Killing In The Name Of


Francois Hollande pays tribute to the police officers killed in the recent attacksFrançois Hollande at the funeral of officers killed in last week’s Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris

Irish expat David Burns writes:

[Police officer who tried to apprehend terrorists on Boulevard Richard le Noir was buried today — received Légion d’Honneur. Wrote the attached because I cycle past where he died every day now…]

When can you justify killing another human being? When it’s in self defence? Whenit’s to protect the lives of others? To defend a cause? Last Wednesday, three men burst into the Paris-based office of a small French weekly called Charlie Hebdo and started shooting at unarmed cartoonists. 17 people are now dead because gun-wielding extremists believed it right to kill people for an ideology. If you live here, your relation to violence has been completely changed by that— changed utterly.

A significant amount of people started defending last week’s bloodshed before those murdered could even be given a funeral. The apologists ranged from the pseudo-intellectual type to the brutally ignorant. All remained unconvincing. What excuse can there be for violence against the non-violent? For shooting cartoonists? You could understand a debate on the merits of Charlie Hebdo as a satirical publication.

Last Friday, the French press reported with outrage the refusal of certain schoolkids to rally behind the slogan for national unity: “Je suis Charlie”. At the same time though, you could understand it. Muslims unwilling to rally to the name of a magazine that had long ridiculed Muhammad; students questioning authority; young people from disadvantaged areas rejecting long overdue invitations to play a part in French society — all of that constitutes an understandable reaction to current events. But posting messages which condone or call for violence against unbelievers? Celebrating the “heroism” of radical men prepared to kill for their religion or their cause? That is beyond the bounds of reasonable or understanding. I cannot agree to it. Or anything like it.

In Ireland, we are about to celebrate 1916. If you’d been here the last few days, you wouldn’t see anything to celebrate about it. There is nothing inspiring about armed radicals with bullets. Not even when they’re proclaiming a republic. Former Taoiseach John Bruton came under fire last year for saying that peaceful, political reform was the nobler route to Irish independence. Now, much more so than before, I can see he was right.

It is doesn’t seem imaginable at the moment to celebrate a rising that held Dublin city to hostage. It is no longer a historic event anymore. It is not just a book explaining why it needed to happen or why the rebels felt they had no choice or even how it was justifiable in the end. It doesn’t matter if you’re born into a system which acts to oppress you and the people you identify with, you don’t have an excuse to grab a gun and go out to shoot people. Not even if you’re hoping to awake the nation.

I’ve followed a lot of the back and forth about the kind of form 2016 should take and how we should frame it. However, it’s the arguments currently going on here in France about the legacy of the past, about post-colonialism, structural discrimination, cultural warfare and all the reasons that don’t justify killing people for a cause that have made up my mind about where I stand at home.

Violence should always be the last resort. Sometimes, it is the only option. The French police last Friday had to use deadly force to save innocent lives. The only justification for killing another human being is those extreme, no-alternative circumstances. Killing people for a political ideology or a religious ideology is not something that can be justified precisely because there is always an alternative. There is always another and better way. History might obscure and shroud that fact with the passing of time but at the moment, it’s bright in my mind. I hope for the sake of society that it outshines whatever people might say to cover it — here and at home.

Previously: A Letter From Paris

(Pic: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images, Guardian)

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76 thoughts on “Killing In The Name Of

  1. Healy Rae's love child.

    Maybe, instead of this ridiculous sentimentalising rubbish, we could have an article or two on France’s continuing killing of people in its ex-colonies, its involvement in coups, etc. Yes, it’s awful this man got shot, but let’s wake up to the fact that Hollande and all the other ‘Je Suis Charlie’ drama-queens are up to their neck in blood too.

    1. JimmytheHead

      Telling people who are quite obviously conscious and reading your message to “wake up” gives you an instant air of arrogance and a complete lack of empathy for the subject

      1. Eric T

        Totally agree. I’m also completely sick of people posting the other horrible shit happening around the world and disingenuously making quips about how nobody is paying attention to them.

        The only reason those people are paying attention to that shit on that particular day is because it gives them a chance to feel superior to anyone reading it.

  2. gallantman

    1916 probably has more in common with the storming of the Bastille, than last weeks events. I assume you’ll be objecting to France celebrating Bastille Day then.

    1. Paolo

      It would be great if oppressors and megalomaniacs would just go away when you handed them a letter. Unfortunately, in reality, it is necessary to force them to the negotiation table.

      David Burns is sadly misguided.

