Getting some perspective…

ULSTER Unionist and Jewish – Alex Benjamin argues that Fr Alec Reid’s comparison of unionists to Nazis wasn’t just offensive to unionists. Anyway, if unionists are Nazis, how come the BNP has decided it ain’t worth their while to set up shop here?Benjamin writes:

Once again the Jewish experience has been used by someone with no real grasp of the situation to make a political point.

In the words of Fintan O’Toole: “The authoritarianism of Irish governments, north and south, real as it was, would have represented astonishing freedom for many Europeans during long periods of the century when Ireland was one of a small handful of surviving democracies”.

Certainly, for Jews I think it’s fair to say that the perceived or real inequalities that Fr Reid referred to would have been luxury to European Jews at this time. It is one thing to air a grievance, quite another to use and underestimate an event as utterly barbaric as the Holocaust to try and re-inforce your view.

Visiting Israel’s Holocaust memorial in March 2000, Pope John Paul II, then Fr Reid’s spiritual leader, said of the Holocaust: “No one can diminish its scale.”

But that is precisely what Alec Reid has attempted to do.

Having visited Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum a few years ago, I think it’s impossible to compare the scale of suffering of the Jews during the war with the NI conflict. Aside from revisionists, I think most of us have some grasp of how disproportionate the Reid analogy is.

In international terms, Northern Ireland was a persistent, low-intensity conflict, usually no threat to other countries. They probably thought we’d wise up eventually. It never descended into full-scale civil war, but boy, we did love teetering on the brink – although it does get kind of dull there after a while.

Fascism, on the other hand, promoted the extermination of races, and made a damn determined effort to do so. Today we throw around terms like ‘Nazis’, pogroms and ethnic cleansing in a disposable way that demeans the true gravity of meaning these words once carried.

Fr Reid’s comment were particularly galling for many loyalists and unionists because of the collective folk memory of their blood sacrifice at the Somme. It’s something that even a few republicans won’t begrudge, and Reid’s comments won’t help the republican charm offensive of commemorating those who died in the two world wars.

Other unionists were offended at the implication that they grew up as somehow privileged or having advantages their Catholic neighbours were denied. Many unionists feel aggrieved that they are being asked to feel some kind of collective guilt for the sins and failures of unionist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries. Disillusioned by the poor leadership of the former and repulsed by the actions of the latter, it makes little sense to alienate that section of unionist opinion that generally doesn’t give a toss about where you hang your hat on a Sunday.

I doubt if Fr Reid had had time to consider the inevitable consequences of his remarks that he would have put it the way he did. At a sensitive time requiring diplomacy, and given his own pivotal role in the political process, it was fairly shocking stuff even in the face of the kind of endless verbal onslaughts Willie Frazer is capable of.

Whatever the intent, it was taken by unionists as deeply offensive and grossly out of proportion. It became the sole focus of a larger discussion and killed all other debate.

There is a debate to be had about the different wrongs of the past, but it was lost in the finger-pointing match of whataboutery that erupted from the meeting in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church.

…which is one reason why I’m invoking Godwin’s Law and preventing replies to this post…