Archive for November 17, 2014

For your betters, brow-beating beats being there

“I threw a brick through a window…”

Today the column inches will stretch to feet, yards, miles – infinitely longer than a single water balloon or brick can fly. The airwaves will crackle.

There will be news, there will be comment, there will be analysis on the collapse of democracy that occurred at the anti-water charge protest that hindered Joan Burton’s car in Jobstown at the weekend.

Despite their fleeting appearances, the brick and the water balloon will feature heavily.

Just one question to all of those breathless hacks painting dark pictures of the End of Days, caused by a violent mob of working and non-working class people in a Dublin suburb.

How many of you were actually there?

Because if you’re going to pontificate about the death of Irish democracy for thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of readers or listeners, then I expect you to have dropped everything and headed for Jobstown.

It’s not that hard to find. There are busses, and failing that the taxi company on your speed dial will take you there swiftly.

But such is the laziness and insular nature of the long-distance columnist that it is easier to make pious declarations about democracy from a safe distance rather than take the risk of talking to people for whom “th” in any word is an optional extra.

In truth, there is no need for any journalistic foundation to a column about certain areas of the country – after all, what are they going to do? Complain?

But for me the front line is the only place to start.

Because if I see a man throwing a brick, my instinct is not to ascribe a motive to him, or to find out what a well-to-do person in Dublin 6 thinks.

My instinct is to ask him why.

Then my instinct would be to find out if he is representative of the greater mass of people.

And my instinct is, in this case, that he wasn’t.

If I was in Jobstown, the ultimate journalistic bounty that day would have been an interview with the brick-thrower – after all, who better to explain his actions than the man himself?

I’d ask him how he felt.

I’d ask him what he thought of the fact that his brick was likely to do more damage to the peaceful protestors than it ever was to the Garda car he aimed at.

I’d ask him if his slip as he made his getaway was a fitting metaphor for something else.

But based on his actions, the instinct of virtually everyone else in Irish media this weekend seems to have been to scream “MOB!!” and write long, pretentious articles about democracy that are completely without any sense of nuance, understanding or first-hand experience of the situation.

But that’s OK, because what are they going to do? Complain?

Write a letter to the editor that will never be published?

Call the radio show that screens out exactly the prevalent accent used in that part of the city?

During the riots here in Stockholm last year, more people were injured in the rush to condemn the violence than were ever in danger from the riots themselves.

Such condemnation serves nothing but the ego of the politician or journalist already well-served by the democracy they claim to be upholding – the one that depends on the votes and the purchases of working-class people, and then abandons them as soon as power is secured.

The kind of people who live in places like Jobstown, Neilstown, Coolock, Ballymun and Darndale.

The kind of people who voted for Joan Burton – who sat in that car – and then saw her completely betray the mandate they had given her.

If you want a real story about the collapse of democracy, it was sitting in the car, not rocking it or shouting at it.

That story is how an unelected four-person “economic management council” has, with the support and full active participation of Labour, set aside Ireland’s parliamentary democracy until further notice.

No, the only thing that ran riot in Dublin yesterday was the middle-class sensibilities of journalists and politicians confronted by the dawning realisation that it is too late, and the proles have had enough.

For the hacks, there is no point back-pedalling now.

So do not start with your own answers and then tailor the facts to fit, as currently seems to be best practice at the Irish Water Meter and on Water Meter FM.

Instead, put aside your pointless pontificating, go back to your basic journalistic training and ask the five Ws and one H that we all learned on our first day in class.

And of all those questions you should be asking, right now “why?” is the most important.

And from what I’ve seen in this morning’s papers and online, not one of you has asked it yet.

Hunt-ing Roma in Waterford

Sweden Democrats 2014 election poster – to the left, it says “Time to stop the organised begging on our streets.”

So the Sunday Independent makes a predictable defence of the racist mob that targeted Roma homes in Waterford last week.

I’m not going to bother picking apart Carol’s arguments here – instead, I am going to tell you about a story I’m working on which illustrates how dangerous such writing can be.

In the summer of 2014 Vasile Zamfir came to Stockholm from Romania to collect the remains of his father, who had died of a heart attack while in Sweden, to bring his coffin home to be buried.

He was one of hundreds of Roma in the city, many of whom have made their way to Sweden to beg on the streets. He had a son with Downs Syndrome in Romania, and the money he and others collected – usually around €10 a day – was saved and brought home.

Like most of the Roma currently in Sweden, Vasile lived together with a group of others in a temporary camp, made up of lean-to shacks and tents.

Despite Sweden’s liberal reputation, the Roma aren’t popular with a lot of people, and the standard accusations are levelled at them.

They only come here for the social welfare (they are not entitled to social welfare), they are criminals, they are part of an organised begging ring (neither charities nor authorities have found any evidence to support this claim) and so on.

The wilder stories tell of them being dropped off in the morning in shiny BMWs and Mercedes, pictures of handicapped children handed out to increase their takings from the gullible Swedes.

I have followed these people, and I have never seen any evidence of the above.

But that didn’t stop the Sweden Democrats – a far-right party founded by neo-Nazis in 1988 – from printing up election posters about banning “organised begging”.

The internet went one step further.

“The beggars’ camp should be torn down, burned or blown to fuck. Preferably with the beggars hanging upside down. Hypothetical thoughts, but…” was one contribution to the debate.

“Stones, knives, petrol bombs, or Kalashinikov, makes no difference when our elected representatives haven’t the guts to take the step to free us from this modern plague, I will applaud each and everyone who contributes so we avoid seeing these people, who deliberately dress in rags and try to profit from the innate goodness of us Swedes,” was another.

Everywhere, there were well-meaning columns written – surely it can’t be racist to question why they are here, or why they are unemployed? And for every column written by a well-meaning, well-to-do journalist, the stakes for the Roma went up.

At 4am on the warm summer night that was August 31, and luckily for most of his friends, one of the residents of Vasile’s camp got up to urinate.

He saw how flames quickly spread across the roofs of the shacks that housed 17 people in Högdalen.

In the beginning there was no smoke – as there would have been if a cigarette butt had smouldered and set light to timber, for example – which led many of the residents to believe that the fire was started deliberately using a flammable liquid.

Vasile Zamfir och Codrut Kalanyos were trapped in their shack. Codrut survived but was badly injured.

Police and the fire brigade came, but the scene was not secured until seven hours later, making it almost impossible to conduct a proper investigation into what caused the fire. Many witnesses were never interviewed.

Vasile died in a Swedish hospital from injuries sustained in a fire that many believe was started deliberately, with the sole purpose of driving the Roma out of the area and out of Sweden – pretty much the same goal as the marchers in Waterford last Saturday night who broke windows and terrorised women and children.

He came to Sweden to collect the remains of his father, and instead he too now lies in the ground in Romania.

In your article Carol – which, incidentally, repeats a slew of favoured modern racist tropes, from Roma criminality to the invoking of Rotherham to permit any form of wild unfounded accusation – you refer to last week’s pogrom and ask the following question:

 

All of that is disgusting, horribly, criminally wrong.

But do I really need to say that? Isn’t it self-evident? 

The answer is very simple. As long as mobs feel that they can take the law into their own hands and go smashing the windows of families because of their ethnicity – yes, you do. Loudly and clearly, and without going on to legitimise such actions in the next paragraph.

Because your questioning of the Roma, your oblique references to the “moral failure” of their culture (whatever that may be), and your failure to understand that their difficulties are caused not by their ethnicity but by their marginalisation and poverty, legitimises real racism like the marching mobs of Waterford.

And it provides the fuel for the fires of these mobs who believe that they can burn out anyone they choose.