Arafat may be a closer fit

In The Guardian, Martin Kettle argues that, rather than Adams’ preferred analogy with South Africa and, by extension, Nelson Mandela, Gerry Adams’ role is more akin to Yasser ArafatUnable to complete the transition from violent to peaceful politics, dependent on the networks of dishonesty on which his authority rests

AS he points out, the forthcoming elections, north and south, are being seen in some quarters as an ‘existential crisis’ for Sinn Féin –

Much has been said in the past few days about this being an existential crisis for the republican movement. It is, we are told, make your mind up time for Adams and his forces. Do they take the political road, renouncing criminality and violence? Or do they remain where they are today, half inside and half outside the political system, nurturing the creative ambiguities in which they specialise and retaining firm hold on what senior Provisionals apparently just call the tactical use of armed struggle?

In this view of Irish politics, the coming weekend’s Sinn Féin annual conference – the Ard Fheis – could be portrayed as a decisive moment in the organisation’s history. It is tempting to see it as a moment at which republicanism decides between moral force and physical force, to use the distinction favoured by the Chartists. With a British general election looming and two byelections in the Republic next week, the pressure appears to be on. Well, Gerry, which is it to be?

But, as he acknowledges, the constancy of Sinn Féin’s polling figures, for their core support, at around the 9% level in the Republic, and the likelihood of no great surprises in the Westminster and local government elections in the north – despite what some may wish – mean that a more probable outcome is an ‘opinion freeze’ –

This tells us that the “make your mind up time” scenario may be naive. Adams’s standing is down because he has lost support among people who flirt with Sinn Féin. Core support, on the other hand, though modest, is holding up remarkably well. The Ard Fheis may be less critical than Sinn Féin’s critics would like.

It would be nice to think that the exposure of republican duplicity over the last two months would provide a catalyst that would enable Irish opinion, north and south, to spurn Sinn Féin once and for all. Unfortunately, life is not like that. A more probable outcome is that these recent events may freeze opinion roughly where it is today. Large majorities, north and south, will continue to reject Sinn Féin and the IRA. Significant minorities, larger in the north than the south, will go on supporting them.[emphasis mine]

As a result, Kettle suggests, there will be no crossing of the rubicon, no commitment on an end to criminality to the satisfaction of the Irish and British Governments and no political progress.

Meanwhile, the rackets and the robberies, the beatings and the blackmail will continue. Too weak to succeed but too strong to defeat, Sinn Féin may stay locked in its parallel universe well into its second century. Themselves alone.

And, if that is right, then instead of seeing Gerry Adams as Northern Ireland’s Nelson Mandela, it might be more realistic if we drew a less heroic parallel. Unable to complete the transition from violent to peaceful politics, dependent on the networks of dishonesty on which his authority rests, Adams may now be turning into Northern Ireland’s Yasser Arafat.

It’s a comparison that Sinn Féin supporters will, now, probably reject, but the longer the current impasse continues, the more likely that comparison will be seen as being closer to the truth.. and it’s a comparison that suggests another question – Do we now have to wait for the next leadership of Sinn Féin?

  • jimmyquickswipe

    I was thinking more along the lines of Kaiser Sose.

  • spirit-level

    Excellent article!
    And following on from the final point:
    “Can any one tell me what is the mechanism within Sinn Fein for a leadership challenge”
    I am more than curious,
    also me mate Brian Boru
    said e’ fancied the job.

  • Jacko

    Adams should never have been compared to Mandela,
    Nelson meant what he said about peace and stability.

    spirit-level

    Not sure in precise terms how a leadership challenge would work, except the challenger would need to be one brave individual.

  • fair_deal

    I suggest slugger copyright its material. I drew the comparison with Arafat months ago on here.

  • Davros

    One of the best political photo’s I have ever seen – page 123 “walking along the Border by Colm Tóibín.
    Captures the look given by Ruairi O’Brádaigh to the newly victorious Gerry Adams when Adams defeated O’Brádaigh over the issue of taking seats in the Dáil.

  • Circles

    A fairly short-sighted obvious piece which blatantly overlooks the ANC’s own support for Sinn Fein and the friendship between Mandela and Adams.
    Its getting so bad that any journalist can write a piece knocking SF and get praised for it.

  • spirit-level

    Thanks Jacko
    Any ideas where would I find out about their internal rules for leadership challenges?

  • Ringo

    Mandela?

    The man is more Mandleson than Mandela.

  • Davros

    S-L write to Robbie Smyth. He’s very helpful.

