Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders

This blog is purely a personal view (somewhat confessional) but I wondered if I was alone in it:

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were utterly appalling. The idea of terrorists attacking innocent defenceless people making a satirical cartoon is dreadful: a gross perversion of any decent religion or ideology. So why is it then that I am annoyed despite myself, not just about the attack, and I condemn it utterly, but also about the international outcry which has followed?

Certainly it is not because I have any support for the attacks. As an evangelical Christian who is comfortable to describe myself as in many ways a fundamentalist I am not happy when people satirise my religion. I also have a certain sympathy for Muslims sticking strictly to their religious positions. At some level I prefer Muslims to be strict about their faith: as someone of faith I prefer people to take their religion very seriously. Furthermore I accept fully that being insulted by cartoons of The Prophet does not mean one wants the insulters murdered. The vast majority of strict Muslims I have met are entirely peaceful and opposed to jihadis. The fact that a leading Muslim in Belfast made bizarre and unpleasant remarks praising IS simply shows that not just homegrown NI spokespersons are capable of daft statements. Overall I tend to George Galloway’s analysis that IS, Al-Qaeda et al. are not really Muslims but a death cult.

I can see that it must be somewhat annoying when the secular irreligious western elites demand of Muslims that they accord to their values. I am highly ambivalent about the banning of the Muslim hijab in France. I dislike the thought that it (the hijab) is used to subjugate women. However, I am also uncomfortable with the suggestion that so concerned are the French about Muslim women being forced to wear the hijab and not being allowed to express themselves freely that they er…. stop them from expressing themselves freely. The aggressive secularism of the French state has also come remarkably close to persecuting evangelical Christians in the past. One gets the impression that in France nominal Catholicism is fine but just about anything else far from acceptable: certainly not acceptable if it results in any public manifestation of faith or criticism of the prevailing culture. That does not in any way justify any violence let alone murder.

Any Franco-phobia, inspired by religion or not is, however, in no way the explanation for my irritation. If someone (God forbid) proposed attacking Michael Palin or John Cleese because of the Life of Brian I would jump to defend their right to produce the film. I dislike a bit (hate is too strong a word) the Life of Brian but would defend to the death their right to make it (if I were in such a hypothetical position I hope I would be brave enough to put that boast into action).

Some of my annoyance about the reaction to this attack is about the way it has been singled out as a cause celebre. It is clearly utterly unacceptable to murder cartoonists for producing images some dislike. However, it is no more unacceptable to murder cartoonists because of a perverted analysis of religion than to murder anyone else for any other reason. In the last few days many more people have been killed by Islamist terrorists in Nigeria than in France. The fact that those innocent Nigerians were not political cartoonists does not make their murders any less awful or wrong. This week also there is no doubt in areas ruled by Islamic State many more people will have been murdered on assorted grounds by the IS fanatics.

Much of my irritation, however, relates to home and the Troubles. Reports of the murders of the past were a constant feature of my and many people here’s childhoods though no one closely connected to me was ever affected.

The deaths of the Troubles never seemed to attract such international outrage and shows of solidarity. Certainly the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre attracted condemnation from the then USSR and Mrs. Thatcher and various others visited. However, that was a bit of an exception. The international media circus did not record Presidents and Prime Ministers coming to offer support during our worst days. The churchgoers of Darkley, the Collie dog owners at La Mon, the sports fans at Sean Graham’s shop or Loughinisland or simply the partygoers at the Dropin Well or drinkers at the Rising Sun never received such international recognition. Yes maybe compassion fatigue was part of the problem but those innocent souls were just as valuable as the journalists in Paris. Furthermore to add insult to injury years later we saw politicians like Mo Mowlam hugging the loyalist thugs and all manner of international statespersons lauding the godfathers of terrorism.

