Credit: Irish Defence Forces Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography CC BY 2.0

The President’s rotten statement on Nigeria

It’s worth asking the following question: Had, hypothetically, the awful massacre that took place in Nigeria this past weekend been a massacre of innocent LGBT Nigerians, and not innocent Nigerian Catholics, do we think that Ireland’s President Higgins, issuing what he claims are condolences, would have pointed to Climate Change as a factor in the killings?

Because honestly, I don’t think he would have. I think he’d have blamed homophobia, and bigotry, and intolerance. This statement, therefore, is just an insult:

In a statement, President Higgins said that such an attack was made in a place of worship “is a source of particular condemnation, as is any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change”.

“The neglect of food security issues in Africa, for so long has brought us to a point of crisis that is now having internal and regional effects based on struggles, ways of life themselves,” President Higgins said.

“The solidarity of us all, as peoples of the world, is owed to all those impacted not only by this horrible event, but in the struggle by the most vulnerable, on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted.”

The point here isn’t whether Climate Change is real, or not real. The point is that President Higgins isn’t really issuing condolences at all.

What he is doing, in fact, is using the killings of innocent men, women, and children to shoehorn one of his own personal political hobby horses into the conversation. In the Presidential telling, those who lost their lives are not to be remembered as the victims of cruel and brutal murderers, but as the victims of the western corporations who don’t share the President’s eagerness to cut emissions as quickly and as urgently as he might like. This isn’t a statement of condolence, as such. It’s a statement of blame. They didn’t die at the hands of terrorists, this statement says, but at the hands of you, and people like you, with your diesel cars.

It is not only an insult to the dead, by the way. It is, in its own way, an insult to the intelligence of their killers. The precise identity of the perpetrators of this weekend’s atrocity has yet to be determined, but we know that killings of Christians in Nigeria is carried out, predominately, by two groups: Boko Haram, and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP). Both groups are motivated primarily by a desire to cleanse Nigeria of non-muslim faiths. They are fighting a religious war. Neither, famously, is particularly vocal about the dangers of climate change. They are not being driven to kill because of climate induced hunger, or thirst, for anything other than blood.

But then, President Higgins represents an intellectual tradition that has, always and ever, refused to take religious extremism – at least, Islamic religious extremism – seriously. There is and must always be, to his hardline strain of the left, some other explanation, because in their eyes nobody could really simply be killing in the name of their God. ISIS and Al Quaeda and all of the rest of them are not really sincere, in this telling, but products of American or Israeli foreign policy excess. But of course, that explanation doesn’t really work in West Africa: There has been no Israeli occupation. No American invasion. And, therefore, some other explanation – or excuse – must be found. The number one rule for people who think as the President does is that when Islamic extremists attack, the west must be to blame. And since there is no other available explanation, climate change is the one he’s landed on here. It’s as predictable and tiresome as it is insulting.

Note, by the way, that the same benefit of the doubt is never extended to western perpetrators of outrages. When angry white young American or European men commit horrendous acts of violence, there is never a moment’s consideration for whether western society might have helped to create the killers. Then, ever and always, the blame lies solely with the murderer, and perhaps, if the outrage is sufficiently fevered, with all white men more generally. Everything is viewed through an explicitly political lense: Nothing bad ever happens, other than those things which we can blame on opposing ideologies. It’s fanaticism – the very definition of ideology taken to its most absurd.

What the President of Ireland says about killings in Nigeria will not, of course, matter a whit to the dead, or to their families. On the global scale, he is a fantastically unimportant man. But he is, for some reason, our chosen representative as a people. What he says is notable, and why he says it is worth exploring. If for no other reason than that we might hope, and pray, that the Irish electorate in time comes to learn from its error, and doesn’t replace this fool with one of like mind.

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