Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Dervish, Alan Shatter and 'fascism'

What is one to make of the IPSC/Dervish/Alan Shatter barney?

The plain facts of the case are as follows.  Highly-regarded Irish traditional band Dervish planned a tour of Israel.  Palestine solidarity activists called upon the group, via its website, to reconsider.  The band announced on Monday April 30 that it had cancelled its tour.  And then Alan Shatter, Ireland's Minister for Justice and for Defence, weighed in,  with two statements attacking the 'IPSG' (sic).

On closer examination, a few more interesting things emerge.  Dervish's members come across as well-meaning, but politically naive and a bit dim.  They say in their original statement that they were not aware of the cultural boycott of Israel, but 'We now feel that we do not wish to break this boycott'.  The band's lead singer, Cathy Jordan, says in a separate statement posted the next day that 'venom' was directed against the band, in 'an avalanche of negativity'.  She claims that she is a 'humanitarian', one who 'abhors all violence for whatever reason', who 'loathes any violations of people's human rights and dignity'.  It is not clear in Jordan's statement where the 'venom' and 'negativity' actually came from, though the general public assumption has been that it came from Palestine activists.  Looking at the band's 'notebook' on the evening of May 9, I could find only two comments criticising the band for playing in Israel, and a great many more lambasting it for cancelling its tour.

Alan Shatter comes out of the melee principally as a cynical opportunist, but also as a paranoid bully.  His first statement accuses the 'IPSG' (sic) of 'cyberbullying'.  He says that it is 'absolutely understandable' that the group would bow to the pressure put on it by withdrawing from its tour, but that of course the 'IPSG' (sic) has no interest in 'peace and reconciliation' of the kind hoped for by Dervish.  He notes that, 'worryingly', declassified documents from Osama Bin Laden's last hideout in Pakistan 'indicate that the actions of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Group (IPSG) and its associates have caught the attention of some of Osama Bin Ladens followers who now see Ireland as promising ground for support'.  The IPSG's appeal to human rights 'rings hollow', Shatter declares, as it ignores the constitutional rights of Irish people 'to get on with their lives, to travel, and to perform around the world free from bullying'.

So where are we?

Dervish wishes to recognise the boycott - fair enough.  Equally, if it feels it was put under horrendous and wrongheaded pressure, then it could stick to its original intentions, damn the begrudgers, and go ahead with its tour.  Clearly, the pressure was considerable but if Dervish was truly principled it could ignore it and get on with its tour.

Shatter, of course, deliberately overlooks the fact that the band has said that it wishes to recognise the boycott, and rushes unbidden to the group's defence.  His protection of Dervish 'rings hollow', to say the least, because his real purpose is to attack the IPSC, which he misnames, and which he smears with the linkage with al-Qaida.  The briefest examination of the documents referred to shows no reference to the IPSC or 'its associates' (whoever they are), but refers simply to the 'the sympathy of the Irish people to the Palestinian issue'.  He vapours about the constitutional rights of the Irish people, but there is nothing in Bunreacht na hEireann about a right 'to get on with' our lives.  There is, of course, a constitutional right to travel, but the IPSC and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel nowhere seek to prevent anyone travelling to that country - the question is what one does when one gets there.  Furrthermore, Israel blocks entry to persons it opposes for political reasons all the time - notable recent examples were the denial of entry to Noam Chomsky in 2010, and the 'Flytilla' activists either denied entry or eventually deported last summer, but, unsurprisingly, Shatter has nothing to say about that. 

In today's Irish Times, Shatter is quoted in his second public statement on this matter as accusing the IPSC of 'cultural fascism'.  But more notable are Shatter's own threats and posturing.

By having a website, Dervish enters the public sphere.  The IPSC, or any other group of activists, is entitled to respond to Dervish in the public sphere in a respectful and responsible manner.  It is not the fault of the IPSC if Dervish cannot handle being made aware of the voluntary cultural boycott, or of Israel's frequently 'fascistic' approach to dissenting opinion, including dissenting cultural opinion.  Alan Shatter, a powerful minister holding two important portfolios, with much greater and easier access to the media than the IPSC, is using the Dervish story, and that group's narcissism, immaturity and ignorance, as a pretext to beat up on a respectable civil society organisation going about its campaigning business by accusing it of bullying and insinuating its alliance with the most reprehensible and intransigent kind of militancy.  It is he, not the IPSC, who is practicing the methods of 'fascism'.


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