The Menace From Within and the Art of Obfuscation

I found the Madness from Within deeply misleading. The documentary begins with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which ended the Irish War of Independence, created the Irish Free State, and gave Northern Ireland the permission to remain under British rule. At first, this may seem reasonable, considering the high concentration of Ulster Unionist Protestants in Northeastern Ireland. We must consider this event’s relation to the spirit of the times, reflected by the redistribution of territory halfway around the globe, in the Balkans and the Middle East.

As we saw in Mazower, the aftermath of the First World War saw the creation of numerous artificial borders and states. The League of Nations did not exist solely to prevent the resurgence of widespread armed conflict; it also served the interests of the former Allied powers, notably England and France, who, believing themselves to have “won” the First World War, wished to dictate the conditions of the world’s newfound peace. This process would form the basis of the modern Middle East, which continues to wrestle with the consequences of the Ottoman Empire’s fragmentation. The French began by dividing Syria into smaller parts. These included modern-day Lebanon, Alexandretta, Alawi states in the north, and some Druze states in the south, while Damascus and Aleppo acquired the status of city-states.[1] Lebanon’s Christian majority, who insisted on remaining independent from the rest of Syria, facilitated France’s endeavor. Meanwhile, a seemingly constant stream of Arab nationalist revolt plagued the rest of French Syria.

The British adopted a much more favorable, if inconsistent, stance in regards to Arab nationalism.  At first, they allied themselves with the Hashemite family of Jordan –then headed by Hussein bin Ali- who ruled over the independent Hejaz region. However, when bin Ali claimed to be the caliph of Islam, the British Foreign Office felt threatened and allowed the Saudis to take over the Hijaz in 1924.[2]  When British Iraq needed to contend with an Arab insurrection in 1920, they installed Faisal I in power to restore order.[3]

As I noted earlier, the creation of a British-ruled Northern Ireland might appear quite reasonable, considering its high proportion of Protestants. However, we must not forget the many Catholic inhabitants of Northern Ireland or the desire of imperial powers like Britain to maintain control of their subjects, even if that meant redrawing borders and playing religions and ethnicities against one another. To deny the Catholics the right to their own nation for the sake of a regional Protestant majority that remained a national minority constitutes an act of imperialistic aggression. Of course, one can argue that the Northern Irish Parliament voted on the issue. Yet, I find this argument unconvincing. Page 8 of David MccKitrick and David McVea’s book, Making Sense of the Troubles reveals the extent of the Unionist assault on Northern Irish democracy:

“In 1922 the voting system known as proportional representation was abolished. Its removal was by no means simply a technical adjustment, since it had been built in both as an actual safeguard for Catholic and Protestant minorities in the two parts of Ireland and also as a symbol of respect for their views. The first past-the-post system introduced in its place, together with the highly partisan redrawing of local government boundaries, was of huge benefit to the Unionist Party. As a result of the changes, nationalists lost their majorities in thirteen of twenty-four councils they originally controlled.”

To ignore this information and act as if no manipulation on the part of Northern Irish Protestants and British Loyalists influenced the separation of Northern Ireland from the Free State constitutes the height of intellectual dishonesty. We should also ask ourselves if the establishment of a separate Northern Ireland, like France’s partition of Syria, ostensibly for the sake of Lebanese Christians, might not represent a British effort to prolong strife in Ireland by partitioning it, thereby undermining any hope for a completely unified Ireland and  giving them an additional reason to station troops and bases on the island. The documentary fails to consider this plausible explanation, painting those who continued fighting for total Irish independence as “impractical”.


[1] Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. A Concise History of the Middle East. (Westview Press: Boulder CO, 2002), 207.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.