February 23, 2014

Mike Nesbitt - The thought police

The DUP and UUP have both rejected the Haass proposals. The theo-unionists DUP have sold out the moderate and capitulated to the mad-men (my post here, 'Stop Appeasing Fanatacism'). Now they want to establish another working group of futility and despair. The UUP have summarily dismissed the Haass document. Full stop.

You can read the DUP response of waffle and wind here. UUP leader Mike Nesbitt gave us a 5 line press release here that tells us nothing. This is intolerable. The moral eunuchs at Stormont owe it to us to transparently and robustly defend their rejection of Haass. However, from the Sunday Politics Show we do know that Mike and his party will have nothing to do with Sinn Fein playing with the term "victim" and rejecting "terrorist."

This is what I want to look at today.
I'm as aghast as the next person that a scabby little murderer could ever hold the title "victim" or that they could ever shirk the title of "terrorist." There's something ghoulish in that. But I'm also keenly aware that Sinn Fein and its voter-base are wedded to that position. As Liam Clarke said, Sinn Fein were never going to yield to the term "terrorist".

So what do we get? We get more of the Castlederg fiasco. Unionists getting themselves into a mindless tizzy, discrediting and making themselves look like a stupid ass. Instead of taking the ball, they tackle the man. By their obduracy they give it to Sinn Fein to stare back with blank-faced indifference. They give it to Sinn Fein to look like the cool, mild-mannered diplomat and statesmen. 

It's childish. It's like a child fighting over a toy. It's self-defeating. Shouting and guldering and profaning is never going to make a man change his mind. 

Even if you passed law or a formal document that prevented, debarred or outlawed former IRA combattants from holding the term "victim" and dropping the title of "terrorist", what have you achieved? Who have you protected? Nothing and nobody. They would still hold that belief and position. They just wouldn't be able to say it in public. That my friend is a thought crime. By banning thought you attempt to do the thinking for people. That would be a rod for unionism's back. 

What should unionists do?

Neither horse-throated hectoring nor debarring Sinn Fein from using the term "victim" or forcing the term "terrorist" will help the debate nor unionism. You don't get a change of ideas by forbidding ideas. Forbidding ideas empowers and encourages those ideas. The way you tackle distasteful views is through open discourse, debate and contention. You get a change of ideas by the frank, open and free exchange of opinions. We all move forward and progress by putting these "offensive" ideas and words into the public square.

Polarisation and partisanship can be good, if done correctly. As Christopher Hitchens said:
"Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity. Conflict may be painful, but the painless solution does not exist in any case and the pursuit of it leads to the painful outcome of mindlessness and pointlessness; the apotheosis of the ostrich."
The instinct and impulse to outlaw distasteful opinions is an obvious one. But it's also an odious one. The writer David Irving was jailed in Austria for his views on the holocaust. Christopher Hitchens defended the holocaust denier and his right to hold and express his own thoughts, he said:
"[If] one person gets up and says: 
“You know, about this Holocaust, I’m not sure it even happened. In fact, I’m pretty certain it didn’t. Indeed, I begin to wonder if the only thing is that the Jews brought a little bit of violence on themselves.”
That person doesn't just have a right to speak, that person’s right to speak must be given extra protection. Because what he has to say must have taken him some effort to come up with, might contain a grain of historical truth, might in any case get people to think about why do they know what they already think they know. How do I know that I know this, except that I’ve always been taught this and never heard anything else?"

That's where we're at. Yes the 2000 Terrorism Act gives a definition of terrorism. But in the case of the UK and US we have unanimity of what a terrorist is. In Northern Ireland we don't have unanimity. That's why we need to move on from the horse-throated hectoring and let these ideas, albeit mad, complete and float around the public square. 

This could be good for unionism. I have a feeling that the average right-minded person at home and abroad would be able to deduce that these men were terrorists, not victims. Without qualification and without equivocation. I suspect that the atrocities would be viewed as hideous and horrendous by a majority of nationalists across the island and that they were war crimes under the Geneva Convention, unpardonable and unforgettable. As Seamus Mallon said:
"I don’t concede republicanism to Sinn Fein or the IRA because they have debased it."
The absurdity of Sinn Fein's position is self-evident. You could say the that holding a mirror up to Sinn Fein would do the trick, not the fulminating. You won't help people to arrive at Mallon's moderate-minded stance by preventing someone from using certain words or ideas. Let the people do the thinking for themselves. Let people process it without interference. A majority would take the Mallon position.

During Castlederg, politicians in the Republic of Ireland showed a revulsion for the commemoration. Can you not take strength from and turn that against your opponent in a tactical sense, as opposed to behaving like a child and waving your arms and wailing?

Tell the story of confident unionism. Tell the story of Sinn Fein bogus re-writing of history. Tell the story that Sinn Fein did not deliver "freedom" as Gerry Kelly told the crowd. Tell the story that Sinn Fein did not fight for civil rights, as they would have us all believe. Tell the story that the idea that there was no alternative for Catholics but to join the IRA is a horrendous fiction. As Tom Kelly said in The Irish News:
 "Gerry kelly recently said young people like him in the early 1970s had no choice but to join the IRA but that is simply not true. Back then as now they had choices. The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 was actually stronger in nationalist terms than either the Good Friday or Saint Andrews Agreement. The vast majority of young nationalists did not join the ranks of the IRA. Had they, the Maze would have been five times the size it is."
And as Newton Emerson said on the matter of the Sinn Fein revisionism and misappropriation of the equality and civil rights narrative:
"During the Troubles the vast majority of the nationalist electorate pointedly rejected IRA violence but since the ceasefires a reassessment of that violence was necessary and warranted by ‘unionist misrule’ has crept into the nationalist mainstream."
As Fintan O'Toole said in The New York Review of Books that the IRA were simply a load of "angry young Catholics."

Why not tackle them on the objective, substantiatable and material facts instead of the highly personal and subjective interpretation of what is and isn't a victim and a terrorist.

The alternative is to allow Nesbitt and obdurate theo-unionism to dictate how others think. Are we going to pass and enshrine injunctions that forbids certain thoughts and ideas? Freedom of speech is also about freedom of thought and about the freedom to entertain opinions no matter how crazy.

However discredited an idea might be, to ban it would be wrong. For how else would you know if you held a correct point? These would be no counter-point or measure against which you would argue. As John Stuart Mill said:
"Even if all were agreed on an essential position it would be essential to give an ear to the one person who did not, lest people forget how to justify their original agreement."
Somehow the hard won Enlightenment principles have skipped and escaped Northern Ireland. The principles laid down by John Locke, Milton, Paine and Stuart Mill that created Anglo-American liberalism have escaped our leaders.
If attacking and legislating against the right of someone to call a terrorist a victim helps your cause, tell me how. Because I don't see how it can. Your cause can be ameliorated by leading your people to where they are to where they should be and by making yourself open to moderate nationalists.

What is wrong with you Mike? You've sold out the moderate for the victim and the extremist. You're sitting there knocking out the same lines and same points that were done years ago. That not leadership. Sitting somewhere between the DUP and TUV is going to secure your destruction. 

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