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Parents must fight bigotry

David Adams • Irish Times, 4 February 2005

Bad timing and her giving offence to nigh on one million non-jackbooted Northern Protestants ensured that the issue President McAleese was trying to raise was immediately swamped by a chorus of raised voices.

In typical Northern fashion, all the usual suspects jumped to attack or dutifully defend, so it became just another "us and them" argy-bargy. Hardly Mary's finest hour.

Leaving aside the insult, her mentioning ancient Northern Catholic grievances in the same week, never mind virtually the same breath, as Holocaust Memorial Day was, to say the least, stretching things a bit.

The experience of Catholics in Northern Ireland is as closely related to the plight of the Jews under Nazism (or, for that matter, black South Africans under apartheid) as toothache is to decapitation. So an opportunity to begin a rational and much-needed discussion around the obscenity of inculcating young children with hatred was missed.

Or skilfully sidestepped, more like, by a people well practised in avoiding a harsh truth when it applies to them. A fulsome, if belated, presidential apology barely caused the combatants to draw breath. Instead, they moved effortlessly on to another circular discussion around whether or not only one side teaches their children to hate; one side more than the other; or if both are equally guilty.

The notion of actually tackling the problem didn't get a look-in. That most children in Northern Ireland have, from an early age, already developed a deep antipathy to "the other side" is beyond question. Recognising that and then agreeing, collectively and genuinely, that it must be tackled, should be our first step. We should dispense, as well, with the many well-worn devices we use to avoid responsibility or downplay the problem. Trying to heap all or most of the blame on one side or the other is an arrogant evasion that only perpetuates the problem.

And while a discussion about whether Catholics are politically sectarian and Protestants religiously so might prove interesting at a head-scratching academic level, it hardly matters in a society where religious conviction virtually dictates political allegiance.

For the same reason, the nonsense of describing communities as unionist or nationalist instead of Protestant or Catholic when we want to insult them is mere word play that fools no one.

Integrated education has its supporters, myself amongst them, but any suggestion that it might cure all ills is either touchingly naïve or indicates a lack of ideas. Besides, is teaching our children not to hate one another yet another parental duty we should be trying to offload on to already overwrought school teachers? According to a recent survey, children as young as three display sectarian awareness, so the major damage is already done before a child gets to try on its first school uniform. From the beginning, attitudes in the home are soaked up by children and, whether positive or negative, automatically adopted as their own.

And neither is anti-sectarianism merely a passive thing: a case of parents watching what they say in front of the kids. Parents have to compete actively, not only with negative influences from outside the home, but also with a child's natural inclinations.

In the worst possible sense, it's an all-too-natural part of the human condition to identify, be wary of and even attack difference. If you doubt what I say, think on this: how many children have to be taught to bully, be greedy, jealous, violent, or take things that don't belong to them? None: all of that comes quite naturally.

Those are natural traits that most individuals, through good parenting and societal restraints, learn to move beyond. What we do, by example and discipline, is spend our time trying to teach children not to blindly follow their natural inclinations. It follows then, that battling the poison of sectarianism must be a proactive, ongoing thing that should begin in the home and continue there.

Of course, any measure of success depends on the parents themselves being anti-sectarian and determined to raise their children to be the same. Not something we can rely on in Northern Ireland. That is where wider society, with a particular onus on those in positions of authority and influence, must play its part.

There should no longer be any degree of tolerance for sectarianism. No more turning a blind eye or a deaf ear; no more smiling and shaking the head with an indulgent "we all know what he's like". Be it parson, priest, politician or pauper - and irrespective of how "vital" any individual might be to the peace process - if they transgress they should be arrested, charged with incitement to hatred, and, if found guilty, subject to a heavy penalty.

Seemingly against all odds and over a relatively short period, we have managed to make homophobic and racist attitudes no longer socially acceptable. With a similar determined and collective effort, there is no reason why we couldn't do the same with sectarianism. Like the homophobes and racists, we should relegate the religious bigots to the margins of society: not continue affording them centre stage.

Reprinted with permission of the author.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

14 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Ireland of Equals Will Not Be Built on Fear
Gerard Quinn

'Law and Order' From Behind a Balaclava
John Kelly

Where Are the Guards of Honour?
Sean Magee

Losing Hearts and Minds
Mick Hall

Protest? You're Having a Laugh
Michael Benson

Brian Mór

When A Leader Deserts His Men
Anthony McIntyre

No News
James Fitzharris

I Didn't Know Her, But I Did
Fred A. Wilcox

Parents Must Fight Bigotry
David Adams

9 February 2005

Oderint dum Metuant
Anthony McIntyre

Life Amongst the Proveau Riche
Brian Mór

Can Republicans Succeed Without Upholding National Sovereignty?
Francis Mackey

The Party or the Process
Dr John Coulter

Sean Russell and the Nazis
Mick Hall

Counting the Bodies
Liam O Ruairc

Elections' Aftermath
Ghali Hassan

What did Aeschylus write in "Daughters of Danaus"?
Toni Solo



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