    2. louislefronde

      Speaking as a Frenchman, 1916 has nothing in common with the storming of the Bastille (which was only a sideshow in the Revolution) I have lived long enough in Ireland to be perplexed by the mythology of 1916 when it was in truth a minority affair that achieved very little. That myth has been propagated in the Irish education system ever since, and some people hold onto the event as if it has some sort of religious resonance (Pearse’s blood sacrifice) I seem to recall that only about 1500 turned up for the Rising, and most of them hadn’t really a clue what was going on. The militants who led it enjoyed no popular support. And if you read Irish history, you will notice that none of ‘the uprisings’ 1798, 1803, 1848 or 1867 made much of a dent with the wider public. Most people stayed at home…

      Over the last number of months on this site and in the other media outlets, I have witnessed the slow build up towards the centenary celebrations (damp squib) where the political establishment (a joke by any standard) will stand solemnly outside a reconstructed post office, play a retarded anthem and salute a knock off flag whilst pretending that Ireland never existed before 1916 or it was in the clutches of oppression which of course any historian of merit would tell you is nonsense. If you want to celebrate a turning point in modern Irish history you should look to the Conscription crisis of 1918 as the real catalyst. What makes this interesting is that the real foundation of Irish national unity (south of the border) was based on anti-miltarism and opposition to conscription and therefore nothing to do with 1916.

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        When you move onto the next chapter you’ll find that it was the execution of the Rebellion Leaders by the British authorities that stirred the populous and mobilised the campaign for Home Rule and Independence.

        1. ReproBertie

          Don’t bother. This guy is too stupid to realise that all the words in a sentence need to be read to get the meaning of the sentence. Something as complex as early 20th century Irish history is way beyond his abilities.

        2. Drogg

          Don’t forget the anti-Conscription rhetoric was in place before 1916 and was bolstered by many who took part as well like Desmond Fitzgerald. Also it was never about anti militarism, it was about picking sides hence why all the soldiers who came back from WW1 and WW2 where sadly shamed by people, as they where seen to be siding with the enemy.

          Finally it is a commemoration not a celebration, its just thats what the current government seems to think it should be.

          1. Spaghetti Hoop

            Agree Drogg. I’m seeing ‘celebrate’ mentioned 4 times out of 5 on this topic which hints that the preparations for 2016 should have a strong educational brief.

      2. leesider

        Nice amateur history work there. Not shared by any creditable historian. Why have a go off our flag and our anthem?? Why is it “a retarded” anthem? I find that very insulting. The Irish republic would never have been achieved without 1916. It up to us to reclaim that republic and make it a fairer and prosperous one in which to live. Any historian of any merit would tell you that we were indeed “in the clutches of oppression”, as you put it, for most of the three hundred years that led to 1916.

        Most people stayed at home during previous rebellions, that is a pretty simplistic rendering of 300 years of history. The main point to remember is that the armed struggle that began in soloheadbeg was massively a popular rebellion as evidenced by the 1918 election. A democratic mandate for SF which the British chose to ignore just as they had ignored the popular will of voting Irish men for the previous 50 years and just as they chose to ignore the gerrymandering of the subsequent 50 years in the north.

        I am proud to live in a republic, imperfect as it is, and am grateful to the revolutionaries for that. I will be out to celebrate that next year. Anyone who is against that celebration can simply choose not to participate, it’s not mandatory.

        Also, you look like one of the muppets in that picture.

      3. Mark Dennehy

        The responses to this post are kindof ignoring the minor point that he’s right y’know.

        The conscription crisis is one of the largest portions of Irish history that we’re not taught in school, where they skip over the several murders of civilians by the IRB during 1916 and the animosity felt towards the IRB by the population as a result is just glossed over as being dispelled by the execution of the leaders – which sortof says everyone was going [i]”Hey, you killed my husband/father/mother/child, but now that they’ve shot you for it, I think the British are horrible and we need to be a free nation and I’ll support a war of independence as a result”[/i].

        And it’s remarkable how nobody ever explained in school why the executions in May in 1916 didn’t lead to a war of independence until – depending on when you decide it started – early or late 1919, three years later. What, we were all happy in the UK for three years and then just decided [i]”Nope, not for us”[/i]? Without any event that directly affected every person in the island?

        Yeah, horsehockey. We turned round one day in 1918 to find that we were about to have half the men on the island forced into the trenches and we knew what that meant because of the existing regiments coming home with massive casualty rates by that point, sometimes with whole regiments wiped out. That was the push. 1916 just became a symbol, but it wasn’t the real reason.

        1. leesider

          Weren’t the killings of civilians by the British during 1916 much more notable?? Sheehy-Skeffington and many more aroused a lot of public outrage against the British. I can’t recall reading anything about the purposeful killing of civilians by the rebels.

