Kevin Doyle Blog

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Victory for Liberty: Obama not coming to Cork

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Quick take: Obama’s proposed visit to Cork to honour the memory of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist,  has been cancelled after it emerged that the conditions and abuse suffered by prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre (currently endorsed by Obama) were in many cases comparable to the horrendous conditions suffered by slaves in the United States.  Unconfirmed reports suggest that Douglass’s  statue – soon to be unveiled in Cork – refused to have anything to do with proceedings if Obama was to attend.

>>>> For those with time, read on >>>>>

It nearly happened and to think that the fine city of Cork actually had four US senators on its side too!  Imagine: four real millionaires were flying the flag for Cork, but Obama’s visit is not to happen afterall.  Heart breaking news, of course, for Cork’s La-Di-Da community and the Lord Mayor but a victory for truth and liberty nonetheless.

Readers will be wondering why the old liar was going to go to Cork in the first place?  Well, it’s an interesting story. Obama’s proposed stop off here had to do with a plan by University College Cork to honour the memory of Frederick Douglass, the  former black slave and abolitionist, who wrote the ground-breaking autobiography Narrative Of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave.  This book, published in 1846, was one of a number at that time to record in words the life and experiences of African slaves in the United States.  As such it played a seminal role in opening up knowledge and condemnation of slavery and what it entailed.  Later in his life, Douglass visited Ireland (and Cork itself) during our Famine and wrote warmly about his experiences and the welcome he received here.  [Not wanting to be ironic but us Irish know quite a lot about slavery and so we all got on famously.]

In remembrance of this connection (and fittingly too) UCC  will, in May, officially launch a human rights lecture series – part of which will entail the unveiling of a statue on campus in honour of Frederick Douglass.   Hence the Obama visit connection.  Apparently Obama credits Douglass as a inspirational figure in his own life – for his moral stand, courage and outspokenness [yes Barack you sure could learn a lot from Frederick alright].  But also, of course, Obama likes to place himself beside Douglass and his important position as an African American who escaped slavery and fought for liberty.

So Cork, Obama, Douglass – it was on the cards, it seems.

However then things started to go askew.  Good old fashioned nervousness entered the fray and following close scrutiny of the record books, distressing parallels between what Douglas fought against AND what Obama is standing up for, emerged.

If you read Douglass’s main work, the above named book, and you examine what he records, then one thing becomes very clear: Douglass had a huge and uncompromising committment to human liberty.  Douglass too, of course, knew what he was taking about.  He had been a slave and he had witnessed the lives of slaves.  Douglass saw the ugliness of servitude first hand.   Take this passage from Narrative …  (By the way Douglass’s account is scattered with accounts like this below.  In Narrative …. he paints a violent picture of the abuses and random violence that slaves were subjected to on a whim.)  Here is one:

“I used to be in Mrs Hamilton’s house nearly everyday.  Mrs Hamilton used to sit in a large chair in the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her side, and scarce an  hour passed during the day but was marked by the blood of one of these slaves.  The girls seldom passed by her without her saying ‘Move faster, you black gip’ at the same time giving them a blow with the cowskin over the head or shoulders, often drawing the blood.”  (p 80  Penguin Classic edition.)

Now take a look at something that Obama has recently stood over with his Administration’s defence of the prosecutions/ information gleaned from interrogations carried out at Guantanamo Bay.  I picked this at random: an account of the circumstance of Martin Mubanga incarceration there.

“Martin Mubanga‘s … hands were shackled in rigid, metal cuffs attached to a body belt; another set of chains ran to his ankles, severely restricting his ability to move his legs. Trussed in this fashion, he was lying on the interrogation booth floor. The seemingly interminable questioning had already lasted for hours. ‘I needed the toilet,’ Mubanga said, ‘and I asked the interrogator to let me go. But he just said, “you’ll go when I say so”. I told him he had five minutes to get me to the toilet or I was going to go on the floor. He left the room … I squirmed across the floor and did it in the corner, trying to minimise the mess. I suppose he was watching through a one-way mirror or the CCTV camera. He comes back with a mop and dips it in the pool of urine. Then he starts covering me with my own waste, like he’s using a big paintbrush, working methodically, beginning with my feet and ankles and working his way up my legs. All the while he’s racially abusing me, cussing me: “Oh, the poor little negro, the poor little nigger.” He seemed to think it was funny.’ (From How I entered the hellish world of Guantanamo Bay.  See more about Martin Mubanga’s story here.)

Parallels, right?  But the thing is – and initially this got lost in the heat – Douglass was against these abuses.  Against.   Whereas Obama, now he is for them.  He has defended and kept open the atrocious Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre despite his election promise and plenty of other guff about human rights and so on.

So something was wrong , right?  Actually it got worse.  Incredibly.  When I was looking into the Obama thingy and his coming to Cork, I also discovered: apparently, as a youth Frederick Douglass was enslaved on a plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, called Mount Misery.  This aptly named place was then owned by Edward Covey, a notorious “slave breaker.”  It was, reports say, a place where brutality and beatings were very common.  Now guess who owns some of that the Mount Misery property today?  No, it’s not Obama.  It’s Donald Rumsfeld.  Yes, the former Secretary of Defense (key architect of the U.S. military’s program of torture carried forth at Gitmo) now actually owns part of the Mount Misery estate.

No wonder then that the statue/ memorial to Douglass (soon to be unveiled here in Cork) stared to behave strangely – making noises and shaking and so on, and so forth.  Sheer indignation and anger at the hypocrisy and downright slight to the great exponent of liberty was the cause.  So no Obama for Cork, afterall, but a small if not unimportant victory for truth and liberty all the same.

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