Saturday, July 31, 2010

Truth and reconciliation? Ha!

"The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made."
Grouch Marx

I'm a pretty laid back kind of guy. Remember those images from the World Cup of Fabio Capello having a mental breakdown on the sideline during England's game with Slovenia? Well, that's not me. Never. I'm too calm and reserved for that malarkey. At a football match I look less like Signor Capello and a lot more like Kieran McGeeney (one for the GAA readers there). It's pretty much the same if I go to a comedy gig. I never laugh out loud. It doesn't mean I don't find the man on stage funny, it's just my laughter takes place inside rather than outside. Maybe I'm just too northern for my own good. In a place where childrens swings were once padlocked on Sundays, overt displays of happiness are often viewed with suspicion in these parts. My lack of emotion also extends to news and current affairs. I don't get filled up full of self-righteous anger in the same way many people do when they see an item on the news or read something in the paper that they find particularly distasteful. However, while watching the news on RTE One last night, I did find myself in the unusual position of hollering "oh, fuck off you lying cunt" (exact words, apologies to female readers) during one report.

The piece in question concerned the discovery of human remains at bogland near Carrickmacross in county Monaghan. The remains are thought to be those of Charlie Armstrong, one of the more mysterious murders of our recent conflict. Mr Armstong was abducted on his way to mass in August 1981 and, as they say in this neck of the woods, 'disappeared'. While it is rumoured that the victim may have earlier resisted an attempted hijacking by IRA members in the area, no organisation has ever officially claimed responsibility for his murder and no reason ever offered for killing and burying an inoffensive 54 year old man. What makes the murder of Charlie Armstrong so odd is that to this day the Provisionals refuse to acknowledge that they were responsible for his killing, despite the fact that everyone in Ireland knows they were responsible.

Yesterday, during a fake display of sympathy for the Armstrong family, Gerry Adams continued to follow the thirty year old Provo line/lie that they had nothing to do with the murder - or as the Sinn Fein President put it there was "no evidence" to prove that the IRA was involved. The "no evidence" line is a classic piece of wordplay Sinn Fein representatives have indulged in over the years to get themselves out of all sorts of sticky situations where 'the army' has done something that 'the party' find a wee bit embarrassing. There was "no evidence" that the IRA murdered Robert McCartney. There was "no evidence" that the IRA carried out the multi-million pound robbery of the Northern Bank in Donegall Square. And there is still "no evidence" that the IRA shot and buried poor old Charlie Armstrong. It must be true. Sure, Gerry says so.

In a bizarre way you have to admire Adams. Just how does he continue to tell such mindblowingly outlandish lies like this to millions of people (not to mention his continuing ridiculous claim to have never been an IRA member) and still hug his trees and sleep at night? I couldn't. I'm not the most moral, upstanding and honest citizen around but Gerry takes deceit to a whole new level. Nobody believes him of course, not even the people that vote for him. I'm sure even Colette, his wife, is well aware he's a liar. But still he gets away with it. Sometimes its funny. Sometimes its just too much, like yesterday when Gerry feigned sympathy for Charlie Armstrong's widow while with the same breath trotting out the same old hackneyed lie that his 'volunteers' did not anything to do with the killing. In retrospect, calling him a "lying cunt" was probably a bit too soft. Next time I'll think of something more cutting.

Groucho Marx once said that if you could fake honesty and fair dealing you had it made. Gerry and his entire movement have perfected it. If you are expecting these people to play their part in some form of 'truth process' or helping to resolve the 'victims issue' you'll be waiting a long time. Truth? Reconciliation? You must be joking. They don't the meaning of the words.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When is a stronghold not a stronghold?

The answer to the above question is, naturally enough, when it is not a stronghold. Let me explain.

At around this time last week Northern Ireland (or a few parts of it at least) was going through its annual outbreak of violence linked to the Orange Order's twelfth of July parades. In one of the most shocking incidents during several days of shootings, hijackings, petrol bombings, the odd landmine attack here and there and a wide variety of other forms of general thuggery, nationalist rioters in Lurgan attempted to seize and burn the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise express train as it passed through the town's now infamous Lake Street area. They failed.

