Tag: ireland

Nein! The EU is not the Fourth Reich!

Why would anyone even suggest such a thing?

THE [Irish] GOVERNMENT has complained to the European Commission over the release in Germany of a document disclosing confidential details about new taxes to be introduced in Ireland over the next two years. In a deeply embarrassing development the document – identifying austerity measures of €3.8 billion in next month’s budget and €3.5 billion in budget 2013 – was made public after being shown to the finance committee of the German Bundestag yesterday. The document, seen by The Irish Times , confirms the Government plans to raise VAT by 2 percentage points to 23 per cent, which would generate €670 million. Next month’s budget would also contain a €100 a year household charge, yielding €160 million, it says.

I find this particularly interesting, given that I spent last Monday at a conference entitled “The Decline of the European Empire.” In my presentation, I argued that it doesn’t make a ton of sense to talk about the EU as an “empire,” except — and this is a pretty important except — when governments in the periphery are reduced to subalterns implementing policies preferred by Europe’s polycentric (albeit German-inflected) core. Via Henry Farrell.

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Stereotypes and suspicion: Nicer words won’t change anything

A new report was released yesterday, ‘Suspect Communities’, comparing how UK media and government have framed Irish and Muslim communities since the 1970s. The authors find that the ideas underpinning counter-terrorism measures and the way politicians, policymakers and the media discuss who might be responsible for bombings have not changed over four decades. The key finding is that ambiguity surrounding who is an ‘extremist’ or a ‘terrorist’ has led to hostile responses in everyday life – at work, in shops, on the street  – from members of the public who think they are under threat from Irish-sounding or Muslim-looking people whom they associate with that threat. Hence, the report implies that government and media language is impacting on the everyday lives of communities judged suspect and everyone else who must live with them. In a debate in Parliament yesterday, the solution put forward by many was greater sensitivity of language by elites and more dialogue between the stigmatized, the elites, and the majority society.


While useful, the debate needs to go further. The crux with such reports is their method. This research team first analysed thousands of media texts and government documents, and found these to consistently frame these communities as suspect (and as communities, not individuals). They then did focus groups with members of those suspect communities to hear about living under suspicion. What the team did not do is try to explain why journalists or policymakers would consistently produce stigmatizing material. The consistency of the stigmatization suggests its nothing to do with any individuals, but a function of the institutional practices and professional imperatives of the fields of journalism and security policy. Most journalists don’t want to be racist. They think that by allowing a ‘moderate’ and ‘militant’ Muslim to debate they are providing balance – journalists don’t usually understand that they are reducing threatening and non-threatening minorities to equivalents in the eye of the non-Muslim audience. And policymakers know full well that homogenizing a community to tell it to ‘stop harbouring terrorists’ is not going to please everyone, but they really don’t want another bomb going off and will try any means to stop it. These are the pressures they face, and criticizing their language choices isn’t going to remove those pressures. So, if we are to move towards societies in which entire groups are not routinely lumped together as dangerous and disloyal, we need to begin to unravel these institutional and professional logics. A truly critical project would address these power relations and daily trade-offs instead of simply decrying the consequences.


This is an important topic. The Suspect Communities report supports a longstanding research finding (UK hereUS here) that those who feel stigmatized tend either to retreat from public spaces (‘keep your head down’, ‘keep your mouth shut’) or become angry and try to resist slurs by turning them on their heads (reclaiming ‘queer’ in the 1970s, jihadi chic in the 2000s). Either way, the result is fear and alienation, which reduces trust on all ‘sides’ and makes reconciling interests and grievances through democratic institutions much more difficult.

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Riverdance your way through through the Irish Bailout in two minutes: Taiwan animation style!

From NMA – those who brought you the Tiger Woods Video, and the USA-China Currency Crisis Rap Battle video comes the Ireland Bailout video (which I can’t make fit in the frame! Edit: Fixed!)

As an IR blogger with an interest in econ, you might be interested in this animated take on Ireland’s current state of financial distress. I can’t vouch that a leprechaun really charged into Biffo’s office as he was taking in a Guiness, but we tried our hardest to condense the situation in less than two minutes.

Please watch it if only for the signs the protesters are holding at the end.

Despite the email, I don’t pride myself on a knowledge of economic issues. (My bank account can attest to this. Pension-shmention, I want shoes!) However, as this is the internet, I will add my uninformed £0.02.

While I can’t resist the Riverdancing corporate investors, I think the video may end up too pessimistically. Ireland is in a lot of trouble to be sure, but one has the sense now that at least all of the dirt is on the table. This is unlike Greece, for example, where nobody seems to actually know what’s going on or where the problems actually end. (Michael Lewis’ take on this in Vanity Fair is amazing.) One can believe (or hope) that there won’t be many more nasty surprises.

So while I’m not trying to downplay the setback that this bailout represents, I remain slightly optimistic in that I believe that there is now at least a foundation from where Ireland can make a comeback (albeit at a tough price.) It has a well educated and entrepreneurial population. It seems willing to do whatever it takes. And it has certainly seen worse than this.

