Written on: 23. 12. 2011 in the category: news

In part, the Marists of Ireland helped equip the Marxists of North Korea with nuclear weapons

This coming year marks the 120th anniversary of the establishment by Irish Marists of St Anthony’s school in Lahore, in what was then the Punjab Province of the British Raj in India. It’s usually forgotten nowadays — thanks to a republicanised history curriculum — that the Irish were often enthusiastic participants in the empire, as missionaries in particular, but also as soldiers and civil servants.

And, of course, all education is thought-imperialism of a kind: thus French missionaries originally founded the Marist school in Athlone, which was in time to be a seedbed for Marist endeavours across the English-speaking world.

St Anthony’s opened its doors on Empress Road in 1892, to just three pupils. Soon it was given a grant by the local railway company, and later, by the Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne, sometime 6th Earl of Kerry. The first head teacher was a ‘Father Leo’: surname, unknown. The Indian passion for learning, and the dedication of the Irish Marists, soon made St Anthony’s one of the foremost schools in the Punjab. Missionary activity amongst the local population was encouraged by the British, and clearly tolerated by the local imams, though strictly speaking, apostasy from Islam to any religion was and is punishable by death.

One hundred years ago, in 1912, Michael O’Dwyer, of Soloheadbeg, near Tipperary town, became governor-general of the Punjab. Such are the paths of history that seven years later, the first shots of the so-called War of Independence were fired at Soloheadbeg, and two policemen murdered, just three months before imperial soldiery butchered hundreds of unarmed Indians in Amritsar. The man who oversaw the massacre, General Reginald Dyer, came from an Irish family and was an alumnus of Mitchelstown College Cork. Later, O’Dwyer exonerated Dyer, and soon thereafter both their careers were ended.

With Indian independence, and the bloody calamity of partition, came the formation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But whereas the new state was uncongenial for Hindus, it was a different matter for Catholics. The efforts of the Irish missionaries were apparently not resented in Pakistan, and the native Catholic population was allowed to live in relative peace. Today, the Catholic diocese of Lahore has half a million adherents, and its seminaries probably have more student-priests than there are in all of Ireland.

St Anthony’s prospered in the new state, not least because it had already opened its doors to boys of all religions. Amongst the alumni of the school are numbered Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister, and the brilliant Indian-Sikh soldier, Lt General Jagjit Singh Aurora, who 40 years ago this month began the liberation of Bangladesh. But most interestingly of all, St Anthony’s produced two great nuclear scientists: Sameer Mubarakmand and Abdul Qadeer Khan. The former also specialised in ballistic rocketry, the latter in the centrifuges that are essential for the isolation of uranium isotopes.

These two men were absolutely vital in the creation of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, which — despite the existential lunacy of such a project — was an astounding achievement for a country that has been so racked by poverty, corruption, coups and violence. Khan, as it happened, was the more important of these two pioneers: and his mind was on more than just ensuring nuclear parity with the old foe, India.

For he then became the most catastrophic nuclear proliferator in history. From an office in Dubai, he peddled the know-how for harnessing the uranium isotopes that were essential for the manufacture of non-plutonium nuclear bombs. He tried to sell his secrets to Saddam Hussein, and did sell them to Libya and to Iran, which — happily — has not yet mastered the necessary centrifugal techniques to make a nuclear bomb. China swapped rocket technology in exchange for Khan’s secrets, and this has been incorporated into Pakistan’s missiles by his old Marist school chum, Mubarakmand. But most significantly, it was North Korea — run by one of the most demented dynasties the world has ever known — that showed it could turn Khan’s expensively bought secrets into a viable nuclear weapon.

Five years ago, President Kim Jong-il’s scientists detonated a nuclear bomb, based on Khan’s blueprints. With Jong-il’s death last week, his remarkably fat son Kim Jong-un becomes the first ever third-generation leader from a single family to inherit control over both a communist state and a nuclear weapons arsenal. Moreover, since his father and his grandfather were psychotic sociopaths, and given that he was raised to esteem the core dynastic values of famine, torture, brainwashing and murder, there’s no reason to believe that the North Korean heir-apparent could possibly be cut from a different psychiatric cloth.

The missionaries of Ireland went to India to spread the word of God, and to bring education to the poor, opening St Anthony’s College in Lahore just 120 years ago. The reach of history is long, and its dominos seldom ever fall as planned. But has any outcome ever been so utterly removed from intention as here? For in part thanks to the school they founded in Lahore, the Marists of Ireland helped over time equip the Marxists of North Korea with nuclear weapons. What a difference an X makes: speaking of which, a happy Xmas to you all.