One Man’s Terrorist – You Know The Rest…

Over the years I’ve always been amused by the strong, pro-British line taken by much of the mainstream US media when it came to reporting and editorialising on the conflict in the British Occupied North of Ireland. Invariably most US news organisations, especially the printed press, were anti-IRA and anti-Sinn Féin, with reportage that could have just as easily been written by press officers in the British embassy in Washington or the consulate in New York. The great myth of American sympathy or support for the Irish Republican cause was just that – a myth.

That selfsame anglophile bias on Irish affairs which dominated the US media from the 1970s to the ‘90s is just as virulent today as witnessed by the reporting surrounding the controversial hearings into “militant Islam” held in the US Congress by Representative Peter King in late 2011. Whatever about the merits of the investigation by the Homeland Security Committee chaired by King into the activities of Moslem-Americans (or lack thereof), it served as an opportunity for many American reporters to flex their simplistic and utterly myopic pro-British muscles.

On the basis of Congressman King’s past opposition to Britain’s colonial presence in Ireland and his political support for Sinn Féin over the last three decades a profusion of one-sided articles were published across the American media, especially online, alleging hypocrisy and double-standards on his part. To the concern and frustration of many Irish-Americans their legitimate interests in Ireland and Irish affairs were misrepresented or dismissed through association with King and his questionable targeting of Moslem-Americans. Rather than gaining praise for their efforts to bring an end to the war in the north-east of the island of Ireland, and their support for the creation of a fair and equitable settlement for all parties to the conflict, Irish-Americans were singled out for ridicule, condemnation and slander. A casual reading of the American press revealed a body of journalists trapped in some sort of politically-slanted 1970s time-warp, completely ignorant of recent Irish history and seeing only Ireland through the prism of their infatuation with all things “English”.

This brings me to the Jewish-American community in the United States and an article from the Slate magazine examining the power of the pro-Israeli lobby in the US. If Irish-Americans had but one-twentieth of the power of their Jewish-American peers then the reunification of Ireland would have taken place decades ago. It makes for very interesting reading and shows, in fact, how relatively weak, politically and financially, “Irish-America” truly was; and in many ways still is.

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6 Responses to “One Man’s Terrorist – You Know The Rest…”
  1. James Todd says:

    … Huh. As an American of Irish ancestry (family immigrated from Derry), one born here and raised here and still living here, I can personally attest that… well, you’re incorrect. There’s nothing even slightly resembling an anti-Irish bias in America. In fact the truth is the polar opposite – public opinion here is heavily tilted towards the Irish, arguably to a fault. More than likely that’s because Irish-Americans are not some persecuted minority as you seem to believe. They’re the second largest ethnic group making up the American population, only after German-Americans. The English on the other hand are usually perceived as arrogant.

    I would venture to say that American public opinion is probably the most “pro-Irish” of any nation other than Ireland itself. Especially in the South, which has a heavier overall Celtic population than the North.

    I’m writing this because you are very, very mistaken here, and I want to give you a perspective from an American citizen. To give you just one example of the sheer pervasiveness of this nation’s affection for your nation, I only have about a 10 minute walk from my workplace to my room. In that space of time I saw two cars pass by, one with the Irish flag as its license plate, the other with an Irish flag and an American flag, “Heritage” under one and “Nation” under the other, respectively.

    I don’t know how you reached the conclusion that American public opinion is tilted against the Irish, but that really couldn’t conceivably be any further from the truth. I love your website, I love your views on current events affecting my own ancestral home and the greater Celtic world. It’s why I check this blog everyday, often multiple times. This is not meant as a dig at or a criticism of you, I just felt obligated to speak up here.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

    • Hi, James, and thanks for the Comment. All opinions and points-of-view are most welcome :-)

      The main thrust of the post was the contrasting fortunes of Irish-American and Jewish-American influence in the United States and in particular amongst the US media. Unlike those sympathetic or supportive of Israel and in particular Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories, those sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause in Ireland have had a very mixed record. In the main they have faced an indifferent or hostile American press. Several newspapers, the New York Times and Washington Post in particular, have taken a very strong pro-British line. This is reflected in the general portrayal of Irish Republicans in the popular culture of the States as psychopathic terrorists or gangsters, often in the most racist manner, a form of bias that continues to the present day (Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, etc.).

      When have you seen Israeli “extremists” or “nationalists” portrayed in such a manner on US TV or US cinema screens?

      For much of the conflict in the Occupied North of Ireland the US State Department was perceived as being simply an arm of British diplomacy (leading to the joke that statements about the United States’ policy on Ireland from the State Dept. were written c/o of the British Embassy, Washington). This only changed during the Clinton administration of the 1990s.

      For instance the United States supplied weapons and equipment to the British paramilitary police in the North, as well as the British Army, despite Congressional bans on doing so (through the covert efforts of President Reagan and later Bush Sr.). US Army generals were regularly taken for “jaunts” in British military helicopters around the North and the CIA was heavily involved in supplying Britain with intelligence information, surveillance technology, as well as “observing” the use of “special techniques” during the interrogation of prisoners at British torture centres in Belfast, Derry and Armagh in the 1970s.

      I’m afraid that official US policy on Ireland, pro-British, anti-Republican, was reflected in most of the US news media from the 1960s to the present.

      That, of course, is very different from the views of some Irish-Americans. But, as I was trying to show, by comparison with other “special interest groups” Irish-America found itself in a position of political weakness for much of its history in relation to its “home country”, periods like the 1920s and 1990s aside.

      The views of the greater American general public I’m sure are much more varied, as you indicate. However there is sentiment and real politik. The latter for the United States was the assuaging of the fears and concerns of its British ally while keeping the public at home uninterested or ill-informed about Irish affairs. Something the US media did remarkably well.

      Please feel free to add your opinions whenever you want. That is why the Comments’ section exists ;-)

    • as a Bostonian living in Galway I agree with everything you said so well ! There is certainly no Brittish bias in Boston !

      • Seamus , as a Bostinian , that grew up in a very Irish home , I would not pretend to understand the “troubles ” in the North ,although I have read much about it i do not understand it one bit , But I will say that robbing a Dublin Bank killing an irish police man ,and saying it is for the cause is well way over my head , I would actually have no problem if they robbed a Brittish bank killed an English cop , war is war I get that ! But I truely believe that placing a bomb in harrods is an act of terrorism and not one bit different that what terrorists did on 911 killing innocent people is wrong , soldiers fighting soldiers that I can live with !

        • Thanks for the Comment, Mary. Well I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of “revolutionary appropriation” so robbing banks anywhere is morally dubious, no matter the cause. As is killing policemen, even English ones.

          I don’t believe any members of An Garda Síochána were killed by the PIRA in any Dublin bank raids though certainly others did loose their lives in confrontations.

          Yes, placing a bomb in a shopping department, even with a warning, is an act of terrorism.

          I think we have very little to disagree on.

  2. James Todd says:

    I misunderstood you then, I thought you were saying American public opinion was by and large anti-Irish, which is the opposite of the truth. Media portrayal and the government’s policies are another matter though, considering England is probably our closest military ally. The thing is, most Americans don’t see that as contradictory, primarily because they’re not familiar with Irish history as you alluded to. That goes for Irish-Americans too by the way. That’s why I said American public opinion was pro-Irish “to a fault”. If you were to ask someone why they loved the Irish, they probably wouldn’t be able to give you a good, specific reason. It’s more of a general sentiment pervasive through the country, that doesn’t really have a parallel towards any other nations or ethnicities. The fact that Irish-Americans make up such a large portion of the population probably does have something to do with it, but the same attitude doesn’t exist towards German-Americans, and they outnumber Irish-Americans by a fair amount. So it can’t just be that. Hard to say.

    Americans that are somewhat knowledgable of the history of Ireland and its occupation by the English are damn near universally sympathetic to Irish Republicanism. Often furiously so. It’s more a question of ignorance than prejudice against the Irish, a problem that, sadly, is widespread in America.

    Anyway, since my country’s government is definitely alligned with England and therefore officially opposed to a unified Ireland, I guess I don’t really have anything to disagree with you about. But for what it’s worth, this nation’s population is definitely sympathetic towards yours – just ignorant of what Ireland’s situation is. Two things would need to happen – the history of English occupation in Ireland would have to be taught in much more detail to American children, and mainstream America would have to discover a desire to seek out knowledge and news of their own volition, rather than being spoon fed it by CNN or FOX, depending on their political affiliation. If those two things were to happen, the American population would cry out against the continued English occupation in Ireland, and you would have the closest ally you could ask for in the United States of America. But until those two things happen, all you have is near-universal affection and respect for your people from the American populace.

    That isn’t really worth a damn thing, I understand. But surely you can admit that it isnt the same as your situation with England, where near as I can tell, public opinion is heavily tilted against Ireland, and for that matter, all the Celtic states?

  • blog awards ireland Nominated 2013: Best Politics, Personal Blog Categories; Best Blog Post
  • blog awards ireland

    Nominated 2014: Best News, Current Affairs, Politics, Mobile Blog Categories; Best Blog Post

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