Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Is your intent suicide? A moral engagement

Finding myself on my own last Saturday evening, I did one of the things I like doing best. I watched a movie. Since I have been unable to engage in any serious reading over the past few weeks, I wanted to watch something substantial, perhaps even a bit provocative. After about an hour of pondering and searching, I decided to watch director Steve McQueen's first film, released in 2008, about the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison, Hunger.

Bobby Sands' coffin

The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and earned McQueen the festival's Camera d' Or prize for first time filmmakers. The film went on to garner many prizes.

I am not going to attempt the tell the whole story because it is readily available for anyone who is interested. I remember all of this from the news when it happened. From the time I was 11 I read the newspaper cover-to-cover everyday and watched as many news programs as I could. I certainly remember Bobby Sands, who was the first of the 10 IRA prisoners to die in Maze from starvation trying to gain political prisoner status in the 1981 hunger strike.

His story eventually becomes the focal point of the film. I was particularly struck by the scene in which Sands requests a meeting with a sympathetic priest. The reason Sands wanted to have such a meeting was to tell the priest of his decision to go on a hunger strike and to die if necessary. Of course, the priest tries to dissuade him from taking this drastic course of action on a number of grounds, but ultimately comes to see that he cannot talk Sands out of doing it. So, I share the scene below. It's a bit long I suppose for a blog post, but well worth watching. Even though the dialogue is in English, there are subtitles, which help:

The scene in McQueen's film is a dramatization. However, it does bear noting that Pope John Paul II sent his private secretary to visit Sands on both 28 and 29 April 1981. Between meetings, he met with Great Britain's Secretary for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins. His object was to get Sands to end his hunger strike and open negotiations. He failed on both accounts. My point in posting this is not to garner sympathy for violence and terrorism, which are not acceptable means of achieving political, or any, ends, but because I think the scene does a good job of bringing home how difficult are morals and ethics, especially in a fallen world, especially for a person who has lost hope.

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