In a report about the incident on UTV Live a few days later, reporter Sharon O'Neill stated that the railway line where the attempted train burning occurred is "close to the Kilwilkie estate, a dissident republican stronghold." Knowing people from this area, and never having known anyone that would even be sympathetic to the dissidents, I found myself a little stunned by such a description. A 'stronghold'? Is it?

I suppose the only way one could gauge whether or not this area is indeed a 'stronghold' is to look at how dissident republican candidates have fared out in past elections. Now, dissident republicans are not usually fond of elections. While they are good at building huge fertiliser bombs in county Monaghan cattle sheds and using teenage kids as human shields for taking pot shots at the security forces, ordinary democratic activity like knocking on doors for votes and climbing up lamp posts to erect posters doesn't really float their boat and would probably be a bit too dull for the sort of recruits their movements get. However, in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly election dissident republicans of various stripes stood in several constituencies around the province. One of those was Upper Bann, the constituency in which the town of Lurgan lies.

The candidate chosen to run for the rejectionists was Barry Toman, himself a Lurgan native and member of the Continuity IRA-aligned Republican Sinn Fein. His performance was utterly pathetic. A mere 386 first preference votes were cast in his favour. John O'Dowd of Sinn Fein topped the poll with 7,733 first preference votes while his running mate Dessie Ward also pulled in an impressive 3,118. Elsewhere in the nationalist camp Dolores Kelly, the main SDLP rep for the area, got elected to Stormont with 4,689 first preference votes. But for Mr Toman and his dissident allies a paltry 386 was all that could be mustered. Hardly the numbers one would attribute to an organisation operating in their "stronghold."

Remember too that these 386 votes were spread right across the constituency of Upper Bann. Barry Toman would most likely have attracted votes from the Garvaghy Road and Tunnel areas of Portadown, from other nationalist districts of Lurgan such as Taghnevan and from mainly Catholic rural parts of north Armagh like Derrymacash, Derrytrasna, Aghagallon and elsewhere. Given such a geographic spread it would be more accurate to say that dissident republicans have a scattering of support from various individuals in certain areas of the north rather than having any particular 'stronghold' to speak of.

They certainly have nothing approaching the likes of West Belfast (which could legitimately be described as a Provisional stronghold) or North Antrim (a long time DUP stronghold). And even assuming for a few moments that all 386 votes did indeed come from the same Lurgan estate it would still be far too small to even snatch a council seat were the same result to replicate itself in a concentration of support in one ward for a local election. In short, when people like John O'Dowd say that the RSFs and 32CSMs of this world speak for nobody but themselves they are telling the truth.

I do not for one moment suppose that Sharon O'Neill has any vendetta or gripe with the people of the Kilwilkie area of Lurgan. Why would she? I imagine that the use of the "stronghold" word has come around as a result of simple journalistic laziness rather than as part of a considered plot to smear people living on the estate. Maybe you are of the opinion that I'm being a bit too sensitive on this subject, but the fact is that a huge chunk of our population get their news from UTV and it is the reporters on that station that have the potential to shape the views of people. If Sharon O'Neill says that Kilwilkie is "a dissident republican stronghold" then many out there will accept that without question (and if you are a dissident loyalist in the Upper Bann area wanting to carry out a retaliatory attack after the latest CIRA bombing then where better to start than in the place the mainstream media consider to be their supposed hotbed of support).

At this precise moment in time there is nowhere on this island that can be truly described as a stronghold for either dissident republicans or dissident loyalists. Opponents of the peace process committed to the violence have been sidelined to the point where they are a complete irrelevance. We must keep them there and not give them unwarranted ego boosts that might allow some people out there to draw the conclusion that these thugs have something which they quite clearly do not possess - popular support.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We exist

David Miliband speaks to Labour Party members in Northern Ireland. Well, at least he knows they're there:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A change is gonna come. Well, maybe.

Jenny Muir, author of the East Belfast Diary blog and card-carrying member of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, has penned an excellent article for the Belfast Telegraph outlining her views on the future of left-wing politics in the province. Part of a series of contributions discussing the manner in which Northern Irish politics can move away from its present tribal formation, Jenny's is undoubtedly the piece which would be most in tune with my own thinking on the subject. It is also highly refreshing to see the mainstream media in Northern Ireland seek out the opinion of someone on the left who is not Eamonn McCann. Indeed, on the rare occasion that left-wing politics is discussed in papers or on TV here, the publication or the station concerned will almost always approach a representative of the Monty Python left for comment. So, well done Mike Gilson.