        2. ReproBertie

          I don’t know where you went to school but we certainly covered conscription as part of the build up to the War of Independence when I was in the CBS in Mullingar. We also talked about the changes in the numbers eligible to vote in the 1918 election which was so beneficial to Sinn Féin (who were associated with the anti-conscription movement, even though conscription was off the table by then) getting a majority, refusing to attend Westminster and founding the Dáil which the British adminstration refused to recognise resulting in Sinn Féin declaring independence.

          1916 is seen as a foundation event partly because so many of those taking part and imprisoned afterwards were heavily involved in the subsequent War of Independence.

      4. sickofallthisbs

        You should really stop introducing every post with the phrase: “Speaking as a Frenchman”. We know you are, your pomposity, delusions of grandeur and poor intellect speak volumes about your place of origin so you don’t need to.

      5. Ultach

        Why have we not hired Louis as a consultant before now. He obviously knows everything. Does anyone have Hinda’s number?

        1. sickofallthisbs

          Speaking as a Frenchman, France is ze beacon of civilisation. Hinda will learn a zing or two from our noble lead-airs.

      6. SADDo

        If you French phukkers like Humbert at Killala had shown more balls delivered on your commitments in the first place there would have been no need for 1916. But no, you couldn’t even get that right, could you? Probably waiting for the yanks to arrive.

        Vichy France. #thatisall

  3. Digs

    I find the killings reprehensible. I find that tawdry “piece” soapy. Is David Burns a 13 year old on an exchange?

  4. Spaghetti Hoop

    Not the easiest piece to gather points from. I understand that the writer is an opponent of violence but there are too many contradictions and equivocation in this piece, e.g.;

    “A significant amount of people started defending last week’s bloodshed”.
    ?? Dangerously ambiguous.

    “In Ireland, we are about to celebrate 1916.”

    “…young people from disadvantaged areas rejecting long overdue invitations to play a part in French society”
    If the invitations are “long overdue” then they haven’t been offered to reject. Plus these young people are mainly French citizens and already play a part in French society.

    “History might obscure and shroud that fact with the passing of time…”
    It doesn’t. The passing of time actually reveals more evidence of what alternatives political leaders, generals etc. had for consideration.

  5. Sidewinder

    Som one explain to me how the fupp an armed resistance in an occupied country fighting that occupier’s vastly superior armed forces is the same as ambushing and murdering unarmed journalists for drawing a picture?

  6. Joe835

    Fully agree with his thoughts on 1916, I’m deeply uneasy at the glorification of the participants in such a pointless, pathetic mess that only served to give future “freedom fighters” a fig leaf of legitimacy. The reaction to it by the British state was equally pointless and only fanned the flames – but I’m not expected to subscribe to their myths as an Irish person.

    1. Joe the Lion

      We were slaves then and we are slaves now

      1916 was just a bump on the road and will soon be long forgotten

      1. Dubloony

        Subjects then, citizens now.
        All decisions made from the foundations of the state are our own.
        We might not like them (oh where do I start) but they are our own.

    2. Sidewinder

      I really see this as more the marking of a pivotal point in Irish history rather than as everyone celebrating lots of violence.

    3. Paolo

      “The reaction to it by the British state”
      Was the rising not a reaction to the British State? The latest reaction in a long line of reactions. Where you fall down is that the British were occupiers and oppressors. They were not going to leave simply because someone asked them to. 1916 set in motion a series of events that culminated in self determination for most of Ireland. Without it, the rights and freedoms that Catholics in NI only received in the 70’s and 80’s would also have been denied to the rest of the Irish.

      1. Joe835

        The British weren’t occupiers in the traditional sense; Irish people could and did participate in much of the British state apparatus. Many of those fought by the 1916 rebels were themselves Irish, many civil servants both in Ireland and elsewhere in the British Empire at the time were Irish – it’s far too simplistic to say we were occupied and the British were the occupiers. We were part of the imperialist machine – and often enthusiastic parts. Just look at the photos of O’Connell Street during Queen Victoria’s last visit; wall-to-wall union jacks!

        1. Ultach

          Co-option of loyal natives is a classic colonial strategy. The English used it, along with many other strategies, most successfully in Wales and Scotland, fairly successfully here, in India, etc.

        2. Formerly known as

          How many soldiers did these people who “weren’t occupiers in the traditional sense” have in Ireland? How many were there in the 6 counties in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They were oppressors and occupiers as much as they were anywhere else in the empire.

    4. Peter

      The leaders of the Rising only did it so those silly Nationalists up the north could oppose their abhorrent treatment at the hands of the state in the 1960s, and 70s.Oh, they also did it so that Sinn Féin could be popular in Northern Ireland in the 2000s, and 2010s.

