Editorial from Church & State, Autumn 2004 (Number 78)
Religion And Political Conflict
The British Prime Minister recently announced the repeal of the Peace of Westphalia. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) brought an end to the wars of religion in Europe. Central Europe, consisting of a loose confederation of states known as "The Empire", became an oasis of religious freedom, and much of the basic culture of the modern world developed there in the course of the next couple of centuries.
The implication of repudiating the Peace of Westphalia is a revival of religious conflict in the political sphere. And there has certainly been a revival of religious conflict in the public affairs of the Irish Republic, inspired by a movement whose purpose is to re-Anglicise Ireland. A former Taoiseach, John Bruton, has now associated himself with that movement. And it held a one-day Conference entitled Re-Forming Ireland at the Mansion House on September 18th, in which the British Ambassador played a very prominent part.
The ending of the Cold War without a war left the victors without a powerful enemy against whom to direct their ideological energy. They have therefore been looking for other objects on which to expend it. A considerable amount of British energy has been expended on an attempt to re- Anglicise Ireland.
The chief instrument of the re-Anglicisation campaign is, of course, the Irish Times. (Documentary evidence placed on the public record in England under the 30 years rule leaves no possible doubt that it was then conducted in consultation with the British Government, and the British orientation evident in the paper is now much stronger than it was then.) And the Church Of Ireland Gazette has recently lent itself to the endeavour.
The campaign has both contemporary and historical objects. Its contemporary object focusses on the broadcasting of the Angelus Bell on Radio Eireann twice a day. This is presented as evidence that the Republic is a sectarian state which oppresses Protestants. And the Angelus Bell itself is presented as an intolerable form of oppression of Protestants.
Other forms of oppression encountered by Protestants in the current of ordinary life are less easy to specify. The literature of the campaign suggests that the oppression verges on totalitarian proportions, but it tends to disappear as on tries to grasp what it is. The most definite thing is the active presence of hurling much of the country and the presence of Gaelic football over all of it.
It is true that the presence of the GAA is almost inescapable at the time of the provincial finals and the All-Ireland finals— the All-Irelands being played for the Sam Maguire Cup, Sam Maguire being a West Cork Protestant. But the state is hardly responsible for that. The GAA was there before the state, and its popularity has not been diminished by the discouragement offered by recent Governments. Mary Harney might want us to globalise and change to soccer or baseball, overcoming our parochial pleasures, but the effect of her disapproval has been, in anything, counter-productive. The GAA remains the only nationwide framework of genuinely voluntary activity on a mass scale.
The other definite form of oppression of Protestants by the Republic listed in the campaign literature of the re-Anglicisation movement is the Catholic Church. But the presence of the Catholic Church is merely residual, and as a residue it is certainly not greater than that of the Church of England in English public life. And, when it was excessive, thirty years ago, and this journal challenged it, we cannot recall that we got any support from those who are making a great issue of its residual influence now that its dominance has been ended. We do not recall that Bruce Arnold then campaigned against the substance as he now campaigns against the shadow.
But the greater part of the oppression of Protestants by the Republic, as it is represented in the literature of the Reform Movement, consists of the fact that the 26 Counties no longer forms part of the United Kingdom state and that the symbols of British sovereignty are missing from it. Protestants are oppressed by the absence of the Crown and its entourage, the absence of public tributes to the British Empire, and the absence of public celebrations of British military glory on November 11. (When Remembrance Day was reinvigorated under Margaret Thatcher's Prime Ministership, the British Legion issued the clarification that it celebrated all British military actions since 1914, of which there were then eighty-five. It is a blanket sanctification. There are no exemptions of any military actions as being unworthy. The action of 1919-21 against the independence mandate of the Irish 1918 Election is therefore included. When Remembrance Day was launched, the British Army was engaged in suppressing three popular national movements: in Ireland, Iraq and India. The Poppy in an Irish context can therefore only be taken as symbolising the Black- and-Tan war, in which the British Regular Army was the core of the British war effort.)
The Reform Movement presented itself as secularist in the first instance, and therefore focussed on the broadcasting of the Angelus Bell—the Angelus prayer is not broadcast—as the only definite event in the ordinary public life of the state which could be represented as religious, or sectarian. But it soon became apparent that stopping the Angelus Bell would give it very little satisfaction, and that its purpose was re-Anglicising Irish public life as much as possible, and discouraging events in Irish civil society which were at variance with English norms. When it described something as sectarian, it did not mean that it was not secularist, but that it was not British.
