the best we can hope for?

Over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, John Lloyd has been taking issue with the Ken Loach film that has been causing a few heated moments among even our own level-headed commenters, but that’s not the aspect I wanted to focus on *ahem* There’s one section of his article that I think is worth highlighting in particular, during what he describes as “the second reason the film’s real significance lies in the present”.It’s his description of what has happened here over the last two decades that I found interesting:

Yet what has happened in the north over the past two decades, and is still happening, is a slow accommodation of the two main religious/political communities – after a campaign in which murder and violence on both sides have made such an accommodation very hard. There is no great cause here, save that of peaceful (if fractious) negotiation; there is no victory for republicanism, no surrender by the British government, that can bring forth a better state of affairs.

The two main communities are now represented by their harder politicians – in the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin. Neither will easily trust, nor even talk to, the other. The most courageous leader, the one who did the most to make the Belfast agreement work, David Trimble, sacrificed himself and his party on the altar of an accommodation that went too far for his grassroots.

Nothing much can be expected soon. The best we can hope for is that there will be no return to overt, inter-communal fighting. And that best can be achieved only by very large amounts of hypocrisy on the part of everyone: in pretending to forget that those who now run Sinn Féin have been leaders of a terrorist gang, and that the main characters in the small loyalist political parties are themselves free of all stain. It also seems to mean tolerating the godfathers of the estates, the continuing separation of the communities and the complete stasis of a political system still run, in the end, from London.

What is left over from the campaign begun by the IRA is not just distrust and bitterness: it is also the now-ingrained practice of intra-communal violence, as both republican and loyalist godfathers squeeze their communities for “protection” and use them as the first client base for drug pushing (an early example of “for-profit terrorism” of the kind described by Justine Rosenthal of the Council on Global Terrorism).

It’s something that I’ve been focussing on recently, and the for-profit terrorism link that I attempted to highlight yesterday should probably be updated with the conviction for extortion in Belfast Court today.

What concerns me is not so much that, as John Lloyd puts it “The best we can hope for is that there will be no return to overt, inter-communal fighting.” That is probably the best we can hope for. The worrying aspect, and the one that may leave a longer legacy than those involved may think, is that “that best can be achieved only by very large amounts of hypocrisy on the part of everyone”.

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