      It’s definitely fair to criticise the dead for the actions of those who hijacked their legacy! Numpty.

  7. SOMK

    “Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life.”

    1. gallantman

      In a similar vein a German paper printed a lot of the CH covers as a show of solidarity, yet if the same paper had printed a Swastika the editor would be arrested. We each have taboos/limits. These oughtn’t be gratuitously ignored.

    2. JMP

      Pretty Stupid “thought experiment” Charlie Hebdo published a satirical cartoon making fun of Mohammed. They also published many cartoons making fun of other religions. Surprisingly it was not the Catholics or Jews who went and executed the staff. Equating publishing a satirical cartoon to standing in a grieving crowd making fun of the dead is just not in the same ball park. Ridiculous comparison !!!! I am pretty sure the people in the supermarket did not publish the cartoons also.

  8. mauriac

    pity this poor Milquetoast when someone explains the French revolution to him … (or what France just did in Libya or the Algerian war or the 61 massacre or the Resistance torture chambers in London etc etc)

      1. Ultach

        When I lived in France in the early nineties people used to ask me what part of Ireland I was from. I use to say “la zone occupée”, as in not the Vichyiste Free State. Oh how we laughed! Not saying I was right. Just enjoyed winding them up.

  9. Clampers Outside!

    On the 2016 thing…. it’s likely to be turned into some celebration for and by one or all of the main political parties… and how their party, or long dead member of their party, played such n’ such a role on that easter weekend. Or worse, hijacked by one party.
    And then you have the ‘descendents’ of 1916 proclaiming some sort of right of passage over the whole thing, as if being a descendent was some sort of ‘birthright’ to a front seat of the celebration. And apparently none of those ‘living-off-of-the-family-history’ types are objecting to any UK representatives being there, which is stupid and immature.

    From those two points alone, I believe that it’ll likely not even be a celebration, but a mean spirited, narrow minded, backward looking, hyper-nationalist pissing competition.

    And for those reasons, I hope not to be here for the gushing politicians and the bitter snipey ones left out. Imagine the ‘woe is me’ out of them when it comes to the day.

    They can all kiss my left one… or the Popes birth ring.

  10. Bobby Rwanda

    No, sorry. One cannot compare and contrast an armed, largely guerrilla campaign against what was the world’s most powerful military empire at the time w/ religious extremists shooting up an office of unarmed civilians. I admire some of the other points he’s made but there’s a definite gulf between these two forms of violence.

  11. Drogg

    While we are rewriting history what does David think about lives that would have been lost during oppressive colonial rule? Does he not realise that it is not a celebration but a remembrance of one of the major events that brought about the foundation of the state?

  12. Eamonn Clancy

    I think it’s fair to say that the bottom of the revisionist 1916 barrel has been scraped once and for all. Easter week, like or hate it, was a significant, brave and honest attempt to win freedom from our British master and it is fitting we honour the endeavour.

  13. leesider

    When I say celebration, I don’t mean celebrating the violence (does anyone mean that?). I mean celebrating the act that led to the foundation of the State in which I am a citizen. Is that wrong?

  14. Mr. T.

    David Burns is a Fine Gael shill and the only point of this ridiculous school boy essay is to rewrite Irish history and undermine the idea of a true Republic.

    Bruton is one a crusade to hijack all historical record of the 1916 rising in an attempt to erase it and replace it with the notion that maybe we really should have stayed in his beloved British Empire.

    Burns is a fool and would be laughed at of the room by any professional historian.

    Attempting to use the Paris attacks to preach this disingenuous ideology is offensive to the people who participated in 1916 and their families and the victims of the Paris attacks too.

    Typical Fine Gael sneery deceptive crap.

  15. Peter

    The idea of a disconnect between 1916 and 1918 is fairly ill-informed. Many of the Sinn Féin candidates in 1918 had partaken in the Easter Rising. The people clearly agreed with their form of movement, or else they wouldn’t have given them a mandate in that general election.

    The British had repeatedly attempted to put Home Rule on the long finger. Bruton, and the writer of this piece, willfully take 1916 out of context.

    It’s the same way as people nowadays DON’T agree with the actions of Republicans in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and henceforth have never voted for a party led by Adams and McGuinness in large numbers down here.

    The comparison between men who wanted to government their own country, and extremists who want to murder critics of their man in the sky, is completely absurd, and the needlessly derisive idea of criticising the flag and the anthem should tell you everything you need to know about the author.

  16. SADDo

    There’s a reason David Burns is an “expat”. The rest of us will never be expats, regardless of where we are in the world. We’ll always be pats.

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