Monday, 7 July 2014

"Hate Crime"

Differences of politics in Northern Ireland often find expression in differences of language. One need only think of the various names for the polity itself, ranging from a Unionist "Ulster" via a neutral "Northern Ireland" to a Nationalist "north of Ireland" and a Republican "Six Counties" — which may or may not also be "occupied". There are different names for Derry / Londonderry, for the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement, and for a host of other matters in everyday discourse.

One subtle difference between Nationalist and Unionist usage concerns the word "sectarian". Whereas Nationalists tend to reserve the adjective for reference to theological bigotry, Unionist use of the word is much less discriminating, often referring in general terms to political violence or even to competing views of constitutional politics.

Nationalist and Unionist views of "sectarianism" often come into their own when discussing the Troubles, with the former contending that Republican violence was not in general sectarian, for the reason that its victims, with some spectacularly shameful exceptions, were targeted not because of who they were but because of what they did. Unionists will argue that in many cases what those victims did — such as being members of the RUC Reserve or the UDR — was merely the logical expression of their Unionist identity, while for their part Nationalists will respond that dispensing with the exclusively theological meaning of "sectarianism" risks suggesting that Republican and Loyalist violence was somehow morally equivalent, despite the fact that the latter really did target people largely because of what they were — or, to be exact, what they were expected to think — rather than what they did.

Recently the Blether Region has noticed that PSNI spokespeople have on several occasions referred to attacks on Orange halls and related property as "hate crime". That such acts are crimes is not in doubt — they are illegal. Indeed, one could additionally and uncontroversially describe them as "mindless", "wanton", "stupid" and "counterproductive". But are they "hate crime"? Well, it's unlikely that Nationalists and Unionists will ever agree on that. Most people most places, however, would view the Orange Order as itself a hate-filled or hate-promoting organisation, a large part of whose raison d'être is to provoke just such an immoderate reaction.

Whether the PSNI's use of "hate crime" to categorise illegal acts against Orange halls is correct can therefore be debated. There is no doubt, however, that its doing so puts the organisation's use of language squarely in the Protestant and Unionist camp.

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