Hatred is not natural; it’s a political outcome of those ‘poisonous foundations’…

We have Brendan O’Neill from Spiked! guesting with us again… This time to document and comment upon the tide of critical comment often stereotyping the Northern Irish as people who simply cannot get over their own inherited hatreds… In fact, he goes on to argue, that the divide and rule nature of the state(let)’s administration is what has allowed hatred to breed down the generations…By Brendan O’Neill

The attacks on Romanian families by bottle-throwing gangs in south Belfast were shocking. But so has been the response to the attacks. Political observers are treating this, not as a rare instance of violence carried out by a small minority, but as evidence that the people of Northern Ireland are “addicted to hatred” and enslaved by a “culture of intolerance”. Reading some of the commentary, it is clear that many now see working-class communities in Northern Ireland, especially the Protestant ones, as a truly alien presence in the United Kingdom.

During the conflict from 1969 to 1994, many British commentators fancied themselves as anthropologists more than reporters in Northern Ireland, seeking to work out why this part of the world was so warped. They treated us to column inch after column inch of cod-psychology on the “deeply ingrained hatreds”, the “voices of history”, the mental delusion of republicans who were in thrall to “the power of arms, blood sacrifice and dead children to bring a united Ireland into being”. This failure of political analysis, in favour of Joseph Conrad-style handwringing about Northern Ireland’s heart of darkness, is making a comeback in relation to the Romanian story.

Everyone seems to agree that there is a free-floating culture of hate in Northern Ireland, which attaches itself to different people at different times. Neil Jarman of the Institute of Conflict Research says the attacks on Romanians can be seen as a legacy of sectarianism, which created a “sub-culture” in which “anyone slightly different becomes a target for intimidation”. The Times says Northern Ireland has a “culture of intolerance”, linking the attacks on Romanians with “Northern Ireland’s home-grown brand of racism” (sectarianism) and the “spectrum of emotions – from antipathy to hatred – that has existed for centuries between Protestants and Roman Catholics”.

In newspaper editorials and statements from the PSNI, the phrase “racism is the new sectarianism” pops up again and again – the implication being that, gutted the exciting “sectarian conflict” has fizzled out, people are now applying their hatred to other groups. With not a hint of irony, Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP – a party that did more than its fair share to stoke sectarian tensions during the Troubles – said that “just as sectarianism has been responsible for violence in the past… we have to be equally clear that racism cannot become the new sectarianism”. The idea is that people are seeking a new outlet for their subcultural intolerance, and the authorities – the police, the DUP – must stop them.

This outlook was taken to its logical conclusion in a demented outburst by possible parliamentary candidate Esther Rantzen on BBC Question Time last night. She described Northern Ireland as “a nation that had been riven by racial loathing, [with] the two populations hating each other”, and said now “there erupts a new racism, as if they’re addicted to hatred, as if they’re addicted to violence, as if it gives them an exhilaration and a sense of identity”. One grisly episode in south Belfast is used to depict everyone in Northern Ireland as hateful automatons, despite the fact that many people have taken a stand against the attacks on Romanians.

Meanwhile, in keeping with mainstream ideas of a “new sectarianism”, newspaper discussion threads have been stuffed with the kind of comments on Northern Ireland most of us thought had died out in the early 1990s. One online discussant says “the small-minded knuckle-scrapers of Belfast” are looking for “a new bogeyman to vent their frustrations at”.

This kind of commentary, the argument that the old sectarianism has simply mutated into a new kind of racism, obscures any serious understanding of both the past and the present: it overlooks the political factors that created and sustained sectarian tensions in recent decades, and overlooks the fact that anti-immigrant attacks today are mercifully rare. The sectarianism that existed for much of the twentieth century was not the product of some historically-embedded, irrational, free-floating animosity between Catholics and Protestants; rather it was the creation of the British-Unionist policy of divide and rule in a self-defined sectarian state that explicitly pitted one community against the other. And for all the shrill claims about people in Northern Ireland still being “addicted to hatred”, the truth is that, while recorded racist incidents may have risen in real terms, they are falling relative to the number of migrants.

