Riots point to dangers of identity politics…

Spiked have just published Brendan O’Neill’s observations on the recent unrest. He argues that apportioning blame to one side or the other is a distraction from the collusion from both sides towards mutual cultural emnity and a culture of victimhood.

The recent violence is the product of this divisive and degraded politics of identity. Having created a society based on the idea that there are two irreconcilable communities – whose relations need to be permanently monitored and managed and where each side must always be reminded that they are valued as much as the other lot – the peace process has also nurtured the potential for angst, disgruntlement and even violence if one side feels it is left out of the loop. The politics of identity does not only heighten sectarianism; it also actively encourages individuals to see themselves as potential victims with a grievance that ought to be expressed.

  • peteb

    Mick

    It’s a very similar point to that made by Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times yesterday.

  • slug

    i.e. time to move on from the ‘conflict resolution’ aspects of strand 1.

  • GC

    Much the same techniques are used by the Democrats and Black(race pimps)leaders to promote racial tensions in America. Create a permanent victim mentality to convince people they need you. A very destructive form of politics and bad for society as a whole.

  • Mamabear

    GC – race ‘tactics’ being used by the Democrats in the US? catch a grip please! The only scare tactics used in the US are by the Repuplicans! The racism is simply there for all to see – and it has hardly been highlighted by the Democrats – they have been remarkably silent. Check out http://www.americablog.blogspot.com if you need any convincing on this!

  • peteb

    While we appreciate the international contributions.. Please try to keep the thread on topic.

  • Yoda

    While I have a certain amount of sympathy with the argument put forward by O’Neill, I am at a loss for how one shuffles off one’s “identity.” Assuming an identity is a complicated psycho-social business. I suppose one can always be like the APNI and not talk about identity.

    I also have a quibble with his last paragraph: “Today they fire bullets for recognition. And we have the peace process to thank for that.”: it seems to me that both sides were firing bullets before there was any “peace process.”

    In NI there has to be seen to be a balancing act: only then will those identities be perceived as anything like equal; once there’s the perception of equality, then there’s room for movement.

    Also, in an identity driven place like NI, community leaders bear and wield tremendous responsibility. In these circumstances, these leaders are the only ones capable of calming things down. They are also the ones to take to task for not doing so.

  • David

    “In NI there has to be seen to be a balancing act: only then will those identities be perceived as anything like equal; once there’s the perception of equality, then there’s room for movement.”

    I think that this is looking for the unacheivable. There are a whole host of issues where people in NI have entirely different and conflicting perceptions. On these issues there is virtually no rational discussion possible.

    Here is an example. I was at a Belfast City Council meeting in the public gallery about 15 years ago. A group of Sinn Fein party activists decided to go into the public gallery to throw down a few thousand party leaflets into the council chamber below. Ironically the leaflets were about the “right to march” because at that time it was Sinn Fein marches that the government generally banned.

    The police moved in to remove the protesters. I got offside in case there was trouble, as a unionist guy in the gallery hd got into a confrontation with one of the protesters. I didn’t see the police remove the protesters, but I later asked a few people what had happened. One guy a moderate non-sectarian unionist said the police had removed the protesters and he was amazed at the restraint they had shown, especially as Sinn Fein supported the IRA that had murdered so many policemen. Another guy, a moderate non-sectarian nationalist said he was shocked to have witnessed such a scene of police brutality.

    Yet they both saw the same thing.

    How can we ever get to the stage where the “two identities” feel equal? At the moment we have the situation where both feel that they are hard done by.

    The focus on “two identities” was imported from fashionable postmodern academia. To the ivory tower academic the idea of a single shared future was a deeply oppressive “metanarrative”, a hangover of the evil enlightenment which had to be discarded.

    I hate to state the heretical, but one country that has been very effective at reconciling lots of different groups is the USA. They seem to have done this through the idea of the “melting pot” of a single shared identity, rather than by institutionalising groups such as Polish Americans, irish Americans, German Americans or whatever.

    Here is the first step to a way forward in Northern Ireland. We need a shared sens of identity. This will not be “Britishness” nor will it be “Irishness” as both of those are one sided concepts. The only option is “Northern Irishness”. This is the only sense of identity that makes sense equally to a unionist and a nationalist.

  • Aidan

    I’d draw a comparison with Affirmative Action in the USA. Any ‘solution’ which openly offers something to one side, and then the other, simply doesn’t work because it doesn’t involve integration of any sort. When you’re not talking about ‘them’ and ‘us’ any more – that’s when progression has been made.

  • Aidan

    I’d draw a comparison with Affirmative Action in the USA. Any ‘solution’ which openly offers something to one side, and then the other, simply doesn’t work because it doesn’t involve integration of any sort. When you’re not talking about ‘them’ and ‘us’ any more – that’s when progression has been made.

  • aquifer

    Lets face facts.

    The British have been gutless in implementing the political aspects of the agreement, which they needed to do ‘over the heads’ of the identity parties who are all invested in conflict.

    The ‘Top Ten’ election for the forum was effective in getting a broad range of voices, but as soon as they thought they had a deal, they pulled up the policial inclusion ladder.

