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Racism in Northern Ireland


June 2 2014

Northern Ireland is always treated as a special case, and with some justification. We have suffered a bloody low-level civil war that tore the nation to shreds. As a country it is at once treated with kid gloves by the rest of the United Kingdom and by the Republic of Ireland and left to our own devices to try and sort out our own problems. This has fostered a dangerous, seemingly unquestionable, inward looking fundamentalism that is virulently attacking our society.

This week the first minister of the devolved government, Peter Robinson, joined a number of his ministers in endorsing a sermon from hate preacher Pastor Jim McConnell. Preaching to his congregation, McConnell said: “Enoch Powell was a prophet, he called it that blood would flow on the streets and it has happened,” and that: “Islam is heathen, Islam is Satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell.” He is being investigated by police for a hate crime, but claims no one from the PSNI has knocked his door.

Our only member of the assembly from an ethnic minority, Anna Lo, is standing down from her seat and is considering leaving the country because of the racist abuse she suffers. In a tearful interview with the BBC she said she is “very angry” at the support for McConnell and does not feel safe in Northern Ireland. She has been hounded from the Connswater shopping centre by a mob. The pitchforks are out.

Let’s add to this abhorrent racism a continued sectarianism between both Catholics and Protestants. There are regular riots on the streets, bomb attacks, shootings and beatings, Romanians being chased from their homes, and non-whites suffering abuse on the streets. Murals meant to bring communities together and celebrate our culture are painted over with armalite holding, balaclava-wearing paramilitaries.

There is serious poverty and there are few jobs. It has not yet recovered from the recession that decimated our industry because of the level of trade with the even harder hit South. Those who live in poverty still reside in siloed communities with little or no contact with people of different religious backgrounds.

It is this that the rest of Britain, and even the Northern Irish middle classes, turn a blind eye to. They ignore the ideologies that deny women rights, such asabortion, and are caustically homophobic, and the anti-scientific Christian ideas that force creationism to be included in the public sphere.

This is taking place in a context where Britain is growing more racist, where a real ale-swilling, Romanian hating man, who feels uncomfortable hearing another language spoken on the train can trounce the established political parties, and where mosques are bombed. A Britain where the poor, disabled and foreign are stripped of their rights and are under sustained attack from the government, all in the name of the great austerity.

Northern Ireland is often considered an outlier, but Britain is following the same path to fundamentalist extremism, perhaps an economic kind. If communities feel under attack, if wedges are driven between those at the bottom of society and if this becomes mainstream, as appears to be happening, then people will feel embattled.

If the narrative that surrounds these communities is one of: “The immigrants moved in. With growing fear, she saw one house after another taken over. The quiet street became a place of noise and confusion. Regretfully, her white tenants moved out,” then there will indeed be rivers of blood on the streets. This will not be the fault of the immigrants, but of the Jim McConnells, the Peter Robinsons and Nigel Farages who are at this very minute treating Enoch Powell as a prophet, encouraging hatred, and getting away with it.

UKIP’s position is that Anna Lo “invited” hatred upon herself with the “morally repugnant way that Alliance wheel out the racism agenda”. It is the Kippers that are heaping Powell’s “funeral pyre”.

Had any other person in such a high level of government in Britain uttered such words as: “I wouldn’t trust Muslims fully devoted to sharia law, but I would trust them to go down to the shops for me,” they would not have lasted more than a few hours in office. Robinson is not even clinging on at the minute; he knows he is safe. He feels he can say whatever he wants because he is in government with a former terrorist, and that this is far worse than anything Robinson can do.

This must stop. This is not the Britain that stood against fascism. It is not the Britain that allowed minorities freedom of worship. It is not the Britain that ended the subjugation of black people through slavery. It is a Britain were those with money and power divide and rule.

This Britain must be fought, and fought peacefully with the power of words and arguments. When Muhammad’s army of ten thousand men and women marched on Mecca to end a violent campaign against Muslims, they did so without arms and took the city without bloodshed. It was their ideas that won the day.

Originally published by Open Democracy 

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