I was happy to have a chance to adress the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Irish Parliament. I spoke about the crushing of the Syrian revolution and the Russian and Iranian occupation of Syria. You can read my address below.
Before me, the committee was addressed by a delegation of the Syrian regime, headed by the state Mufti, Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun. Hassoun has previously threatened Europe and America with an army of suicide bombers, and has specifically called for the civilians of liberated Aleppo to be bombed. It’s incredible that such a man can get a visa to a European country (unlike millions of desperate Syrians who are not terrorists), let alone address a parliament. Hassoun was also invited to Trinity College, and (most ironic of all) to sign some declaration ‘against extremism’.
Some argue that Hassoun should be heard in the interests of balance and free speech. I say that all Syrian perspectives should be heard, and that I would have no problem with a delegation of pro-Assad civilians making their case. My problem is with this official regime propaganda exercise, at a time when the regime and its backers are slaughtering and expelling civilians en masse. And of course the people who talk about balance and free speech in this case don’t apply the principle in all cases. I don’t see official representatives of ISIS being invited to make their case in these settings. And ISIS, monstrous as it is, has killed, raped, and tortured far, far fewer people than the Assad regime.
Liberated Aleppo is falling. The suburbs of Damascus are falling, or have already fallen, and been cleansed of their recalcitrant population. The families of foreign militiamen are moving in. Silence is returning to a devastated and demographically-changed Syria. This presentation is therefore more a lament for the defeated Syrian revolution, and for our failure to help it, than a policy recommendation. Continue reading “Addressing the Oireachtas (Me and Hassoun)”
Entries have already been pouring in to the ‘rewrite a U2 song’ competition in honour of the group’s Irish tax-exile status, as described here on Counterpunch by Eamonn McCann. ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ has been recast as ‘Where the Cheats Have No Shame’, ‘Angel of Harlem’ as ‘Arrangement in Holland’ — and those are just the entries from my house.
But CounterPunchers are rarely less than fair, so we just had to read more when we saw this news intro on page-one of today’s Irish Times: “U2 singer Bono says he was ‘stung’ and ‘hurt’ by criticism of the band moving part of its business to the Netherlands to lessen its tax burden.”
Oh, Bono, dear Bono. Is that a tear I see in your eye, behind the wraparound shades? No, maybe not. As the interview with Bono in the newspaper demonstrates yet again, this is indeed a man entirely without shame. And also not too well endowed in the smarts department. His main excuse — all the other corporate entities were doing it — is a childish abdication of moral responsibility. And as another excuse he adds, “I can’t speak up without betraying my relationship with the band” — i.e. maybe this wasn’t really my idea but I’ve got to stick with my greedy pals. Well, that’s just low.
The most eye-catching placard on a 120,000-strong march in Dublin last Saturday against the Irish government’s austerity response to the tottering of the capitalist system was held aloft by a scrawny teenager with the look of a music-lover about him, reading “Make Bono Pay Tax.”
The march, organised by the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, was protesting against measures including a pay freeze plus a one percent wage levy on all public sector workers, education cut-backs which will mean, for example, the closure of special needs classes in primary schools, and much else along the same screw-the-workers, neo-liberal lines.
The cut-backs and attacks on public sector workers come against the background of a banking scandal which, proportionately, dwarfs the crimes of the bankster class in the US. Rummaging through the rubble of Anglo Irish Bank which collapsed at the end of 2008 and was nationalized in January, investigators discovered that the bank’s founder and boss Sean Fitzpatrick was secretly in hock to his own bank to the tune of €87 million, which he had shifted into Irish Life and Permanent on the day before the annual audit and shifted back again the day afterwards. Fitzpatrick—“Seanie” to both Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowan and his predecessor Bertie Ahern—had performed this manoeuvre with sums of around €80 million every year for the past seven years.
US President Barack Obama’s appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as his new Middle East envoy is a good choice. Mitchell showed even-handedness uncharacteristic of US officials when he led a fact-finding mission to the region in 2000.
Had its recommendations been followed — cessation of all violence and a full freeze of Israeli settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land — the peace process might have made progress. Mitchell, who is already in the Middle East, helped broker the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the key to ending decades of strife in Northern Ireland. Because of historical similarities, that peace agreement is an important precedent for Palestinians and Israeli Jews.