Mindless violence? I think not.

Given the enduring nature of violence and political unrest, it’s tempting to conclude it’s in our nature. And what nature doesn’t supply is made up for by nurture, as old bad habits are handed on to a new generation. I hope I haven’t done Malachi O’Doherty an injustice by extracting that as a central notion in his article in the Belfast Telegraph the other day.
Because it’s too easy. If you blame the enduring violence and political unrest on DNA and traditional habits, it removes the unrest from the need for analysis. It is, literally, mindless unrest, mindless violence.
But it’s not. The Troubles, although frequently referred to by British politicians as ‘mindless’ was nothing of the sort. The IRA knew just what they were fighting for. You might not agree with their means, you might even not agree with their end; but that they had a specific political goal is undeniable. That’s what the hunger strike of 1981 was about. 
Likewise, the flag protest is sometimes dismissed as mindless. There’s indeed a temptation to do so, since for those of us old enough, it has some echoes of the civil disobedience of the 1960s: a group of people determined to demonstrate that they don’t feel they are being treated equally, clashing with the police. But the differences are several.
For a start, the civil rights campaigners were led by men and women who were educated – most of them graduates, in fact. John Hume, Bernadette Devlin, Eamonn McCann –  you can make up your own list. The flag protestors are notable as working-class, and certainly not educated working-class.  Whereas the civil rights campaigners could draw their inspiration from similar movements in the United States and South Africa,  the flag protesters would have a difficult job locating a group anywhere that is similarly flag-obsessed. The link they often establish is with British soldiers fighting and dying under the Union flag in Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course the civil rights campaigners of the 1960s knew exactly what they wanted – one person  one vote, an end to housing and job discrimination. The flag protesters want the Union flag back up over Belfast City Hall 365 days a year, but they also want as many inquiries as them fenians are having, they want jobs and investment, they want their leaders to represent them, not use them. It’s not that the flag protesters don’t have any goal for their lawlessness; they actually have too many. 
There’s a part of me that feels sorry for the protesters. Not because they don’t get to fly their flag 365 days a year, nor because they engage in mindless violence, which they don’t; but because they have so many other legitimate grievances, rooted in poverty and lack of educational achievement, that will continue to be ignored. They’re not mindless. They’re focus-less and leaderless, and panicking in the face of inevitable change. 

6 Responses to Mindless violence? I think not.

  1. Jude Collins February 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    With my usual astonishing skill, I’ve accidentally deleted a recent comment. My apologies. If you care to do it again, I promise to be more careful.

  2. Anonymous February 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    If it’s my last one two hours ago, i can’t exactly redo it other than roughly on theme. Irecalled the words of Molyneaux in 1994 that the ceasefires were the most destabilising events for the sake of either NI or unionism[Can’t recall which], but both parties are finding now that in the absence of the IRA the old orange card playing doesn’t cut it anymore.The crowd of 200,000 that went to city hall in ’85, are numbers Bryson and frazer can only have wet dreams about.[madraj55 as twitter]

  3. Jude Collins February 1, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Anon: 16:39 – Yep, that’s the one. Sorry for sending you through Groundhog Day…

  4. Anonymous February 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    For some reason or other, I have taken to read first the late horsemans’ blog and now some other blogs concerning N.I. from the nationalist corner. Now I see your community’s grieavances. What, however, shall you do with the remaining unionists, when you’ve eventually got your electoral majority and perhaps even an all-island Ireland? You don’t expect them to emigrate do you? And they’ll surely not lie down and die, the road to take arms having been well established?


  5. Anonymous February 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    “What, however, shall you do with the remaining unionists, when you’ve eventually got your electoral majority and perhaps even an all-island Ireland?”


  6. Anonymous June 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Hi just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.

    I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

    Also visit my weblog; raspberry ketones