In her article last Friday (yes, I'm almost a fortnight late on writing about this but I'm sure you don't visit this website for up-to-the-minute news), Jenny Muir put forward two main proposals for the advancement of the democratic socialist cause here: a) the organisation and fighting of elections by a Labour Party in Northern Ireland, or b) an "electorally focused 'popular front', consisting both of political parties and individuals." Both suggestions are worth some thought, beginning with the first.

It has been my firmly held belief now for many years that the only way in which a proper non-sectarian left party can operate in this province is by way of a Labour Party, controlled and operated by its local members, while at the same time being linked closely in structural terms to both the London-based and Dublin-based organisations. Why is this latter bit so important? Because unless that correct balance of Britishness, Irishness and local organisation (something like the Good Friday Agreement's 'three strands') is struck at the outset of any such project then this particular adventure would end up the way all other centre-left schemes ended: in failure.

I do not say this because I have a personal preference on the question of whether my party card is posted to me from London or Dublin ("the unifying factor for socialist politics is class, not territory" as Jenny rightly points out) but rather for the reason that I know very well that nationalists in the north would not hesitate to attack the British Labour Party as a pro-union grouping in a bid to scare off potential Catholic voters while the DUP and UUP would do their best to frighten working class Protestants away from giving support to the Irish Labour Party if they ever decided to run candidates here. On the other hand, if a Labour Party in NI is seen to be linked to both rather than just one of them then it will make the job of attempting to smear any such vehicle with the sectarian brush that bit more difficult for our tribal chieftans. I'm obviously not the only one who has thought about this. I recall a document produced by members of the Irish Labour Party in the north a couple of years back which spoke of setting up some "structural arrangements" with its British counterpart.

Sadly, after four years of recording my thoughts on this website, it would appear that the leadership of the Labour Party in Britain remain as disinterested as ever in Northern Ireland while Labour in the lower 26 appear to have achieved the remarkable feat of managing to care even less now than they did when I began writing here in 2006. That still should not stop members of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland (the London one) and the Northern Ireland Labour Forum (the Dublin one) badgering away at their respective leaderships to try and get them to the stage where they are willing to stand candidates. They have come a long way in the past ten years. Who knows what kind of breakthrough might lie ahead.

So, what of proposal B? The idea of a 'popular front' certainly has its merits. Right now anything that would give the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to vote for a left alternative would be welcome. However, just who would this front consist of? The northern left is so small at the moment that it would take much more than the simple welding together of a handful of tiny parties, plus a few relatively well known individuals, to make any sort of a mark on the electoral scene. This was a point made to me some years back by a Socialist Party member who stated, quite correctly, that the combined forces of his group, the Workers Party, the Communist Party and the SWP would probably still result in a string of lost deposits. The subsequent failure of the Socialist Environmental Alliance (a loose coalition of SWP members, some CP activists and anyone else willing to lend a hand) in the local and European elections in the first half of the noughties proved him right. Things have been no better for the SP when they have stood candidates. There was a time when the WP could get candidates elected at local council level, though even that has well and truly passed.

The other problem of a 'popular front' (hear name, think Spanish Civil War) is that it is almost certain to be riven with splits and infighting, particularly if some of the Leninist sects named above were to be incorporated into the ranks. I have nothing against open and democratic debate within an organisation. Indeed, such debate would strengthen any such left formation. However, Stalinists and Trotskyists do not normally come from political traditions that cherish open and democratic debate and operating inside an electoral front containing individuals who may not see the vehicle as a stepping stone on the road to triggering proletarian revolution could pose a few issues.

Leaving the squabbling sects to one side, who else could form such a front? The Greens? Possibly, though seeing that they have already made something of a small breakthrough by getting Brian Wilson elected in North Down and are polling well in other constituencies it seems unlikely that they would be willing to surrender their political identity at this moment in time. Alliance? Extremely unlikely, but then would you really want them to be involved anyway? At a time when their allies across the water are in power with the Tories it would make no ideological sense to be forming a supposed left coalition with a liberal party.

