Picasso In Palestine

When it was reported that Picasso’s Buste de Femme arrived in occupied Ramallah, after crossing a number of heavily guarded Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, including concrete barriers armed with soldiers and fortified by tanks, another one of Picasso’s paintings should be viewed too. The other painting, of course, is the legendary Guernica, one that should not be seen by Palestinians but by those living in Israel and United States.

In 1937, while Palestine was under a British mandate and Israel was not yet a new nation, Adolf Hitler’s Condor Legion, using the Spanish Civil War as a testing ground, experimented with its new weaponry and blitzkrieg techniques on the residents of the historic Basque town of Guernica. For German military forces, it was a tremendous victory. But for Guernica, its population of 7,000 civilians was utterly decimated.

New fighter planes, like Heinkel 111’s, flew over in waves and for hours, dropped high-explosive and incendiary bombs on Guernica. While innocent civilians tried to flee from a massive inferno, they were strafed by Junkers. German Nazis and Spanish Fascists were quick to use propaganda and blame the atrocity on revolutionary forces. Even though there was international outrage over the destruction of Guernica, no action was taken.

Guernica

It was Pablo Picasso who painted the bombing and destruction of Guernica, an artistic reminder and monument to “never again.” Sadly, and during World War Two, there were many more Guernicas such as Warsaw, Coventry, London, Berlin, Dresden, and Tokyo. Guernicas have also occurred after World War Two in places like Deir Yassin, Hanoi, Beirut, Santiago, Kabul, Baghdad, Fallujah, and present-day occupied Palestine.

In Picasso’s revolutionary Guernica painting, he reminds one of the horrors of war. On the left, a mother’s face is turned upwards. She screams and cries holding her dead child. In the center, a horse is frantically bellowing while standing over a dismembered revolutionary, who is holding a shattered sword and flower. At right, a woman is falling from a burning house, hands and eyes raised towards heaven, begging for help.

Picasso also discarded his usual colors of blue and pink to intensify the drama of Guernica. The reportage-like photographic mural depicts death raining down. Appalling images of mutilation, death, and destruction are everywhere. But Guernica also centers around a central pyramidal structure. The monumental painting is a powerful political statement against Fascism and the chaos, disorder, and fragmentation that it produces.

Regarding Israeli relations with Palestine, the need for “living space” has been used to raze Palestinian homes and build illegal settlements. Peace and security has been an excuse for war. Blitzkrieg-like tactics have stopped humanitarian flotillas bringing food and medicines to Gaza, and used to raid Palestinian villages. Palestine has served as a laboratory for weaponry, like U.S. fighter jets, drones, and white phosphorous and cluster bombs.

According to news reports, it seemed ridiculous and impossible to bring Picasso’s multi-million dollar Buste de Femme to Palestine. But after a two-year odyssey, the Dutch Van Abbemuseum succeeded in delivering the painting to the International Academy of Art-Palestine in Ramallah. Evidently, Picasso was the academy’s choice nor his iconic status, his political consciousness, and his artistic activism on behalf of peace.

The Palestinian art museum voted to view Buste de Femme, a portrait of a beautiful woman. This is in sharp contrast to the ugliness of Guernica, something that Palestinians have had to endure for years. Picasso was greatly influenced by impressionist and romantic painters who explored the inner world of emotions and imagination. He is also known for Cubism, where natural shapes are transformed into exaggerated shapes and forms.

Cubism was mainly about interpretation rather than realistic depiction. Therefore, Picasso painted people and objects and events as one knew it to be, bringing together in one image many different angles and perspectives as possible. Although criticized by more conservative artists, Picasso helped “free” art from realism. He used sharp angles, various planes and collages which helped pave the way for more abstract artistic expression.

Since Palestinians have no access to import or export artistic items, artists have to work with an Israeli company. Picasso’s painting, then, symbolizes the inner emotions and imaginations of Palestinians and their desire for freedom and a Palestinian state. They also hope that the beautiful and abstract will someday replace the ugly reality Israeli occupation forces and having to live under the shadow of American-made weaponry.

Abdul Karim of the museum in Ramallah said: “The lesson of Picasso in Palestine is that there are possibilities in impossibilities.” The possibilities in impossibilities were evident when thousands of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists marched united to help support a Palestinian state, one that is soon to be endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. Equality and freedom, not segregation and occupation, leads to an artistic peace.