Perhaps worst of all, the discussion of a new outburst of “natural hatred” has allowed those who were responsible both for stoking sectarianism in the past and for consigning Romanian migrants to overcrowded housing today – the authorities of Northern Ireland – to pose now as enlightened warriors against ordinary people’s hateful ways.

  • Dave

    I find all the speculation about the motives of the attackers to be fascinating (and I’ve done a bit of it myself), but has anyone actually asked the attackers what the problem is or are we all too busy using these attacks to promote our own agendas and would much rather speculate than ascertain the facts?

  • kensei

    Neat piece. I was toying with the idea of blogging a piece entitled “What do you mean ‘we’, White Man?”

    William Crawley posted a piece http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2009/06/northern_irelands_dark_side.html#more with the following:

    The non-local population of Northern Ireland is estimated at about 1 per cent — just 45,000 people. Yet Northern Ireland is averaging 20 racist attacks every week. 90 per cent of racist attacks are in Loyalist areas.

    He goes on:

    The truth is this: Northern Ireland has a problem. The evacuation of 115 Romanians from south Belfast has exposed that problem, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen it. Academic studies have revealed that Northern Ireland has a culture of intolerance and prejudice…..

    Which to me ducks the issue. “Northern Ireland” does not have a problem. Loyalist areas have a problem. To be even more specific, certain people within some loyalist areas have a problem. Nationalist areas are, as yet, not blighted by this to a significant degree. No well to do areas have this problem. There is a specific problem, in a specific place. Even then it is quite rare. The attempt to link this to sectarianism is as put here, crude and avoids dealing with the actual causes, and thus will harm any attempt to get a solution.

    By spreading out the blame and associating it with other things, nothing is done because everything needs done. It’s a fundamental problem that leads to Alliance style clap trap that says we need giant social upheaval to get change. We neatly avoid saying where the problem currently is in case it offends. We need “balance” – quick, bring up attacks on Orange Halls or something. All this just amkes it harder to get actual change.

    This is a supposedly free country. If you want to be a flaming racist, then no one should stop you, unless you spill over to incitement. What is not acceptable, and has to be made clear it is not acceptable, is any action that results from this: intimidation, stonethrowing, attacks, burning people out. That stuff has to be dealt by the police and the courts, and dealt with in a firm and certain manner.

    Furthermore, there is a moral obligation to those that aren’t racists to make clear that those views are considered unacceptable, and expose those who hold them. That means Unionist politicians in this case have got to step up, and if they don’t they need forced to by everyone else. If they secretly support some this shit, then exposed. Non racists vastly outnumber racists, so if the problem is people are afriad to speak out, then that’s something that needs solved too.

    And that how this should be dealt with. By focusing on specific problems and making a noticeable dent on outcome. In fact, it’s the only way to deal with it.

  • P O’Neil

    The whole root of the Troubles and continuing conflict, was not entirely sectarian, but rather it was, and still is a native / settler conflict. It just so happened to be quite convenient that the native Irish were Catholic and the colonial squatters were Protestants. Now religion became a very generalised way of determining one’s enthnicity. I would argue that there is no ‘new sectarianism, or morphining into racism’ in fact it was the other way around, inherent racism veiled with sectarianism.

    I have often said that the core of this absolute hatred of the Irish people, language, culture etc, was Arthur Chichester. During and after the Nine Years war, he used to great effect, the racial hatred of the Irish. That hatred never went away, it was passed on from generation to generation, down through the colonials. Over time, people forgot where this came from, but they still perpetuated this hatred. That has finally culminated into the situation that we have today.

    Racism and intolerance is as synomous with Britishness, as Catholicism is with Irishness.

    FYI – at least we had the good manners to wait until the British came here, stole our lands and butchered our people, before we hated them.

  • “In fact, he goes on to argue, that the divide and rule nature of the state(let)‘s administration is what has allowed hatred to breed down the generations…”

    Mike, do you have a copy of Brendan’s or Will’s analysis of the Polish murders in Dublin last year?