  • Davros

    Circles – who did Nelson Mandela publicly thank for their support – Sinn Féin or the British ? 😉

  • Circles

    Davros – and who have sent repeated high profile delegations (including Thao Mbeki) over to work with grass roots Sinn Fein members? (as well as playing host to SF delegations travelling to SA).
    SF could certainly have learnt a lot more from the ANC and implemented it in their work – but then again they didn’t have partners in the process who were as far sighted as De Klerk. (it does take 2 to tango)

  • spirit-level

    Davros
    Couldn’t find robbie smyth’s email
    but hopefully the “an phoblacht” editor will pass it on as rs is a regular contributor
    Cheers

  • Jacko

    Circles
    The South Africans, like many others, were trying to encourage the provisional movement towards purely democratic means – they tried in vain, like all of the others.

    spirit-level
    If Adams’ own coming to power is anything to go by, in true subversive fashion, a coup is the only means.

  • Circles

    That may be so Jacko, but there was / is undeniably a degree of solidarity between the ANC and the Republican Movement from a time before the ceasefires.
    Mandela did not refer to Gerry Adams as Comrade Gerry for nothing.

  • Young Fogey

    Mandela did not refer to Gerry Adams as Comrade Gerry for nothing

    Absolutely – the IRA/ANC connection was as vibrant as the Loyalist/South African Secret Service connection. However, that does not make the role of the Republican Movement in NI remotely comparable to that of the ANC in South Africa.

    Does Mbeki remind one of Gerry Adams these days? You know, graying beard, pipe, intolerance of internal dissent, egomania…

  • SeamusG

    Would John Gotti be a more accurate comparison?

  • James

    “Would John Gotti be a more accurate comparison?”

    No

  • SeamusG

    Okay, well, if we must have a South African paramilitary leader as a comparison for Gerry, what about Eugene Terreblanche?

  • peteb

    SeamusG et al

    The point made at the beginning of the article (go read it if you haven’t) is that the analogy, made by Adams, between N Ireland and South Africa is itself false.

  • barney

    This is just so lazy, you have to wonder if the Guardian editor has any respect for his readers. Surely anybody with an English O Level could grind out a 1,000 word comparison of any politico with any historical/fictional/international figure. I sometimes think our well paid opionators pluck two names from a hat and rattle off these articles before breakfast just for a laugh. How long before we see some thoughtful piece on the similarities between Ian Paisley Snr and John Paul ll? Or Marilyn Monroe with Che Guevara? How about Ian with Marilyn, just for a bit of a challenge.

  • Young Fogey

    How about Ian with Marilyn, just for a bit of a challenge

    Go for it, barney. It will be a laugh if nothing else.

  • spirit-level

    burney
    the question for you is:
    Can your St.Gerry deliver?
    Or are you just distracting from the original
    Adams/Arafat polemic?
    Cos it makes you “jus a lil” hot
    under the collar.
    Jacko
    Let’s get back to this coup biz?
    Just exactly how did “our Gerry” get to where he is i.e leadership?
    and any suggestions where we meet to plan the enterprise 😉

  • Alan McDonald

    Notes for an Op-Ed piece comparing Marilyn Monroe to Ian Paisley

    1. Think “Candle in the Wind.”
    2. Image of Big Ian bent over holding a butane lighter.
    3. Stop the madness.

  • barney

    SL “Or are you just distracting from the original
    Adams/Arafat polemic?”

    Read it again SL, I talked of little else. The (grandly titled) polemic is lazy, obvious, laboured and bollix. I could do a better job comparing MM with Dr No.
    Ian’s remake of some of her best films would make a good start;
    Right Cross – Right Wing Cross
    The Fireball – The Life of Ian
    Lets Make it Legal – Lets Make it Illegal
    River of No Return – Return to Rivers of NO
    Some Like It Hot – Some Like It NOT
    The Misfits – Meet The DUP
    Something’s Got To Give – It Won’t Be Me

  • IJP

    YF hints, correctly, that the comparison is more Adams-MBeki than Adams-Mandela.

    Mandela’s genius lay in the fact that he recognized the response to Afrikaner Nationalism was not African Nationalism, but non-Nationalism. His vision was of a common South Africanism, not dominance of any one group by another.

    That is completely different from SF’s vision of an Ireland in which it and its friends in the IRA are considerably more equal than everyone else.

    Adams should never have been compared to Mandela,
    Nelson meant what he said about peace and stability.

    Well said.

  • Liam

    spirit-level

    “Can any one tell me what is the mechanism within Sinn Fein for a leadership challenge”

    It’s very simple. Every Cumann in the country can nominate any party member for election to the Officer Board of the party and to the Ard Chomhairle.

    The Officer Board and Ard Chomhairle are re-elected at the Ard Fheis every year, every Cumann in the country sends two voting delegates to the Ard Fheis. The new Officer Board and new Ard Chomhairle will be elected this weekend.

