For Whom Does Belfast Toll?

A year ago the Cowboy wrote the following:

“ conjures the flames of religious hatred that have plagued mankind for so long. Having just spent a week in Northern Ireland and walked the streets where neighbors violently killed and mutilated each other over the differences between their Protestant and Catholic faiths, these metaphorical flames can become real ones all too easily. That was a multifaceted conflict with various motivations, of course, but religion was certainly one of the factors at its core. If Christians want a war against Islam, they can certainly have it; there will be many on both sides who are very willing to enter the fray. Christianity, including Catholicism, Protestantism and the various non-denominational beliefs make up about 33% of the world population, while Islam makes up about 20%. It would be quite a war indeed. I hope we will not see a conflict of that scale and that, like Northern Ireland today, we can live together with a sense of understanding. Seeing the cranes and development around Belfast, the renewed hope and all of the other signs of a healthy, peaceful economy, it is clear to me that understanding is better than hatred.”



With the events of the last few days, those who follow Northern Ireland and can remember the Troubles have had their nerves rattled.  Sometimes it’s just an isolated case of violence; sometimes it’s “the shot heard round the world.”  The FT sums it up in an editorial today.  The Cowboy agrees.  Money quote:

“The Good Friday breakthrough, the cessation of terrorism and decommissioning of paramilitary arsenals, did not fully end the Troubles. The path to shared power between Unionists and Republicans at Stormont was tortuously long.

The turning point was when Sinn Féin – and the provisional Irish Republican Army behind it – endorsed the policing and justice system in Northern Ireland in January 2007. The party of Irish independence in effect agreed to work with the political establishment of the UK in seeking democratic consent for change in political arrangements in the island of Ireland.

The rump Real IRA and Continuity IRA may not understand politics but they have some grasp of history, which turned at that moment. They are now trying to turn it back.”

The Northern Ireland peace process, resolution of the Troubles, and the rebirth of the region are an inspiration to those of us interested in the resolution of the long, seemingly intractable conflicts that plague humanity.  Like the hard-won peace in the former-Yugoslavia, the cessation of violence in Northern Ireland is an ongoing process that does not end when an accord is signed.  Hearts and minds must be changed over time.

When looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the frightening situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”), inspiration to carry on comes from these victories for peace.  George Mitchell, who is now the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, was viewed by many as being instrumental to the Good Friday accordRichard Holbrooke, now the senior U.S. diplomat on the AfPak case, was credited with engineering the Dayton Agreement which brought peace to Bosnia.  These past successes give us all hope and courage.

Are the latest incidents in Northern Ireland important?  You bet they are.  Do they carry the significance that their perpetrators intend? No.  One does not panic when the bell strikes twelve.  One does, however, take note.  With apologies to Messrs. Donne and Hemingway…

For whom does Belfast toll?

It tolls for all of us.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 13:07  Comments Off on For Whom Does Belfast Toll?  
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