “reformed” service was nowhere near the levels required for it to be effective. They refused to engage with the new policing structures. PSNI, it was declared stood for “Patten Still Not Implemented”. Murals highlighted the widespread view that the PSNI were merely the RUC in new uniforms. There was a rational analysis behind this objection. Aside from the republican standpoint of refusing to be policed by an occupational force the PSNI was and is full of RUC veterans. Given that the reputation of the RUC was atrocious in every nationalist area after 30 years of harassment and state sponsored intimidation it became imperative for a rebrand.

However the Provisional movement was forced by events to speed up its long term plans. St Andrews was to be the death knell of provisional resistance to total acquiescence to British plans. The acceptance of policing was no longer a choice. Adams and co duly delivered albeit losing many activists who went on to form eirigi. Republicans had never enjoyed any honeymoon period with the rebranded RUC and from 1998 onwards had been treated in the same fashion as they had prior to the signing of the agreement. However the provisional movement had been content to label those who opposed the sell out as fringe groups, thugs and criminals. The republican political opposition was not engaged with. A problem now emerged. There were many who supported Sinn Fein but were not so keen on the PSNI. They were willing to give the benefit of the doubt but it was not clear would they hold their tongue.

This dynamic produced a twin track process. Republicans were consistently vilified personally and politically. This was then used as the justification for PSNI harassment against them. The PSNI were also held up as a totally new, shiny, equal opportunity and fun for all the family force. They even hired Catholics and some of them spoke Irish! The retreat into sectarian justification for support of policing was ultimately to backfire. However the death of Ronan Kerr highlighted the approach that Sinn Fein took to policing and politics. The furore over the execution of a police officer became imbued with a sickening sectarian slant. He was described constantly as a “Catholic officer, GAA player, nationalist” as if those terms precluded the fact that he was a serving police officer in an occupational force. In short the arguments brought forward by Sinn Fein and their supporters was that he shouldn’t have been targeted because he “was one of us”. identity politics had reached its zenith!

It is within this context that recent developments have created a major headache for Sinn Fein. The recent cycle of raiding in republicans area, the handling of rioting and the stances of the PSNI towards loyalists have caused a schism within the ranks of nationalists supporting the force. First there was the orchestrated attacks by the UVF on the short strand. The PSNI stood by and allowed loyalists to invade and attack a republican area. Their response to hundreds of masked loyalist rioters was tame and muted. The residents were by no means anti agreement hardliners. They were simply people being attacked by mobs. The condemnations of the PSNI response began to trickle out of Sinn Fein as the anger of their constituents was relayed.

The loyalists were placated and the UVF was thrown a few crumbs from the executive. In the run up to the 12th things became even more blatant. After loyalists rioted over the PSNI removing flags they had illegally erected the PSNI apologized to the loyalists. This enraged even moderate nationalists who pointed to the total disparity in response from the PSNI to loyalists and republicans. However it was not the apology that was most telling. It was the lack of arrests following the rioting. Without fail the PSNI had followed up any rioting from republicans with mass arrests and swamping republican communities with land rovers and police. There was no such response to the loyalists.
In Derry the scale of abuse of residents in the Creggan area resulted in independent community groups holding a meeting to discuss the abuse suffered at the hands of the PSNI. Over 200 residents, community groups and even an SDLP councillor attended. Yet Sinn Fein sent no representative, nor condemned any of the atrocious antics of the PSNI that prompted the meeting to be held. This was because the area was perceived by Sinn Fein to be a “dissident stronghold” . The stance was made clear. When the actions of the PSNI affected Sinn Fein supporters they would be challenged. When they affected republicans still challenging the occupation they would be brushed over.

The PSNI highlighted their biased approach even further when they invaded Ardoyne on the night of the 12th of July. After hours of attacking residents with plastic bullets and water cannons they sent in land rovers and hundreds of their baton wielding thugs. Residents were terrified as the invasion swept through the area attacking anyone suspected of defending their community. In the days following dozens of arrests were made and continue to be made. To date there have been no arrests over the rioting by loyalists in Ballyclare and elsewhere in South Antrim. Pictures were released of the rioters in Ardoyne. No pictures have been released of Loyalists.