    If you’re expecting a leadership heave though then don’t hold your breath. lol

    As much as all of Sinn Féin’s political opponents would like to think that the party is in ‘free-fall’ the reality is that all of the attacks on the party are serving to galvanise the membership in a very real and substantial way.

    Nobody is under any other illusion than that the success of Sinn Féin has provoked these attacks. We know that republicans did not rob the Northern Bank. We know that the killing of Robert McCartney was wrong. But we also know that Sinn Féin is not a ‘criminal conspiracy’ and these attempts to smear every one of us are only serving to deepen the resolve of an already very committed activist base.

    Sinn Féin’s vote will be up in Meath. Sinn Féin will win extra seats in the May elections – and what will our opponents strategy be then?

    We’re still not going away you know! 😉

  • Jacko

    Yes Liam, and we all know as well that those guys who were sentenced last week weren’t on their way to kidnap somebody after flagging down his/her vehicle while dressed in fake garda uniforms.
    And that the Derry knifeman was only acting in self-defence – both times.

    Keep taking the tablets.

    Ball not Man Please Jacko A.U.

  • aquifer

    Revolutionary croneyism and a refusal to negotiate a settlement is much safer than democracy. You get to stay the boss, everybody sends you aid, and the fundis don’t get to stab you in the back as you bend down to sign on the dotted line.

  • Hector

    Posted by: IJP at March 1, 2005 09:46 PM

    Mandela’s genius lay in the fact that he recognized the response to Afrikaner Nationalism was not African Nationalism, but non-Nationalism. His vision was of a common South Africanism, not dominance of any one group by another.

    Non-Racialism is the enduring legacy of the South African Communist Party on the ANC and it predates Nelson Mandela.
    However, the ANC’s response was hardly a “non-nationalism” it was a South African Nationalism as opposed to a Black Nationalism (Pan-African Congress), an Afrikaner Nationalism (National Party), Zulu Nationalism (Inkatha Freedom Party), or a smug pseudo-liberalism espoused by Anglophone whites (Progressive Federal Party). Mandela is a South African nationalist and the ANC was/is a South African nationalist movement.

  • Richard Delevan

    There are some people who look into a future with Adams and see Mugabe rather than Mandela.

  • DessertSpoon

    My Grandfather always said nothing will ever progress here until Paisley goes which was depressing enough but now we have to wait until Adams “leaves” too!!

    As far the Arafat comparisons they can be applied to either of the two extreme leaderships equally.

  • Ringo

    Liam –
    Nobody is under any other illusion than that the success of Sinn Féin has provoked these attacks. We know that republicans did not rob the Northern Bank. We know that the killing of Robert McCartney was wrong. But we also know that Sinn Féin is not a ‘criminal conspiracy’ and these attempts to smear every one of us are only serving to deepen the resolve of an already very committed activist base. We know that republicans did not rob the Northern Bank.

    This is pantomime stuff. The more I hear of this the more it appears the term ‘committed’ applies to the Sinn Fein activisists.

    Nobody (by which you mean the committed activist base is under any other illusion the success of Sinn Féin has provoked these attacks.

    Really. So there isn’t one person in all of Sinn Fein who differs from the party leaderships view. Despite the fact that this isn’t the opinion of the general population. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? Isn’t it really just something you trot out to puff out you chest and ‘stiffen you resolve’ or some other Bushism? A man was slaughtered by IRA men in cold blood, they’re laundering lillions in Cork and they robbed £26m from a bank in Belfast and you don’t think that people have legitimate reasons for pressurising Sinn Fein?

    You KNOW that republicans didn’t rob the bank. (Please, stop saying this sort of thing. We all know it is a lie, and it is getting very tedious). Aside from the fact that this is a broader statement than anything the Sinn Fein leadership has come out with (they merely said it wasn’t the IRA), again, doesn’t it strike you as odd that even though the majority of people north and south think the IRA did it not one person in Sinn Fein thinks differently from the leadership?

    There can only be a couple of reasons for this:
    1) Every member of Sinn Fein knows exactly who did it – thereby ruling out republicans.
    2) Every member of Sinn Fein repeats the view of the leadership, regardless of what they actually think/know.

    As Gerry Kelly can’t stop himself saying when he gets into a bit of a fluster – ‘its crystal clear and you can’t have it both ways’.

    We’re still not going away you know! 😉
    Indeed – you’re going nowhere.

  • IJP

    Hector

    Of course there were others who recognized this before Mandela.

