ECLIPSING EVIL

8 April 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Monday last, April 4, marked the anniversary of the murder by an assassin’s bullet of the American civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.
The killing was one of the defining moments in 20th century history: a dreadful act that in its immediate aftermath seemed to throw the aspiration for racial equality and the defeat of prejudice into eclipse.
Out of that eclipse, however, the principles to which Dr King devoted himself were to blaze out with an irresistible brilliance as the evil intent behind his killing was thwarted by the defiant will of the majority of the decent and the good. Not all of what Dr King worked for has yet to come to pass, and racial bigotry is still an undercurrent of life, but enough of his vision has become realised to ensure that he did not die in vain.
Monday’s anniversary seems a particularly important one to contemplate in our country this week, as communities north and south come to terms with the murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr in a car-bomb attack in Omagh, Co Tyrone on Saturday.
Beyond the just and understandable condemnation that this reprehensible action has evoked, and the deep sadness for a family shattered and suffering by having a loved one taken from them in such terrible circumstances, a swell of anger has risen in the breasts of ordinary Irish people.
That anger is informative to contemplate. It shows how deep-rooted the personal investment in the peace project that has been progressing in our country for the last decade or so has become.
Very few Irish people, whatever tradition they derive from or whatever religious or political convictions they uphold, will have had their reaction to Constable Kerr’s murder tainted in any way by ambivalence. Although it is not comfortable to recall it, there was a time not so long ago when that would not have been the case.
This shows that the peace project is working. But the fact that forces still exist in our midst with the means and the desire to carry out acts of this nature speaks soberly of the work that there remains to do.
Mayor of Co Monaghan Jackie Crowe, associating himself on Monday with the expression of sympathy and condemnation passed by his colleagues on Monaghan Co Council in reaction to the murder, added to his own shock and sorrow the reflection that perhaps a complacency had crept into society regarding the continued possibility of such acts.
The Mayor’s observation seems pertinent. There have been regular warnings from the Independent Monitoring Commission that the remnants of dissident republicanism were still possessed of the capacity to carry out murderous attacks on members of the security forces, and remained committed to that course of action.
Enough actual incidents of varying severity have been carried out in and around the IMC’s periodic alerts to place the killing of Constable Kerr in the context of an inevitable and recurrent manifestation of violence rather than that of an isolated act.
There has been complacency, and it is uncomfortable, again, to realise that it has been a societal one. The peace ‘dividend’ there to be enjoyed by us all in society carries with it a responsibility for its proper maintenance and tending.
That the perpetrators of Saturday’s killing have been allowed to gain sufficient foothold in the margins of our society to equip themselves to carry out such an action and so far escape culpability for it suggests that we have been deficient as a society in minding our precious blessing of peace.
There is still work to do in ensuring that peace on our island takes full hold and flourishes. Part of that work is the very challenging one of ensuring that the perpetrators of actions such as Constable Kerr’s cowardly killing are made amenable to the law.
It was to help realise the aspiration of his community for a more representative mechanism of policing in Northern Ireland that Ronan Kerr joined the PSNI. The presumed intent behind his killing – that of dissuading Catholics from entering the force – illustrates grimly the future that those responsible would like to see mapped out for us.
There are people living in the vicinity of our circulation area, perhaps within that area itself, who possess information that would be of vital assistance to those investigating the crime.
No one who has familiarity with the hold which family or community tradition continues to exercise over the minds and hearts of individual citizens in our Border areas, or the tyranny that paramilitary criminals can still exercise to protect themselves, could argue that passing on such information will be very easy for those who possess it. On the contrary, it will in some cases require great personal courage and a recantation of accepted beliefs.
The inescapable reality, however, is that perpetuating beliefs that allow a continuation of evil acts of violence has now grown as repugnant to the vast majority of Irish people as the acts themselves. It is a mindset of silence that must be broken.
It is inaccurate and overly emotive to draw exact parallels between the killing of Martin Luther King and the killing of Constable Kerr. But they do appear to share one resonant factor: the sense of deep public outrage and anger engendered, and the common desire that the twisted objective that motivated the evil acts should be resisted and defeated.
Edmund Burke famously stated that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. It is clear from the murder of Constable Kerr that all decent Irish people must do a little more if the evil remaining in our midst is to be finally eclipsed.

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