Press take cover from Gerry Adams' crude sniper fire
Nobody likes being on the receiving end of passive-aggressive behaviour. It's like coming under attack from sniper fire: you feel wounded, but because it's coming at you from under cover, there's nothing you can do about it. Trying to confront your attacker, and hold him to account, is bound to fail because passive-aggressive antics are always totally deniable. Me? Try to threaten you? Sure you know I would never harm a hair on your head.
There's always some perfectly rational explanation, so that the victim is the one who ends up looking paranoid and hysterical. It's a powerful, and powerfully nasty, strategy, often adopted by those who wish to unload their hostile impulses while all the time looking whiter-than-white. Innocently upstanding, unimpeachably correct.
Gerry Adams gave a master-class in the art of passive-aggression last week when he recalled how IRA leader Michael Collins dealt with negative Press coverage, such as Mr Adams and Sinn Fein have been experiencing following the Mairia Cahill revelations, in his day.
"What did Michael Collins do? He dispatched his men to the office of the [Irish] Independent and held the editor at gunpoint as they dismantled the entire printing machinery and destroyed it," wrote Adams in his blog. Almost the same words that he used at a Sinn Fein fundraising dinner in New York a few days earlier, only there he added the caveat: "Now I'm obviously not advocating that..."
"Ill-judged and inappropriate," said the National Union of Journalists. "We are seriously concerned that this remark may be viewed as a veiled threat," said the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers. The publishers' group wrote an open letter to Mr Adams, calling on him to retract his remarks and to "publicly affirm your abhorrence of all forms of violence against journalists".
No, no, no, said Gerry. Wait a minute, guys, you've got me all wrong. No threats here.
All Adams was doing, apparently, was "pointing to the hypocrisy and inconsistency of a view that portrays the IRA of 1919 as freedom fighters but labels the IRA of 1979 as terrorists". To interpret his remarks in any other way, he says, in his latest blog-post, is both "hysterical" and "hysterically funny", the reaction of someone in the grip of "an extreme emotion which cannot be controlled".
Of course, of course. It would be mad to think otherwise. Gerry's obviously not advocating anything bad, didn't he say so himself? And we know that his word is his bond.
His good reputation grotesquely impugned, Gerry Adams goes on to implicitly align himself not with his antecedents in the old IRA, who literally smashed the press when it published stories they didn't like, but with notable Irish writers who were themselves subject to narrow-minded government censorship, just like poor beleaguered Sinn Fein endured with the broadcasting ban. He cites James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, John McGahern and several others, all of whom had their work banned in their own country.
And somehow it's this, even more than his dubious invocation of Michael Collins, that really makes me squirm. Adams, who fancies himself as a bit of a writer, is cynically appropriating these extraordinary men to bolster his own questionable credibility. It's a weasel move, the instinct of the philistine who hides behind greatness in order to lob a dirty stone.
One name in Adams' list of fellow victims of censorship, John McGahern, jumped out at me particularly painfully.
I had the pleasure of knowing John a little, in the last years of his life. He was a humble, self-deprecating man, as well as a humane writer of luminous and profound depth.
When the banning of his novel The Dark caused him to lose his job as a teacher, he faced the combined forces of Irish church and state with quiet dignity.
He was uncomfortable if anyone tried to recruit him as an ideologue. People tried to prompt him into attacking the Catholic church, yet he was much too thoughtful to be a mere agitator. Besides, he deplored not the church, which he described as 'the weather' of his childhood, but dullness of mind and impoverishment of imagination.
John McGahern's writing resonated with truth, beauty and grace. It transcended the boundaries of place and time to touch the universal. His name should not be appropriated as a weapon, or a shield, in Gerry Adams' crude salvos against his critics.