    But I would distinguish ‘common South Africanism’ from ‘South African nationalism’. Nationalism, in most European contexts, is about forming a nation-state around a (n often mythical) ‘shared past’. Mandela wanted to form one around a ‘shared future’, recognizing that the past was utterly divisive and a line had to be drawn under it (while not ignoring its legacy, of course).

    Unfortunately the contemporary ANC most certainly is not loyal to Mandela’s vision. It is an African nationalist organization which seeks to replace the white elite with a (specific) black elite rather than with a democratic elite. That, I fear, will be the end for South Africa just as it was for just about every other African country.

  • beano

    There are some people who look into a future with Adams and see Mugabe rather than Mandela.

    I was reading down and wondering if anyone would suggest our good friend Bob. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me too much.

  • Young Fogey

    That, I fear, will be the end for South Africa just as it was for just about every other African country.

    There are reasons why South Africa doesn’t need to end up like ‘just about every other African country’ (slight exaggeration on your part, I think), notably the vibrancy of its media and civic space.

    Personally I think Mbeki is going mad. Vicious, pre-emptive attacks on Desmond Tutu don’t strike me as being all that clever, even if you can win any external election without batting an eyelid.

  • Peter Nolan

    “…but there was / is undeniably a degree of solidarity between the ANC and the Republican Movement from a time before the ceasefires. Mandela did not refer to Gerry Adams as Comrade Gerry for nothing.”

    That solidarity doesnt’ seem much of a distinction. The ANC embraced and still remain friends with other lovely characters – such as Mugabe, Assad and Gaddafi.

  • Hector

    Posted by: IJP at March 2, 2005 11:14 AM
    But I would distinguish ‘common South Africanism’ from ‘South African nationalism’. Nationalism, in most European contexts, is about forming a nation-state around a (n often mythical) ‘shared past’. Mandela wanted to form one around a ‘shared future’, recognizing that the past was utterly divisive and a line had to be drawn under it (while not ignoring its legacy, of course).

    Unfortunately the contemporary ANC most certainly is not loyal to Mandela’s vision. It is an African nationalist organization which seeks to replace the white elite with a (specific) black elite rather than with a democratic elite. That, I fear, will be the end for South Africa just as it was for just about every other African country.

    —–
    I think you’re confusing ethnic nationalism with a state or civic based nationalism. The ANC, through the influence of the SACP, adopted a non-racialist ideology. However, in so doing they did not exclude themselves from nationalism. What they did was endorse a broader civic or state based nationalism (i.e. a South African Nationalism)rather than a more exclusive ethnic or racially based nationalism.
    This remains the core philosophy of the ANC. There is a growing black business elite because there is a shrinking white business elite. The white business class, which was utterly dominated by anglophone whites and represented liberal white opinion, has largely found itself unable to make the transition to a democratic South Africa.
    Compare with the far more hard-line Afrikaners, who are far less likely to emigrate. South Africa has so far avoided the massive white exodus that occured in any otherAfrican country returned to black rule.
    Lastly business elites are never democratic because economics are not democratic.

  • IJP

    YF

    ‘just about every other African country’ (slight exaggeration on your part, I think),

    Really? Name a functional democracy in Africa and I’ll name you a single-party state, and even those are few and far between. So although I’m prone to deliberate exaggeration on Slugger, in this case it’s not really an exaggeration at all!

    My parents live in South Africa and I visit frequently. The problem is there is no real reason why South Africa shouldn’t go the way of others, albeit more slowly. Vibrant media space can soon be chipped away. One stand-out feature, I think, is infrastructure, which enables fast economic exchange and therefore growth, so that is one hope to cling on to. However, the worrying thing is that it only takes one nutter to wreck it all. The even more worrying thing is that, while agreeing with what you say about him, I don’t even think MBeki’s that nutter!

    Hector

    I think you’re confusing ethnic nationalism with a state or civic based nationalism.

    I’m not confusing them, but you are entirely right to draw attention to that distinction.

    When I referred to ‘elites’, I meant in government, not in business. There is growing evidence that SA is being governed on behalf of its black elite (not all blacks, just those who happen to be in the right political circle), and that everything is being done to keep that specific elite in power. This is slightly better than doing it on purely racist lines, but the effect ultimately is the same.

    South Africa has so far avoided the massive white exodus that occured in any otherAfrican country returned to black rule.

    I’d need stats there before I could agree or disagree with you. But in most cases that exodus was specifically of nationals of the former colonial powers – SA is different as the changeover was not post-independence, therefore you would not expect such an exodus of those associated (or perceived to be specifically protected by) colonial administration. But emmigration rates among whites are significant (census figures on language would indicate this quite clearly).

  • IJP

    emmigration rates

    and so were ’emigration rates’…