Time to do the (Childrens) Right thing?

6:57 PM / Posted by David Hartery / comments (0)

“The “Stranger Danger” program that was widely shown in public schools was the most damaging campaign ever in terms of child abduction. It taught children about the “scary man in the trench coat hiding behind the tree” instead of warning children that strangers are only a fraction of the offenders. Most people who hurt and abduct children are family members, teachers, neighbours, people they see every day.”

- Dr Spencer Reid, Criminal Minds Season 1 - “What Fresh Hell”

RTE ran a “damning” exposé of paedophile rings in Ireland, determined to show that the creeps are just a click away. Posing as a young child they proceeded to try and entice paedophiles into soliciting them for sex.

There are ethical and taste issues with such a practice (Just watch “To Catch a Predator” to see every single one of them) but while I personally found the show crass and distasteful (the quotations from the paedophiles in trying to solicit the “child” were particularly unnecessary and disturbing) my main issue is with the blatant scaremongering that the show was based on. Your children are probably least at risk, statistically, from the pervert behind a webcam. Who you really need to be wary of is the pervert teaching them history, the pervert who lives next door, the pervert who trains the football team or the pervert that you're married to.

You may say, this isn't a problem. We can at once warn parents about the dangers of predatory paedophiles and explain the warning signs of child abuse at home. Except we don't. We don't run the same type of dedicated program to shining light on child abuse by people in these situations. The whole paedophile priest fiasco typifies the Irish attitude to such circumstances. It took years and years for those abuses to come to light. And they were far more prevalent than instances of child grooming online.

And what if both the parents are abusive? What if they haven't the concerned mammies and daddies who look through their MSN chat logs and secretly check their bebo; like many internet safety advocates have trumpeted during the week since the program. What if it is the parents who are neglectful or sexually abusive? Well due to the disgraceful anachronism which is the Irish constitutional regard for children, many of them get away with it. Our constitution is a document that places a higher regard for the stability of the “family” than it does for the children being damaged within that unit. A relic of the days of strict Catholicism, children in Ireland can often be left in horribly abusive scenarios due to this ridiculous line of precedent. Even the reforms introduced after the Kilkenny Incest report in 1993 haven't stamped out the issue – as illustrated by the continuing appearance before the courts of issues of failure in the protection of children, many of which are based on the absence of adequate rights for minors.

But in the week following this Prime Time program, were the airwaves flooded by well spoken Bernardos officials, experts in Constitutional Law and people who work with the abused? No. The week immediately following was filled with under informed members of the general public terrified that their children were inches away from abduction and rape on Facebook. Has the campaign for children's rights ever gotten the level of attention that the Prime Time program managed to attract this week? Not once.

It is a sad day, when a much more moving, realistic and valuable story is left to one side for a cheap sensationalist dig at the Gardai for not catching the online predators. It's over a year since the Ryan report called for a referendum on children's rights. Surely it is time for a cheap sensationalist dig at the Government for not catching the real predators.

The Gaza Flotilla and the Declining Dignity of Protest

5:13 PM / Posted by Harry McEvansoneya / comments (12)

There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of the 700-odd people who set out on the recent aid flotilla to the Gaza strip did so with nothing but the best of intentions. These people saw human suffering and decided that this area of the world was, for whatever reason, most worthy of their attention, and went off to try and make a difference in whatever way they could.

As it is, they stumbled into a series of events that spiralled out of control, leaving ten people dead and dozens injured. It is, of course, deeply regrettable and very sad that these deaths and injuries were suffered, both among those on the flotilla and the members of the Israeli Defence Force, especially given that the whole fiasco was both eminently avoidable and depressingly predictable.

To provide some background, the initial intentions of both the majority of those within the fleet and the IDF were perfectly legitimate. As said above, people were trying to get aid to a region suffering a humanitarian crisis, the IDF were trying to prevent contraband material falling into the hands of an organisation whose primary goal is the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamist state.

The inspection of the boats should not have constituted a problem. It is easy to see why Israel feelt the need to search the boats, given that they planned on passing through Israeli controlled territory and given that weapons have repeatedly been smuggled into Gaza under the guise of being aid convoys in the past. Reasonable suspicion existed, therefore under international law it was legitimate to search the boat, regardless of it being outside of their territorial waters, though it would doubtlessly have been wiser to wait until the flotilla was within them. This has always been past policy with aid deliveries – stop them, inspect them for contraband, discard illegal goods and then distribute the rest to Gaza through appropriate channels.

Indeed, five of the six boats stopped when asked to by the Israelis and only on one of those five did some people refuse to fully co-operate. If that was what it took to get the aid delivered, they were willing to do so, even if it may not perhaps have been completely what they wanted. If they were victims of violence from the Israeli soldiers, it should rightfully be condemned. The flotilla had a dual purpose – delivering aid and protesting the blockade, and when push came to shove, the people on board needed to show what they prioritised, whether they were primarily pro-Gaza or anti-Israel, whether the aid getting through as quickly as possible mattered more, or whether making a show and a statement did. The vast majority of people prioritised the first.

Those on the sixth ship, the MV Mavi Marmara, evidently did not. This is where everything went wrong. The details have been rehashed elsewhere a thousand times, but in short, the Israeli soldiers who tried to board were assaulted by the supposed aid workers on the deck, things escalated, shots were fired and as a result the soldiers were authorised to use lethal force – and people were killed. Those who had set out to make an anti-Israeli statement and see how far they could push things had, in a twisted and tragic way, got what they wished for.

