Of Myths And Mythomaniacs
It is hardly surprising that the above article produced reams of unfavourable comments. Hey, let's not rain on the peace process, threadbare as its explanatory power at times is, it is the only cover we have and we all must march under it; in step and in unity against ... well, all the people we accuse of being wicked and violent for not sharing in its mysteries. That covers anybody daring, in the interests of free inquiry, to allow the awkward squad to express their wicked views, the Guardian included. It too must me shamed and muzzled. The author of one comment suggested that the opinion piece was the most inflammatory journalism he or she had ever read. Perhaps, if their only reading amounts to what is printed on the daily bus ticket.
The 'regime of truth' that underlies the peace process has long proven unable to co-exist with a differing perspective. It has persistently sought to paint all republican critique into the corner of political violence where its authors can be shown through the lens of the peace process as bearing horns, big, long, sharp, blood drenched ones, ready to gore anyone who might approve peace. Demonic characters worthy not of engagement, just exorcism by those ordained in the peacehood.
Take Bethan Jenkins of Plaid Cymru, for example, hardly a cheerleader for armed republican groups. For her views she found herself in the dock facing her inquisitor, the British Labour Party shadow secretary of state for the North of Ireland, who lambasted her for seeking to destabilize the peace process. J'Accuse ... you of not thinking the way I think you should think. Unremitting and hyper-inflated guff, it amounts to nothing more than a censorious attempt to create a moral panic via which alternative discourses may be battered into silence and submission.
The peace process, supposedly democratic and ostensibly based on consent, seems incapable of accepting that an indivisible component of consent is dissent. Sans the freedom to dissent the term consent is divested of the meaning with which it has long been imbued. Take away the right to dissent and the term consent becomes little other than a discursive fig leaf for coercion. It is not even a genuine effort to coerce dissenting voices into being peaceful - which many of them already are - but to strangle them into passivity.
Much of the focus in the comments - too numerous to address individually - has been on the title of the article, 'By shaking the Queen's hand, Martin McGuinness accepts her sovereignty', the one part of the piece I did not write. It was crafted by the Guardian (its prerogative). To concentrate on the human handshake is to distort the content of the article which is essentially about the locus of political and ideological gravity, where power circulates but is diffused subject to skewed distribution. That gravity with all its intrinsic inequities has pulled into place the meeting between Martin McGuinness and the queen. To denude the meeting of its very specific political, cultural and ideological history and the concomitant power relations written into it, is on a par with accepting the creationist argument for human existence, and to totally ignore the history of how it evolved: a disturbingly ahistorical view of human progress. This is how we got here and that's it. No further questioning. The relations of power, past and present, overlain by the meeting, not the handshake in splendid periodised isolation, are what make today's event worthy of analytical scrutiny as distinct from making it the subject of platonic niceties.
To reinforce the point, I would shake the hand of Martin McGuinness were I to meet him in the morning. I have shaken the hands of Labour ministers, Tory MPs, a former SAS officer, former members of the British Army, DUP and UUP members, loyalist paramilitaries, PSNI personnel, prison officers, former prison governors and clergy men of all denominations. I am none the worse for it and I suspect neither are they. I will continue to do so, when the opportunity presents itself, as a matter of common courtesy. When John O'Dowd, a Sinn Fein minister in the Stormont executive, shook the hand of a PSNI officer at the funeral of Constable Stephen Carroll, I publicly defended his decision to do so on the following grounds: 'I think John O'Dowd of Sinn Fein set a better example in shaking the hand of a senior PSNI officer at the funeral of Stephen Carroll than the members of the Continuity IRA who ended the life of Stephen Carroll.'
The context that I have crafted in order to explain the handshake between Martin McGuinness and the queen - and people should be absolutely free to challenge that contextualisation, but not to suppress it - is not one in which the interpretative framework is that of mere civility, a common courtesy which I will not object to. It is a quintessential political handshake located on a political grid laden with the deeply asymmetrical relations of power between Sinn Fein and the British state which Sinn Fein has accommodated to. It seems axiomatic that one of the extended arms at today's meeting wielded the upper hand. To overlook this, or pretend that all hands are equal, is to essentially ignore the question of who stands where on the grid of political power.
People are of course free to challenge the analysis offered in the article. What they should not be allowed to do is succeed in their arguments to have it censored. To accuse the Guardian of providing platforms for a violent dissident republican narrative is patent nonsense. Having occasionally written in the Guardian from 1998, I have stated from the outset that I am glad the war is over. My biggest regret is that it was ever fought. There is no justification whatsoever for armed republican violence. When the young PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was ripped apart on an Omagh street my observation at the time was expressed concisely: 'Ineffectual and immoral, armed republican violence is a scourge that can only deliver blight in place of betterment.' It can hardly be made clearer.
But the peace process demands more clouds than clarity. Why let the unambiguity of my opposition to any republican violence stand in the way of the peace process which seems unable to cope without its myths, or its mythomaniacs, eager to promote the fiction of legitimate and peaceful discourse being the enemy of peace?