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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Sticks and Stones

This kind of political style is a direct descendant of fascism, where the opposition is branded in the most lurid and extreme language, accorded no respect, and dismissed as outside the parameters of respectable and civilised society - Martin Jacques

Anthony McIntyre • 7 November 2005

Like much else, courtesy of the peace process, insults here tend to come in outsize portions. Alex Reid, having proved susceptible to the riling of waspish Willie Frazer, retorted with his Nazi barb and the rest is not quite history because it is it is still being mulled over and dissected. Reid's use of the overstatement was hardly the deviation from normal discourse it has since been portrayed as. Hyperbole is what we are about in the North. The greatest crisis ever is perennially about to land on us, the most important elections only ever occur here, local stone throwing incidents at an interface send comparison-seekers off to all the wrong places in search of some diabolical atrocity so that we can say, 'look here humanity, and see another civil war Beirut or Warsaw ghetto in our own time.' If degrees were to be awarded in victimology this place would be a world leader in professorships, with at least one per household.

We revel in it and the international attention it brings us. For that reason culpability is not ours alone. In 1994 when thousands were being slaughtered on a daily basis in Rwanda, the US government deliberately averted its gaze and looked here instead. Yet on virtually any one day between April and June of that year more people died in Rwanda than lost their lives here throughout twenty-five years of conflict. Genocide can be ignored while our sectarian squabble becomes the concern of international statesmen and women. Any wonder we think a little whining works?

Alex Reid is hardly alone in over-egging the sectarian pudding. Maximising ones own victimisation while simultaneously ascribing the characteristic of the demon to the 'other side' is the staple discursive currency here. Most do it to one degree or another, even those of us who comment on others doing it. Nevertheless, it was intellectually and strategically futile for Alex Reid to hurl the particular boomerang of Nazism in the general direction of unionism. For as certain as it will come back heavily propelled with top speed, it also trivialises the phenomenon that was Nazism. Even if he was only repeating Mary McAleese's lines, he should have learned from the hostility she provoked what was certain to result from similar comments. Nor is it just unionists who take offence at being tagged with the Nazi label and rush off a la Willie Frazer in pursuit of legal action. Daily Ireland not so long ago announced its intention to issue a defamation writ against Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell for likening the paper to the Nazi Party's Volkischer Beobachter.

Given that he decided to draw on a Nazi analogy, the most prudent approach for Reid to then take was to say that elements of unionist behaviour resembled some aspects of Nazi society and then point to discrimination. In that way he could have drawn much of the sting from the flak that would inevitably follow. But isolated elements of a system do not a system make. Sure, there are comparisons between someone falling from a kerb and another falling from the top of the Empire State Building. But the analogy only ever holds good if the dissimilarities are so few as to avoid courting ridicule for having made the comparison. There is so much more that distinguishes Unionist run Northern Ireland from Nazi run Germany, that isolated points of convergence merely serve to illustrate the exception rather than the rule.

The general response of nationalists has been to take the stance of 'wrong but …' Perhaps their attitude is like that of a taxi driver who informed me Reid was right but should not have said it in public. The more prudent 'wrong but …' nationalist commentators have sought to replace Nazi Germany with apartheid South Africa as a more plausible comparison. This is an old refrain. Gerry Adams tried it on in the wake of the McAleese diatribe: 'I don't want to draw any comparison with the Nazis or anyone else but certainly there was a system of apartheid.' This lazy comparison reckoned without Fintan O'Toole's demolition of the ground on which a like-with-like comparison could be made. Unionist Northern Ireland, as much as we might hate it and point to some South African minister saying how he envied the Special Powers Act, simply failed to measure up to the scale of repression visited on the black population by the apartheid regime.

An additional problem with drawing ill-fitting comparisons based on some similarity is that they can all too easily be turned against the user. Unfortunately for the republican backers of Reid there is enough within the republican history to flesh out the tu quoque being made by unionists. Fewer incidents over the decades resonate more of Nazi behaviour than the act of taking workmen from a bus and saying 'you that side, you the other side' and then proceeding to butcher the ten given the thumbs down solely on the basis of their religion.

Reading Victor Klemperer's book on the use of language in the Third Reich, it is hard not to be struck by the many similarities between the Nazi deployment of terminology and the Provisional republican usage of the same. Every Nazi event, meeting, initiative, speech was described as 'historical.' Just like the numerous 'historic' occasions Sinn Fein has been part of. Yet, to describe the Provisional Movement as Nazi would be a gross distortion.

The Northern Ireland conflict has its own unique character. Why exchange uniqueness for ridicule by seeking similarities which exist only in caricatured form?





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

25 November 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Political Policing
Willie Gallagher

One Sweet Deal for Some, but for The Rest of Us?...
Mick Hall

Who's In Charge Around Here, Anyway?
Eamonn McCann

Playing the Game
Anthony McIntyre

Dr John Coulter

RSF Presidential Address 2005
Ruairi O Bradaigh

To Go On: Irish Travellers meet Academia
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Genius decommissioned while Stupid keeps the guns
Tomas Gorman

Cut Off Aid to Regime in Uganda
David Adams

Sticks and Stones
Anthony McIntyre

7 November 2005

Mary McGurk — Giving Voice to the Abandoned
Anthony McIntyre

It Is Only the Intellectually Lost Who Ever Argue
Marc Kerr

Prospects for the Left in Ireland
Eugene Mc Cartan

Bartering the Infinities
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

The Political Police
Anthony McIntyre

Herrema's Kidnapper Explains Motive
Eamonn McCann

Revenge is a Dish Served Cold
Dr John Coulter

Causes and Effects
Mick Hall

Speaking Truth to Power
Fred Wilcox

The Bush SATaff Goes to Morals School
Mary La Rosa

A View of the H-Blocks
Anthony McIntyre



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