As for me, I’m just going to keep compiling these videos until I have enough to use them to replace my first year lectures.

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Watching Hunger

I finally took the time (and found the courage) to watch Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” (2008). It is the story of the events that led to the 1981 Irish hunger strike at Maze Prison in which Bobby Sands and nine other men died. The film is hauntingly beautiful from an aesthetic standpoint and horrifying intellectually. There are very few films which actually merit the adjective “powerful,” this is one of them.

(I am still processing this film in my mind, but I thought I would share a few thoughts in case others have seen it and thought it through…)

Critics will undoubtedly take issue with the film for its failure to contextualize the crimes (and therefore the punishment) of the IRA “terrorists,” but the film is not a history of the “Troubles” per se. Even if one absolutely condemns the violence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the film forces the viewer to confront the relationship between the state and the body.

There are brutal scenes in which the bodies of the condemned appear Christ like after they have been abused by the prison guards. The state itself appears bodily in the mode of discipline, and the various trials of strength, dignity, and will inflicted upon the prisoners in spirals of barbarism inside the prison. Outside the prison, the bodies of the state are the target of ruthless assassinations by the IRA. The state also appears dis-embodied as the merciless voice of Margaret Thatcher:

“Faced with the failure of their discredited cause, the men of violence have chosen in recent months to play what may well be their last card. They have turned their violence against themselves through the prison hunger strike to death. They seek to work on the most basic of human emotions — pity — as a means of creating tension and stoking the fires of bitterness and hatred.”

The aim is obviously preemptive propaganda, but Thatcher’s rhetoric is fascinating. Hunger, the weapon of the weakest of the weak, is described as a continuation of terrorist violence. The slow, silent, lonely, and intensely painful drama of suicide through starvation is characterized as a mere sleight of hand, a cheap trick designed to stoke hatred by eliciting pity. While Sands and his colleagues did undoubtedly seek to elicit pity and revive the republican cause, their protest was more than a mere final trick.

From the vantage point of the film, the disembodied voice of Thatcher sounds un-human, desperate, and powerless to all but the most gullible and close-minded. It is clear that the hunger strike returns the state to a Foucauldian situation in which it must risk a trial of strength in public with the body of the condemned.

As an American, one cannot help but think of and note the contrasts with the treatment of detainees in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Baghram, Kandahar, Diego Garcia, etc. There is no doubt that the treatment of prisoners held in these some of these facilities (e.g. Abu Ghraib) was as de-humanizing as the treatment inflicted on the Irish in Maze Prison. In Mullah Zaeef’s recent memoir, My Life with the Taliban, he writes bitterly of his experience in Guantanamo Bay:

“We were not given toilet paper or water to clean ourselves after using the toilet; only our hands could be used, but could not be washed afterwards. This is how those who claim to defend human rights made us live,” (Zaeef 2010, 196).

From what I understand the UK abandoned the practice of force feeding in 1917 after it led to the death of an Irish prisoner, Tom Ashe.  The US government, however, still seeks to deny prisoners that it labels as terrorists the right to play even this “last card.” Some of the hunger strikers in American facilities like Guantanamo were reportedly force fed and prevented from vomiting nutrients. Mullah Zaeef’s recounts that eventually the doctor-in-charge at Guantanamo refused to continue force feeding the prisoners during the 2005-06 hunger strike.

One has to wonder what the practice of force feeding says about the US and its understanding of the body of the suspected terrorist. One could argue that the act of force feeding a mentally sound, political prisoner foreshadows a totalitarian impulse which we as Americans would prefer to associate with other regime types.  Even the publicly released images of those prisoners in orange jumpsuits, kneeling in stress positions with heads covered and ears muffled, conjures a body completely turned over to the power of the state.  The prisoner is in a limbo where they cannot be human and have absolutely no rights.  That we as Americans tolerated such tyrannical behavior from our own government perhaps speaks to the autistic hysteria under which we have lived for nearly a decade.  Either that or it speaks to the utter indifference we hold for those who are merely accused of being enemies of the state.

Language and Humanity

In the docu-drama “The Road to Guantanamo” (2006), there is an odd scene where an American prison guard (in real life his name is Brandon Neeley) asks one of the Tipton Three to rap for him. The guard becomes uncomfortable when he realizes that these kids being held in Guantanamo not only speak English but are products of an Americanized global culture. It is as if the body of the prisoner comes to have a soul, at least in the eyes of one guard for one brief moment. (Although it is not depicted in the film, the guard resigned from the US military in 2005. He has contributed to the Guantanamo Testimonial Project and has apologized to Shafiq Rasul for the treatment that was inflicted on him. The apology has been accepted).

If a common language can create a minimal sense of shared humanity even amongst sworn enemies, then it is stunning to realize what the Britons did to the Irish in Maze prison. In “Hunger,” the prisoners use Gaelic to organize their resistance, although not all of the prisoners speak the “national” language. And while all of the prisoners understand and speak English, there is almost no dialog between the prisoners and their keepers.

Perhaps the point of the film is that language itself dies as the body is subject to increasing pain.  And it is the death of language that permits such depravity.

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