One day, about a week before Christmas, I was sitting watching the News when Defence Minister Michael Fallon spoke about the Al-Sweady Inquiry. I had never heard of the inquiry but it appeared from the programme that it began in 2009 and reported to the House of Commons on Dec 17th last.
It turns out that a group of Iraqis were killed in 2004 and that some of their families sought justice from the British: the rest we have all heard before.
The inquiry found that “claims that up to 20 Iraqis were killed and mutilated after a 2004 battle were ‘reckless speculation.’ The report also found British soldiers mistreated nine Iraqi detainees, but it was not deliberate ill-treatment.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the inquiry puts to rest once and for all these shocking and, as we now know, completely baseless allegations.”
Does the phrase ‘but it was not deliberate ill-treatment’ ring a bell with you?
If you recall the excuses that the Brits used when they were torturing Catholics in Northern Ireland the phrase sounds very familiar: ‘inhuman and degrading treatment, but not torture.’
Then we had this as the opening paragraph in the news report:
“Allegations of murder and torture made against British soldiers by Iraqi detainees were "deliberate lies", a five-year public inquiry has ruled.”
Do you remember when the British used to say that when IRA prisoners arrived in court with broken arms etc., that the injuries were self-inflicted?
The whole thing made me cringe with anger; I thought that it had gone but it was as bad as ever!
How bad was Northern Ireland? We tend to forget, but here are a couple of snippets from history that might surprise our younger readers and call to mind the real North that many of us would want to overlook:
“In April 1963, the South African Minister of Justice, strident apartheid enforcer and supporter of Nazi Germany B. J. Vorster commented that he would be “willing to exchange all the [South African justice] legislation… for one clause of the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act.””
The Special Powers Act effectively gave the RUC control over life and death in Northern Ireland. It actually provided that a person could be arrested, tortured, die in police custody and be buried without the family being told, such was the extent of its powers.
Were such powers ever used…..we don’t know.
Then in 1971 with the advent of internment we had the famous ‘5 Techniques’ method of interrogation that the British used.
The five techniques were, hooding, standing the prisoner against the wall for long periods of time, subjecting them to noise, deprivation of sleep, deprivation of food and drink.
This use of torture by the British in Northern Ireland even had ramifications in International Law.
In 1999 the Israeli government cited the Ireland v UK 1978 case, which took place in the European Court, and which said that whilst article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached, the five techniques amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment but not torture, to claim that their mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners did not amount to torture.
Likewise, the assistant attorney general in the United States quoted the case in his advice to the CIA on the legality of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques. The case therefore set a dangerous precedent which is still used today.
I looked up the actual Al-Sweady report and read the first few paragraphs. Immediately I was hit by the use of words and I shall mention only one to give you a flavour of the report.
Right at the very beginning, in section 1.2, we have the victims described as “Iraqi insurgents.”
Here basically is the nub of the whole thing and shows something of the western mentality to the Middle East.
The problem is this: when foreign soldiers arrive in a country, any country, for whatever reason, be their reasons laudable or unjust, there are always going to be people who will fight to get rid of them. When this happens the whole thing degenerates into some sort of war and humanity goes out the window.
Think back to the arrival of the British troops here at the start of the Troubles. At first a large percentage of the Catholic population were glad to see them. Then some Irish lads resisted and the rest is history.
Human beings are territorial, very territorial. Try taking an inch from your neighbour’s garden and see the row that comes about. We will all accept foreigners as visitors and we will welcome them, but once they arrive with guns and begin imposing their will, then the whole thing takes on a different perspective.
It is so silly. You take young boys, barely out of their teens, send them into a desert to fight a war against the evil enemy, and you think that atrocities are not going to happen; it beggars belief.
Then the politicians take over and the inquiries begin.
When whoever he was, was speaking in the House and telling MPs that the Al-Sweady Report had found that the Iraqis were effectively a bunch of liars and that the Brits, as usual, could do no wrong, I have to admit that my old anger came up in me again.
It appears that we cannot learn the simple Christian principle that ‘peace must be based on justice.’ But the idea of justice is quickly disappearing from our world. It seems that the whole world has embraced barbarism as the only means of getting your way.
The behaviour of Isis and Muslim jihadists all over the Middle East and Africa besmirch the name of Islam. We can see no reason for this senseless slaughter and we take comfort in that we can fight our wars from the air with very little cost in men and equipment.
