As an American living and working in Northern Ireland, I read Lexington’s article, “One nation, with Aunt Susan”, with particular interest. The US Constitution protects free speech and freedom of religion, but too often people misconstrue this as a secular project. Instead, its heritage comes from religious non-conformists who felt compelled to leave the Old World for the new. Indeed, historical American colonies could be viewed as sectarian as anywhere else, i.e. this piece of land is for our sect. Thankfully, the founding fathers had the skill to reconcile this apparent contradiction in the revolutionary civic code the continues to guide American patriotism — lest we forget when dealing with Muslims, Buddhists and Mormons today.
In contrast, the predominantly singular Christian ethos of Northern Ireland is not a unifying force — far from it. Of course, the spectacular difference is majorly explained by competing national and state identities. And the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has not (yet) been accepted as a form of conflict resolution, more like an uncomfortable method of conflict management.
What we’re working for in Northern Ireland are more Aunt Susans. That individuals here find shared interests and become more receptive to others’ backgrounds — where circles of diverse friends and colleagues makes us hold more positive feelings towards others, including ethnic minorities and new arrivals (to paraphrase Mr Putnam and Mr Campbell).
Director, Northern Ireland Foundation
Lexington: One nation, with Aunt Susan
25 November 2010
Writer & Photographer
My interest is in efforts to address ethnonational and other identity based conflicts, appreciating the power of belief and one’s adherence to particular world views. So, while it is useful to ascertain facts, realities are influenced by traditions and customs. I seek to learn and interpret this phenomenon, by making images and storytelling — documenting events and experiences of peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and beyond. There are many stories to tell.
Co-founder and editor of Shared Future News, which reports on peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. Co-founder and director of FactCheckNI, Northern Ireland’s first fact-checking service. Co-founder and secretary of FCT Belfast, a local member of the Forum for Cities in Transition, which is an international network of local government, business, and civil society representatives assisting each other with peacemaking. I also contribute to Northern Slant and Slugger O’Toole.