On the other hand, the lesson of Picasso’s Guernica in Israel and United States is the futility of establishing a nation in lands that belong to other people, and then attempting to maintaining a “total” military occupation. Occupations that are backed by punitive blockades and shock and awe campaigns, intermixed with military interventions directed against civilian populations like Operation Cast Lead, paints only broad strokes of death.

Memory and imagination, not war and endless military occupations, are the greatest instruments for peace. Will Picasso’s mysterious, yet realistic, artistic activism in Guernica-indiscriminate death from the air and land and sea-allow us to feel and act with new perspectives, especially when thinking about life and death, both our own and other people? Will his artistic language free us from our addictions to militarism and war?

Dallas Darling

Palestine Chronicle

July 27, 2011

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Glasgow: The battle of George Square (1919)

On Friday 31 January 1919 upwards of 60,000 demonstrators gathered in George Square in support of the 40-hours strike and to hear the Lord Provost’s reply to the workers’ request for a 40-hour week. Whilst the deputation was in the building the police mounted a vicious and unprovoked attack on the demonstrators, felling unarmed men and women with their batons. The demonstrators, with the ex-servicemen to the fore, quickly retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles, and forced the police into a retreat.

On hearing the noise from the square the strike leaders, who were meeting with the Lord Provost, rushed outside to restore order. One of the leaders, David Kirkwood, was felled to the ground by a police baton, and along with William Gallacher was arrested by the police.

After the initial confrontation between the demonstrators and the police in George Square, further fighting continued in and around the city centre streets for many hours afterwards. The Townhead area of the city and Glasgow Green, where many of the demonstrators had regrouped after the initial police charge, was the scene of running battles between police and demonstrators.

In the immediate aftermath of ‘Bloody Friday’, as it became known, other leaders of the Clyde Workers’ Committee were also arrested, including Emanuel Shinwell, Harry Hopkins and George Edbury.

Government concerns about industrial militancy and revolutionary political activity in Glasgow reached new heights after the events of 31 January 1919. Fears within government of a workers’ revolution in Glasgow led to the deployment of troops and tanks in the city.

An estimated 10000 English troops in total were sent to Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of George Square. This was in spite of a full battalion of Scottish soldiers being stationed at Maryhill barracks in Glasgow at the time. No Scottish troops were deployed, with the government fearing that fellow Scots, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow.

On 10 February 1919 the 40-hours strike was called off by the Joint Strike Committee. Whilst not achieving their stated aim of a 40-hour working week, the striking workers from the engineering and shipbuilding industries did return to work having at least negotiated an agreement that guaranteed them a 47-hour working week; 10 hours less than they were working prior to the strike.

Red Clydeside
July 26, 2011

Europe: Rising Extreme Right-Wing Ideology

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has expressed its utter condemnation of the bombing and mass murder that took place in Oslo and surroundings last Friday, resulting in the violent death of more than 90 innocent civilians.

“As it appears that the main perpetrator of those horrible acts is linked to and influenced by the extreme-right ideology, ENAR urges the European mainstream political leadership to consider this as an urgent wakeup call,” it said in a statement.

“Indeed, most of the people from the European majority community have remained relatively insensitive to the numerous victims of extreme-right movements that often stemmed from minority communities: Jews, Blacks, Muslims, Roma, among others,” it noted.

“However, the Oslo killings dreadfully demonstrate that extreme-right ideologies are a danger for the whole society and not only for minorities. Anyone can become victim to the violence of extreme-right fanatics, intent on wiping out diversity from our societies,” it warned.

ENAR is a network of NGOs working to combat racism in all EU member states and represents more than 700 NGOs spread around the European Union.

Political leaders who shamelessly borrow from the extreme-right narratives with a view to winning some of the extreme-right electorate not only trivialize the heritage of democracy but also share responsibilities for extreme-right violence in Europe, it added.

European Network Against Racism (ENAR)

KUNA

July 26, 2011

This sick glee in the face of a terrorist attack

Many Israelis find “educational” value in horrifying attacks, as long as they happen to others…

Following the terrorist attack in Norway, before the Israeli media had to reluctantly admit it was actually carried out by a Norwegian neo-Nazi, the media, aside from Haaretz, kept its readers in the dark about the killers’ pro-Israeli agenda, the comment section on the internet sites was filled not with expressions of horror and sadness, but with virulent attacks on Muslims and Islam, and a strange and awful sort of glee. Even when it turned out that the killer was, in fact, Anders Breivik, many of the readers commenting on Israeli websites justified his act.