Wars are becoming impersonal; the use of ‘drones,’ where a young lad can sit in Florida and drop a bomb somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, has made warfare something far off and out of sight; we can kill our enemy during working hours and go home in the evening.
In 2012 the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School, brought out an interesting report. It was entitled ‘Living under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan.’
One telling paragraph in the report read:
“In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killing’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.
Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies.
Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and first-hand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.”
What kind of barbarism is the human race descending into? How long is it going to be before some of these mad groups get their hands on an atom bomb?
In the middle of all this there appears to be no effort made to ask the question, ‘what is going on in the world, what is the root cause of all this conflict?’
Killing has become the order of the day. Pope John Paul II spoke of a ‘culture of death,’ and surely no one who has been watching TV over this past year could disagree with him.
Our world is fast changing. Economic migration, where people leave poor countries to seek a better life in a rich nation, is bringing people to Europe who have a totally different lifestyle and outlook from us.
We Irish know all about this. Every one of us have friends and relatives living in England, the US, Australia and Canada. We have left these shores as economic migrants for hundreds of years and we have helped build up countries wherever we went.
The great asset that the United States has always been is its ability to integrate all the people who come to it. We don’t seem to have that ability in Europe. When foreigners come here they remain foreign, we don’t seem to be able to integrate them into our society.
It is only to be expected that poor people of Africa and the Middle East are going to want a share in the wealth that they see on their television screens. The Medieval societies in which they live, the dictators who rule them and economic imperialism that drains their country’s wealth, will not stop them wanting a better life.
On top of this we have the fact that the West is trying to impose democracy on countries and cultures to which democracy is alien; this will never work. Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa have never had democracy and have no concept of what it means.
Magna Carta was signed in 1215 and it still took another 750 years for anything like real democracy to arrive in the UK, and it was 1918 before women got the vote: and we think that we are going to impose democracy on the Middle East because it works reasonably well here!
The torture of Catholics by the British during the Troubles, the contempt with which we treat human life in the Middle East and influx of Islamic terrorism into Europe all reflect the Western malaise, that we have nothing new to offer the world, we are unable to integrate foreigners into our society and that we have turned our back on God and justice.
Why do I bring God into the question?
Because, when humanity looks only inwards it destroys itself. It is only when we look for God’s guidance that new possibilities are seen and encountered.
God gives vitality to any community in which He is placed at the centre. Think of our own experience; most modern Catholics have discarded the confession box, we see a steady stream of dazed, hopeless sinners make their way to various counsellors and listeners who have no answer other than charging a good hourly rate.
If you think we are not going downhill fast look at the murders in Northern Ireland in this past week!
It seems that society is behaving like an alcoholic in the last throws of alcoholism, flailing about like mad men, lashing out at anyone and everyone. There are pockets of sanity, and periods of relative peace, but the family of nations is simply waiting on the next atrocity.
This time of madness will pass, but we are nowhere near the end of it yet: rock bottom may be another hundred years down the line. There are many possible outcomes but the one that I think most likely will be is that Europe rediscovers its Christian roots and realizes the treasure it had in the Christian faith.
This is not the first time in history that a great empire has fallen from within. The Roman Empire took centuries to fall; the barbarians invaded gradually from the outside until the weight of their numbers overran the empire.
The same thing is happening to Europe now. Many different nations are slowly invading the continent. Eventually we will wake up and find we do not know the place. But out of this new multicultural mix something new shall develop and it shall probably be something better than what we have today.
When Rome finally fell, Pope Gregory the Great is reputed to have said, “The end of civilization does not mean the end of the world.”
In the early 500s Europe went into the Dark Ages. The only centre of learning left in the then known world was Ireland, and from our shores people left to bring Christianity back to Europe.
Telling ourselves the lie that everything is alright and that we are doing nothing wrong in the Middle East, is not going to work. But there is no need for despair: people have a way of coming round and making the best of a bad situation.
The men the world needs to hear are men like the current and last two popes, Francis, Benedict and John Paul. In 500 years the inhabitants of Europe will look at the writings of Benedict and John Paul and ask, “How could the Europeans of that time not see the wisdom in what these men were writing. Instead they listened to vain politicians who told them what they wanted to hear, fed their egos and led them, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, to nowhere.”
It’s a pity we won’t be around to see the outcome of it all! Hopefully we’ll get a good ringside view from heaven.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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