Kurt Eichenwald is a veteran American journalist of some thirty years standing who has specialised in everything from corporate malfeasance to defence issues for publications as diverse as the New York Times and Vanity Fair. For the last year he has been authoring a series of investigatory or analytical pieces for the current affairs magazine Newsweek, some of which have drawn much praise. In a recent article headlined “How Uninformed U.S. Politicians Help ISIS“, he laments the ignorance of the American political class in relation to militant political Islam and its habit of engaging in lazy stereotyping that misleads more than it illuminates, offering up this rhetorical equivalent from another conflict:
“…the greatest financial support for the radical Catholic terrorists in the Irish Republican Army came from American Christians. Despite the IRA’s murder of 1,800 people, American politicians proved they were soft on terrorism. Representative Peter King of New York even went to Ireland and hung out with the group’s sympathizers. Fortunately, the British were tough and used enhanced interrogation techniques—including waterboarding—on these radicals.”
Which is a fair enough analogy if Eichenwald was to go on and explain the falseness of such claims as they relate to the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and the misleading nature of, for instance, British government propaganda in times past (particularly in the United States, where the “two warring tribes” misinformation campaign by the UK’s embassy in Washington and the consulates in New York and L.A. was hugely successful until thrown into disarray by the interventionist policies of the Clinton administration in the 1990s). There is a strong critique to be made here, with the obvious comparisons to the shallowness of understanding concerning the various inter- and intra-communal power struggles in the Middle East and beyond. However that is not what happens. Instead we are given this.
“Offended by what you’ve just read? Good. You’re supposed to be. That diatribe, while all true, is horrific. Sadistic lunatics, whether as individuals or groups, have nothing to do with Christianity. They have just appropriated a peaceful religion to justify their murderous impulses.”
Except the diatribe is not true, and that surely is the point? (P)IRA was not a “radical Catholic” guerilla force, the vast majority of its funding did not come from the US, and it never used religious sentiment to justify its actions. The organisation was a secular, left-leaning armed resistance, its beliefs very much reflected in the early quasi-Marxist policies of its political wing, Sinn Féin. Its military budget from the 1970s to late ’90s was largely funded through a process of domestic “revolutionary appropriation” here in Ireland; that is the voluntary or more usually intimidatory “taxing” of criminals and businesses, as well as the profits derived from smuggling, counterfeiting, etc. Nor for that matter was (P)IRA responsible for the deaths of 1,800 people, a throwaway statistic much favoured by sections of the right-wing press in Britain (who like their American counter-parts blithely ignore the casualties inflicted by the British military and paramilitary forces, both official and unofficial).
The great irony of Kurt Eichenwald’s analogy from the Long War, the insurgency and counter-insurgency conflict in Ireland, is the seeming ignorance or imprecision that shapes it, the same lack of insight that he accuses others of professing in relation to the global Muslim community and the perverse ideology of the Islamic State. Perhaps the article is simply poorly phrased? Remove the words “while all true“, and the Irish section of the article has a different meaning. However in its presence form it is simply another example of an opinion piece in the US public domain that further obfuscates and confuses the record of a faraway war that most Americans have – and had – little to no comprehension of. Including much of the news media.
It seems in this at least very little has changed indeed.