It is not, in fact, at all surprising that a neo-Nazi would support Israel. The extreme European right loves Israel, often describing it – as did Breivik (and, for that matter, founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl) – as a bastion of the West in the lands of Islam. Under Liberman, the Foreign Ministry has began making contacts with extreme right wing parties; the latest example being the meeting between an Israeli deputy minister, Ayoub Qara, and representatives of the Austrian Freedom Party formerly led by Jorg Haider. While Haider was alive, his party was described as a “Neo-Nazi” party by Israeli officials. Well, turns out lepers can’t be choosers, and Israel needs every friend it can get. I mean, Israel was South Africa’s best friend during Apartheid; we’re used to that.

But where did the glee come from? It is not new. During the shock following the 9/11 attacks, a strong undercurrent of glee showed up. Four Israelis were actually arrested in New York for dancing in front of the burning towers. They spent quite some time in detention before being kicked out of the US.

Much of it stems from the feeling that “now, after a terrorist attack, they will understand how we live, and we’ll see how they’ll deal with it; let’s see them preach to us after suffering a suicide attack.” This sort of sentiment is not at all limited to right-wingers: Doron Rosenbloom, generally a sharp leftist satirist, wrote one of his poorest columns based on this fantasy of attacks on London and Paris. Three years later, following the 7/7 attacks in London, Ha’aretz republished the column.

Of course, the attacks on London did not end up as Israelis hoped: The Londoners have a long history of resisting terror, from the Fenian “underground dynamiters” of the late 19th century to The Troubles of Northern Ireland. Blair’s government did not react to the attacks as the Israelis expected. No hysterics. No moaning and chest-beating in front of the cameras. Quiet, dignity and a stiff upper lip. Nor did Blair’s government respond as an Israeli government might, presumably by bombing Islamabad.

This glee is not reserved for gentiles (it is never present when a Jewish target is attacked abroad); it often appears after a terrorist on Tel Aviv, of which there were many. It is often expressed after a rocket attack on Sderot or an attack on a settlement in the wish for an attack on Tel Aviv, or on a leftist demonstration. Rather than opposing all terrorist attacks, they accept some of them – as long as they have an “educational” value. Strangely enough, this is quite similar to what the terrorists are trying to do: To educate a hostile public about their grievances by violence.

The support of Breivik’s act after his identity was discovered, even though most of his victims were children, follows the same pattern: Israeli commentators support his ideology, and, having adopted him – who is merely an armed and ruthless version of Glenn Beck – they tend to forgive him for this minor indiscretion. The fact that many people could identify with a mass murderer of children spotlights another problem, one rarely mentioned: The de-humanizing effects of Jewish Orthodox education, which most Israeli Jews receive in one form or another. Being taught from an early age that you belong to a master race, and that other people are inherently inferior, that their lives aren’t worth as much as yours will take its mark.

Yossi Gurvitz

+972 is a blog-based web magazine that is jointly owned by a group of Israeli journalists and bloggers. The writers’ goal is to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The name of the magazine is derived from the telephone area code that is shared by Israel and the Palestinian territories.

July 25 2011

Norway, Islam and the threat of the West

A few years ago, the respected Cambridge scholar T J Winter, also known by his Muslim name of Abdal Hakim Murad, gave a fascinating lecture to Humanities staff and students at the University of Leicester. The title was “Islam and the threat of the West”, turning on its head the more usual – then and now – “Islam and the threat to the West”.

It was a novel approach, which, in a nutshell, illustrated that, historically, aggression has been directed more from Europe to the Muslim world than the other way round. His evidence for such a view was impeccably sourced.

I thought about Abdal Hakim’s talk this morning as I read the reports coming in of the dreadful bombing and shooting in Norway wherein, of course, there was speculation that these two events were “Islamic-terror related”. No doubt we will learn more over the coming days, but the early signs are, in fact, that the perpetrator was a “blond, blue-eyed Norwegian” with “political traits towards the right, and anti-Muslim views”. Not surprisingly, the man’s intentions were neither linked to these “traits”, nor to his postings on “websites with Christian fundamentalist tendencies”. Any influence “remains to be seen”; echoes of Oklahoma 1995.

Interestingly, this criminal is described by one unnamed Norwegian official as a “madman”. He may well be, but this is one way that the motivations for heinous crimes can be airbrushed out of the story before they have the chance to take hold in the popular imagination.

