“As fourteen year olds, my friend and I took great pride in hanging about with the older ‘cool’ kids in my area. They were seventeen. We were a raucous bunch and I’m sure we annoyed the neighbours, but we were a good group of kids. Stevie was a bit more bold and got into petty theft. One night we were approached by six men in balaclavas. Two grabbed Stevie who immediately started screaming, whilst the other four stood over the rest of us. Stevie was dragged behind a wall. He screamed through both gunshots and didn’t stop afterwards. That was my first experience of knee-capping, I just didn’t know it. I only remember realising that the things under the bed weren’t what I should be afraid of.“Two years later I was old enough to know what was happening when my English step-dad was dragged from my home screaming into the street. His drunken jokes about the English running Ireland had reached the wrong people. I remember hearing a high-pitched noise as my mum shouted the names of the masked men, trying and failing to shame them into stopping. They didn’t. He was shot in both knees in our garden. I realised later that the noise was me screaming. I couldn’t swallow without pain for days. My step-dad left us soon after. And my love of the country I was raised in was destroyed.”
The story above comes from my friend Kat, from County Down in Northern Ireland. It describes a particular method of torture often used during the decades when the Christian militias terrorised anyone they pleased. It was called kneecapping, and it was the preferred method of spreading non-lethal fear throughout the communities of Northern Ireland. You see, these Christian militias fancied themselves judges and executioners for anyone on the street who was suspected of wrongdoing. The most well-known were the Catholic vigilantes, but there were Protestants who used the same tactics as well.
Sometimes the victims were merely guilty of petty crimes, like poor Stevie. But there were other targets. People who were willing to stand up to the militias. People who were suspected of supporting the wrong militia. People who said the wrong thing. Married into the wrong denomination. And sometimes the parents are expected to collaborate themselves. Put yourself in the situation. You get a phone call. The voice on the other end tells you to bring your child to a certain location at a certain time. If you refuse, you’re advised to buy a little casket. So you do. You put your child in the car, drive them to where men are waiting, and watch them pump bullets into your child’s knees. And there are still cases being reported as late as 2012.
There were 2,500 reported cases of kneecapping, mainly in Northern Ireland but occasionally in the Republic. It wasn’t lethal, but you could expect weeks or months of recovery. Many people had a permanent limp, a few had to have their legs amputated.
Even though I never knew Kat before I came to the United States, I was connected to her.
Because the men who tortured her stepfather, her friend, her neighbours and her people, were sitting next to me in church.
The same men? Highly unlikely. But ones like them. We knew it. We knew where a few of these godly men went when they weren’t sitting in Mass. They snuck into Northern Ireland to help our Catholic brothers fight the Protestant menace. They came back days later with smiles and smirks. Some people ignored them. Others patted them on the shoulder as they walked through the church door.
It seems unreal that anyone could possibly find justification for pouring bullets into a child’s body, but many did. The Protestant militias were murdering Catholics with just as much zeal. Atrocities like the bombings of Dublin and Monaghan were fresh in people’s memories. Finding Protestant loyalists or Catholic nationalists, shooting them or their children in the knees, was seen as a warning. A deterrent. Unbelievably, terrorising communities and torturing people was seen as fighting terrorism.
I remember a church picnic where a deacon made a flippant remark to a group of parishioners. “There are only two sacraments a Proddy needs. A bullet in the left knee and a bullet in the right.”
I have been in America for more than a decade, and in my foolishness, I believed for a long time that I had left such evil behind. I was wrong.
As Sarah Palin proved on Saturday as she spoke to an NRA rally in Indianapolis, when she advocated using another form of torture, waterboarding, against other people.
“Come on. Enemies, who would utterly annihilate America, they who’d obviously have information on plots, to carry out Jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists.”
Yes. Not only did Sarah Palin advocate using torture on people who have not been convicted of any crime, who have not yet committed any crime, who may be entirely innocent of any wrong doing, she described it as a Christian sacrament.
Oh, America. It’s beginning to sound a lot like Northern Ireland in here.
While it’s ironic that Palin’s statement proves that she doesn’t give a damn about the U.S. Constitution, as cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment, it’s even more terrifying that she believes it’s her GOD-APPOINTED DUTY to carry out such vicious brutality against other human beings. Her extreme nationalism is blended with her religion so that she considers herself the agent of a higher power, and therefore above the morality of decent men and women. And above the Constitution.
Somewhere between her run as a Vice-Presidential candidate and a reality television star, Sarah Palin became a Christian of Northern Ireland.
Sarah Palin’s fervor for rooting out terrorism in poor, far away nations filled with brown people has caused her to advocate terrorism herself. When you imprison a person you suspect of wrongdoing, forego all laws and due process, and torture them for information, you have become a terrorist. And when you advocate doing such, you are advocating terrorism.
Many Christians have been horrified by Palin’s use of one of their sacred rites as an instrument of torture. Even conservative writers, such as Joe Carter over at the Gospel Coalition, have called her out on it. Personally, I don’t give a damn what religious symbolism she uses. Baptism has no meaning for me. If that’s what is offending the Christians, I leave them to get up in arms about it.
What I do care about is that I have seen Sarah Palin’s America. I know what it means to have psychotically religious individuals hold themselves above law, and above morality, and torture people in the name of fighting terrorism.
I remember it.
Kat saw it.
2,500 hundred people in one country the size of Ohio felt it as their knees were blown into pieces.
Thousands more, most never convicted of any crime, have felt it at the hands of people who cheered Palin on.
This is Sarah Palin’s America.
And it has a name.
If you like well-spoken atheists and don’t mind earthy Irish vulgarities, follow Kat on Twitter at @alltheway1919.