Race less a factor than culture of violence?

Though it’s always hard to quantify such things, the apparent growth in race-related crime in Northern Ireland has disturbed many. Mary O’Hara in the Guardian has been back to the city recently and provides a thoughtful, thought-provoking analysis. In particular she suggests that the reason for the crime may not actually matter to the perpetrators. It may simply be that it has become the norm in some parts of the community. Thanks to Mark for the heads up!

She draws on some insights gained from local research:

Politicians and organisations such as the Northern Ireland Commission for Human Rights (NICHR) and the Institute for Conflict Research (NIICR) are pondering why a community so long ravaged by bigoted attitudes appears to be embracing fresh ones. Some speculate that Northern Ireland’s legacy of violence makes it unusually fertile ground for racists and homophobes. When a young gay man was attacked outside a Belfast club last year in an ostensibly “gay bashing” incident, his assailant called him a “Fenian bastard”, as if the reasons behind the violence were blurred beyond recognition – as if the violence itself, and not the target, mattered.

Neil Jarman, of the NIICR, suggests that the hostile reactions may partly be the shock of the new, coinciding with Northern Ireland’s recent prosperity. Most incomers are economic migrants, seeking employment in food processing and agriculture, often in small towns or poorer working class areas. Jarman says that in such places “a period of adjustment” is to be expected, but what is needed is better support and education for local people.

Nevertheless, Jarman concludes that there are factors unique to the culture and history of Northern Ireland. A “suspicion of difference” is entrenched. It is a more conservative, religious society than the rest of the UK. “There is a very strong sense of hostility toward the gay community coming from some religious quarters and this really does have an impact on how people think and behave,” he says.

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