I felt a bit the same after September 11th and the irony of American senator Peter King transitioning from apologist to neo McCarthy-ite opposer of terrorism was as rich as it was nauseating. However, on that occasion so great was the loss of life and so ghastly was the spectacle of that mass murder played out as it was in real time on our television screens that one felt that it was a singularly important event and its victims deserved to be marked internationally.

So personally I am left with a lingering sense of annoyance despite myself. I totally oppose what happened in Paris last week and I want to stand in solidarity with the victims. Yet I am strangely a bit miffed that these victims: mainly articulate European liberals; seem more to be worthy of international empathy and support than so many of their predecessors as victims of murderous extremist thugs inspired by ideologies of hate.


  • Zeno

    I can’t find any evidence of significant armed IRA activity until nearly 6 months after the Provisionals formed.

    From Cain……..

    Saturday 27 June 1970
    Major Gun Battle in Belfast
    There was serious rioting in Belfast involving Protestants and Catholics. During the evening groups of Loyalist rioters began to make incursions into the Catholic Short Strand enclave of east Belfast. Catholics in the area believed that they were going to be burnt out of their homes and claimed that there were no British Army troops on the streets to protect the area. Members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) took up sniping positions in the grounds of St Matthew’s Catholic Church and engaged in a prolonged gun battle with the Loyalists. This was the most significant IRA operation to date. Across Belfast six people were killed of whom five were Protestants shot by the IRA.

    You would think if they had been gearing up for a campaign they would have got off the starting blocks a bit quicker.

  • carl marks

    Right so it was obviously for quite a while what way thing’s were going, according to you the IRA were behind the civil rights movement and planing a campaign but despite all this planning and the obviously deteriorating situation you are claiming that they were taken by surprise and could not mobilise the 1000 strong well armed group and get them to Belfast and Derry in time! doesn’t sound likely.
    Apart from Professor English, who i lost all respect for at the 1000 men bit do you have any other proof, and i am still waiting for your reasoning re, timing how does the fact that unionist violence occurred before Republican violence fit into your theory, that it was themmuns!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    OK then how about Aaron Edwards and Cillian McGrattan’s book (favourably reviewed by Henry Patterson, Thomas Hennessey and Graham Walker) “The Northern Ireland Conflict” (2010, OneWorld, in their Beginners’ Guides series), p22:

    “In fact, the IRA was not run down during the 1960s and recruitment was steadily rising (from 657 volunteers in 1962 to 1039 in 1966).”

    They reject the idea that the Provos were established simply in response to Protestant / British aggression. They point out the burning of Bombay Street “occurred following 2 nights of IRA-inspired rioting against loyalists …”

    And the Fall’s Curfew in June 1970, also cited by Republicans as showing why the IRA was needed, happened in response to a bombing campaign by the Provos, not ahead of it.

    The authors conclude: ” … there is no getting away from the fact that [the IRA]’s existence in Catholic areas contributed enormously to the suffering ordinary individuals endured.”

    And once again: these people are now trying to retell these episodes to cover up their guilt – and appear to have succeeded to some degree. However, as it’s based on evasion and spin, their version is unlikely to last for too much longer, except in the minds of its most blinkered supporters.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Which decades do you want to know about: 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s?

    I’m not an IRA historian myself and just recount here the research done by the experts on this, but your best bet for the detail of their bombings seems to be the 2008 Oppenheimer book:

    Happy reading!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Richard English, “Armed Struggle”
    Also: Edwards & McGrattan, “The Northern Ireland Conflict”

  • carl marks

    firstly i am not trying to cover up anybodys guilt, and i suggest you check your facts indeed you are the one in denial about the unionist contribution to the whole thing, the IRA was a non entity in the mid sixties, the attacks on bombay Street,Ardoyne, the Malvern Street murders and the OV/UVF bombing’s (still waiting for you to give the details of IRA activity pre these events) plus the vicious reaction to the civil rights give birth to the provisional’s but again you chose to ignore this.
    No one here is arguing that the IRA caused a great deal of suffering inside Catholic community’s but you seem to be denying the suffering caused inside catholic communities by the massive discrimination of the unionist state pre 1969 and the violence both the UVF and the B Specials instead your argument is based on numbers in book which dont fit reality.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, MU, for tracking down your sources after a few days. I have neither book on my shelves, so I’ll have to look at them properly at some point in the week, if I’m not snowed in.