The only electoral campaign where I can recall Alliance cooperating with a left force was in the 2004 European election where they and the Workers Party backed the largely apolitical campaign of John Gilliland. Maybe it had to appear apolitical. After all, this was a European election and Alliance are a profoundly pro-European party while the Stickies have been opponents of the integration ever since this island entered the then EEC back in January 1973. The whole selling point of the man seemed to be based on the fact that he was not a member of one of the four main parties, though quite exactly what the man stood for was never made clear. I still have a John Gilliland leaflet in my desk. I look upon it as a sort of memento from the most boring candidate in the history of electoral politics. Word of advice for popular frontists: broad-based, inoffensive, non-sectarian formations just don't inspire people.

The other disadvantage of a popular front is that it is a concept that is very limited in scope. What would its long term goal be? As a socialist it is my belief that if you want to effect change then you require state power. The problem with a Northern Irish left coalition is that it would still be unable to get into power where it actually matters, namely Westminster. You see, in my opinion, our problem in this part of the world is twofold: 1) we have no Labour/left party to vote for in Northern Ireland and 2) we are unable to vote for parties capable of forming a government in the United Kingdom. A popular front might (and I emphasise might) correct the first of these problems but it would never be able to overcome the second.

My view then? The establishment of a proper Labour Party remains the only show in the town. Yes, if a 'popular front' or left coalition candidate was standing in my area I probably would vote for them but I cannot imagine ever devoting any time or energy to such an organisation. We need to think big on this one, and that means thinking beyond the setting up of just another toothless six county organisation. As Jenny Muir stated in her Belfast Telegraph piece, the fight to run candidates here is still ongoing within UK Labour. That fight has to be kept up.

Quite why the British Labour Party continues to show no interest in Northern Ireland really does puzzle me. When I heard Labour supporters in the wake of the general election speaking about how if only they had a few more seats they could have entered coalition with the Liberal Democrats it immediately made me wonder why they chose not to even bother their backsides contesting the eighteen seats here in good old Norn Iron. There is undoubtedly a reservoir of support just waiting to be tapped into. I recall Andy McGivern of the GMB stating a while back that even now there are around 13,500 trade unionists in the north making regular financial contributions to the Labour Party - that's 13,500 choosing to donate to a party they know they can't vote for.

There is of course always the fear of starting from scratch and the possibility of failure hanging over the entire project, yet who is to say that if Labour was to announce that it was finally going to treat Northern Ireland in the same way as it treats members in England, Scotland and Wales that it couldn't tear away the odd progressive-minded councillor or MLA from some of our current parties? Even if that wasn't the case, there is no reason to fear starting from scratch. The men and women of the British labour movement who founded the party back in 1900 did not exactly inherit a parliamentary majority when they fought their first elections. The party had to be built from the bottom up. If that's what needs to be done in Northern Ireland today then so be it. If we succeed, we succeed. If we fail, we fail. The real tragedy would be if we didn't even bother to try.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not racist enough

Cliched though it may be, I am going to have a little rant about the Daily Express now. You see, my problem with the Daily Express isn't that it is a racist rag. If they want to hate all things foreign then they are more than entitled to hate them as much as they want. In an odd way I can actually accept the daily dose of racism one gets with the paper. What bothers me though is the way that their racism happens to manifest itself.

Take yesterday's front page headline for example: ONE IN 5 BRITONS WILL BE ETHNICS (one assumes that four out five Britons will somehow by that stage have no ethnicity whatsoever). This was a classic Express lead story – classic in the sense that no other paper was running with it. Like all those stories about Madeleine McCann, freak snowfalls that never happened and sinister plots to kill Princess Diana, the Express was on its own with this one.

The crux of of the piece was that, according to a University of Leeds study, by 2050 the United Kingdom will have a population that is around 20% ethnic minority, which depending on how you feel may or may not be of a shock to you (personally, I wasn't all that amazed or indeed threatened by the fact that white British people will still account for around a whopping 80% of the UK population at the midway point in this century). Going beyond the headline and into the story itself and you begin to see what it is that really gets to me – its that the paper just isn't racist enough.

Like the bloke in your local who starts his most racist sentences with "I'm not racist, but...", I sometimes wish the Express would just spit out the obvious xenophobic bile that it is harbouring up under the surface. Macer Hall, the author of yesterday's article, manages to get across to you that you should find the results of this "explosive" report frightening. The population is going to "rocket." Britain is becoming "crowded." Talk of the benefits of immigration is "absurd." You won’t find the terms nigger or muzzie or Paki getting used anywhere, but you still get the idea; the foreigners are coming and you should be shitting yourself.

