Looking for Aunt Susans in Northern Ireland

Dear Editor,

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).

Yours faithfully,
Allan Leonard
Director, Northern Ireland Foundation

Lexington: One nation, with Aunt Susan
(The Economist)
25 November 2010