The Angelus Bell is broadcast in Ireland twice a day. It is likely that somebody not indoctrinated in the matter would simply take it to be a bell marking mid-day and 6 pm. We are not ourselves indoctrinated in the matter and we cannot say whether it is also struck at midnight and 6 am.
If one goes beyond the bell to discover what the service would be if it was broadcast one finds that the prayer commemorates the seminal event in the emergence of Christianity—the event which leads to the virgin birth of Jesus. An angel announces to Mary, a virgin, that God has made her pregnant, and she accepts that message.
We are not theologically well-informed, but we gather from Handel's Messiah that the virgin birth of Jesus is a central doctrine, or dogma, of the Anglican Church of Ireland as well as of the Catholic Church: "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son" is one of the lyrics. We cannot say how widely the dogma extends amongst other Protestant tendencies. Presbyterian Belfast thirty-five years ago used to make a point of not treating Christmas Day as a holy day, but as far as we know it still regarded Jesus as the son of God rather than the son of Joseph. At any rate, the supposed event commemorated by the Angelus is not exclusively Catholic.
Compare this with what is signified by the sectarian jingle broadcast all over the world by the British state many times every day. Lilibullero is the signature tune of the BBC World Service. The words more usually sung to it in Ireland seem to be those of The Protestant Boys. But, whatever set of words one cares to put to it, the meaning is the same: Papists lie down.
Lilibullero, a song ridiculing the Catholic Irish peasantry, is the song of the English Protestant revolution of 1688. It signifies the establishment of Protestant Ascendancy, both in England and Ireland. In England that accorded more or less with what might be called the general will. In Ireland it was directly contrary to the general will. It led immediately to the brutal Williamite conquest, and the conquest established a public system of religious oppression, the Penal Laws, which remained on the Statute Book for a century and a quarter. The forms of social dominance established by means of the Penal Laws remained in force for generations after their formal repeal, some of them lasting well into the 20th century.
The Lilibullero revolution was not enacted against a Catholic state. England ceased to be a Catholic state about a century and a third before 1688, and it secured itself against Catholic power in Europe a century before 1688.
The Protestant Revolution of 1688 was a reaction against the religious freedom introduced in 1685 by James II. When James (who was a Catholic) inherited the Crown, he introduced general freedom of religion. Protestant England found the thought of religious freedom intolerably oppressive. It could only have peace of mind under positive Protestant dominance explicitly enforced by the State. The leading gentry of England therefore engineered a coup d'etat by a Dutch prince. William himself was not particularly bigotted. His chief interest was making war on France. The bargain was that he would become King of England and use it as a base of operations against France while the gentry restored Protestant religious dominance and oppression in his name.
The chief consequences of the 1688 coup d'etat were the Penal Laws against religious freedom, and the English balance-of-power wars in Europe, which continued into the 20th century. Religious intolerance was restored by means of an Act which was called the Act of Toleration. It introduced a measure of toleration which applied to most Protestant tendencies for the purpose of uniting against Catholics.
The major economic reform introduced by the new regime applied to the slave trade. Under the old regime slave trading was only permitted under licence from the Government, and there was a degree of state supervision over conditions in the slave ships. In the 1690s the trade was thrown open to free enterprise and supervision was removed. In conditions of freedom it underwent phenomenal expansion. England quickly became the major slave-trading power in the world, and the more conscientious Protestants, the Nonconformists, who were tolerated in England but excluded from political office, were particularly active in it. (Amazing Grace was written by a slave trader.) And, as well as trading in slaves on an unprecedented scale, Glorious Revolution Britain established industrial slave-labour camps on Caribbean islands for the production of sugar and other vital necessities for cultured living in England.
"Freedom, religion and law" is a line in one of the songs celebrating the Glorious Revolution that one hears on July 12. All three are conceived as forms of Protestant Ascendancy. And, underlying the system of Protestant Ascendancy for a century and a half as the source of its prosperity was a gigantic system of slavery in the Caribbean supplemented by plunder in India.
If we must celebrate the Glorious Revolution of 1688 with an annual public holiday so that citizens whose orientation is British might feel at home, let us at least be clear about the kind of greatness we will be celebrating: masterful religious dominance, permanent war, and slavery.
A development towards democracy began in England in the early 19th century. The Parliamentary franchise was extended to the middle classes in 1832. It was not until 1918 that a majority of the adult population was admitted to the franchise. And a generaldemocratic franchise only came about ten years later.
In the propaganda of the re- Anglicising movement it is suggested that democracy was either introduced in 1688, or at least had its source in 1688. In historical fact modern democracy has its source in the French Revolution. And English democracy is French in inspiration.