I read somewhere yesterday (I forget where but I'll try to find the link) that a British National Party member remarked to a journalist before the general election that he got extremely irritated by papers like the Daily Express and the Daily Mail because they essentially said all the sort of the things on immigration that his party said yet when it came to voting time they would publish vociferous condemnations of Nick Griffin and his mates. On this, myself and the unnamed fascist would agree. As a good example read the BNP's reaction to the report (this is the sort of academic report that the organisation likes to seize on in order to arm itself with stats to prove that Caucasian Britons are fast on their way to becoming an endangered species, as well as make it look as if BNP members have read something other than Mein Kampf) and then read the Daily Express article again. Spot the difference? No? That's what I thought.

An insight into the minds of the kinds of people who give a damn about the contents of this report can be found on the BNP website in the comments section of the said article. This is the sort of stuff that certainly wouldn't have made it past Peter Hill: "the multicultural holocaust of the British people", "a well planned genocide by demographics", "we are being invaded", "colonisation", etc, etc, etc. Not the sort of language you'll ever come across in the paper itself, though undoubtedly quite run-of-the-mill stuff to hear from any of its readers. I wonder did Rupert Bear have any similar flirtations with fascism?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Living in the past

The headline in this morning’s Newsletter said it all: McCrea weeps for IRA victims. The specific victims the DUP’s South Antrim MP William McCrea was weeping for were the eight Protestant workers killed in a Provisional IRA landmine attack at Teebane in January 1992. I was eleven years old at the time of this atrocity and I can still remember the news reports of the massacre and seeing the charred remnants of what was just about barely recognisable as a minibus left turned on its side at that county Tyrone crossroads. It is understandable how anyone with even a modicum of humanity in them could be reduced to tears when faced with such a pointless slaughter of innocent people. In this part of the world though we tend to be quite selective about who we weep for.

The current debate surrounding the issue of victims in Northern Ireland is not one about humanity or compassion or reconciliation. It is, like everything else, deeply politicised and poisoned through with sectarianism. If our political representatives were honest they would probably admit that they are only interested in shedding tears if the victims concerned are their own coreligionists, hence the aforementioned Newsletter headline. The Reverend McCrea certainly fits the mould of the supreme hypocrite. An enemy of terrorism, yet he happily shared a stage with loyalist paramilitary godfather Billy Wright. A defender of law and order, though he was convicted for riotous assembly in Dungiven in 1971. An opponent of violence, yet a member of John McKeague’s vigilante Shankill Defence Association (a forerunner of the UDA). A man who claims that terrorists are not genuine victims of the conflict here, but he was still willing to officiate at the paramilitary funerals of two UVF members killed in the Miami Showband massacre.

Yesterday McCrea stated that he “wanted to place on the Westminster record the names of the innocent who died in Aldershot, Claudy, Bloody Friday, Tullyvallen, Kingsmills, La Mon House, Narrow Water, Darkley, Newry Police Station, Enniskillen and Teebane.” His concern about victims it would appear extends only to those murdered by republicans. The situation reversed would of course be no different. Nationalists occupy no loftier a moral high ground than the South Antrim MP. You’ll be waiting a long time before you hear Adams or McGuinness speaking of the senseless carnage committed by paramilitary groups from their own camp over the course of three decades.

The Saville Inquiry is an example of just how poor we are at addressing the past. While it was undoubtedly necessary it was also undeniably expensive and appears to have done little for reconciliation. People like McCrea probably have a lot to answer for in this regard. Unionists could have responded to the findings of the report in some manner other than persistently complaining about the amount of public money that was spent on it. They chose not to.

Yesterday, when speaking about Saville, McCrea asked why there have been no costly inquiries into atrocities perpetrated by terrorists. This is something which has been asked numerous times by unionist and loyalist politicians who feel that to even acknowledge the horrific slaughter of civil rights demonstrators in Derry would be to in some way dilute their reputation as unionists. The stupidity of the question is striking. If he cannot distinguish between how Bloody Sunday, a massacre carried out by the forces of the state, warranted a public inquiry and other PIRA-committed murders have so far not then frankly Mr McCrea should not be in the politics business. My guess is though that he knows only too well why there has been no inquiries into the atrocities listed by him above, but then why let that get in the way of some good old sectarian mud slinging.

