Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what is going on in this world. This week in particular has been difficult. Back home we’ve had the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, attempted attacks on elected officials, and the explosion of a plant in Texas. Here in Derry, we’ve experienced heightened violence and protests in response to Margaret Thatcher’s death. It’s so easy for us to get bogged down in what seems to be a world of overwhelming tragedy and hate.

Northern Ireland has experienced its fair share of tragedies. Not too soon after we heard about the Boston bombings, my host mother told me about her experience in the Omagh bombing in 1998. She was taking her children to the park in Omagh that Saturday afternoon and happened to pick up a hitchhiker on the road. Instead of dropping him off in the city center like they agreed, she offered to take him all the way home. On their way back through the city, they were diverted by police officers. The bomb had gone off roughly a half an hour before they arrived killing 29 people and injuring 220. By some stroke of luck, or perhaps fate, the detour to bring the hitchhiker home saved their lives. It is terrifying to think how close we are to events such as this.

But one of the things that I’ve learned in the past few years is that a bit of good, no matter how small can shine its way through the darkness. A picture I heard about in a podcast I was listening to reminded me of this. It was a projection on a wall in NYC of a famous MLK quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” The words alone are moving, but below the quote, the universal NY font was connected the Boston Red Sox “B”  with a heart, uniting the symbols of rivalry.

It is small gestures like that keep me going. We saw that in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon: runners rushing to hospitals to donate blood, locals opening up their homes for complete strangers, and even just messages of support from across the whole country.

Sometimes all you need is a small example of hope to keep you going. I was privileged enough to hear the Dalai Lama speak today (you can read more about it here) and I don’t think it could have come at a better time. The Dalai Lama was invited by Derry’s own, Richard Moore, who has developed a special relationship with His Holiness over many years. A British Army Officer shot Richard in the face with a rubber bullet when he was a child and was blinded as a result. Despite this, Richard has met the officer who shot him and given his forgiveness. The Dalai Lama said that Richard is his hero for his ability to live a compassionate life.

The Dali spoke today about the importance of living a peaceful life. I could tell you about the inspiring things he said or the jokes he told, but I know that these are things that will fade from my memory with time. What I will always remember is the feeling I had, sitting with 2,500 other people, many from the city of Derry, listening to one of the most prominent symbols of peace in the world today, and applauding his every word. It did not matter if we were Protestant or Catholic. We were all experiencing the event together.

Peace flags on the Peace Bridge
welcoming the Dalai Lama to Derry

Dalai Lama speaking in Derry

Here in Derry, things are looking up. Yes, there have been petrol bombs thrown into the Fountain (a small Protestant community on the cityside) this past week, but this is a small minority of people behind such actions. The Dalai Lama called upon us to take action, and I certainly think that the city of Derry-Londonderry is headed in the right direction. In the words of His Holiness himself: “The last century was the century of violence. This must be the century of peace. My generation's century is now gone, but the future is still in your hands.”

Let us all work towards creating a century of peace. We have seen the affects of war and violence. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to make this idea a reality. I think Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." Time to roll up your sleeves, people. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Iron Lady

The death of Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has sparked quote a controversy over these past few days. Here in Derry, people took to the streets in celebration, graffitiing walls with slogans such as: "Ding dong the witch is dead," and "Rot in Hell Maggie Thatcher." Petrol bombs were thrown as people waved the Irish tri-color. 

Check out the video below containing some pictures of the celebrations in Derry:

Here is a statement released by Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin politician and alleged IRA member, who holds a seat in the Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish Parliament):

April 8th 2013
Death of Margaret Thatcher

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams commenting on the death today of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said:

Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the Irish and British people during her time as British Prime Minister.

Working class communities were devastated in Britain because of her policies.
Her role in international affairs was equally belligerent whether in support of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, her opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa; and her support for the Khmer Rouge.

Here in Ireland her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering. She embraced censorship, collusion and the killing of citizens by covert operations, including the targeting of solicitors like Pat Finucane, alongside more open military operations and refused to recognise the rights of citizens to vote for parties of their choice.

Her failed efforts to criminalise the republican struggle and the political prisoners is part of her legacy.

It should be noted that in complete contradiction of her public posturing, she authorised a back channel of communications with the Sinn Féin leadership but failed to act on the logic of this.

Unfortunately she was faced with weak Irish governments who failed to oppose her securocrat agenda or to enlist international support in defence of citizens in the north. 

Margaret Thatcher will be especially remembered for her shameful role during the epic hunger strikes of 1980 and 81.

Her Irish policy failed miserably.

It is an interesting time to be in Derry~Londonderry. We all have personal opinions about politicians and sometimes we tend to demonize them and confine them into polarized symbols. I can sympathize with the people who disagreed with her overly-forceful actions throughout the world.  Perhaps it's the idealistic American college student in me, but I would hope we could have these discussions in a respectful way that recognizes that she was an individual who had her own virtues and vices. Many Northern Ireland politicians have publicly condemned the celebrations of Thatcher's death including the deputy First Minister or Northern Ireland, and I hope others will follow.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

You can tell it’s ISP time when…

Well it certainly has been awhile since I have blogged! These past few weeks have been intense in terms of workload. I wrote a politics paper, a reflection on my Northern Ireland experience (totaling 12 pages), decided on the topic for my final project, wrote a proposal for my final project, and organized the logistics of my field study.

So now I am off to Derry (I’m typing away on the bus) to complete my independent study project. This is the unique uniting factor of all SIT programs: a one-month period to conduct a field study and produce a paper analyzing your findings. I have chosen to complete mine in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland. I have been fascinated with the topic of commemoration and memory in terms of the Northern Ireland conflict.

At first I thought about doing a project on the murals in Belfast as a form of commemoration that can provoke or hurt opposition groups, but this has been the focus of many other SIT Ireland ISPs and I wanted to do something a bit different. Then, my Academic Director, Aeveen, suggested I look into the Peace Bridge in Derry. The bridge opened in 2011 and is a pedestrian and cycling bridge that connects one bank of the River Foyle to the other. This might not seem significant, however, like many communities in Northern Ireland, Derry is a divided city. The Catholic majority stays on one side of the bank (with the exception of a small protestant community referred to as “The Fountain”) and the Protestant community lives on the other side. There has been very little interaction between these two groups, but in the past few years Derry seems to be making great strides in terms of the peace process. The bridge is meant to be a symbol of peace, but also encourage cross-community interaction. My project will be to examine if this bridge can overcome centuries of sectarian memory.

Peace Bridge in Derry

I have no idea where this project will take me, so I’m just going along for the ride!