Thursday, May 05, 2011

A Better Way to Spend the Fifth of May

Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican St. Patrick’s Day, which means that it’s an excuse for people of all cultures to get drunk. Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates the Mexican defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 and is not as widely celebrated in Mexico the way it is in the United States.

But the fifth of May is the anniversary of Bobby Sands' death. Bobby Sands, an I.R.A. member imprisoned in the North of Ireland, died on hunger strike in 1981. People all over the world were outraged that Sands, who had been elected to the British Parliament, was allowed to die. He and his fellow prisoners weren’t asking to be set free, only to be treated as the Geneva Conventions mandate they should be.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, an article about current Irish dissidents (Irish splinter groups that don’t support the 1998 peace treaty) claims that support for Irish republican groups diminished because of the September 11 attacks. This is complete nonsense. The Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, which is when the I.R.A. began surrendering its weapons; its armed campaign was well over before the September 11 attacks.

Comparing the Irish Republican Army to Al Qaeda is grossly ignorant and extremely offensive. Bobby Sands and his fellow prisoners fought for their country, both with weapons and without. They were Irish nationalists with a leftist political outlook, not bloodthirsty religious lunatics.

Sands’ sacrifice cleared the way for the peace that arrived 17 years after his death. He showed the Irish republican movement that they could be successful at electoral politics. Their cause was just, but people were tired of violence. The use of the ballot box instead of the gun by Bobby Sands deserves to be remembered.

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