19 November 2003 | QBR
a timely reminder
I do not see this film as being political nonsense at all.Rather it serves as a warning of what can happen when blanket stereotyping is allowed to influence the course of justice.As Gareth Peirce (impressively portrayed by the excellent Emma Thompson) points out, the only reason Giueseppe Conlon and Co were tried in the first place was on the shaky premise that "they were bloody well Irish". As Irish people living in England in the 1970s, they must therefore have been terrorists.Logical?I thought not.The authorities never thought for a second that they might actually have been trying to escape that nonsense through carving out a new life for themselves in England.With a British public baying for blood, the police capitulated by picking up the first "paddies" they found and making an example of them, without making any serious efforts to root out the real perpetrators and ensuring they were rendered incapable of causing more harm through doling out lengthy imprisonments to them, as opposed to ruining the lives of an innocent family.Ironically of course such actions could well have served to make terrorist sympathisers out of the Conlons through the horrific treatment meted out to them!It didn't of course but there is always the danger in that type of case that a person could become embittered to that extent.
Obviously given the unstable climate of the time Irish people in England were sometimes regarded with suspicion,yet the fact remains that the events portrayed in the film were unacceptable in a supposed western democracy committed to the rule of law.While neither side was entirely innocent the fact remains that England was undeniably culpable in this instance, and the judiciary involved in the case must bear full responsibilty for the devestating effects of their knee-jerk ruling, given to appease an irrational and hysterical public.
In this respect the Conlons and Co can viably be seen by some as "Irish martyrs". While I am no fan of Hollywood fare which seeks to glamourise Irish terrorists at the expense of England who is invariably portrayed as the cold and unrelenting oppressor (inaccurate and unfair in the present day I feel) I strongly believe that in this case the criticism and negative portrayal of the English legal system is justified to a considerable extent.The film has especial resonance and significance for us today in the wake of al-Quaeda and the resultant perceptions of Muslims as a whole as being "the enemy" in certain quarters.The recent incarceration of an innocent Syrian who had lived his entire adult life in Canada, and who was imprisoned purely on the basis of his ethnicity, only serves to remind us of the perils of "judging a book by its cover" and making snap judgements, a danger which is admirably illustrated in this well-acted film.