16 January 2009

The Never Ending Tale

I've actually been compiling a list of topics I want to write about, and it's now spilled over into two pages, so where, you're very justified in asking, are the results of this putative burst of energy on my part?

Well, let's be honest: I parked myself in front of the computer for much of the day, foregoing most of the other things I'd planned, fully intending to at last do some serious writing. And what happened? As is all too often the case, I allowed myself to be distracted by a lengthy - and almost certainly pointless - message board argument.

It's not that I think there's anything inherently wrong about message boards - in fact, I quite like some of them, most notably the oft-mentioned PPMB - or that useful information can't be discussed or exchanged on them. It's just that there are certain topics - the best Screeching Weasel record, for example, or the "true meaning" of punk - that while generating a great deal of heat, invective, and hyperbolic abuse - are never going to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

As the erudite Patrick Smith puts it, "It gets pretty tiring listening to two sides argue with each claiming to be 100% right and the other completely wrong. And the Israel/Palestinian conflict is pretty bad too." He was referring, of course, to what happens when two vortices of intractability meet and become one: a message board argument about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

No, I wasn't foolish enough to become fully immersed in that one, despite feeling the need to throw in a few random comments, but when one of the pro forma Israel bashers turned out to be my old buddy - well, no, I've never actually met him in real life, but we've been arguing across the ether for years - from the Irish Republican Army, who, since they shared a common interest in bomb throwing and centuries-old grudges, has often found common cause with the Palestinian intifada.

He was actually being quite reasonable at first, urging a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine could live side-by-side in peace, at which point I couldn't resist asking him why, if a two-state solution was good enough for the Palestinians, he and his IRA comrades were so violently opposed to a similar approach in Ireland.

I know, red flag to a bull and all that, but hey, I'm only human, and if you've got a lot of time and patience, you can check out the ensuing merriment right here. I won't reiterate all my arguments in this space, but will mention that I'm the offspring of a mother of English ancestry and a father who, while only half-Irish, chose to ignore any blood lines that didn't lead back to Limerick and Tipperary.

So while my mother would get up early to listen to the Queen's Christmas Day message, Dad would inveigh about "the bloody English" at every opportunity (you can imagine his reaction to my choosing to live in that accursed country). He donated money to the IRA, sang rebel songs, would not hear of the Irish ever having done a bad thing or the English a good one, and raised me the same way.

It was after having some disturbingly close encounters with IRA bombs, one in Derry and one on the train line that I regularly used in London, that I began to look more closely at the IRA party line I'd previously accepted as dogma and wonder if there mightn't possible be more than one side to this story. If nothing else, I was quite fond of frequenting pubs and the IRA seemed equally fond of placing bombs in them.

One of my best friends in London was an Irish emigré and an unabashed IRA supporter. He was the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate man you'd ever want to meet until and unless you questioned the morality or efficacy of anything the IRA had ever done, at which point a telltale vein would start throbbing in his forehead and you'd be best advised to vacate the vicinity. At the same time I met other Irishmen, including one whose uncle had been kneecapped and crippled for life by IRA gunmen, who were just as virulently opposed to the IRA and all it stood for.

Eventually, and following several trips to Ireland when the British Army was still in occupation mode, I concluded that very possibly everybody involved was wrong, but that above all the IRA was, despite its having some laudable goals, was fundamentally a terrorist organization and fit neither to govern a country nor to speak for its people.

Nevertheless, I gratefully accepted the cease-fire and tentative peace accords, as did, I think most people, British and Irish. With any luck, the current lull in hostilities will continue until the bitter old men of the IRA and UDA have faded away and a new generation will have stopped placing such all-fired bloody importance on national boundaries and ancient vendettas. Most young Irish people I've met have little or no interest in "the struggle." If only I could have followed their example and kept my mouth shut today, think how much more I myself might have accomplished.

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