Gerry “these dissidents are outsiders” Kelly was forced to condemn the PSNI and their shocking treatment of Ardoyne residents. The complaints were coming thick and fast about the behaviour of the police and no longer could they be brushed aside as the howls of dissenters refusing to move on. Sinn Fein were becoming increasingly exasperated with the openly sectarian displays by their police force. Rather than give the poor shinners a breathing space the PSNI promptly created a fresh headache for the party in Tyrone.

Amid massive publicity the PSNI launched a series of massive raids in Tyrone. Over 200 of their thugs tore apart family homes across the county. All of this was “intelligence led policing”. Martin MacGuinness was tripping over himself to welcome the raids as a response to the execution of Ronan Kerr. Martin really should have learned to choose his words carefully but enthused by the supposed arrest of republicans he had no problem welcoming the arrests and stated “we must support the police in their investigations”. Now unfortunately for Martin the police had arrested nobody remotely linked to militant republicanism. Worse again the local Sinn Fein councillor began condemning the raids. Francie Molloy condemned them also. Martin got the familiar feeling of having firmly shoved his foot in his mouth and started back pedalling furiously. Now the arrests were wrong. Martin didn’t even need to await the police investigation, despite having welcomed it 24 hours earlier he now demanded the release of one of the men arrested. The familiar whiff of hypocrisy emanated from Martin but this time it wasn’t republicans pointing it out. A furious row began between the PSNI and Sinn Fein. Matt Baggot and his minions don’t like being criticized. Neither does Martin or his bearded cheerleader in Leinster house! An impasse has now been reached between Sinn Fein and their police force. Having accepted, endorsed, promoted and cheer leaded them they have had a falling out.

Republicans are no doubt tempted to sit back, laugh and say well we told you so. Now is not the time for that. What these incidents really show is an ideological fault line being exposed within the provisional movement. They may have abandoned republican principles but many of their grassroots supporters have held onto the hope that progress has really been made. Two strands of this trust are the judicial system and the police. The ongoing horrific treatment of the POWs in Maghaberry and the internment of veteran republicans has raised question marks for many of them. The PSNI over the past few months have managed to undo a considerable amount of the work that the Sinn Fein leadership put into presenting them as a impartial force. Sinn Fein cannot withdraw their support for the PSNI, they hold no cards in this dispute and they know it. They are being kept on a tighter and tighter leash. Increasingly the antagonisms between their day to day actions and the aspirations of their traditional support base are being exasperated. It is up to republicans to make our case against policing firmly and more importantly publicly.

Debate and dialogue must be encouraged independently of republican groups. There is an uneasiness amongst many Sinn Fein supporters who are disillusioned with what the GFA has delivered but are wary of being left in the wilderness, rejected by those they have opposed. This is why republicans must organize meetings, debates and events to make our case against British policing. It must be made apparent that the problem with the PSNI is not how many of them carry rosary beads or can kick a decent point but the fact that they wear the uniform of the occupation. We must link the anger that many supporters of the agreement feel about their recent actions to its historical context. They are not impartial, they are not acceptable and they are not welcome in republican communities. We must spread this message and do it quickly!
Beir Bua

The war on terror is a war on truth

July 30, 2011

The recent attacks in Norway laid bare an ongoing political discourse that is steering bigotry into mainstream political life. As news of the atrocity emerged suspicion instantly turned towards an Islamic group being responsible. When the truth emerged that it was in fact a right wing conspiracy theorist you could almost sense a palpable disappointment in security circles. Much was made of the bizarre ideas contained in the manifesto posted by Anders Breivik. Yet his ravings reflect a anti Islamic position that is pervading political life across Europe. This position is not merely traditional anti immigrant rhetoric being revamped. Rather it stems directly from a worldview that became legitimised in the mainstream on September 12th 2001.

