realitycheck(dot)ie

Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Must Read Mullen

Rónán Mullen has an interesting piece in the Examiner today, focusing on President McAleese's remarks which seemed to compare Northern Protestants.

It's that last clause which really somes up the problem. Did she or did she not compare the likes of Paisley with the Nazis? Not exactly. As I understand it, she compared the virulent anti semitism which led to the systematic persecution of European Jews in the Third Reich with language used by certain Northern Protestants. Mullen quotes some of this language, published by the Protestant Telegraph, and it does make chilling reading.

But the context in which she made this comparison was the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz and it is easy to see how those remarks could be framed.

Let's get a few things straight. Northern Catholics were treated apallingly in the North of Ireland from the inception of that statelet. All the outrages of the IRA since then cannot disguise that fact. But the fate of European Jewry from 1933 to 1945 is an utterly different league, a different scale.

It has been pointed out that Hitler's aim was to eradicate European Jewry, through both extermination and expulsion, and that he largely succeeded. This is often overlooked.

Pre 1933, there was a large and vibrant Jewish community in Europe. Now there is but a tiny smattering. European Jews contributed much to scientific and intellectual endevour. Their disappearance has been a grave loss to the continent. This is often overlooked.

Anti Semitism, of course, was not a solely German malaise. In fact, most European countries had an element of this bigoted sentiment. Many people in occupied countries, such as Poland, France and Slovakia, were only too willing to help the Nazis in their murder drive.

And the Irish? The pogrom of Jews in Limerick in the early 1900's is known of, as is DeValera's refusal to take in Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. But it is not widely discussed. It too is often overlooked.

President McAleese could have highlighted these issues, which require highlighting. For too long, Europe has allowed Germany to bear the guilt of the demise of Europe's Jewish community on its own. While there is some measure of justice in this, it has meant that other European peoples, including ourselves, have been absolved, and this is not helpful.

Instead of beginning this discussion, however, she chose to make remarks which, however true in themselves, too easily lent themselves to misinterpretation. Context matters. Those remarks would have controversial in any case, but the arena in which she made them was utterly inappropriate.

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