For arrogance and hatred are the wares peddled in the thoroughfares. How but in custom and in ceremony are innocence and beauty born? Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn, and custom for the spreading laurel tree.
–A Prayer For My Daughter, WB Yeats
Interesting to debate with the estimable Malachi O’Doherty on Talkback this afternoon over whether there should have been a pause in the election campaign. He almost won me over with the one line that our pausing is done as if politicians could not be trusted to say or do the right thing.
There’s passable case that they might not. My line of argument, however, was that it’s right for there to be a momentary pause: a silence and some thought given to what victims might need.
I also suggested our own politicians have served our victims very poorly by never taking such a collective pause, ceremonial or otherwise.
In Northern Ireland, perhaps Sinn Fein has been granted relief from the obvious questions around the Provisional IRA’s own murderous bombing campaign in England. But given the way that aspect been normalised in the press I’m not certain it would have come forth anyway.
As Malachi says, casting a depoliticising cordon sanitaire around the obvious questions around terrorism can aid the sitting government, and perhaps our own ex-bomber politicos here. Although, it’s possible to conceive of a government mishandling the situation and losing.
But there is a use in pauses (of short duration). It can provide time for a gathering in of the collective senses and space for national mourning. And it ought to give rise to uncomfortable conversations, giving people a chance to draw parallels with earlier times.
In the Guardian, Louise Nevin joins some of the more obvious dots for victims (probably the most silenced of all the post-Troubles groups) between Monday’s Islamic bomber and those ‘heroes’ of the Armed Struggle….
As terrorist attacks go, this one was relatively minor: there was no structural damage to the building or immediate deaths, but without doubt there was damage to some of those who witnessed it.
In the months ahead I had trouble blocking out the images of what I had seen and struggled to come to terms with the realisation that grownups could panic like children.
When my mother planned trips to London, I was often unable to go, being struck down with mysterious nausea and vomiting. Curiously, no one ever put two and two together and it was years before I realised the cause of this “illness”.
My friend Tanya suffered more: sudden movement or sounds would incite severe anxiety; she later developed claustrophobia, agoraphobia and panic attacks.
She became obsessed with unattended packages, the potential threat of which was on everyone’s mental radar at the time due to the continued IRA bombing campaign. To this day she will only sit in an aisle seat at the cinema or in a theatre.
Tanya was clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Eilis O’Hanlon, goes in close on a dilemma no Sinn Fein politician shows any appetite for confronting, picking up on Michelle O’Neill’s condemnation of the murder of children on Monday, and her recent defence of the IRA men who died attacking Loughgall RUC station…
Just because the men she celebrates did it for a united Ireland, and the Manchester bomber most likely for a worldwide Islamic caliphate under Sharia law, doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
The only difference is there was no 24-hour news back then, and certainly no social media. Atrocities did not unfurl in real time; people at home didn’t see the full horror for themselves. If they had, the IRA may have been shamed into stopping sooner.
Irish republicans would have us believe that their terrorism was different. That their bombs were nicer. They look at the suicide bombers and insist: “We’re not like Themmuns.” Are they sure about that? [Emphasis added]
This, for me, is the advantage of the pause. Just because a politician is not talking does not mean that the electorate are not thinking.
And the ceremonial, like this powerful rendition from Tony Walsh yesterday, is a reminder that we are social creatures dependent on one another.
Not for the first time, it is worth turning to Michael Longley’s profound words from 2003, riffing on Einstein and Yeats…
…the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization. Civilization is custom and manners and ceremony, the things that Yeats says in “A Prayer for My Daughter.”
We have a vocabulary of how to deal with one another and how to behave, a vocabulary of behavior, as well as things to say to one another …and out of that come laws and agreed ways of doing things… [Emphasis added]
Making time for such things does not demean politics. It can and it should deepen them, in a digital environ where we are being rushed on from such moments of social contemplations by the latest false news meme, cat gif or other ‘oh shiny’ distractions.
Moreover, it should give rise to questions about how we have handled our own past. Where was the moment we stopped the screaming imprecations to move on for God’s sake, and genuinely reflect on what was done in the name of Ireland or Ulster?
Or, as Louise puts it…
…to mourn, to make sure everyone has the help they need, but not to let society change in the way terrorists wish it to.