Closing the book

In 1969, for example, Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian Christian who set fire to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, was dismissed as a “madman” and sent for psychiatric treatment; end of story. The right-wing fundamentalists plotting to destroy the mosque, and the nearby Dome of the Rock, lived to fight another day. I suspect that that is what will happen with the Norwegian bomber/shooter; his right-wing links and Christian fundamentalist contacts will be dismissed as irrelevant. This, we will be told, was the work of a “deranged” person “acting independently”. Ergo, the only organised “terror threats” to civilisation are still “Islamic-related” and the focus of anti-terror legislation and efforts must remain in the Muslim world and on Muslim communities in Europe and the USA.

If we allow this to happen, we will be doing the world a great disservice, not least because the new right is on the rise across the West – and Oklahoma was proof that its followers are capable of immense destruction.

Neo-Nazi immigrants from Eastern Europe have even been active in Israel where the government, while deploring such far-right activity in its midst is actually edging ever more to the far-right on a daily basis. Ministers advocate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in order to purify Israel as a “Jewish state”; precious human rights for which the world has struggled are overridden in the name of “state security”; criminals in uniform are allowed to get away, quite literally, with murder.

All of this takes place with the collusion of Western governments which are themselves showing right-wing tendencies towards double-speak on matters of respect and tolerance for minorities. If you are even remotely “different” in Europe today, especially if you are a Muslim, you are eyed with suspicion and must go out of your way to “prove” your loyalty to a state which, if the truth was made known, would get rid of you if only it had the guts to pass the necessary legislation to do so. In some cases, such legislation is virtually in place in the guise of “anti-terror” measures.

All of this is backed by a vociferous and influential right-wing media which supports Israel right or wrong – and a pro-Israel lobby which acts as if it is untouchable. Given the political context across the West, it probably is.

Attacks against the left

It is significant that the target of the Norwegian “madman” appears to have been the left-leaning Labour Party, both in Oslo and on the island where the shootings took place. Across Europe, the left has been forming alliances with Muslim groups to fight fascism and racism of all kinds, and it cannot be a coincidence that The politics of multiculturalism in the new Europe, a collection of essays from across the continent, published in 1997, concluded almost without exception that “the challenge” facing Europe was the presence of large Muslim communities in “our” midst. Anyone who claims therefore, that the perpetrator’s “right-wing traits” and “anti-Muslim views”, or even links with “Christian fundamentalist” websites are irrelevant is trying to draw a veil over the unacceptable truths of such “traits” and expecting us to believe that right-wing ideology is incapable of prompting someone towards such criminality.

Of course, that idea is nonsensical. Right-wing ideology was behind the Holocaust; it has been behind most anti-Semitism and other racism around the world; the notion of Europe’s and Europeans’ racial superiority – giving cultural credibility to the far-right – gave rise to the slave trade and the scramble for Africa leading to untold atrocities against “the Other”; ditto in the Middle and Far East. Ironically, it is also far-right Zionism – far from the socialist myths of Zionist pioneers in the 1930s and before – which has been behind the ethnic cleansing of Palestine throughout the 20th century, right up to today, as a specific policy to be pursued – by military means if necessary.

This is well-documented and yet ignored by our political masters. In the context of the latest apparently far-right atrocities in Norway, it is equally ironic that the word in English for a traitor who collaborates with an enemy power stems from Major Vidkun Quisling who ruled Norway on behalf of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

We dismiss this “madman” as a one-off “not linked to any international terrorist organisations” at our peril. If nothing else, history has shown us that such ideologies are trans-national across and beyond the West, with catastrophic effects on the rest of the world. We have been warned.

Ibrahim Hewitt

23 Jul 2011

Al Jazeera

Education and media consultant Ibrahim Hewitt is the chair of trustees of the Palestinian Relief and Development fund and is Senior Editor of the Middle East Monitor. He is also a trustee of Creative Arts Schools Trust.

 

Palestinian refugees turn against Syria’s regime

While stripped of their nationality in Jordan and living in Lebanon in the worst socio-economic conditions of any in their community, Palestinian refugees in Syria have long enjoyed comparably better circumstances, including equal rights with citizens.

But in a development that challenges a central pillar of the Syrian regime’s legitimacy, Palestinians in Syria are beginning to turn against a dictatorship that for decades used its claims of resisting Israel and fighting for Palestinian rights as justification for the repression of its own people.

“We will not accept to be a bargaining chip for the Syrian regime,” said Abu Ammar, 50, a Palestinian refugee living in Yarmouk, a poor southern suburb of Damascus and the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.

