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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Action in the Reaction

(This is a continuation of my first reflections on our European adventure which I entitled Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution, and Renewal).

Ten days in Ireland, staying with people who became friends and visiting monuments and historic sights in Dublin, Galway, Inis Mór Island gave us insight into Irish history and culture. But it was in Belfast that we learned the most about ourselves. Driving and walking through the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods past the murals that staked out turf and honored their martyrs and along the "peace" wall that separated them indicated to us that while there has been a brokered peace, the prejudice remains ready to raise its ugly head much like American racism.

Yesterday at Costco while Bernie was grocery shopping I speed-read Malcolm Gladwell's new  book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He examines the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland as an instance as to how the Big Guys stumble, in this case the British Army "protecting" both Unionists and Republics. Ironically, it was the same mistake the Brits made in their response to the at first unpopular Eastern Rising that led to the independence of the Republic of Ireland.

This has been documented many times before for example in the books on "Blowback" and "Overreach." It illustrates a Saul Alinsky Rule for Radicals: the action is in the reaction. The minority oppressed can usually count on the dominating power to over react. The American Empire, just like the British and all those before, cannot learn this so obvious lesson. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq are instances of the undoing of American power by the little guys.

But the Irish struggle is also illustrative of the cultural complexity of liberation movements. Catholic against Protestant in Ireland has little to do with religious belief systems, but more with a minority restricted in civil rights. Indeed this was recognized by black Baptist civil rights leaders with whom I was working in Chicago when Bernadette Devlin came to town to raise money for the IRA. There was an immediate identification between these black Baptist and the Irish Catholic activists. Ironic since it was in the main Irish Catholics which led the fight and caused the Boston riots against school desegregation. Further irony since it was a Boston Irish Catholic president who had to overcome prejudice against Catholics to get elected who introduced the major civil rights bill for African Americans, but of course a Protestant president from the South who pushed it through.

We got the black cab tour of the "Troubles" from a unionist and we stayed with a person who was a community worker with a Protestant background though he worked across the divisions. We were toured through the Northern Ireland Parliament by a member of a Unionist Party. So while we had sympathized with the Catholics while we were in the US, we saw the struggle from the other side as well.

Reflect on America's civil war where it was the southern slaveholders who wanted to break from the union, the northern abolitionists who wanted to keep it. Think of the Ku Klux Klan who saw themselves as defenders of American principles and the white race against Irish and Eastern European newcomers, papists, and the coloreds. It was astonishing to find that our European hosts were more aware than we and most Americans that the Tea Party movement with the treatment of Obama as a usurper and alien was a continuation of that war for southern succession and of the Klan.

When we look at the murals in Belfast, we are reminded that clanism is very much alive in the world, that it takes the form of urban gangs armed and ready to rumble whenever they feel dissed. Like old feudal Europe with its fiefdoms and castles that are still remnants throughout Europe, modern clanism, racism, religious and ethnic clashes are reminders that our species has yet to evolve towards the ideal that is also signified by our common human nature.

The gospels, Protestant and Catholic, speak of the little ones, the dispossessed, the least of these inheriting the earth. Today in the Washington Post was an article on probably the largest of dinosaurs, the 80 ton Argentinosaurus and how it must have walked and how fast: five miles per hour. Evolutionary anthropologists have speculated that what gave homo advantage over larger carnivores and by which they achieved dominance was the ability to run long and in groups--at 25 miles per hour. The ability to make images gave homo sapiens the way to anticipate and thus to bob and dodge and plan next moves. The naked little David with his slingshot will beat the armor-encumbered Goliath almost any day. The little ones will break through the structures established by the mighty--even of those who were once little ones themselves.

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