Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Stating the Obvious

The upsurge in racism in Northern Ireland is awful but entirely predictable, for how can a polity that cannot properly recognise its own internal diversity possibly accommodate the diversity of the modern globalised world?

Much has been made of the similarity in verbal attacks on Muslims and Catholics, instances where theological difference is abused in order to score points against ethnic groups whose religion is an integral part of their identity. That, in essence, is the problem with opposition to the Irish language too: what is in fact racism is dismissed as a tussle between confessional groups. The Blether Region has previously reported on how Unionists opposed bilingual signage. That opposition was unfortunately seconded by the Alliance Party, which spectacularly misread support for Irish as a cultural manifestation of sectarianism.

Not to put too fine a point on it, those were the views of beginners, reflecting the party's status as the obvious choice of well-meaning but in this case uninformed people from Great Britain. Anyone intimately aware of the problems of Northern Ireland, on the other hand, knows that the fundamental divide here concerns nationality. It follows that any stable settlement, whether internal or as a result of Irish unity, will have to recognise and celebrate autochthonous ethnic diversity — which is why it is so important to support not only Irish but the residual Scots dialect of Ulster. Opposition to bilingualism, which is always about cherishing the minority, is a form of racism, and it is no surprise that physical attacks have been concentrated in areas under the control of Loyalist paramilitaries, who are merely extending against others the tactics that they for generations employed against Catholics.

Until that simple fact is recognised, shameful attacks of the kind witnessed this week are likely to continue.

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