A double edged welcome in the West?

Newton Emerson finds the anti-state information being circulated (subs needed) in West Belfast to recent migrant families in West Belfast sinister. He argues that the subtext is quietly threatening, citing one line in particular: “If the PSNI asks questions about your neighbours, you should not answer them.”

Beano picked this up earlier!By Newton Emerson

WARN is well-named. The West Against Racism Network has warned immigrants in west Belfast to avoid calling the police. The organisation doesn’t specify what the consequences of such a faux pas might be, exactly, but its ‘Welcome Pack’ leaves no doubt that the neighbours wouldn’t be one bit pleased.

Warn spokesperson Flair Campbell says: “We are just showing people the reality of living in the area and here, the natural response is not to go to the police when there is a problem.”

However, the Welcome Pack goes a bit further than that.

“The PSNI is seen by most people here as an extension of the British state and has no support,” it declares. “You should avoid calling them into the area unless it is a necessity – ie, for insurance purposes.”

Everything about this coy little piece of ‘advice’ would be laughable if the subtext wasn’t so threatening. It is a clear misrepresentation to say that the PSNI has absolutely no support in west Belfast. It is thoughtless at best to remind immigrants to the UK that their brand new nationality isn’t popular with their brand new neighbours. It is chilling to so casually imply that upsetting the neighbours is the reason “you should avoid” dialling 999.

And finally, of course, it is grimly hilarious that an exception can always be made for putting a claim in. Just in case this isn’t enough of a hint to immigrants to behave themselves, the Welcome Pack adds: “If the PSNI asks questions about your neighbours, you should not answer them.”

Characterising new arrivals as potential informers is one hell of a welcome to the west.

Apparently Warn’s respect for diversity doesn’t extend to accepting that immigrants are – by definition – not from ‘the area’ and therefore may not ‘naturally’ toe the line. You can be any colour you like, it seems, as long as it’s green. But the republican position on policing, so eloquently and coincidentally echoed by Warn, is merely the current negotiating tactic of the locally-elected political party. Why should this impose restrictions on the rights of immigrants to west Belfast?

Pubished in the Irish News today.

How would Sinn Fein (for example) react if Michael McDowell advised immigrants in his Dublin constituency to respect Progressive Democrat policy on law and order, or else?

How does Warn’s attitude differ from that of the Protestant workers in Derry who objected to Polish colleagues mourning the Pope?

Has it occurred to anyone involved that immigrants might want to join the police?

If Warn was really an anti-racist organisation it would be campaigning against the imposition of tribal politics on immigrants, rather than effectively ordering them to keep their heads down.

New arrivals to our shores have no issue with the PSNI other than its effectiveness.

If they are the victim of a crime they must be free to test that effectiveness for themselves. Telling immigrants that it is not acceptable to call the police because the police are not acceptable is a circular argument within whose empty centre lurks unmistakable menace. By passing that message on rather than tackling it head-on, Warn has totally discredited itself.

Still it is hardly alone in confusing political territory with actual territory.

Last year somebody stencilled the slogan “I’m not your stereotype” on a wall at the bottom of the Falls Road, apparently unaware that stencilling your pretentious

self-pity on the walls is a west Belfast stereotype par excellence. Luckily, as a native of Portadown, I am well aware of the stupidity of branding people by their postcode. I am quite satisfied, for example, that only a fraction of the population of Andersonstown spends its evenings in the community centre knitting bodhrans for Palestine.

I imagine that most people realise this, if they give it any thought at all. But those who would conflate area with ideology are far from satisfied with such a situation. They want us all to be their stereotypes, branded by our postcodes. The mindset that believes nobody in west Belfast should call the police is no different to that which believes everyone in Portadown should be an Orangeman.

With openly ethnic parties now in the ascendant a cult of cantonisation is claiming Northern Ireland street-by-street. Immigration subverts this agenda.

New arrivals don’t see the invisible lines we have drawn in the sand and stumble over them before our eyes, proving that the crossing is possible.

That is why we must welcome them – and why Warn’s grubby little ‘welcome’ was an absolute disgrace.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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