So, just how do we approach the issue of victims and of dealing with our troubled past? My view is that we do nothing. Not literally nothing in the sense that we abandon the fight against sectarianism and try to forget what took place here in the years between 1969 and 1998, but rather that we reject any forums or committees which would most likely end up as expensive disasters. As I said in the aftermath of the Eames-Bradley proposals last year, the best way to deal with the legacy of the past is to draw a line in the sand and move on. We are not yet, I am sad to say, a people capable of a truth and reconciliation process similar to that which existed in South Africa. Far better a template would be a Spanish-style ‘pacto de silencio’. It may not sound nice. It may not be very appealing. But it will work.

Though our situation is often compared to that of South Africa, we are in truth absolutely nothing like the place. In South Africa a problem was identified (apartheid) and a solution produced (free elections and the establishment of a liberal democracy). However, in Northern Ireland we had the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, an accord which thankfully brought an end to the violence but had zero impact on the mindsets of unionists and nationalists. Unlike in other parts of the world, the old ways have yet to give way to new ones. One would need to look hard to track down a pro-Franco fascist in modern day Spain. You would face an equally difficult task in locating a South African willing to defend the record of the apartheid regime. In the Northern Ireland of 2010 no such shift in public opinion or shame in relation to our past has occurred. In fact, one wonders how anyone could seriously expect a truth and reconciliation process to succeed while the leader of the province’s largest political party continues to deny that which we all know was true, namely that he was a senior figure in the Provisional IRA. To even discuss such proposals while such a lie persists in the highest echelons of local politics is quite frankly a waste of time.

The most appropriate manner in which we can pay tribute to those who died during the troubles is through the establishment of normal democratic politics in Northern Ireland. By that I mean proper left-right politics, the way it is practiced in the rest of our island, the rest of the UK and the rest of the European Union. We can scrutinise our past all we want and talk about the atrocities of yesteryear until we are blue in the face but the fact remains that our tribal system must go otherwise we are merely keeping alive the template of conflict, providing the basis for a future resumption of war once a suitable demagogue comes along and works out a way to effectively whip up old fears and put the gun back in Irish politics.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Don't ban it, don't wear it

The debate over how Muslim women dress in the French Fifth Republic is a debate that seems to have been dragging on forever. After bubbling away under the surface of French society for quite some time it eventually began to grab headlines and public attention in the 1990s after a number of young female Muslims found themselves on the end of suspension orders from their schools for refusing to remove their hijabs in class. The bad news is that the whole farce is back to haunt us.

A bill which will make it illegal for anyone in France to cover their faces in public is at present being debated in the National Assembly. Under the terms of the proposed law it will be forbidden to wear a veil on a train or in a shop or walking down the street – in fact, anywhere. To be caught in breach of this law would result in a fine of €150. According to Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie the goal of this frankly bizarre piece of proposed legislation is to uphold the national values of secularism, gender equality and the promotion of integration. To me it looks to be completely in breach of what most people interpret as being the definition of secularism and will in the long term do nothing for the cause of community harmony.

I am probably what some individuals on the left would call (disparagingly, believe it or not) a ‘militant secularist’. Yet while it is my firm belief as a secularist, an atheist and a democratic socialist that the women wearing these veils are displaying an age old symbol of repression it is also my belief that it is up to them as individuals to cast off these shackles and not for the state to legislate against it. Yes, by all means we progressives can and should put forward the powerful arguments in favour of them ridding themselves of such backward practices, but to try and force them to do so does not fit in easily with my concept of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Michele Alliot-Marie may claim quite rightly that the “republic lives with its face uncovered,” but then in reality that is neither here nor there. The republic does indeed live with its face uncovered, but on the other hand is it the duty of that republic to tell one of its citizens to uncover their face? No. Of course, the people proposing this bill do not really have the interests of secularism at heart. For decades now it has always been a regular concern of the French centre-right to adopt Le Pen-style stances on certain topics and thereby keep the FN in check come election time. That is the real motivation of Madame Alliot-Marie and her UMP allies. For those of us on the genuinely secular democratic left we must firmly reject this pandering to the extreme xenophobic right.