A newly published paper takes a look at the issue of ‘rewriting history’, reformulating the past to present political agendas, and concludes that in respect of matters of Legacy in Northern Ireland this has resulted in a scandalous sanctioning of a narrative that ignores the entire purpose of which murder and bombing was a part, but not the whole story.
The paper suggests that the issue of the moment is not that ‘history’ is being ‘rewritten’. It is that the past (the recent past a nebulous idea of ‘memory’, the distant past a story of ‘oppression’) is being recruited to serve an agenda and historical thinking dismissed if it prevents one – and only one – moralising political whippet winning the race and becoming the undisputed champion.
It views the ‘legacy process’ as being:
“…based on assumptions and methodology ‘structurally’ biased against any other view of the past – in short, one structurally biased against the British ‘state’ and yet (remarkably) one sponsored by the British government.”
The paper questions whether the major problem with this approach lies in: “the statistics of murder – the cold, bloody, evidence contained in, for example, the book Lost Lives.”
Believing that approach of be one of profound error it points out that this ignores the purpose of which murder and bombing was part:
It ignores the declared campaign objectives of terrorist organisations to wage economic war, to undermine the rule of law as well as to subvert democratic politics.
Most fundamentally, it ignores the voices of democratic politicians across the spectrum, those who throughout the decades of sectarian terrorism were adamant and courageous in their unstinted opposition to and condemnation of both republican and loyalist terrorism. If one cares to look at it historically, the democratic political parties, the British Government, the Irish Government, the churches, ‘civil society’, public opinion, the ‘international community’, all condemned the use of violence by republican and loyalist terrorists.
It is remarkable today how this truth has become discounted. The Spanish academic Rogelio Alonso asked presciently in The IRA and Armed Struggle (2007):
‘What place will be occupied in history by those who, with immense civic and human virtue, have resisted using violence, in spite of having the same grievances as those who resorted to terror?’ The answer seems to be they will be written out of any place in ‘dealing with the past’.
While it seems more recently there is some evidence of pushback by the British Government on others’ efforts to ‘write the past’, it isn’t clear whether this is a conscious decision or a political choice in response to political pressure.
This first paper from publishing website dissentingvoices.uk is timely. Those involved considered what might be the best approach to widening public discourse on topics. The process of curation of a paper, bringing together contributions from a number of people from different backgrounds is intended to offer something new. It is hoped this process will reveal the working out of ideas and arguments, with each paper written over time, through many drafts, not the quick blog piece of a spare hour.
The paper “History has still to be written” may be downloaded on a new publishing website: dissentingvoices.uk