“The regime wants to use us against the pro-democracy protesters but I think most Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk now moved from being neutral to being on the side of the Syrian protesters,” he said. Ammar is a former militant in Fatah, the dominant secular Palestinian party, and is now a car mechanic in Yarmouk.

The camp is home to some 150,000 registered Palestinians, as well as tens of thousands of Syrians.

As Syrian protesters demanding basic rights continue to be gunned down by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, Syria’s Palestinians are beginning to stand up like citizens themselves, protesting against the ruthless violence of Assad’s government.

“Palestinian refugees in Syria live among Syrians, not like in Lebanon. For six decades we have lived together and there are many mixed marriages and a new, mixed generation,” said a political activist from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

“When the protesters call on us to participate, it shows they consider us partners, not strangers. We have the same rights as Syrians, so we also have the same responsibilities.”

On July 1, in the first reported mass participation of Palestinians in the opposition since the uprising began in mid-March, more than 3,000 Palestinians from the refugee camp in the central city of Homs joined the pro-democracy protests.

More than simply a boost to the size of the protests that Friday, the participation of the Palestinians, for some long-time Syria watchers, represented a seismic shift.

“Dictators have used the Palestinians for the last 50 years to get legitimacy, saying to their people, ‘You have to tolerate all this violence, all this lack of freedom, all this brutality because we’re going to liberate Palestine.’ That’s a lie,” said Wissam Tarif, director of Insan, a Syrian human rights organization.

“My father bought it. And the fathers and grandfathers of the people protesting on the streets bought it too. But we don’t.”

Anger is growing among the half a million Palestinians living in Syria as details emerge of the regime’s role in pushing Palestinian protesters into a deadly confrontation with Israel last month, in what was widely condemned as a move to divert attention from its own brutal crackdown.

On June 5, the 44th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Syria’s southern Golan Heights, the PFLP-GC, a faction long allied with the regime, helped organize hundreds of Palestinians from Yarmouk to travel to the Golan Heights.

The fertile plateau is one of Israel’s most stable borders, with barely a shot fired since the end of 1973’s Yom Kippur or October War.

The regime regularly justified its near half century application of emergency law, which suspended many basic rights outlined in the Constitution, by the fact that the Golan remains occupied.

When Palestinians attempted to cross the border fence, 20 were shot dead and some 270 others wounded by Israeli soldiers, the second such incident within a month, prompting global headlines. The shootings were all filmed live by state-run Syria TV.

Never before had the regime allowed Palestinians, Syrians or any Arabs to attempt to cross its border with Israel.

Indeed, Damascus has for decades pursued a policy of directing Arab resistance into neighboring Lebanon. In the 1970s, Syria played a role pushing Yasser Arafat’s Fatah fighters into South Lebanon, where they launched attacks on Israel from an area that came to be known as “Fatahland.”

During the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon beginning in 1982, Syria helped arm Hezbollah in its successful struggle to liberate South Lebanon, before assisting the Iranian-financed group to become the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. The PFLP-GC, whose headquarters is in Damascus, maintains bases along the mountains of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

“All Palestinians know the PFLP-GC organized the trip to the Golan to help Syria,” said Nidal Mahmoud, 30, an accountant from Yarmouk.

“In the graveyard I saw the corpses of Palestinians who died for nothing, just to divert attention away from Syria’s crisis to the borders with Israel. The Palestinian groups do nothing useful for us; they work for Syria, Iran and other countries.”

When PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril, a former captain in the Syrian army, attempted to make a speech lambasting Israel at the funerals in Yarmouk, enraged mourners threw stones at him, accusing Jibril of manipulating the Palestinian cause to serve the Assad regime.

Protesters then attacked the PFLP-GC’s headquarters in Yarmouk with stones, prompting guards to open fire, killing 11 young Palestinian men.

There is unconfirmed evidence that the carefully orchestrated move to allow Palestinian protesters to cross the border with Israel came from the highest ranks of the regime.

An allegedly leaked memo from the office of the Mayor of Quneitra, the closest Syrian town to the Golan border, describes how Assef Shawkat, President Assad’s brother-in-law, the former chief of military intelligence and the current deputy head of the armed forces, ordered a military intelligence captain to assist protestors to cross the fence.

“Permission is hereby granted allowing approaching crowds to cross the cease fire line toward the occupied Majdal-Shamms [Golan Heights], and to further allow them to engage physically with each other in front of United Nations agents and offices. Furthermore, there is no objection if a few shots are fired in the air,” the memo read.