    They might make interesting reading in the light of recent and not so recent attacks both here and elsewhere.

  • So it’s all the Hun’s fault. Glad to hear it is so simple.

  • Roman E Lowse

    Still, without the attacks on these social misfits, we would have little to preen ourselves over. And that is our liberal goal, is it not?

    Anyone who has sympathy for these people should house and hose them. It is a shame they are allowed abuse Belfast’s hospitality. Ship them home.

  • Swerve

    There is also a massive risk in this that politics can distort the workings of a lawful democratic society and we end up with rule of men rather than rule of law.

    Those who attack others must be arrested and convicted, irrespective of skin colour or even motive. However on the other hand, for example, IF (and nobody has actually clarified this, nevertheless if these ones are not some others of them will be) the Romanians are illegal, or have work permits on false pretexts, does anyone think that in this politicised climate that the authorities can enforce the law and deport them without a massive kerfuffle?

    People are going to call me racist for saying that, and that’s a problem, when identity politics get involved in policing, as has happened in parts of England, and I suspect has happened here in relation to our older “community divisions” the rule of law can be subverted, and there are people ON BOTH SIDES, both racists who think that immigrants should not be treated as other citizens or a tourist from Australia (say) and those who think they also should be treated differently from a position of “anti racism”, such as not enforcing laws on immigration that our representatives voted onto the statute books. We must not let either side win.

    The media also has a duty to give us all the facts to the best of their ability.

  • Brian Walker

    Brendan says: “The sectarianism that existed for much of the twentieth century was not the product of some historically-embedded, irrational, free-floating animosity between Catholics and Protestants; rather it was the creation of the British-Unionist policy of divide and rule in a self-defined sectarian state that explicitly pitted one community against the other.”

    Or you could say: “Fanatical republicans exploited the just fears and grievances of their co-religionists to provoke a sectarian conflict until they were worn down and defeated”

    Or…. xxxxxxxx

    Good Brendan, glad we’ve wrapped that one up at last. The question is: what do were do about it? It may not be a nationalist problem but in my opinion, kensei’s approach is the right one.

  • When was the last time anyone was arrested, let alone convicted and sent to prison, for intimidating people out on sectarian grounds?

    So, let’s not kid ourselves that this is a new problem. The inaction of the police, courts and political class is not new. A new generation of bigoted thugs have found a new target apposite to a post-settlement world. But the tactics and the response haven’t changed since God was a boy.

    The outburst of racism last weekend was only the culmination of intimidation and vandalism that has been on and off around the Village and Lower Lisburn Road, probably done by the same gang of teenagers, since at least the end of last year. The Police did nothing about that (in fact, don’t even seem to be aware of it at command level) so why is anyone surprised when we do something now.

    Pace Esther Rantzen, we are not all knuckle-dragging racist bigots, nor are most working-class loyalists. But if those who are keep getting away with it, why are we surprised when it never stops?

  • Roman E Lowse

    http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=610785&page=8

    Stormfront have almost as many informed comments on this incident as Slugger.

  • Driftwood

    Romanians aren’t all bad….as the Collinson twins show, a mixture of good and bad.

  • fin

    “Mike, do you have a copy of Brendan’s or Will’s analysis of the Polish murders in Dublin last year?

    They might make interesting reading in the light of recent and not so recent attacks both here and elsewhere.”

    Nevin, interesting reading, certain politicans and communities could learn a lot from the reaction to those murders

    ie, condemn at the highest political level, and organise a collection, attend the funeral and hold a vigil……not a band parade

  • fin, it seems that others on this thread may not yet have read the link on post #4.

    It’s a demonstration that Irish society** now has an underclass of dysfunctional families where parents don’t work and spend their time and money in the pub, and feral teenagers are left to run wild and get their drugs whatever way they can.