In the wake of 9/11 any mature reflection of events would have shown that the perpetrators were a disparate group brought together by an extremist Islamic viewpoint and grievances with the actions of US imperialism in the Middle East. Instead they were presented as being foot soldiers in a global army of jihadists dedicated to the overthrow of civilization. The bush doctrine which can be summarized as the supreme right of the USA to flout international law and sovereignty when it sees fit became standard foreign policy. The bogeyman was to be Osama Bin Laden, a man allegedly in charge of a vast nexus of terror. As Jason Bourke has shown in his excellent study of Al-Qaeda this was pure fiction. The myth of Al Qaeda as an international and well structured terror group was created to facilitate charges being brought against terror suspects in US courts. Under US law if it could be shown that the individuals were part of a conspiracy then convictions did not need substantive evidence. This presentation of Al Qaeda became standard practice.
In reality Al Qaeda was not a well structured coherent organisation. Rather it was one group amongst many vying to strike against Western Imperialism, Israel and other governments or groups that it viewed as responsible for a war on Islam. Bin Laden was certainly no mastermind of attacks. Rather as Bourke has shown his role was that of a financier. Individuals or groups planning their own attacks independently could go to him for financial or material aid. He was in essence a venture capitalist for Islamic groups. This became irrelevant as the military industrial complex saw an opportunity for a new war with no real target or end. The potential for weapons contracts and for increased budgets ensured that all intelligence agencies now had an imperative to maintain this myth of global terror.

However there was also a political and cultural dimension to this new campaign. It began to be presented in stark terms as a war between two ideals. The supposed western ideals of democracy, freedom and rights versus the Islamic fundamentalists backward ideas. This was a gross distortion of reality. It ignored for example the fact that the taliban and Bin Laden’s group were two distinct organisations both in political and cultural origins as well as membership. The taliban were primarily pashtun tribesmen with no interest in pursuing any international agenda who followed a strict local interpretation of Islam. Bin Laden and his followers were for the most part well educated Saudi and Egyptian radicals who had a very different outlook. This initial distortion of reality was used to gloss over the invasion of Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq was supposedly justified by Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. Hussein ran a secular country and was regarded with absolute disdain by Bin Laden and his supporters who had volunteered in 91 to act as a barrier for the Saudi government against Hussein’s expansionism. The introduction of US troops in lieu of supporting this plan led to his estrangement from the Saudi elite and ultimately he left the country.

However he now served an important function as a figurehead both for the American government and for the Islamic extremists who were gaining increasing support in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. It also ensured government’s around the world had an excuse to launch repressive action against their own internal problems. Suddenly Chechnya separatists became a branch of Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah likewise were represented by Israel as fellow travellers of Bin Laden.
Yet the truth soon became apparent. It became clear to anyone following what was developing in Iraq and Afghanistan that the resistance whilst being multi stranded was primarily local forces, or in the case of Afghanistan pashtun recruits from Pakistan. The cultural discourse in the “war on terror” however accelerated. In America the supposedly controversial “ground zero mosque” showed that stupidity and bigotry were fed by the right wing media. The fact that it was neither a mosque nor at ground zero became irrelevant. Rather this was part of a wider war of culture. Those who laughed at this “typical American response” began to look bashful as anti-Muslim legislation found favour in France, Switzerland and elsewhere. In Britain the tabloids rarely went a day without screaming headlines about the Muslim community being a fifth column aiding a terror network. Academics, security experts, journalists and many others fed this narrative. A self perpetuating industry of books, documentaries and opinion pieces all analysed the alleged cross roads for multiculturalism.

To any student of history this all seems awfully familiar. Be it the witch hunts of McCarthyism against communists or the demonising of the Irish community in England in the 1980s the process always bore the same trademarks. A community of suspects quickly becomes a community to demonise, then a community to target. The growth of the EDL and similar groups across Europe might be condemned by the politicians uncomfortable with their uncouth image, but it is the political programs and rhetoric of these same politicians that is feeding into this phenomenon.
The events of the past few days in Norway are the logical culmination of this frenzied debate about a war of cultures. For the likes of Sky news to cover the tragedy as if the perpetrator is a lunatic is to gloss over the fact that his warped ideas are not too far removed from those presented by them on a daily basis. If anything is to be taken from this tragedy it is that the challenge to Islamophobia must take a stance as militant as that presented to fascists and racists. The war on terror is a war on truth and tolerance.