The 1688 system is an oligarchical form of aristocracy. In the 1790s the influence of the French Revolution threatened to subvert the system. Edmund Burke preached a crusade against France for the purpose of curbing French influence on the English populace. In 1793 England launched a 22-year war on France in the name of Legitimacy. Its purpose was to restore the legitimacy of the pre-democratic system. But, in the course of that long war, England itself was infected by the evil against which it was fighting. The aristocracy won its war, but degraded itself in the effort of winning it. William Cobbett, who had been an admirer of the Glorious Revolution aristocracy at the start of the war on French democracy, saw at the end of it that the aristocracy was reduced to a shadow of its old self, and he became a Parliamentary reformer.
If we are to replace the Angelus Bell with Lilibullero let us at least not pretend that this is a change in the direction of democracy.
The other wing of the re- Anglicisation process involves the reconstruction of the War of Independence which followed the 1918 Election into a religious war—a Catholic war on Protestants and Protestantism. It is represented as both a religious war and a racial war by Peter Hart who describes it as genocidal in a book about the war of Independence in County Cork issued by the most prestigious English publishing company, the Clarendon Press at Oxford.
These terms have acquired a rather precise usage in English public life. Islamophobia is not covered by the laws against incitement to race hatred but Anti-Semitism is. This is because Judaism is held to be an exclusively racial religion, while Islam is a religion without racial connotations. (A hundred years ago writers such as G.K. Chesterton were characterised as anti-Semitic because they refused to regard Judaism as a religion—or as only a religion—and insisted as describing at as a form or racial or national culture. Ernest Bevin, taking it that Anti- Semitism consisted of attributing racial or national characteristics to Judaism when it was simply a religion, spent a lifetime combating Anti-Semitism in the English Trade Union movement. He became British Foreign Secretary in 1945 and refused to authorise the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. His refusal was also partly based on the fact that Jews, despite the massive Jewish immigration under the British mandate, were still not a majority of the population. But he also held that it would not be right in the middle of the twentieth century to form a Church or a religion into a state. He acted on the earlier understanding of Anti-Semitism. But Zionism had risen to dominance within Judaism in the meantime and had established what was previously held to be the anti-Semitic view as the right- thinking view. Chesterton had been right after all—and he pointed this out. But Bevin, the lifelong enemy of Anti- Semitism, was branded an Anti-Semite because he denied Judaism its rights as a racial or national religion.)
The matter is now quite clear in English law. Judaism is covered by race- relations laws because the Zionist view that it is a racial or national religion is officially accepted, and Islam is not covered because it isn't.
Genocide is a racial or national concept. Even if the characterisation of the War of Independence as a religious war by the Clarendon Press was right, and even if its claim that Protestants were killed because they were Protestants was accepted, the concept of genocide would still only apply if Protestantism were not a general religion but an exclusive racial culture.
There are certainly indications that some Protestants in Ireland saw themselves as a kind of master race. There were plentiful indications of that mentality during the time of the Protestant Ascendancy, but it persisted long afterwards, and in the most unexpected places. There is, for example, Hubert Butler's Election Address in the Kilkenny local election of 1955 in which he asserted the superiority of Protestant "blood" in political and social affairs. And more recently the Secretary of the Reform Movement asserted that there is a thing called "the Protestant blood pool" which, even if it is not held to be superior to the blood of others, is at least held to be different.
It might be argued that Butler was a healthy influence on Irish public life at a time when the influence of the Catholic Hierarchy was excessive and that we should excuse his occasional use of racist concepts. We must reply that his 1955 Election Address was not dredged up by us. It was re-published by a tendency which gave us no support when we were confronting the reality of excess Church power in the state. The book in which it is re-published was praised to the skies by a representative of the Irish Times at the Butler Celebration in Kilkenny Castle a couple of years ago. And the distinguished Protestant academics, who we had supposed to be hard-thinking liberal intellectuals, were simply bewildered when asked about this use of race concepts by a writer whom they had been praising as a master of the exact use of words and as a fearless anti-fascist at a time when, they suggested, the Irish in general were teetering on the verge of fascism. And yet they had a blind spot which covered his use, in an election document, of a concept which was not merely fascist but Nazi.
It would seem that the feelings of superiority associated with the Butler cult lend themselves easily to racial attitudes—so easily that it happens without disturbing the intellect.
Trinity College historian, Professor David Fitzpatrick,
has now trained three or four generations of students under his control
to find that the War of Independence was actually a religious war. They
are not encouraged to investigate it and find out what it was, bearing in
mind the possibility that it might have had features connected with religion.
They are instructed to find evidence that it was a
religious war—a "sectarian" war.