    ** British society too

  • Swerve

    Funny how Esther Rantzen can excoriate whole groups of people for racism, but the evidence I’ve seen is that Roma have a problem of endemic racism. For example Razib Khan of gnxp who is about as politically incorrect as you can get, but also in my view generally open minded and objective said,

    “Everyone knows about the Roma (Gypsy) genocide by this point. When I was in college I did a research paper on the Gypsies of Europe, and one thing to note was how bestial the European nations behaved toward them, deep into the 19th century there were parts of Germany where nobles hunted them for sport (I found one painting where a German noble holds aloft the heads of a Gypsy woman and her child that he has just run down and decapitated). But…life is more complicated than the propoganda, and I found that the Gypsy attitude toward the gadje (non-Gypsy) was one of total contempt and lack of moral feeling. Just as Europeans treated Gypsies like animals, the victims themselves had no conception of moral relations with their host peoples, cheating, lying and deception were considered acceptable so long as the person who was being exploited was a gadje.”

    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/001651.html

    This could well be a case of intolerance breeding intolerance, which we know well in this part of the world.

  • “ie, condemn at the highest political level, and organise a collection, attend the funeral and hold a vigil……not a band parade”

    Do you imagine that any of these five will stop the barbarity in Belfast, Dublin, Coleraine or anywhere else, fin – or the bollixology?

  • anne warren

    Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP – a party that did more than its fair share to stoke sectarian tensions during the Troubles – said that “just as sectarianism has been responsible for violence in the past… ”.

    Why the past tense? Sectarian murders continue at regular intervals. Mr McDaid was killed, his wife and a pregnant friend attacked, another gentleman left in critical condition and witnesses intimidated just three short weeks ago.
    Technically speaking I suppose even 5 minutes ago is the past but as The Times wrote: “Northern Ireland has a “culture of intolerance”, linking the attacks on Roumanians with “Northern Ireland’s home-grown brand of racism” (sectarianism) and the “spectrum of emotions – from antipathy to hatred – that has existed for centuries between Protestants and Roman Catholics”.
    The attacks on the Roumanians and threats to the gentleman who organised the anti-racist protest shows NOT that “the old sectarianism has simply mutated into a new kind of racism” but rather that the culture of intolerance has morphed to identify a second target. There is no sign or evidence it has relented in its hatred of its primary target.

    All this is fundamentally alien to English culture and mentality. Shouts that “we’re British, we’re British” sound like “sound and fury, a tale told by an idiot” as Shakespeare, and others after him, have said.

  • Comrade Stalin

    So, let’s not kid ourselves that this is a new problem. The inaction of the police, courts and political class is not new. A new generation of bigoted thugs have found a new target apposite to a post-settlement world. But the tactics and the response haven’t changed since God was a boy.

    As mentioned on other threads, my neighbours and I have had to deal with problems similar to this. It’s anti-social behaviour, which is obviously a notch below the intimidation being discussed here, but the idea is the same. The police say they can’t do anything and it’s a “society problem”. If you provide names and details, the police will tell you that it’s welcome but that they can’t protect you or your property, if the perpetrators find out you are co-operating with police and decide to take action of their own. Whenever I call the cops here I have to tell them not to stop their car outside the house or call in, because I’ll get burnt out if the thugs find out that it was me who called them.

    I don’t think it’s all necessarily all the fault of the police, it’s the courts as well who won’t hand down a sentence serious enough to discourage the wee gets from doing this. It’s obviously very demoralizing for the police to put in the effort to catch one of the wee bastards only for a judge somewhere to release him back onto the streets again within six weeks. Kids who do not understand that bricking the windows of old age pensioners, or smashing people’s cars need to spend several years in jail.

  • “because I’ll get burnt out”

    Not just you, CS, the cops and their families are at risk too if they’re identified.

  • “sound and fury, a tale told by an idiot”

    Quite. Sometimes we get a clearer picture of events if we zoom out rather than zoom in.

  • Framer

    Calm down a moment.

    Village people break windows in three houses;

    Pole allegedly murders Pole in Newtownards;

    Irish Travellers in machete attacks on each other.

    World goes mad about only one of these.

