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The bell tolls for the Ryder Cup
An act of terrorism affects us all; irrespective of place or against whom it is directed. No one, no city, no peoples, no nation state has a franchise on grief. It is arrogant and insensitive to exclaim grief in such a way as to imply that it is exclusive.

One can perhaps understand such feelings, especially if grief is a new experience or if it is restricted to an individual or a family. On the scale of tragedy that befell America on the 11th of September, grief transcends national boundaries and becomes global.

It was an American political philosopher who summed up a terrorist attack as an act purporting to set-straight the ills of society with the blood of innocents. Whether or not one agrees with this definition, all but the most seriously psychologically disturbed would concur that any act of terrorism is abhorrent and utterly despicable. It is the responsibility of everyone in the free world to do whatever he or she can to combat terrorism.

Where we should all begin in doing this is to send out a message, loud and clear, that freedom prevails, that free life continues with a spirit that in itself says that it cannot be beaten.

For Europeans, and for the English and Irish in particular, suffering and surviving terrorist attacks of manic violence has become part of life. They have long since learned that any show of weakness is simply another notch on a terrorist gun. To terrorists in their isolated sick cells in life, any sign of crumpling of social spirit simply lends purpose and importance to their gruesome existence. Succumbing to acts of terrorism is succour to the sick soulless people who perpetrate it.

Defiance of it by maintaining a normal way of life is the only weapon available to us all.

Defiance was certainly the only weapon available to the US Ryder Cup team. Defiance, together with the essential equipment for the game, clubs, balls and spirit, would have been the best way for America's best 12 golfers to send out a message to the world at large that everything that the stars and stripes stands for prevails.

They had a special responsibility in this respect. Golf is, by far and away, the biggest participant sport in America. Golf, more than any other game reflects the spirit of the USA; the individualistic nature of the game and the character required to play it at any level. The dedication and determination that is prerequisite to play the modern game at the highest level is very much American. The US team has brought patriotism into the playing of the Ryder Cup that has refreshed it and brought a new meaning into these biannual matches.

To withdraw from this year's meeting has not only sent out a negative and dispiriting signal to the world, but it has also scuttled the perception of high regard in which US golf is held in throughout the world.

No one would deny that the US Ryder Cup team members must feel their grief keenly but every rational individual throughout the golfing world shares at least some of their grief. Certainly the events of September 11 were dramatic and profound. The entire world and not simply the New York skyline will never be the same again.

All of us, however, had an opportunity to show that a few manic individuals, no matter how well orchestrated, can change the world for the worse and that life will go on despite their best efforts.

The peoples of less salubrious places like Newry, Londonderry, Belfast and Lockerbie have shown the way - surely the US Ryder Cup team could have shown such people that their efforts have not been in vain.

As I write this I think of a time some years ago when a man I met playing golf at Shinecock showed me around his offices in one of the towers of the New York Trade Centre. It was not long after a terrorist bomb had exploded below the building and the scars from it were still visible. I marvelled at the resilience of Joe and his staff and was struck by their defiance from the stories that they told me.

Later in the day, driving out Long Island to Cold Spring Harbour listening to Joe eulogising about golf and life he suddenly asked me if I knew how Ernest Hemingway came up with the title for his momentous novel For Whom The Bell Tolls. It was characteristic of him to stop the car to write out what I could remember of John Donne's poem.

I quote these lines here in the hope that the US Ryder Cup team are familiar with them - for the sake of all of the Joe's that squeezed in a round of golf at the weekend while they sweated to keep the US economy and its ethic alive and well.

No man is an island entire of itself;
Everyman is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main
Any man's death diminishes me
Because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.




©    18 - SEPTEMBER 2001



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