The leaked document was supplied by Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Damascus Center for Human Rights and a visiting scholar at Harvard University. While it could not be independently verified, Ziadeh has been a consistently reliable source of information on the Syrian uprising.

The U.S. deputy ambassador to the U.N., Rosemary DiCarlo, said the protest in the Golan represented “a transparent ploy by the Syrian government to incite violence along the disengagement line in order to divert public attention from its own indiscriminate killings and abuses of the human rights of the Syrian people.”

That position was backed by similar robust statements from German and French U.N. ambassadors.

Despite the deaths in the Golan and Yarmouk, by no means all Palestinians have broken with the regime.

“Syria is the only country in the Arab world which deals with Palestinians as its citizens,” said a pro-Syrian Palestinian activist close to the PFLP-GC, who asked to be known only as Ibrahim.

“Syria has been supporting Palestinian groups for more than four decades and now is the time for these groups to reward Syria and stand with it in this big crisis.”

Ibrahim said the PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, a Syrian-backed radical offshoot of Fatah, would remain loyal to Assad. He criticized Hamas, the powerful Islamist group, for choosing to remain neutral in Syria. Hamas had apparently rejected demands by the regime, quoted in a report by the International Crisis Group, that it provide political and material support to crush the protests.

In an interview with France 24 on May 9, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader, described the Arab Spring as “beautiful” and said freedom and democracy are needed in Syria.

The regime has further deepened animosity among Palestinians by seeking, in the early days of the uprising, to directly blame Palestinians for inciting the instability.

On March 21, the private daily Al Watan, owned by Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf, said unrest in Daraa was the work of the defunct jihadist group Fatah al-Islam, which rose up in 2007 in a Palestinian camp in Lebanon.

On March 26, Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political advisor, claimed Palestinians from the Al-Ramel refugee camp outside the port city of Lattakia had attacked stores in an effort to ignite a civil war.

Writing in the Beirut-based An-Nahar, which is regularly critical of the Syrian regime, Randa Haydar said the protests against the PFLP-GC in Yarmouk represented “a popular and spontaneous uprising against the Palestinian factions taking advantage of the refugees as well as the Syrian regime trading in the blood of Palestinians.”

A Syrian official, quoted in the International Crisis Group report, put it more bluntly: “The regime can no longer claim to be standing up for resistance.”

Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand report from Beirut, with reporters inside Syria.

Ya Libnan

July 22, 2011

Song of an Immigrant: Paddy’s Lamentation

Well it’s by the hush, me boys, and sure that’s to hold your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s sad narration
I was by hunger pressed, and in poverty distressed
So I took a thought I’d leave the Irish nation

Here’s you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be coming
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

Well I sold me horse and cow, me little pigs and sow
My little plot of land I soon did part with
And me sweetheart Bid McGee, I’m afraid I’ll never see
For I left her there that morning broken-hearted

Here’s you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be comin’
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

Well meself and a hundred more, to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be made, we were thinkin’
When we got to Yankee land, they shoved a gun into our hands
Saying “Paddy, you must go and fight for Lincoln”

General Meagher to us he said, if you get shot or lose your leg
Every mother’s son of yous will get a pension
Well, meself I lost me leg, they gave me a wooden peg
And by God this is the truth to you I mention

Here’s you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be comin’
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

The Diaspora to America is immortalised in the words of many songs including the famous Irish ballad, “The Green Fields of America”:

So pack up your sea-stores, consider no longer,

Ten dollars a week is not very bad pay,

With no taxes or tithes to devour up your wages,

When you’re on the green fields of Americay.

The experience of Irish immigrants in America is not always harmonious. Irish newcomers are sometimes uneducated and often find themselves competing with Americans for manual labour jobs or, in the 1860s, being recruited from the docks by the U.S. Army to serve in the American Civil War and afterward to build the Union Pacific Railroad.

This view of the Irish-American experience is depicted in “Paddy’s Lamentation”:

Hear me boys, now take my advice,

To America I’ll have ye’s not be going,

There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar,

And I wish I was at home in dear old Ireland.

Many Irishmen had been eager to sign up and fight for their adopted country. It was believed by some that, after helping America win the war, America would in turn help liberate Ireland from British rule.

“Paddy’s Lamentation” is the other side of the coin, bitter disapointment and a lament for lost dreams and failed expectations.  The poem and song express the sorrow of the Irish immigrant who, having just stepped off the boat — and sometimes this is literally true — the new arrival is pressured, convinced and sometimes tricked into joining the US army.