Stuck in neutral: Ireland's smug America-bashers


It is an issue that is particularly close to the bone for Irish Americans. Of the 3,000 who lost their lives at the World Trade Centre, an estimated 25 per cent have Irish backgrounds. In the case of the fire-fighters, at least 110 of the 343 killed were of Irish ancestry.

Anyone who has spent time with the families of such victims knows the fierce pride they continue to have in their Irish heritage and the cultural and social framework it provides for them. Thus, there is considerable shock and anger in the Irish-American community over Irish criticism of the United States and the war to defeat those who carried out September 11th.

The possibility of an Irish-American backlash over what has been perceived as rabid American bashing in Ireland should not be underestimated. Just one letter to the Irish Voice, from Patricia Farrell of Long Island, gives a flavour of how many Irish Americans feel.

She writes: "What fools we Irish-Americans have been. Why did we keep the tradition alive here all these years? We must have been laughing stocks going to Ireland, sending money . . . My mother-in-law who scrubbed floors at night to support five kids always sent clothes and more home when she needed help herself . . . this has really put an end to anything I will ever have to do with Ireland."

Her bitter comments are not unusual as the full impact of the war hits home and the extraordinary ordeal of those Americans who lost loved ones on September 11th becomes apparent.

At a time when the heroism and bravery of so many Irish-Americans is rightly being remembered in America and across the world, reports of anti-American sentiment have been flooding across the Atlantic from Ireland, ancestral home to the largest number of victims on September 11th.

Published criticisms in Ireland have received widespread distribution here. Comments such as comparing Bush and any Western leader who supports him to "war criminals" are viewed with utter disbelief. It has been clear for some time that American actions, no matter how justified, are opposed by a certain mindset in Ireland which professes a bogus moral superiority when it comes to the use of force.

Many are the same people who justified every brutal crackdown by eastern European regimes under communism in order to protect the old order.

The reflexive anti-Americanism we have witnessed is unable to distinguish between military actions that are clearly correct and flow from a moral prerogative, and those that have no such clear-cut definition. There is a massive difference between the just wars in Afghanistan, and the US air campaign in Serbia to remove Milosevic, and other American actions which are correctly scrutinised and criticised such as in Vietnam and in Central America.

Nobody is arguing that American foreign policy in the past has been blameless in stirring many conflicts around the world. Yet it is barely stated in Ireland, for instance, that the biggest giver of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, even under the Taliban, was the US.

This lack of nuance, and the outright condemnations of American foreign policy sits strangely in a world where the question of whether you support armed actions to protect democracy or violence on behalf of religious fundamentalism has suddenly been placed front and centre.

Many Irish critics are using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American support for Israel as the convenient explanation for what happened on September 11th. Islamic fundamentalism, as vicious as any fascism that Hitler practised, is somehow excused in that context.

The fact that so many Arab countries have no democracy, no rights for women and malevolent dictatorships that harbour murderous Islamic fundamentalists is not as a result of American foreign policy but is of a much deeper historical origin. Yet the Irish critics are unable to acknowledge that because they are blinded by prejudice.

What is particularly insulting is the attempt by some to somehow shape a moral equivalence between the actions of President George Bush and Osama bin Laden, as if one was equal to the other.

To many Americans now, Ireland seems stuck in a time warp, as the questions and dithering about whether it should join an EU peacekeeping force for Afghanistan show.

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are the Hitler and Wehrmacht of this generation, bent on mass destruction, and to pretend otherwise is ridiculous. As Martin Luther King jnr has stated: "It is not where you stand at times of comfort and convenience, but at times of challenge and controversy that is important."

Right now Ireland is marooned in a no-man's-land.

Perhaps that is why Irish attitudes are hard to fathom. A well-connected friend in Ireland seriously suggested last week that the US should have sent in ground troops only because that would have levelled the playing field and not so many Afghan civilians would have been killed.

War by the Marquis of Queensbury rules is a new phenomenon when we are facing the deadliest enemy since Hitler, who, with the speed of lightning would gladly obliterate London, Dublin and any other major city where the infidels live. As the Observer newspaper reported last weekend, bin Laden's lieutenants were ready to carry out a major bombing in London, plans for which had already been drawn up and which would have likely cost thousands of lives.

Are the Irish completely blind to such realities? In fairness, the national day of mourning and the steadfast support of the Irish government have shown the other side of the coin, and thousands of ordinary Irish believe that the US is doing the right thing.

Yet the recent survey by the Eurobarometer agency, which showed 56 per cent in Ireland opposing the use of Irish airports for American supply planes, reinforced American suspicions that the Irish want to remain the hurlers on the ditch of Europe, always ready to criticise, never to act.

What are the Irish waiting for? A nuclear explosion in London or Washington before they even think about acting?

As Dante has stated, the hottest place in hell will be reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of moral crisis. Ireland is in danger of entering that circle of the damned.

Niall O'Dowd is founding publisher of The Irish Voice in New York and is writing a book on the fate of the Irish at the World Trade Centre