World’s oppressed ‘look to hero Sands’

Daily Ireland

by Mick Hall
10/03/2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA new biography of hunger striker Bobby Sands was launched last night.
Denis O’Hearn’s biography – Nothing But an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker who Ignited a Generation – was launched during a ceremony in Belfast.
Mr O’Hearn lectures in sociology between departments at Queen’s University Belfast and Binghampton University New York. The book was launched in the US several weeks ago.
“The book will obviously be of interest to Irish American activists but also to a wider audience,” said Mr O’Hearn.
“Bobby Sands was an internationalist. He drew strength and political conviction from people like Che Guevara in Cuba, Camilo Torres in Columbia and George Jackson in Soledad, USA. Bobby was particularly interested in Afro-American history and today, contemporary black activists show great interest in his life.
“I have met ordinary people in central America, Jamaica, Palestine and South African and they all have spoken of Bobby Sands.
“When Turkish political prisoners went on hunger strike five years ago, their secret codeword for their plans was ‘Bobby Sands’.
“When Bobby died, Fidel Castro compared him with Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela led a protest at Robben Island and Mayan militants went on the first hunger strike at Cero Hueco prison in Chiapas. He is an international figure,” Denis says.
Mr O’Hearn is certain that, since 1981, political activists have given the hunger strike more prominence as a political weapon: “Hunger-strikes hadn’t been unique to Ireland. But the political impact of the 1981 hunger strike elevated the tactic internationally. It had a ripple-effect. It is no coincidence that the US government has gone to extreme measures to keep hunger-strikers at Guantánamo Bay alive, by brutally force-feeding them. They don’t want another Bobby Sands,” he said.
Mr O’Hearn’s said his aim in the book was to “get under the skin” of Bobby Sands and find out what made him tick. The book outlines his life before his IRA involvement. It looks at his childhood, growing up with the societal vicissitudes of racist, sectarian hatred and his teenage experiences of living under a repressive police state.
But it also attempts to penetrate his psyche, to identify a revolutionary characterology which could account for his endurance of a slow and painful death.
“Nine other men died, while dozens of men and women were involved in the prison struggle. Was there something special about Bobby Sands? Yes,” Mr O’Hearn said.
After being arrested at just 17 years old, Sands spent most of the rest of his life in jail. He died at 27, on May 5, 1981, after 66 days of hunger-strike, during which he wrote poems, kept a prison journal and was elected as Member of Parliament for Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
“He was a leader in jail. Bobby’s strength was his ability to reinvent himself. This was particularly the case in prison. In 1975, when Britain took away political status for republican prisoners, he convinced fellow prisoners to reclaim their prison spaces, to fight criminalisation and he led by example.”

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