    “In fact, the IRA was not run down during the 1960s and recruitment was steadily rising (from 657 volunteers in 1962 to 1039 in 1966).” You have the book, I assume. Is this NI, or all 32 counties? It does not fit with the rather wilted, shrunken, even passé feel of the “only” IRA of 1968 [soon to be the Officials] as noted by anyone who was there.

    Aaron is a lecturer at Sandhurst, as I remember. I’ve read a few of his papers, and I’d respectfully hint that the word “agenda” is hovering in all that I remember. But I’ll have a dekko.

    I seem to remember Dr McGrattan as what might be called one of the professional Peace advisors, a possible coat-tailer on the Kearney Document in the late 1990s, I think. Again, “agenda” seems to be just shimmering there.

    Professor Richard English is a rather bigger gun, MIRA, I think, for one thing but even his friends would not fail to describe him as a “Unionist historian”. If he is clearly no friend of the Unionist hard right (good for him!) he is still inclined to take the British version of events entirely at face value, as I remember. I think that the book of his taht I have has a lot of pencil note corrections, I’ll check tomorrow. I’d like to actually see and evaluate his sources myself (very unlikely!) before I gave any credence to bizarre figures that are so utterly at variance with the experience of anyone actually in Belfast, and politically active, at the time.

    Seriously, MU, I was there, I’m not lying, the IRA really was very much on the wane, and acted in an impotent and confused manner, hardly suggestive of what English describes in his work. As a published historian myself, perhaps my ability to believe anything in print that is so utterly at variance with my own real life experience cuts out at perhaps a far lower tolerence level than yourself. And while I was not everywhere at all times, certainly not anywhere at all close in any way to the IRA in 1968/9, I’d really want to know just why with this well armed sizable body of men available, the [P]IRA campaign did not actually get off the ground for such a long time.

    But I’m not unaware that English has clout, and I can see why you’d take him very seriously, (unlkie the other two) but as with anything written on NI, treating such matter with critical caution, even more so when it’s saying something you would really want it to say, is my own first rule. For a pin to the wallowing bubble of official documentation, I see that there’s a report to the home secretary about the PD in the late 1960s on the internet (at PRONI). Toman, Farrell and McCann are all described as “Trotskyists”, as the source obviously had not encountered the radicalism of the actual 1960s, such as the Frankfort School or Gramchi, so had no terms in which to understand what was really going on. Accordingly I wonder if the special branches of both Ireland and Britian were simply taking Cathal Goulding’s inflated reports of IRA membership at face value! Certainly that’s what it looks like to me. This is how perfectly honest historians come to write misleading history, that gets to be thought of as authorative on the back of their qualifications.

  • Zeno

    “And once again: these people are now trying to retell these episodes to cover up their guilt -”

    MU there is plenty of validated fact if you want to criticise the IRA, but you are completely wrong here. There is plenty of rewriting history, but this is not one of them.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, carl, I think that MUs problem here is that he has a touching faith in anything that an historian with a few qualifications to his name says in print. I’ve aready tried to address this below. I’m reminded, as an historian myself, of Wyndham Lewis’s response to the founder of Italian Fururism, Marinettei. It went along the lines of “We British have had machines fro a century, you Italians are only just starting to modernise. The machine is something new and shiney and wonderful to you….” I wonder to what extent MUs devout faith in the printed word, as against your experience and my experience is a case of something similar? And does this commitment to the primacy of text apply to the work of new school of serious Irish historians questioning the now incresingly passé “revisionist” buzz that the historians he quotes all grew to maturity within?