Loyalty misplaced

June 26, 2011

Loyalty misplaced:

Short strand riots and the protestant working class
The disgraceful attacks on the Short Strand during the past week have highlighted the stark divide between the aspirations of the protestant working class and the ambitions of their political representatives. The attacks themselves were part of a cheap attempt by the UVF to abate the impending criminal charges against them through a display of intimidation. However the root problem goes beyond the thugs who orchestrated the sectarian orgy of violence. They stand as an example of a community without political direction, holding firm to an ideology which does not serve their class interests.

Since the signing of the GFA loyalism has been left in something of a quandary. They have no real role to play in this new political arrangement at Stormont. Unionist politicians regarded the UVF and the UDA as a useful bargaining tool during the troubles. They whipped up sectarian tension before distancing themselves from the perpetrators. This led to recriminations within loyalism and the formation of the PUP who attempted to formulate a mixture of populism and loyalism which ultimately imploded under the weight of its own contradictions. This ultimately left both the loyalist working class and the paramilitaries directionless beyond their traditional sectarian grievances. These were exploited whilst they still had use as a bargaining chip but by now have been discarded by the now “respectable” DUP. Within the paramilitaries there has been the usual round of feuding, criminality and power struggles. With each of these struggles comes the need for the new faction to promote itself. This usually means pipe bombs in Catholic schools, attacks on GAA grounds or the removal of immigrants through racist attacks.

Unlike on the Republican side these groups have no logical political explanation for rejecting the GFA. Viewed through a Unionist perspective the GFA has delivered all of the main demands of their ideology. They cannot however offer any explanation to their communities as to why they remain deprived and why they have gained nothing.
The socialist analysis which would allow class consciousness to develop is impeded by the allegiance to an imperialist and reactionary political ideology. This prevents any progressive political movement emerging from the loyalist ghettos because it can only go so far as addressing the immediate needs of the protestant working class before reverting to the bigoted discourse that loyalism has imbued itself with. It suit’s the interest of the mainstream unionist parties to maintain this. This is why we have been treated to the site of Peter Robinson meeting with the leadership of the UVF. No doubt they will have been thrown a few more scraps from the table to keep them quiet.

The reaction of the PSNI/RUC to the riots is also telling. The most revealing element of their action or inaction is that the loyalists were allowed to assemble in the first place. As anyone who has ever witnessed the handling of a republican demonstration can attest to they have no tolerance for letting groups gather outside of their immediate control. Yet over 100 armed and masked men were capable of drilling and gathering before launching their attack. This cannot be explained. If the situation had been reversed and 100 suspected “dissidents” had gathered in balaclavas with baseball bats the TSG teams would have been sent in with machine guns! Likewise the reaction to the riots was qualitatively different to that in Ardoyne. Baton rounds and water cannons were used sparingly, in Ardoyne they were used with abandon. Over 400 baton rounds were fired during the riots in Ardoyne last July. 66 were used during last week’s disturbances. Dozens of arrests were made in the wake of the riots in Ardoyne. So far the only notable arrests made have been of republicans suspected of defending the short strand!

Given the fact that the UVF have been facilitated it is no stretch of the imagination to presume that the PSNI/RUC have been instructed to deal with the loyalist rioters with kids gloves. This will be another attempt to soothe the ruffled feathers of loyalists. However they will not address the serious social problems in working class protestant communities. Neither will unionism, it is within their interests to preserve an underclass that can be used as a tool to attack the republican working class.

The approach republicans must take is to promote the analysis of Connolly at every possible occasion. Any opportunity to engage with the loyalist community must be under the auspices of highlighting the class interests of a unified working class through the removal of imperialism and capitalism in Ireland.

What is also essential to take as a lesson from these past few days is the danger of being pulled once again into a sectarian war with loyalist paramilitaries. To date no armed group has struck at the loyalist groups nor have intimated that it is a route they wish to go down. It is important that all republicans maintain this stance and discourage any activity likely to present them with an excuse for their sectarian agenda. The route to a workers republic is through showing them where their true class interests lie, not through Stormont.