The scope of Professor Fitzpatrick's vision is strictly provincial. It sees Ireland as a British province animated by religious bigotry amidst the remnants of historically obsolete feuds. In this blinkered vision the British State is not seen at all, and the other military actions in which it was involved during the Black and Tan War are treated as though they happened on another planet.
In 1916 British influence procured the proclamation of a Jihad in the Middle East. It made a deal with a local ruler in Mecca who owed allegiance to the Ottoman Government whereby he preached a Jihad against the Ottoman State in return for a promise that, in the event of the destruction of the Ottoman State, Britain would recognise him as the leader of an independent Arabia. He issued the Jihad, the Ottoman State was destroyed, and Britain then made war on the Arabs to prevent the emergence of an independent Arabia. It fought its first war against Arabs in Mesopotamia during the Black and Tan war.
There was no significant nationalist resistance in the Middle East to the Ottoman State in 1914. A great variety of peoples and religions lived at ease with one another there under Ottoman rule. Britain, which expressed highminded moral indignation when Roger Casement broke his allegiance to the Crown, persuaded Sharif Hussain in Mecca to break his allegiance to the Sultan, and through him it worked up a Jihad against the Turks which was racial as well as religious.
Charles James O'Donnell, a member of a well-known Donegal family, went into the service of the British Empire in India in the 1870s. Thirty years later he resigned in protest against the new Imperial policy of playing on Muslim/Hindu differences. He said it would lead to Partition amidst great religious rancour. It did. And the religious war through which Partition was enacted cost a million lives.
But the actions of Britain as the major state in the world, and the way it played on religious animosities when it saw advantage in doing so, are invisible to the re-Anglicisers of Ireland, for whom the natural status of Ireland is to be a quiescent, uncritical British province.
Major C.J.C. Street was the senior British propagandist in Dublin Castle during the Black and Tan War. He was also an active propagandist for British policy in Eastern Europe. When looking at Ireland he could see no sense whatever in its nationalism. It should be happy under good British rule with a modicum of self-government within the Empire. But when he looked at Eastern Europe he saw the tolerant Hapsburg Empire as a great apparatus of oppression which was destroying the souls of the people. In Bohemia, for example, under Hapsburg rule a Czech University was established in Prague alongside the German one, and there was a layer of self-government of a kind that could not be established in Ireland under British rule. The possibility of having a Gaelic University in Ireland under British rule was never broached because it was certain that the State would not entertain it. But the position of Czech in Bohemia with relation to German was somewhat like that of Irish in Ireland with relation to English in the mid-19th century. And yet Major Street describes the education system in Bohemia under the Hapsburgs in terms that put one in mind of Pearse's description of the educational system in Ireland under British rule as a "murder machine". The idea that the British system in Ireland was designed to destroy the national soul he saw, of course, as patently absurd.
Britain sold its Great War in Ireland as a war for the universal establishment of democracy and the rights of small nations During the war Major Street published two books for the purpose of keeping the ruling elements in Britain in mind of what the war was really about, so that its true purpose should not be lost in the propaganda. He said it was a necessary war to determine who was to be top dog in the world. (See With The Guns and The Making Of A Gunner. Extracts will be found with a reprint of Street's The Administration Of Ireland, 1920. Athol Books 2001.)
When he came to Ireland for the Black and Tan War he treated the war propaganda as being of no account in the British sphere once it had helped Britain to win the war. But, when he turned his mind to Eastern Europe the rights of nations suddenly became sacred to him.
Some time later he wrote a biography of Lord Reading (Rufus Isaacs), who was judge at the trial of Casement and went on to be Viceroy of India. The Indians, misled by the war propaganda, thought they had national rights. Major Street explained:
"The principle of Self-Determination requires a few words of consideration… The Allies… had during the war found themselves faced with the necessity of conciliating large blocks of peoples who either formed a minority in some existing state or were subject to the domination of an alien Power. The simplest way in which to secure the support of these peoples was to promise them either independence or a measure of self- government in accordance with the demands of their most advanced advocates. The doctrine of Self- Determination was proclaimed, no new doctrine in itself, but as now proclaimed dangerous both to those who govern and those who are governed from its utter lack of qualification.
