Friday, January 9, 2009

No More: When Resistance Turns to Terrorism

Outside of institutions or programs of formal legal education (e.g. law schools, bar prep courses, and continuing legal education), many lawyers and non-lawyers receive their daily or weekly doses of informal legal education through legal dramas on television and/or film. Yet, awareness of law sometimes emerges in unexpected places, ways, and times. In those moments, the unexpected scene can have a greater educative impact (intended or not) in addition to carrying a considerable and longer lasting resonance with a viewer because of its impromptu nature – in comparison to the steady and expected representation(s) of law that might appear on a weekly television drama like Law and Order. In the case of the latter, viewers may be bombarded week after week with a variety of interesting legal issues that nevertheless bleed into one another over time – diminishing any long term lessons that could be generated from such exposure.

As I shall discuss here, one of these unexpected instances of legal awareness took place in a documentary film capturing a rock band’s concert tour through the United States – U2’s Rattle and Hum. During the second to last live performance of the film (Sunday Bloody Sunday), Bono injects a striking and powerful statement about law, justice and the reasonable legal limits on actions taken during a resistance movement. Through Bono’s impromptu speech before and during the song we hear a powerful and emotional statement about when resistance turns into wild acts of terrorism and lawlessness.

There is a context. The song was filmed and performed on Sunday, November 8, 1987, in Denver, Colorado. Earlier that day, a bomb planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded in a town in Northern Ireland called Enniskillen during a Remembrance Day event. Consequently, 11 people were killed and many others injured. As would become evident, this tragedy was on the minds of the band members that day.

Bono introduces Sunday Bloody Sunday in the context of Irish immigration in America dating back to the Great Famine of the mid-19th Century to the present. He explains some of the more contemporary reasons (circa 1987) for Irish immigration:

You know there are more Irish immigrants in America today than ever - some illegal, some legal. A lot of them are just running from high unemployment. Some run from the troubles in Northern Ireland, from the hatred of the H-Blocks and the torture - others from wild acts of terrorism like we had today in a town called Enniskillen where 11 people lie dead, many more injured, on a Sunday, bloody Sunday.

The band begins the song sombrely with the Edge on guitar playing arpeggios unaccompanied by the militaristic drum beat of Larry Mullen Jr. that normally begins the song. Bono sings the lyrics with Edge’s guitar as his only accompaniment for the first two verses and chorus. As the band is about to begin the 2nd chorus, the drums and bass join in with a noticeably excited and aggressive beat followed by Edge’s guitar solo. After Edge finishes his solo, he continuously strums away at a chord while muting the sound with his left hand giving an aggressive cadence.

At this stage, Bono addresses the crowd angrily, passionately:

And let me tell you something. I've had enough of Irish-Americans who haven't been back to their country in 20 or 30 years come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home...and the glory of the revolution, and the glory of dying for the revolution. Fuck the revolution! They don't talk about the glory of killing for the revolution. What's the glory of taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and children? Where's the glory in that? Where's the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old-age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where's the glory in leave them dying, or crippled for life, or dead under the rubble of a revolution that the majority of the people in my country don't want? No More!

There are two aspects of Bono’s speech in particular that are worth discussion – one explicit, the other more implicit. First, Bono’s speech expressly speaks to the limits of proper conduct during war and resistance – and specifically from the perspective of law and justice – limits on the killing of non-combatants and protected persons under humanitarian law. Bono does this by invoking two compelling images. First, he speaks about the horror and trauma of a husband/father being murdered in front of his spouse and children (and by implication the horror and trauma of the family in having to witness the execution). The imagery of terrorists invading one’s house and gunning down a victim in his/her home and particularly the bedroom – normally considered a safe and (secularly sacred) private space – carries the gravity of the violation home to viewers.

The second image that Bono invokes is the targeting of a parade of elderly pensioners killed at the Enniskillen bombing. Once again, Bono refers to the murdering and injuring of individuals who are non-combatants – protected persons who are targeted during a public setting honouring their sacrifices. In both contexts, the killings are shown for what they are - craven acts targeting civilians and violating basic norms of human conduct.

The second overall aspect that emerges from Bono’s short speech is the support of diasporic communities for resistance and violent activities in the home country. Although Bono doesn’t directly address it (he refers simply to Irish-Americans glorifying the resistance), what is implicated here is the material, financial and moral support for the activities of the IRA amongst Irish-Americans and Irish nationals living in America – and by extension their sustaining the type of murder that the IRA has committed in the examples he illustrates.

Although set in 1987 in connection with the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Bono’s speech still has resonance today on some pertinent legal and political issues. First, it implicates matters dealing with the treatment of civilians in contemporary conflict zones whether by government forces and/or resistance groups. Second, Bono’s speech draws attention to support by diaspora communities funding state or non-state terrorism and/or otherwise questionable military actions in “home” territories as well as the legal and moral implications that arise from all this.

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