  • RepublicanStones

    Framer if you can’t notice the glaring difference between two of those incidents and the other one…ever heard of specsavers?

  • skibbereen eagle

    Sectarianism is not a twentieth century phenomenon. William Carleton grew up at the turn of the late 18th century in Co Tyrone and his works make a number of references to inter community conflicts. If you read old newspapers even for other parts of Ireland for the 19th century you will seee frequent refernces to outbrakes of ‘party feeling’ with its violent consequences come July for the northern counties. Senior RIC personnel in their memoirs for the 19th century make reference to serving in troubled areas and endeavouring to impartially impose the rule of law.

  • IJP

    I think Sammy M has it spot on.

    However, there is a more fundamental psychological point here which dare not speak its name. It was perhaps summed up by a gentleman I was speaking to the other day, who when explaining his “moderate” political stance said: “I mean, my son married a Catholic and their children are brought up Catholic, and that’s fine. I mean, it’s not ideal of course, but it’s fine”.

    A classic – and actually completely fair point. It is a basic fact of the human condition that we are attracted and affiliated to those who are like us (including through looks, interests, culture etc), and indifferent and even ignorant towards those who are less like us. In short, sectarianism (in its true sense) is a base instinct (for anyone, anywhere).

    It is one of the most remarkable feats of Western Civilisation that, to a large (and arguably astonishing) extent, it has amended behaviour to the extent that this base instinct is barely noticeable. Cities such as London or Frankfurt are, by and large, outstanding examples of civilised behaviour overcoming instinctive divisive norms.

    My point is this: sectarianism was not “created”, it was there to start with and has been “conserved”. You do not stop sectarianism by leaving things the way they are, but rather by changing behaviour and attitudes to make them, fundamentally, more civil. That will require more than high-minded platitudes and marches; it needs a re-assessment of how we make our poorest areas a more mainstream part of our society, rather than just leaving those in them to survive on instinct alone.

  • Alan – Newtownards

    Anne Warren

    You are right about people being intolerant in N.I. It seems to be only in working class areas that intolerance is rife. Maybe I’m wrong but it appears to be so. From working class loyalist areas in Belfast to republican areas in Londonderry (I’m referring to the weekly siege of the protestant Fountain estate by republican youths). What is wrong with these people? Are they brain dead? Or just evil.

  • anne warren

    Alan -Newtownards asked “What is wrong with these people? Are they brain dead? Or just evil”.

    Hope the following goes some way towards answering your questions.

    Sectarianism, like racism, is the belief that one or more categories of people is/are unequal and undeserving of dignity, respect and opportunity.

    Playing a role “in working class areas where intolerance is rife” are, according to several recent articles in the national papers, lots of factors which can basically be summed up as forms of deprivation (financial hardship, poor scholastic performance, inadequate housing, unemployment, drinking and drugging, admiration for ex-prisoners, “hard men”, money flashed around by drug barons and other criminals etc, desire to find status, respect from others and role in community). And inevitably frustration kicks in and desire to blame someone. (NB These factors are not all exclusive to working class areas but have greater impact there).
    Add also unthinking, uncritical acceptance of certain political lines (perhaps due to low academic achievement which did not provide analytical thinking skills) and there you have a volatile mixture of nasty ideas and feelings dating back generations which explode in sectarian murders as well as racial harassment and intimidation. So personally speaking, I don’t think these people are evil. I think they come from a deprived environment and are ignorant, ill-informed and over-reactive due to poor reasoning skills.

    The mould might be broken by government campaigns (mass media, posters, soaps like Eastenders, meetings in schools, workplaces, sports and professional associations, community halls etc) to show people how to exit this dangerous mindset, interest them in other things and teach them to live and let live. We could conclude they are brain dead only if they were to persist in sectarian/racist behaviour after receiving in-depth information on how to change mindset etc. Until then, the jury’s out!!

    However, as there seems to be little or no interest in such an approach, one is left to ask who benefits when people are intolerant in NI? Who would lose what if sectarian divisions and intolerance were to change?