I recently wrote an article in the Irish language online newspaper tuairisc.ie about a false logic called Reductio ad Hitlerum.
The term was first coined by the German-born Jewish political philosopher and classicist Leo Strauss in the 1950s – although versions of the phrase go back centuries depending on who the bête noire of the time was, from the devil himself to Napoleon.
The great monster of the 20th century was, of course, Adolf Hitler and he has been recruited to show the silliness of what is called an “association fallacy”.
The most common explanation of how it works goes like this: Jimmy is a vegetarian, Hitler was a vegetarian – therefore Jimmy is a Nazi.
It is false logic used to neuter sensible arguments because it distracts and angers your opponent and this is particularly useful if your own argument is weak or if you don’t have an argument at all.
It is also a way of rendering immaterial whole groups of people and ideas.
It is a universal concept but it is particularly relevant here with our media and popular discourse awash with what I call Reductio ad Sinn Féinum and Reductio ad IRAum.
In the tuairisc.ie article, I wrote that I was in Dublin for League Quarter-finals last August when a packed-to-the-rafters Croke Park hosted Dublin and three Ulster teams (Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh) – that’s a third of the whole nine counties or in the case of Tyrone and Armagh, a third of the Wee Six.
The northern multitudes were there, talking about the games, slagging each other, buying chips, talking about their clubs back home, farmers, professionals, housewives and young people proudly wearing their county jerseys, and old men drinking out flasks and eating sandwiches.
Men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, lifelong friends and strangers. The shy and the abrasive. Hard men and wallflowers.
Tens of thousands of them in an easy cohesion despite the conflicting loyalties that boomed out all around Jones Road on that Quarter-final day.
And yet, in northern politics, these people are invisible. They don’t exist. “The people of Northern Ireland” doesn’t include them.
The most obvious manifestation of this is the opposition to an Irish Language Act.
The call for an ILA has come from communities and individuals throughout the north who are simply trying to create a better society for their children to grow up in.
They see the Irish language as part of a holistic package that includes personal development, education, sport, the environment, the arts, community self-help and much more. What has been achieved is truly inspirational if you have eyes to see it.
Those who say “I’ve no objection to people learning or speaking Irish but…” don’t understand that it is more than a language, that it is a life-enhancing force that people are enjoying all over the world. It is in the top 10 languages studied on Duolingo, for example (1.86 million Irish learners around the world in 2016 using that one app alone).
The vibrancy of the Irish language community is dismissed in a few words – “a Sinn Féin red line” or “republican demands” or a “means,” as Chris McGimpsey stupidly suggested on one of those Nolan shows, “to poke Prods in the eye.”
Sinn Féin has “weaponised” the language, they say.
Sinn Féin support an Irish language Act. Sinn Féin are bad people therefore an Irish language Act is a bad thing. Reductio ad Sinn Féinum. An association fallacy.
Gregory Campbell has that Sinn Féin’s campaign for language equality is “built on a deception”.
According to Robin Swann, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, an Irish language act would “gift Sinn Féin a licence to bring forward deeply divisive legislation “SF Irish language strategy mirrors ‘PIRA cultural struggle’” said one tortuous article in the Belfast News Letter followed by a quintessential News Letter headline: “Ex-IRA man: SF’s Irish language act ‘red line’ is designed to force unionist capitulation.”
The News Letter in fact is at the heart of an on-going anti-Irish campaign as can be seen by the headlines above and they intend to continue its mission of disinformation if deputy editor and doomsayer in chief, Ben Lowry is to be believed when he said on the Nolan Show:
“One of the things that we are going to be looking at over the next couple of months is what would it mean if Irish is an official language.”
Ben Lowry, Editor, The News Letter
So the News Letter is planning its coverage of the Irish language months in advance to come up, no doubt with all kinds of scare tactics to show that the Irish language is a threat to unionists.
The latest was on Saturday with an article entitled: “Unionists unite over Irish act” which took quotes from Unionism’s finest thinkers – Arlene Foster, Robin Swann and Jim Allister – from a piece in The Orange Standard.
Mrs. Foster accused Sinn Féin of holding Northern Ireland to ransom “to advance its own narrow agenda” when referring to Acht na Gaeilge.
UUP leader, Robin Swann, suggested the demand for an Irish language act was being used by republicans as “a tool to further divide people in the Province.” (Robin saw no irony in the fact that that the original article was published in the Orange Standard!)
Jim Allister was at his funereal naysaying best suggesting that an Irish Language Act, like those protecting Gaelic and Welsh, would lead to “a progressive tightening of the noose.”
He didn’t say who’s head would be in the noose but added that “anyone who gives ground on the issue is helping to facilitate the republican ‘struggle’.”
And so, the children singing carols in Castlecourt at Christmas, the teenagers who are studying every subject through Irish at bunscoileanna and meánscoileanna throughout the north, the thousands of adults who have signed up to Líofa are rendered invisible by Reductio ad Sinn Féinum.
We await a Nolan Live programme in the future when the studio is filled with young and old Irish speakers, Protestant and Catholic, unionist and nationalist, telling his audience, unhindered, what the benefits having a fully bilingual society here really means and finally put the Sinn Féin bogeyman to rest.
In the meantime, let’s see if we can get a decent hashtag going #reductioadsinnfeinum where proposals regarding the Irish language are dismissed because of a perceived Sinn Féin connection.