FROM BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND Topic: WESTERN EUROPE AFFAIRS
BELFAST, Northern Ireland - A bomb blast shook a house in downtown Belfast rattling and shattering some windows, just as a family of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother sat down to dinner. The matron of the family, not of the best of hearing, said: "Was that someone at the door?" Everybody around the table laughed.
In another instance, a car bomb destroyed the facade of a department store and damaged several cars in a busy Belfast shopping district. As soon as the police cordoned off the damaged area, the shoppers continued their exploits as if nothing had happened.
"Did you know that your hotel is the most bombed out hotel in all of Europe?," a Belfast cab driver (let's call him Peter), asked this writer and his traveling companion. This time, the American tourists laughed.
"That's nothing!" I said, visualizing in my own mind Dustin Hoffman in the "Wag the Dog" movie (which is playing in Belfast right now). "We have traveled all over Bosnia during the war. Did you know that Bosnia was the most bombed out place in Europe since World War II?" This time, Peter laughed.
Laughter in the face of danger. Not a nervous laughter. A hearty one. To go with the heartache of life in a war zone. Such apparently lackadaisical reactions are typical when real life becomes too grotesque for the normal human senses to process it. Such as in wartime. Or in urban warfare. That's when humor steps in as man's self-defense mechanism against fear or despair.
"Do you see that yellow building to the right; the one which looks like a cube?," I asked Peter in a role reversal.
"Yes, I do," he replied. "That's the hospital where my kids were born."
"Well, that building looks exactly like the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo - the place where the world media had huddled during the shelling of the city."
"And the place from which the Muslim snipers and mortars fired to attract the Serb artillery return fire, so the media would depict the Serbs as the 'aggressors'," interjected this writer's companion, an Irish-American from Chicago.
By now, it was evident that Peter, our driver, was having a good time. "Like Sarajevo, huh?" he said with a smirk on his face, as if I had just complimented Belfast. He turned off the taxi meter, as if implying that the ride was "on the house."
Peter then proceeded to drive us through the various Belfast combatant Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, showing us the demarcation lines. Shankill Road, and the area to the north of it, is the Protestant stronghold. Falls Road to the south is where the Catholics rule. At some places, the lines of demarcation are so close that you could throw a rock from one sector to the other.
Peter kept explaining where bomb blasts or terrorist actions took place in the recent past. We also took tons of pictures of the various "battlefield" insignia and the graffiti which both warring sides use. But for these Irish sectarian images and an absence of black faces, this part of Belfast could have been New York's South Bronx, or Los Angeles' Watts. Yes, replete with the garbage in the streets and boarded up "tenement" buildings, too.
The police stations in this part of Belfast are like no other this writer has seen anywhere in his world travels. In both Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, they look worse than even the medieval fortresses. At least the latter had windows, however "slitty." These Belfast police stations have none. They are surrounded by concrete block barriers in front of the fortress-like walls, and with a thick protective wire. The only thing missing was a mote.
Oh yes, there are also gun towers at each corner. Think of WW II German prisoner of war camps. Except that in the case of the Belfast police stations, with the police are also the prisoners.
TiM's bottom line? Belfast is not at all like the war in Bosnia, for example, which is what some people had compared it to. Despite all the atrocities, the Bosnian war was a relatively noble struggle of three different peoples' for independence or sovereignty.
Maybe once upon a time, the Northern Ireland conflict was also a righteous rebellion. No longer. Now it seems to be a war of the hooligans, no different than the gangland wars in American urban jungles. It's just that these (Protestant and Catholic) thugs wear (and, thereby, disgrace) the national colors of Ireland and England (i.e., Ulster), while the American thugs murder people under some home-grown symbols.
But there seems to be one similarity with the Balkan wars. As my Irish-American companion noted, just as with the American gangland wars, the Irish civil war is fueled by drug or NWO money which flows in from the top of the hierarchies, while the poor sods in Belfast, like the destitute blacks in the American cities, blow each others' brains or knees out.
"If at least they could spell as well as they kill!," Peter, our driver, said at one stage in mocked exasperation - another example of a war zone "black humor." The graffiti to which he was reacting, spray-painted on a wall in the Protestant district of Belfast read:
"F... IRA. Kill All Tags." (The "Taigs" - is a derogatory term for the Catholics; kind of like saying the "Kill All Niggers" in the U.S.).
In the Catholic Falls area, on the other hand, a sign read: "Vote Sinn Fein x Britts Out!"
This weekend alone, there were two gangland-style shootings in Northern Ireland. In one instance, a Protestant playing cards with his buddies in Belfast, was shot three times in the legs after an argument. The victim's legs were bound, and he was left to bleed to death.
In another instance (in Derry), two Catholic brothers (Frankie and Anthony Creane) were also shot in the legs, allegedly by the Ulster loyalists. Frankie was shot in the knee; Anthony in the upper leg and the groin. The latter is right now in critical condition at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, to which he was flown from Derry..
"Thanks to its experience with the urban warfare wounds, the Royal Victoria Hospital has become quite famous," Peter explained, as we drove past it. "Nowadays, they bring to it the trauma victims from all over."
I couldn't quite make out if this was a case of fame or infamy. "Looks like the hospital itself has taken a few hits," I said, pointing to some small caliber artillery pock-marks under the windows.
This time, nobody laughed. Even three hardened witnesses to human cruelty in our cab. Nor did my Irish-American companion seem to be anymore up to pointing out that the Sarajevo Muslims, for example, had also set up mortar batteries around the Kosevo hospital (see the book "Peacekeeper," by the Canadian Gen. Lewis MacKenzie), so as to attract the Serb counter artillery fire. And so that the "whole world" would then condemn the Serbs on a CNN/ABC cue. For RETURNING fire!
Back in the Protestant part of Belfast, a Nissan billboard ad was competing with a couple of spirited murals on a wall underneath. "Wonder if this Protestant battalion represents Nissan's overseas division?" I joked. This time, everybody laughed again. "Do you suppose there is also a Toyota overseas rep in the Falls?" (the Catholic neighborhood), I went on.
By now, Peter was laughing so hard the whole cab was shaking.
Some of the above photos were taken by Prof. J.P. Maher of Chicago, TiM editor's traveling companion.
Also, check out... "The Coming EU-US Clash?", "Northern Ireland: A War of the Hooligans", "U.S. European Policy Destroying Own Creations", "Austrian Men Do Dishes; Shakespeare Condemned in Arizona", "US Senate Picks Up the NATO Hot Potato", "Russia Is Still the Bogey No. 1"