Playwright attacked

The literary world has been rightly exercised recently at the outrageous treatment by the Turkish government of writer Ohran Pamuk, but we don’t always have to stray too far from home to see bizarre treatment of writers. Incredible reports in today’s paper about loyalist attacks on Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell and his family. Mitchell is well known in this part of the world for plays like In a Little World of Our Own centred on a family of three brothers living in the Rathcoole District of North Belfast, produced in the Peacock. Many others were produced in the Lyric and the Royal Court. According to the report , the playwright is now in hiding ‘after a campaign of death threats and bomb attacks by loyalist paramilitaries’. Mitchell’s plays, including As the Beast Sleeps and the Force of Change, which dealt explicitly with loyalist violence, have been controversial in his own community, but this seems astonishing:
    Mitchell's home was attacked by paramilitaries carrying baseball bats, their faces hidden by football scarves. His car was petrol bombed and exploded in his driveway. His wife, Alison, grabbed their seven-year-old son from his bed, ran outside with him, put him over a wall and threw herself on top of him to protect him. She said: "I heard an explosion and I thought they've killed Gary.


Mitchell spoke to the Guardian from a secret location:
    We are in hiding now. I feel a mix of confusion, anger, frustration and despair. There is a feeling that certain people are jealous and feel that I am depicting them in a bad way. They have decided that they will do this no matter what anybody says ... I haven't done anything other than write.
    "Some say the way to deal with this is to sit down with paramilitaries and ask them why they are doing this. I have no interest in doing that because I don't want to give people authority over my writing. If I negotiated with them, I would be recognising their authority, which I don't.

The Belfast novelist Glenn Patterson has organised an open letter in support of Mitchell with 30 other writers and if I find it I’ll link to it.
Susan McKay has a strong piece about it in the Irish News:
    It is a terrible thing to hear of a child so scared he says to his mother, "I'm going to die, amn't I?"

    This is what Alison Mitchell's seven-year-old said to her after men petrol bombed their home in Glengormley two weeks ago. She was terrified her son might be right. Her father-in-law, Chuck, took a heart attack. Alison's husband, Gary, ran after the attackers but they got away. The family was told to get out of the area and they are now staying with relatives.

    Chuck and his wife had already been intimidated out of their home in Rathcoole.

    The thugs who did this would call themselves loyalists but this wasn't the usual sectarian intimidation of a Catholic family out of a Protestant area.
    Gary Mitchell is a Protestant. He is a writer. He has, in a series of excellent and award-winning plays and films, given a voice to the angry men of loyalism. He has presented their dilemmas to the world and demanded that they be understood. He is passionately committed to his own people.

It will be interesting to see what coverage this attracts in the Irish press. Had Mitchell been intimidated and driven out by republicans it would have been front page news and we would have Michael McDowell foaming at the mouth....

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