    The Brits felt they had to cobble a deal together from bits and pieces of stuff scattered in the quite disparate proposals from the ‘big’ parties.
    e.g. D’Hondt came from a committee-based proposal but was used to form an executive. Why?

    The prospect of cross-sectarian dialogue leading to agreed coalitions based on shared socio-economic policy was killed by this bodgemanship.

    With that, and the perceived need to include the IRA’s representatives in every regime, we have a massive balls-up.

    And Irish balls-ups will always be forgiven in London.

    I hope Hain is arrogant enough to fix this, and to scrap civil service consensualism for some practical analysis.

    He needs to create both an administration that is inclusive in sectarian terms or non-sectarian, and a political space inclusive enough to accommodate non-sectarian debate.

    Set a system up, have an election, and if anyone tries to disrupt it apply proportionate force, which for the British should go up to the use of nuclear devices.

    We are all democrats after all.

    Or 71% were.

  • Alan

    You can’t blame the system for a bunch of toe-rags who are determined to cause disruption. We live in this society in a state of fluctuating consensus. Most of us are happy to see society plough on as it is, only occasionally making the decision to seek change by dialogue.

    That is usually as far as it needs to go. When we are attacked, as we all have been by these crypto-religious nuts, then we suddenly get shaken out of our complacency. It is time to ban the notion of two communities, it is time to ban the disenfranchisement of those who refuse to be labeled as one or the other. It is time to give the centre of politics back to the people.

    It is also time to accept the ending of De Honte for the purposes of agreeing a government, the key agent of push-me-pull-you politics. Let’s have government by dint of a 65% majority in the chamber. Lets have a period of negotiation to agree an executive that actually has a manifesto, rather than maverick ministerial fiat. Let’s accept that it can be right for one or two of the larger parties not to form part of the government, and create a dynamic that stresses co-operation above disintegration.

    Also, we will need to see another election before the Assembly begins in earnest again. So we will all have the opportunity to *reward* the parties for their heroic non-intervention over the past week.

  • Brian Boru

    While against partition, I think that even if there had been a good argument for partition, the exact position of the border was bound to lead to conflict because it forced overwhelmingly Catholic-majority areas into the Unionist state. Maybe if the then 2 Catholic counties Fermanagh and Tyrone had been given to the new Southern state in 1920-1 then, with a more uniform population identity-wise, there would have been less scope for internal conflict in the NI statelet.

    But it’s too late now. There will never again be another partition on this island. NI will either all remain in the UK, or all go to a UI. Unionists are probably wondering now should they have thought about the above in 1920 before demanding all the 6 counties including 2 Nationalist ones be lumped together into one state. After all, a 4 county NI would have given Unionists a far larger majority of about 75-80%, and ensured the probably permananence of the Union. In that context, a Nationalist majority would never have happened. Thankfully, a Nationalist majority is now a very real prospect in the coming decades, meaning that the days of partition are probably numbered. Good Riddance aswell, oh failed political entity!

  • GC

    Mamabear says:

    “GC – race ‘tactics’ being used by the Democrats in the US? catch a grip please! The only scare tactics used in the US are by the Repuplicans! The racism is simply there for all to see – and it has hardly been highlighted by the Democrats”

    This comment is so completely clueless that it boggles the mind. I love the rightous ignorance you display. Look up who the opposition was to the Civil Rights act in the 60’s. The Democrats you twit. Ever even been to America ??

  • Yoda

    I think that this is looking for the unacheivable. There are a whole host of issues where people in NI have entirely different and conflicting perceptions. On these issues there is virtually no rational discussion possible.

    The perception of scrupulous and judicious equality is not “unachievable.” It works elsewhere, and to deny that is possible in NI seems to me to be defeatist. Also, citing an incident from 15 years ago is not exactly convincing evidence. I also note that you don’t indicate how the “older” identities can be shuffled off and the “newer” one you suggest be adopted.

    If the perception of equality means an NI where neither side gets what it wants (neither a fully UI or a fully UK) within some sort of a joint authority framework, then so be it.

    After a few years of that, who knows what leaps of the political imagination will be possible?

  • David

    [i]The perception of scrupulous and judicious equality is not “unachievable.” It works elsewhere, and to deny that is possible in NI seems to me to be defeatist.[/i]

    Which divided society are you putting forward in support of this suggestion?

    [i]If the perception of equality means an NI where neither side gets what it wants (neither a fully UI or a fully UK) within some sort of a joint authority framework, then so be it.[/i]

    Why not within the framework of an independent Northern Ireland?

  • Yoda

    Which divided society are you putting forward in support of this suggestion?

    Not the point: the perception of equality is to be found in many different societies. The point being that I believe it will be possible to have that perception in NI. It will have to be worked for, but hopefully it will be enough to overcome the perception of political favouritism.

    Why not within the framework of an independent Northern Ireland?

    I didn’t rule it out explicitly. But I will admit that I’m a little defeatist on this one. NI has proved itself to be incapable of supporting itself in the past. How do you propose to change that? What happens without money from Britain? What happens without the bloated civil service? Also, how will an independent NI overcome its divisions? The problem remains. Surely you don’t believe that one day everyone will forget green, blue, red, orange and white and start to “love Ulster”?