From December 2012 until the end of summer 2013 Belfast was before the world. But it wasn’t good. As we’ve come to know, when news of Belfast runs on BBC Radio 4, you know things are bad. When the New York Times talks Belfast, you know things are really bad.
And by ‘bad’ I now mean towering levels of incivility, Buckfast-fuelled thuggery, recreational rioting and spill-open-your-stomach sectarianism. Once again Northern Ireland’s backward class has taken a chokehold grip on the running of the province.
How aptly the words of Alain Finkielkraut capture the state of affairs: “Barbarism is not the inheritance of our pre-history. It is the companion that dogs our every step”.
The majority people want peace, but each step in the process is dogged by the old engine of sectarianism, screaming and revving and kicking back. Like an on-the-loop re-enactment of the Protestant-Catholic religious wars of the 16th, 17th and 18th Century.But the wretched sectarianism that the world has come to equate with the North of Ireland, is absolutely not Northern Ireland. To that I ask this simple question: When are Northern Ireland’s forces of modernity going to stand up and break the hold held by the fringe forces of reaction?
Northern Ireland is now an exciting cosmopolitan place, populated by an educated and ambitious class. Holding back the modern majority is a unionist and nationalist class, mutually antagonistic and individually polarised, but united as a whole: Both curdled by hate and messianic absolution.I’ve written before that this is where the battle line will lie in the coming Century: Between the tolerant and plural people of modernity (Protestant and Catholic) and the thug-merchants of reaction and the past (Protestant and Catholic).
In fact, this is a trend we’re seeing around the world. Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece in the Sunday Times of July 14 2013 under the title ‘From Tehran, Turkey and Texas, the battle for tolerance is upon us.’Andrew Sullivan explained it like this: The old world order has been forever dislocated by the spread of liberal market capitalism and a tech revolution. As a result, an exciting secular class (a global village) is taking root and flowering a new and tolerant world.
Though, as in Northern Ireland, the creation of this new and tolerant world is not coming without a fight. The old is fighting the modern. Andrew Sullivan said: “What we are now seeing are the forces of modernity and the reaction to them dividing societies across the globe… The conflict is close to ubiquitous.”We’ve seen it in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, across the Maghreb, in Brazil, in Russia and all around the world. Young people are protesting against old order theocracy and authoritarian religiosity. They’re fighting for a new order of women’s rights, free speech, social liberalism and secularism. They want to be part of the new world of the 21st Century.
However in Northern Ireland our modern, outward looking class have rolled over and given the fight to the remarkable feudal, tribal and historical ananchronism that is dissident extremists on both sides, politically and on the streets. We sit back and we take it; we let them foul, shame and defame our good name.
As John Hewitt said fictitiously, ‘speak peace and toleration. Moderate your tone of voice and everywhere avoid what might provoke.’ But Northern Ireland’s modern class must give a voice of protest. As John Hewitt said, ‘this is my country… When it is fouled, shall I not remonstrate? My heritage is not their violence.’Unfortunately we have a sterile step-in-line, know-your-place culture: a stifling mentality that hinders free agency, self-direction, free expression and individuality – typified so perfectly by the DUP veto of libel reform. The supposed people of modernity (characterised by young people like Hannah Nelson) have been kept down by autocratic politicians that have crafted a limp, servile, uncritical, unthinking mass.
But as Tom Hickey said in the wonderful book ‘Up the Republic’, young people need to develop ‘strong skills of contestation’. Our young people need the sort of agency, free thinking and speaking skills that will allow them to question the calamity of others who extort and exert arbitrary control over them.
Young people ‘must be equipped with the skills to contest the influence of a group of leaders over such matters as the interpretations of cultural traditions.’When the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tried to implement laws restricting the sale of alcohol and limiting other rights, the young, secular and westernised population of urban cities protested loudly, forcefully, confidently.
When our politicians and jackboots on the street push back the clock, our middle and moderate classes just carry on with that old-time Irish, Northern Irish fatalism.Where in Greece the young people protest against youth unemployment, our young people do nothing. Where in Russia Pussy Riot fight for women’s rights, our minorities and underrepresented do nothing. Where in England, secular groups counter-protest against their native outfit of violent thugs [the EDL and BNP], we do nothing about our local outfit of riotous violent thugs.
In Northern Ireland we have a political and street-thug class wedded to the past. Both live in a world where moderation is anathema; they’re a doctrinal people in which doctrine is eternally true and cannot be changed.
The majority of Northern Ireland has got past the messianic absolutism and the barbarism that comes with it – only a select and minority set on the street and in government haven’t.
Where are your priorities ladies and gentlemen? You’re giving away what is most cherished to Northern Ireland – your peace, your tolerance and your modernism - and you’re giving it up without a fight. This is serious. When are we going to stand up, say a clear and confident No! and make our hopelessly tribal politics and our barbaric inheritance history?
[Written by Brian John Spencer and originally published on Eamonnmallie.com]