In 1981, I lived in Dungannon. I did not vote in the Fermanagh-South Tyrone bye-election. It was of course won by Bobby Sands, the IRA Hunger Striker, who would soon die.
The result was a shock, primarily for unionists in the marginal constituency. One…I think it was Ken Maginnis, said that Protestant farmers were stunned that Catholic neighbours …mutual helpers at harvest time or during bad winters…..had actually voted for a member of the IRA in a head to head with a unionist candidate.
Now I am clearly NOT saying that every vote for Bobby Sands was a vote for the IRA. It was a highly charged and emotional time. But it did change the narrative. British Army spokesmen used to appear on TV News to claim that they had the backing of 99% of the Catholics in West Belfast, South Armagh and Derry and Fermanagh. Clearly they were not telling the truth. Clearly unionists believed this.
It is not so much a lie as refusing to understand just how much Irish Nationalists…..and now Scottish Nationalists….dont want to be British. Blood is thicker than water.
I think this is a question that Britain is now asking about the Muslim Community. Just like Fermanagh, “English” people live alongside Muslim neighbours. On any visit to London, it is obvious from the demeanour and appearance of some young Asian men that they have an “angry young man” attitude. And of course its wrong to judge by appearances. Looking out at London from the top of a double decker bus, it is tempting to profile the people walking along the street.
Equally it is wrong to judge the appearance and demeanour of young Muslim women….schoolgirls even ….chattering about Justin Bieber on a bus. People like “us”.
We have already had Jihadi John. We have already had three teenage girls leaving East London for Syria. And we have had schoolteachers and families assure us that they were/are normal kids. I am sure this is true. We have a precedent…in Norn Iron.
Turn the clock back to the early 1970s. I was 17 years old when the Troubles broke out. One of the things that the Media picked up on, was that a number of the young people who died planting a bomb or in court on membership of IRA or possession of arms charges were young men and women “from good families”. They were people…children in the 1960s passing into grammar schools and unlikely to end up in prison or an early grave.
Its deja vu in England. Jihadi John (Mohamed Emwazi) was….we are told….a “normal teen”. He played football and went to university. He did become known to the Security Services, who either tried to persaude him away from the life he was choosing, or made a clumsy attempt to recruit him. Likewise….we are told that three Muslim teens who have gone off to Syria for ISIL are “normal”. The TV appearances of their families confirm the “good family” narrative. A bereft father clutching a Teddy Bear in the colours of Chelsea Football Club, will have resonated with many viewers.
House of Commons committees are often interesting. Still regarded as a new dimension to the (British) Constitution, they can at best exercise a degree of independence from Government. Occasionally spoiled by pompous chairs like Keith Vaz MP (Labour) or grandstanding for the cameras by lesser committee members, it is good to see bankers, journalists, civil servants called before them to testify.
I am not sure that it works well for ordinary civilians to be in the hot seats. Even if Keith Vaz is trying to treat them with kid gloves. So the appearance of a father (with poor English), an articulate sister and an articulate female cousin of the three teens before the Home Affairs Committee yesterday…was uncomfortable. Understandably, they had a lawyer present.
So “why did three young females from your family leave your home to join ISIL in Syria?” It was supposed to be a sensitive hearing but somehow the basic question seemed loaded. Clearly someone is “at fault” here and it cant be anyone in the House of Commons.
The family profess they had no clue as to the intentions of the girls and no clue as to how they financed the trip. Ordinary “normal” girls. The Committee seemed to struggle to demonise them or the families while at the same time expressing a degree of sympathy. One girl apparently likes “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and presumably if ISIL have a subscription to SKY TV. she is happy.
No clues? Well a girl from the same school had already made the trip. And the London police had already visited the school and had already talked to girls. The police had handed letters to girls at the school to bring home to their families. These families never saw the letters. One of the three girls was following a lot of “terrorists” on Twitter. The family had no clue. I dont think they can be blamed for that. The lawyer points out that he has been representing the parents. He advised the Police Family Laiason Officer, who promptly phoned a family to say “Dont listen to your lawyer”, while the lawyer was in the room. Of course, as we know from any fictional police drama on TV, the laiason officer is there to observe the family as much as help them.
Well what about the Police? The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and his Deputy give evidence. The children had already left the country when reported missing. The Turkish authorities are helpful.
Did the “letter” handed out at the girls school actually act as a trigger for the girls to leave home? It seems a reasonable point that the parents of the children at the school be contacted directly. It seems wrong-headed to only tell the Head Teacher (in confidence) that the original missing girl was known to be with ISIL.
The Police of course made the point that there are only three hundred Muslim officers in the Metropolitan Police. A tacit acknowledgement tha this is a community the police just dont understand. No doubt a disproportionate amount of that human resource is used in counter-terrorism, rather than community policing. Echoes here of Norn Iron, where a disproportionate percentage of the small number of Catholics in the old, discredited RUC was directed at fighting “terrorism” rather than understanding a community.
Profiling? A surprisingly large number of children fly unaccompanied from Gatwick and Heathrow. Should three brown-skinned girls travelling to Turkey be treated differently from three white-skinned girls travelling to Switzerland? Again there are precedents. The #9, #11, #12, #13 #79 buses going into Belfast City Centre were more often boarded than a bus from Bangor, Carrickfergus and Lisburn. The passengers from West Belfast were more likely to be questioned and baggage searched than any traveller from East Belfast.
The London Police say that the girls financed the trip to Turkey by selling family jewels. The families later denied this. And this and the mistakes made by the police….already siezed on by “The Daily Mail” as unwarranted criticism of the police.
There is not one Muslim Community in Britain. It might appear that there is two…..a community which seems unable to fully integrate into something called “British Society” (whatever that is). There seems to be a second community, integrated and westernised. Yet, there is a contradiction….on one hand, Britain boasts it is a homogenous society. On another hand, it boasts of its multi-cultural success.
Actually….it is somewhere in between. Few are TOTALLY integrated into British Society. Few are TOTALLY hostile. There are all kinds of fault lines….generation, gender, class, education, social, location.
Britain has a self-image of coping with this. It seems unsatisfactory to celebrate multi-cultural success and for whatever reason, chooses to ignore aspects which are not compatible with an enlightened way of life….sharia law, forced marriage, banking, genital mutilation.
Really its the gap between these two positions that is the problem.