Eames-Bradley: The problem of sectarianism…

The section on how youth describes the normative culture of paramilitary exiling, or the systematic moving of troubled families from one Paramilitary controlled area to another, the summary forms of paramilitary justice from beatings, to kneecapping. The report then goes on to discuss a particularly ingrained, and in some respects, entirely unconscious problem of sectarianism. What the report does not do, but which might have been helpful given the degree of denial around it, is to offer a robust definition of what is meant by sectarianism (a term that inevitably means different things to different people). Instead it begins by focusing on a powerful symbol of sectarian mindset, the peace walls:

The impact of segregation and separation, driven by sectarianism, was increasingly evident throughout our consultation. There are a greater number of so-called ‘peace’ walls now than existed throughout the conflict. The costs attached to a doubling up of services are further evidence of how the past continues to infect our public life. For many people it remains the one thing which, if not properly tackled, could drag us back into the abyss.

It is open to question for instance whether segregation and separate community development over thirty years is driven by sectarianism, or they create and sustain it. Although they are clear enough on its most undesirable effects, it is used “to justify harm, injury or death inlicted on an individual or community”, they load much of the burden for that state of play back on the churches rather than looking at specific problems that might be addressed directly through means of public policy.

In particular they name faith based education and those to whom theological difference is of over riding importance:

The Christian churches carry a particular historical responsibility, for they not only gave the language which both shaped and fuelled division, but often gave sanction to those who exploited theological disputes and diferences for political and territorial gain. Catholic and Protestant became the identifying labels of the political and national allegiances of each side of the divide. Too often the violence and bitterness of communal strife was allowed to increase the suspicion and gulf between the two Christian traditions.

Many will see this a simple call to ecumenism, or even secular education. Yet sectarianism is much wider than that. Wikipedia’s page on Sectarianism gives this:

Sectarianism is bigotry, discrimination, prejudice or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion or the factions of a political movement.

So how should we define the problem? And when and in what circumstances is does it become an actual problem which requires intervention, and when just a consequence of mundane living? What practical interventions can be made? Tell us over at our consultation on the past website!

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