Fergal Keane (2005) All of these people

I know this man. He is one of us. All of these people are people I know. Good and bad, flawed humans. Fergal Keane is much the same age as me. His father was a well-known actor and his mother a school teacher. Ireland was a generation behind us when he was born, in a different times zone, gripped by a dangerous nostalgia of what could have been, a different kind of Ireland, one that was ruled by priests and hypocrisy. Fergal’s father was an alcoholic, the disease of the Irish and handed down from father to son. His mother a miracle worker as his father follows his star from stage to stage from Southern Ireland to London and back again just in time to put the kettle on for the Troubles and the Celtic economic miracle.

Fergal dreamed of Africa and being the kind of hero that changes the world as we all do. He dreamed of writing and with his mum and dad’s connections got started in the reporting business and on the right track for the writing business in general. His Uncle John B Keane was holding forth about writing and writers as they walked. And here is the way it is, ‘If I couldn’t write,’ he said, ‘I’d go stone fucking mad.’

There’s no guarantee of course you won’t go stone fucking mad even if you can write. Fergal’s dad’s pals, politicians, playwrights and poets such as Brendan Behan and Fran O’Brien were professional drinkers and dreamers. His father a greatly loved story teller of some renown, who brought the written word alive, but the drink pulled him under, pulled them under. Fergal is honest enough to declare he too fought on that front, but the war never finished, a waiting game, until the next skirmish.

He makes the leaps from boy to man from Cork to Limerick junior reporter  on the Leader – 17th September 1979— to reporting on Northern Ireland and the Troubles to world stage and lead report for the BBC telling the word about  South Africa before and after Mandela’s release, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Serbia and Syria. His dreams had become reality with the added glitter of a loving wife and child to give him ballast.

Look into the Nietzchean pit long enough and the pit will look back at you. Sectarian violence in Ireland, in South Africa, in Serbia and in Rwanda had a common feature. Hatred of others in their midst no different from the Nazi ideology of hatred of the Jews. The dehumanising effect of ideology no different from which we’re spoon fed today when people cheers when ships carrying immigrants sink in the Mediterranean or border guards beat men to death, or guards separate children from their mothers and put them in cages as they do in Trump’s America.

In Rwanda Keane saw men and women running with children in their arms, pleading to be let into the reporter’s cars to escape their attackers, only to be hacked to death in front of them. Keane admits he’s not a brave man. The car did not stop. He did not step out, his white face a passport to be treated differently, he wanted to live. He left the others behind. The reporter’s job is to report, not intervene, as a mantra.

How do you find peace within yourself after what you have seen, lived through? That’s a question that runs through this book. A question we all should ask ourselves. Honesty allows Keane to admit—as  I would too—the Nazi guard, that could have been me. Caught up in forces and ideologies that perpetuate hate and give one a choice of either for them or against them, most folk, myself included, take the easy by-line and easy life.  From the Milgram Shock Experiment to the Stanford Prison Experiments authority figures telling us what to do frees us from the restraint of morality, unleashes the evil within us.

Initially, Keane naively asks why the Tutus never ran from the Hutus when the genocide began. The answer was staring him in the face. Murderers, rapists and child killers weren’t some foreign body but people’s neighbours and friends, people that went to the same places you went to, that knew the back roads and side roads you would take and where there waiting. And when places of sanctuary like a Catholic church was filled with those without hope, they rounded themselves up, encircled on all sides.

One of the stupidest things I’ve read, comes from the mouth of a heroic character in The Librarian of Auschwitz in which he declares the Jews had no army, or the Germans wouldn’t have defeated them. Sectarian and ethnic violence is premised on that argument. Trump supporters carrying make America great again. Franco’s fascist supporters carrying placards calling to make Spain great again.  Le Pen’s right-wing army calling for the deportation of immigrants to make France great again. Or Farage’s cull on the immigrants, with the pictorial smiling face of Boris Johnson with a Union Jack, send them back motif behind him.

Hatred has many flags and many faces, a cancerous growth Keane recognises runs through us. He’s paid the price with his reporting life. And like pastor Martin Niemöller he witnessed the politics of hate from Cork to the whole of our creation which brings nothing but corpses,

  First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Storyville, Jailed in America, BBC 4, BBCiPlayer, 10pm director and narrator Roger Ross Williams.

jailed in america.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bn6tr3/storyville-jailed-in-america

Roger Ross Williams recalled the time he first attended school in his home town of Easton, Pennsylvania and a white kid called him ‘nigger’. The white kid’s mum chastised him and told him not to do that or he would come and burn their house down. Here we are in Trump’s America, before the moron’s moron got to play at being presidential. Here we are in Trump’s America where $265 billion of Federal funds is annually allocated to jail 1 in 3 black men. As profits grown year on year, costs are cut. The quantity and quality of food, for example, for the richest nation on earth, would shame any third-world country – and it’s getting worse. A prison system that jails 2.2 million of its citizens, more incarcerations than every other nation combined. A prison system that is predicated on a simple model of taking money from the poor, incarcerating them and giving the tax dollars to the rich. Jim Crow didn’t go away, he just grew up in a different way.

Here is Ross William’s personal account of what happens to black men that don’t make it, like his old school friend, Tommy Alvin that committed suicide, leaving a daughter behind. We learn he had mental health problems, as do an estimated 67% of prisoners. Alvin was kept in a bubble, a type of transparent cage in a penitentiary for those on suicide watch. He was given a paper suit to wear.

Nothing I saw in this programme surprised me, apart from what seems to me the naïve belief of those like Adam Foss, an activist that attempts to re-educate the 31 000 public prosecutors about the real cost of jailing black people that if they knew the facts their attitude would change. It reminded me of stories of if the king only knew how us peasants suffered he’d be sure to act. If Hitler only knew how us poor Germans suffered he’d be sure to act. If Trump, the moron’s moron only knew…he’d be delighted. Not that he’d ever watch a documentary like this.

Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value shows exactly how important ‘worthless’ prison labour is to the economy. We did have one governor explaining to us ignorant viewers how it works, because in the real world prisoners don’t pay for their food, they don’t pay for their healthcare and they don’t pay rent. Slave owners on plantations used the same argument, it led to civil war. Here we are met with generalised indifference.

Marx, who knew a thing or two about propaganda, has a message from the past, for successful filmmakers like Ross Williams:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it. [italics my own].

Here we are preaching to the converted.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Amen, to the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who foresaw this mockery of natural justice.