Even the most fanciful commentator would struggle to describe Northern Ireland as a well integrated society. Indeed the political dispensation which provides our regional government is based on community carve-up and neither of the two largest parties is prepared to weaken their grip on respective fiefdoms by pursuing an agenda of ‘sharing’. From the top down, there is an assumption that inclusive housing or education entails unpalatable compromises which cannot help but dilute the ‘cultures’ which are being integrated.
Given the fetish for a particular view of community which our politicians indulge, why then should we be surprised when newly arrived additions to Northern Ireland’s society are not integrated seamlessly or welcomed generously?
In South Belfast a particularly abhorrent attack took place last week which seems to have been racist, or at least xenophobic, in motivation. A group of aggressive, and apparently drunk, young men forced their way into a house in which four Hungarian women were resident. The mob’s goal seems to have been to drive the women out of their home.
I scarcely need iterate how loathsome and cowardly any thinking person will find such an attack. And although it is obviously difficult to discern definite connections along a timeline of thuggish incidents, there have been other instances of people from eastern Europe being attacked and intimidated out of homes in areas of South Belfast in recent weeks. It is for the police to establish details and identify those responsible, but we can say, with reasonable certainty, that a hardcore of hooligans is intent upon driving people from particular areas, on the grounds of their perceived nationality.
Physical attacks are a particularly extreme manifestation of the symptoms, but they are functions of the same disease which causes an almost gleefully unreflective reaction from certain people when they believe that a wrong has been committed which can be attributed to ‘the other’ perceived community. The attempt to suggest that the guilt for bad behaviour should be acquired by an entire section of society, based on perceptions about their religion or political belief, is sometimes quite explicit and at other times it is repeatedly implied, but it is always insidious and represents the type of thinking which rationalises racist thuggery in the first place. I don’t think it diminishes the disgust which one might feel toward the original act, to find such hypocrisy galling.