"Self-Determination is in itself a natural sequel to the proper realization of the rights of nations, and to the careful and painstaking education of all nations in the art of government. It must necessarily follow from the advance of civilisation that a highly cultured people, unjustly retained beneath the yoke of a foreign dominion, will, when the time is ripe, achieve release. In some cases the time had become ripe during the years preceding the war, which merely provided the opportunity for an inevitable reaction. The Austrian Empire is a case in point…
"But these idealists were by no means content to rest upon such a prosaic note. The war had been won, and a new era of perpetual peace had been inaugurated. Individualism had conquered, and wholesome discipline had become a thing of the past. In future every nation… was to exercise its sacred right in choosing its own government… Utopia had suddenly become a possibility of practical politics…
"The politicians, who, in normal times, would either have shaken their heads or laughed contemptuously… at the dreams of the idealists, found themselves… compelled to support them. During the stress of war they had made rash promises… and the time had now come when these promises must be fulfilled. In many cases this fulfilment was impossible… The subject is still too fresh for detailed examples to be necessary" (p178-180).
Seeing no reason for propagandist dissimulation in this context, he also blurted out part of the truth about the war on the Ottoman Empire:
"The position of the Sultan of Turkey as the head of Islam had made war with Turkey a very deliberate matter for the British Government" (p201).
The core of the East European system established by Britain after 1918 was "the Czechoslovak nation", whose rights were sacred. The detail that there was in fact no Czechoslovak nation did notdeter Britain from forming it into an independent state. The standards it applied in Ireland were comprehensively discarded when it needed to do something with the bits of the Hapsburg State which it had destroyed. The Czechoslovak nation-state broke up amidst five-sided nationalist rancour twenty years later, paving the way for the Second World War.
And British treatment of the Middle East following the destruction of the Ottoman State is the source of the major troubles in the world today.
John Bruton has declared himself an apostle of John Redmond. If we are to revert to Redmondism, let us at least remember what it was. John Redmond's last political initiative, and the one whose consequences were most far-reaching, was to support Britain in its war on Germany and Austria in August 1914, to launch a recruiting campaign for the British Army in September 1914, and support the British war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914. And then, early in 1915, he used his good offices as a Catholic leader to help Britain to counter the influence of the Catholic Church in Italy (where it advocated Italian neutrality), and to draw Italy into an irredentist war against Austria. Fascism has its origins in the anti- Catholic irredentist nationalism of Italy in that period. Mussolini broke with the Socialists and became a firebrand of the war-party which Redmond helped to success. Italy entered the war as an ally of Britain (and Ireland) under the terms of the secret Treaty of London (March 1915), which awarded it not only the Trentino region of Austria, but the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. But in 1919 Britain broke its agreement with Italy, as it did with the Arabs, and that was a significant influence in helping the Fascists to power.
If we are to revert to Redmondism those matters become our responsibility. But it is the neo-Redmondites who are least willing to deal with them.
John Bruton imagines that a reversion to Redmondism would somehow improve relations between nationalist Ireland and Ulster Unionism. But it was against the prospect of being governed by John Redmond, even in a form of devolved government strictly subordinate to Britain, that the Ulster Unionists raised an illegal army, the UVF. And they had more substantial ground to fear Redmondite government than any subsequent form of Irish government, because the directing body in the Redmond's Home Rule Party was a Catholic secret society, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
John Bruton disapproves of the 1916 Rising because he knows somehow that what was achieved by warfare would have happened anyhow, and independence would have come about without the loss of life of those who fought for it. Esoteric knowledge of this kind is entirely beyond our reach. We only know what happened within the actual sequence of causation, which is that Britain would not contemplate the concession even of an ambiguous Dominion status until it found that the electorate which voted for independence in 1918 (a fact which Mr. Bruton appears to have forgotten), could not be intimidated back into Home Rule attitudes even by Black and Tannery.
But Mr. Bruton's utilitarian calcula- tion about loss of life is clearly false. Britain was consuming Irish lives at a terrific rate in France and in the Middle East. John Redmond was hell-bent on keeping up the scale of Army recruiting. But the Rising gave it a shock from which it never recovered. If Ireland had continued under Home Rule aegis right through to November 1918, more people would have been killed than were killed in the Rising. Different people perhaps, but more people undoubtedly.
It is not clear whether Mr. Bruton shares the opinion of his new colleagues that the founders of the Fine Gael party had engaged in a genocidal rampage inspired by religious hatred. Was William Cosgrave an Irish Himmler?
There are no two ways about it. Either what the ideologues of the Reform Movement say is true, or they have worked themselves into a state of mind of religious hatred which is impervious to historical fact.
Religion And Political Conflict.
The Enforcement of Morals.
An Anglo-Irish View (Part 2, review, Walled Gardens)
Vox Pat ('Family' Troubles; The Nation; The Irish
Catholic; Wilde; Canon Law; Auxiliary Bishops; Knowledge? Black And Tans;
Fr. Michael Prior)
John Bruton And The Church Of Ireland.
What Is The Reform Movement?
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