The IDF reacted in the face of provocation, of that there is no doubt, and it is easy to see how troops under threat would have reacted to put their own safety first and neutralise the threat facing them. The problem from the Israeli side is that the nature of the inspection was at best ill-advised and careless, as they did not expect or properly plan for what would happen if there was heavy resistance, not being armed with any kind of heavy crowd control equipment, and at worst stupid and unnecessary as they could have chosen an easier and safer way to deal with the boat, being better aware of what they would face when they boarded.

Either way, it certainly did absolutely nothing to further Israel’s cause. As such, the simple outrage of people over the killings is understandable. However, there is a problem both with how the ire of people is being directed and with what people appear to be considering to be legitimate forms of protest – that is to say, what is being seen as acceptable, and indeed preferable, methods when it comes to highlighting what you think is an injustice in society and attempting to draw attention to, and ultimately change that.

People have been trying to compare the members of the flotilla to the Freedom Riders in America who campaigned against segregation. Naturally, things here are not that simple. What we have in this instance is, as outlined above, two groups reacting differently. The former had dignity. They accepted a level of what they saw as injustice to achieve the greater good, and acted in such a way as to minimise potential harm coming to those around them. They were willing to make a sacrifice and suffer to an extent to get through what they wanted – these people have done essentially nothing wrong. Were they to suffer violence, it would be unwarranted, regardless of how right or wrong one may consider their beliefs to be.

But when we get to the second group, the analogy breaks down completely. Here we have, on the Marmara, a group whose first recourse when presented with the face of what they objected to was to break into violence. These were people who wanted to be hard men, who wanted to make a fuss and be as active as possible, consequences for their cause and others who support it be damned.

This kind of resistance – launching an assault on the objects of their hatred – is not in any way, shape or form dignified or constructive. It is as abhorrent as the use of force against peaceful protestors. If the Freedom Riders had gone around beating up policemen, you can be sure that they would be seen differently right now and would have received nowhere near the level of sympathy and eventual solidarity shown towards them by many of their contemporaries.

However, things suddenly seem different. Few meaningful attempts seem to be being made by the supporters of those involved in the flotilla to distance themselves from those who chose violence. They are being presented as having acted in as legitimate and positive a fashion as the people who chose not to engage in reckless, self-absorbed behaviour that put the lives of themselves and innocent people around them into very real danger.

This is an extraordinarily odd and hazardous attitude that not only denigrates those who act with dignity and put their cause above themselves, but encourages people to act in as bull-headed and violent a fashion as possible, and that going to the extremes, eschewing any attempt at dignified engagement, compromise or understanding is the best possible thing you can do for your cause, so much the better if you can get yourself martyred for it. A martyr is a tragic thing to be, and noble under certain circumstances – but to engineer things so you can create martyrs where there need be none, especially when those martyrs are innocent people who may not want to become so, who consider you their ally and comrade, is despicable. The Israeli soldiers may have been the ones who pulled the trigger, but the circumstances leading to the deaths of any innocent people on the flotilla were engineered elsewhere.

The fact that these people are somehow almost universally escaping condemnation, and are instead being mourned, sympathised with and even in some cases lionised, is a sad indication of how polarised and one-eyed people are becoming when they engage in public discourse on controversial issues. Condolences are being offered by the Irish to Turkey, a nation whose entire involvement in this is a result of a weak Prime Minister trying desperately to placate the Islamist wing of his party, who allowed the aid to be transported by an organisation with past ties to terrorist groups, without any thought being given as to whether or not those who are dead were innocent or were among those who brought violence upon themselves and others.

When we do this, when we allow this to happen, we fall into the trap of legitimising the extreme elements of a movement. The most damning item found on the Marmara was, as far as I’m concerned, not the contraband goods or the knives or the bullet-proof vests or even the rifle scopes. It was the flag of Hamas. Similarly, at the funerals of the Turkish activists, the flag of Hamas has been draped across their coffins. This should be unacceptable for any organisation who wish to be fighting for Palestinian freedom – Hamas are a repressive government, whose policies do more harm than good in Gaza. Indeed, right now, Hamas are refusing to take the aid from the flotilla into Gaza, presumably as a protest against Israel, once again putting the welfare of their citizens in a secondary role. Much like the extreme elements on the fleet, they have shown a clear disregard when it comes to putting innocent people in harm’s way if they think it will help their cause.

The people in this flotilla and supporting it should be aware of the presence of these extreme elements, and if they are not, once they become so aware they should distance themselves from them, not put aside morality in the name of solidarity. The sight of the Labour LGBT flag next to a Hamas one in the protest in Dublin is a great example of this – you should not tolerate marching side by side with the supporters of those whose disregard and disrespect for human dignity allowed innocents to be killed or wounded. What they are marching for is not what you are marching for. All that leads to is a win for the crazy elements on both sides; those legitimised by solidarity from moderates, and those who are able to condemn moderates due to their apparent association with extremists – all that results is further alienation of people and division of discourse towards the extremes, all this leads to is the risk of further undignified, reckless, violent protest and more innocents being hurt.

Praise those with lofty aims, by all means, but to paint all those on the flotilla as the same is wrong and dangerous. Israel acted stupidly, for sure, but that we condemn them and not those who selfishly endangered the lives of others, and betrayed their ulterior motives, is an unsettling turn of events. Remember that there was a group among them who set out to abuse and exploit the naïve among them and use them as a tool to further their own agenda. As tragic as the actual fact of the loss of life is, the self-interested cynicism that led to it is something that should not be forgotten, and the lack of public outcry, indeed, the apparent acceptance of these actions as a legitimate method of protest is something very worrying indeed.