Words of Freedom

Words of Freedom

War, wrote Clausewitz, is an extension of politics by other means. And politics is fought in many ways, not least psychologically through the deliberate use and choice of terminology. To surrender to one’s opponents their definition of the world is to risk surrendering one’s legitimacy.

So language, which is rarely neutral, is a real weapon, and explains, for example, why British diplomats in the USA lobbied papers like the ‘New York Times’ to refer to the IRA not as ‘guerrillas’ but as ‘terrorists’.

Nationalists habitually use the older name Derry rather than Londonderry because the latter term is a colonial reminder of the plantation and dispossession. Unionists speak about ‘Ulster’ (in total denial of having ditched their brethren in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal to ‘home rule’) when they really mean the state of ‘Northern Ireland’ - which to nationalists is the North or the Six Counties.

The twenty-six counties attempted to distance itself from British rule and assert sovereignty by changing its name from the Free State to Eire to the Irish Republic (though republicans are criticised for still calling it the Free State in order to raise awareness of the unresolved National Question). Many decolonised nations changed their names upon self-determination: for example, South West Africa to Namibia, and Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

Governments know how powerful and emotive words and descriptions are. We all have some appreciation of how severe conditions are for those prisoners illegally detained by the US government in Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay. By the end of last September the official number of suicide attempts by inmates out of a population of 600 was 32. But the rate has now dramatically declined. Why? Simple. Prisoners’ attempts at hanging themselves have been reclassified as “manipulative self-injurious behaviour”. So, when a journalist phones the Pentagon and asks how many prisoners have recently attempted to commit suicide they can be confidently told, “Suicide? Attempted suicide? None whatsoever!”

Not long after Long Kesh Camp opened in 1971 the name Long Kesh became synonymous internationally with harsh conditions, brutal British army raids on defenceless prisoners held in cages and hunger strikes. What did the British do? Within a year they changed the name of Long Kesh to The Maze, they changed the status of the ‘internees’ to ‘detainees’, and their embassies around the world (with some success) issued statements stating that Long Kesh had closed down and internment ended!

They did the same thing with the accident-prone Windscale Nuclear Reprocessing Plant, renaming it Sellafield in an attempt to fool the public that Windscale had been closed!

The term ‘security forces’ suggests legitimacy, which is why republicans prefer terms like ‘the Brits’ or ‘the Crown Forces’, which undermines their authority.
(Incidentally, there was a discussion on BBC’s ‘Let’s Talk’ last Thursday about the spate of racist attacks on ethnic minorities in Belfast. Carmel Hanna of the SDLP - who can’t open her mouth without splitting a sentence to attack republicans - was one of the panellists. She claimed that the slogan ‘Brits Out’ on walls in republican areas was ‘racist’. I would contend that it is ‘political’: the Brits referred to are the British administration and the British army that enforces its rule. Carmel should take her argument up with the British music industry and see how far she gets: it hosts an annual ceremony called ‘The Brit Awards’. Under her worldview the Vietnamese must have been racists when they demanded, ‘Yankees Go Home!’)

The name Bobby Sands is known throughout the world, symbolising the heroism of an Irish prisoner and his comrades in the unequal fight against their British jailors. Last week it was revealed that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over the course of the past two years has been lobbying Iran’s Foreign Minister to change Bobby Sands Street, where the British Embassy is situated, in the capital Teheran. (It was formerly known as Winston Churchill Street.)
One press agency reported that, “the British nationals employed at the embassy don’t want to be located in a street named after a man whose organisation brought terror to the UK.”

Yes, we planted England, renamed her streets, towns and cities (after our overseas conquests, our colonial battles, our royal personages, our great soldiers), destroyed her native language, put her religious heretics – men, women and children - to the sword, starved her people, partitioned their land, made them second-class citizens, shot them down when they asked for civil rights, and colluded in their assassination. What gall we have!

After all these years Bobby still haunts them!

Bobby died not a terrorist but as an Irish Freedom Fighter. He stood for election in Ireland - which is more than any British minister who rules us, has done.

The Iranian government was officially represented at his funeral and presented to Mrs Sands a plaque from the people of Iran. We in the nationalist community were delighted and proud when the Iranian capital Teheran named the street after Bobby.

It would be disappointing if they were now to bow to the British government.

In 1981 the people of Iran honoured an Irish revolutionary and reminded the world of British oppression and its black history, of Britain a country which brought suffering to the four corners of the earth in contrast to the courage and sacrifice exemplified by the name Sands.

It is that reminder which sticks in the craw of the British and which is why they want two words, the name Bobby Sands, erased from view, as if it were that easy to erase the spirit of freedom he continues to inspire.

< Prev ... Next >

[ back ]

© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison