September 12th, 2005

me: ooh!

Belfast

It looks as though the violence that started in Belfast on Saturday during an Orange Order parade and continued through last night was premeditated.

Northern Ireland, for me and probably for a lot of other largely apolitical people, was rather low on the list of countries I wanted to visit before I die. It's a place that you tend not to think of when you're coming up with holiday plans, like Rwanda, Niger or Iraq. Because personal risk assessment tends to preclude deliberately putting yourself in a situation where you might get caught in the crossfire. Because viewing misery and oppression in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty isn't most people's idea of a pleasant vacation.

Except that Northern Ireland isn't a third-world country. The standard of living is up to that of the rest of the Westernized world. However, it's been so torn by internal strife since its inception that it's difficult to conceive of its inhabitants being able to enjoy fully the luxuries of being a developed post-industrial nation. Despite its member status in the UK, the overarching vision of Northern Ireland to outsiders is one of a divided society constantly under threat of violence.

Michael Collins, one of the Irish republicans who signed the 1921 treaty that divided Ireland into kingdom and republic, said of Northern Ireland: "A large portion of her fair province has lost all its native distinctiveness. It has become merely an inferior Lancashire. Who would visit Belfast or Lisburn or Lurgan to see the Irish people at home? That is the unhappy fate of the North-East. It is neither English nor Irish." His scorn can easily be attributed to his political bias against Britain. Perhaps unwittingly, he makes another point about Northern Ireland. The cultural mix between English and Irish, between Catholic and Protestant, could conceivably produce a rich, colorful, cosmopolitan society. Instead, the sectarian attitudes of a portion of its citizens have produced a tense, unhappy, bitter one, and it continues this way because the militant elements have kept feeding the flames of mistrust.

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