Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Rhythm of Time

The Rhythm of Time

As the leaves fall and October turns to November we are treated to the now fairly boring storm in a tea cup over who does and doesn’t wear a poppy. James McClean, the West Brom footballer and a son of Derry is trotted out annually to be castigated by the right wing media and the more moronic elements on social media because of his perfectly understandable and legitimate choice not to wear a poppy on his shirt. Any middle aged person from Derry could recite a litany of abuses the nationalist population endured there during the troubles from the uniformed representatives of the British state. From internment without trial, the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ which left over 1000 injured and ‘Operation Motorman’ when the army mobilised thousands of troops to end the ‘no go’ zones in nationalist areas, the use of force by the military was often lethal. Most people will know about the slaughter of Bloody Sunday when the Parachute Regiment killed 14 and seriously injured 15 other Derry citizens. Most were hit by gunfire although at least 2 of the injured were run over by army armoured personnel carriers. Any reasonable person would understand why James McClean would baulk at the idea of wearing a poppy to commemorate that same army which did such things to his people.

That is not to say that the British military were the only offenders during the sad years of the troubles as the Para-militaries bear their share of responsibility too as do the politicians but James McClean is perfectly entitled to make his choice and no one has a right to castigate him for it.

Attempts to enforce conformity onto the peoples of the UK have been ramped up in recent years and anyone who finds the jingoism and sheer poor taste of many of the events around newly invented ‘armed forces day’ troubling, is in danger of being labelled as ‘unpatriotic.’  It is hardly likely to inspire confidence in the military among those of an Irish extraction to watch the annual circus at Ibrox stadium when military personnel abseil from stands, some join in sectarian songs and others are photographed with loyalist paraphernalia. The British Army represents ALL the people of the British state; that is all creeds, colours and political hues. Senior officers should ensure they are seen to be acting in such a manner.

On a similar note I went to the Glasgow Film Theatre to see Brendan Byrne’s movie ‘Bobby Sands; 66 Days.’ The film charted Sands life from his family being intimidated into leaving Rathcoole on the outskirts of Belfast through to his political awakening and eventual decision to join the IRA. One biographical piece gives a flavour of the times when it speaks of his alienation with the northern state…

‘He left school in 1969 at age 15, and enrolled in Newtownabbey Technical College, beginning an apprenticeship as a coach builder at Alexander's Coach Works in 1970. He worked there for less than a year, enduring constant harassment from his Protestant co-workers, which according to several co-workers he ignored completely, as he wished to learn a meaningful trade. He was eventually confronted after leaving his shift in January 1971 by a number of his colleagues wearing the armbands of the local Ulster loyalist tartan gang. He was held at gunpoint and told that Alexander's was off-limits to "Fenian scum" and to never come back if he valued his life. This event, by Sands' own admission, proved to be the point at which he decided that militancy was the only solution.’

I leave people to judge his subsequent actions for themselves as one’s perspectives are shaped by many things. Sands was a man of his times and who among us can say how we’d react to the pressures and myriad forces which were tearing the north of Ireland apart in those days? I’m sure men and women on both sides of the conflict would claim their actions as being in defence of their people and that in a sense was the crux of the problem. Some within the two communities in the north of Ireland often see themselves as two distinct peoples. The vagaries of history have led to this situation and perhaps ironically the violence of those troubled years reinforced this attitude and made the unity Sands and his colleague’s sought harder to create?

 What was interesting though was the power Sands’ life and death still hold today. There was spontaneous applause in the cinema at one point in the movie and that is rare indeed. There were also some folk around me clearly becoming emotional as the movie reached its sad and inevitable climax. The full house at the GFT demonstrated that there is still an appetite for such films and that the life and death of Bobby Sands remains an emotive issue for some.

 The nations which share these islands on the north-west coast of Europe never have been and probably never will be a homogenous mass. We are all products of our history and need to learn the lessons it teaches and not repeat the same mistakes which led us to conflict in the past. Respect for each other and the opinions and views we hold is the starting point for relationships between individuals or indeed between peoples.  There can be no forced conformity, people must be free to exercise their conscience as they see fit. Far from resolving conflicts, pressuring people to conform to modes of behaviour usually leads to more problems.

We’ll know we’ve grown up and matured on these islands when an individual isn’t singled out in the media and online for merely exercising the right beholden to all free men; to follow his conscience.

James McClean has every right to follow his own mind and all decent people should support him in this. He may well recall the words written by a countryman of his long before he was born.

There’s an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend?
It has withstood the blows of a million years,
And will do so to the end.

It lights the dark of this prison cell,
It thunders forth its might,
It is ‘the undauntable thought’, my friend,
That thought that says… ‘I’m right!’

                                                           (From the Rhythm of Time by Bobby Sands)