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Say, What's going on in Belfast, it's been quiet LAURA FRIELNOT
by LAURA FRIEL,Rany,a3m posted
15 Jun 2002
The violence in Belfast since last year's vicious attacks on the little girls at Holy Cross School in the Ardoyne neighborhood has had little media attention except the usual British manipulation which implies "tit for tat" or "crazy religious zealots" going at each other while the British government tries its best to make everyone act civilized. I have been trying different sources to see if we could get out the story.
Laura Friel writes for "The Irish People", a weekly from New York as well as "An Phoblacht"--Sinn Fein's newspaper based in Dublin.
The violence in Belfast since last year's vicious attacks on the little girls at Holy Cross School in the Ardoyne neighborhood has had little media attention except the usual British manipulation which implies "tit for tat"
or "crazy religious zealots" going at each other while the British government tries its best to make everyone act civilized.
I have been trying different sources to see if we could get out the story. Here is her article.
>>>>>> Feature: The ABC of hatred
BY LAURA FRIEL--for "The Irish People"
Understanding sectarianism in the North of Ireland is as easy as ABC. Within the prevailing discourse, sectarian hatred is often portrayed as the inexplicable in the hands of the indefensible. It is deemed outside civic society, a 'beyond the pale' barbarity left over from another era.
Sectarianism is most often associated with the notions of two rival gangs, involving street brawling and disaffected youth.
In such a model, support for the police, even a discredited and largely unreformed body like the PSNI, appears to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. But there are three fundamental problems with this working hypothesis.
First, sectarian violence is not reciprocal gang warfare; it is the means by which one group imposes its perceived superiority over the other.
Second, it does not exist outside this state but rather it can be found at the very heart of the northern state's political and civic agencies.
Third, within the specific power relations within the north of Ireland, anti-Catholic sectarianism simultaneously includes a religious, political and racial dimension.
The Irish, the Taigs and the Fenians are one and the same when it comes to loyalist aggression. And if anyone doubts this, then all they need to consider are the events of last week. The Short Strand is a collection of no more than 14 streets with a population of around 3,000 nationalists surrounded by a Protestant population of 60,000. In recent weeks, it has been the focus of media attention, following a sustained loyalist onslaught against the area.
Last week the prevailing media commentary had pursued the
characterisation of trouble in the Short Strand as emanating from 'two rival gangs' in which, once peaceful but now inexplicably hostile, neighbours were attacking each other's houses.
It was a lie, but given the prevailing standards of journalistic endeavour, it was a plausible lie. In fact, the Protestant residents of Cluan Place had not attacked their Catholic neighbours. They had been 'evacuated' by a loyalist mob prior to an orchestrated sectarian attack against the nationalist community.
The Catholic residents of Clandeboye, who were bombarded with bricks and bottles, fireworks packed with shrapnel and petrol bombs by masked loyalists, did not attack their Protestant neighbours. Any reciprocal violence was directed against their loyalist assailants who had occupied the Cluan area and were launching the attack.
Even at the height of the loyalist bombardment, a Catholic woman whose house had been repeatedly stoned and petrol bombed, Maggie McDowell, could still empathise with her Protestant neighbours. "The homes of those poor people must be wrecked," said Maggie, "because the loyalists are throwing floor and wall tiles at us. And where else are they getting them?"
But within the mainstream media, few were listening to the words of Maggie McDowell and her community. In line with their 'two rival gangs' model, Maggie was just another mindless hooligan in disguise.
But two subsequent events were set to dispute their vision.
The first took place on Wednesday, when loyalists attacked a
funeral at St Matthew's Catholic Chapel. The second occurred on Friday morning at a nearby college. The Tower Street campus of the Belfast Institute of Higher Education is located in the predominantly loyalist east of the city and a short distance from the nationalist enclave of Short Strand.
Shortly before midday on Friday, 7 June, a 100-strong masked
loyalist mob forced its way into the Campus complex and
confronted the college's students. One female Catholic student said that fellow students had tried to protect her. "Caroline, you've got to get out of here," they had warned. "We looked out of the window and there was a crowd of men with masks and a banner saying 'No Short Strand nationalists or republicans in East Belfast'." Those students who were unable to produce identification evidence
of their name and home address were locked in a room and
interrogated by members of the mob. Any Catholic students, they were told, would be shot dead.
"They came into the hall and grabbed our friend and started
shouting at her, "What's your name?" "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?" and "If you're a Catholic you're going to be shot." A masked loyalist pushed the girl against the wall and told her to pronounce the letter 'H'. Another student was ordered to recite 'ABC'. Differences in pronunciation, the loyalists believed, would be sufficient to identify any Catholics within the room. In the event, no Catholics were killed but they were terrorised.
Following the attack, the college has been forced into premature closure for the summer holidays, while outstanding exams have been relocated to other campuses.
In the autumn, it is unlikely that any Catholic students will return. "I can't stop crying. I want to finish my course but I'm too afraid to go back," said a student.
Two days earlier, a loyalist mob of around 300 had attacked a Catholic funeral as it was taking place in the Short Strand's local church, St Matthew's Chapel. Leo O'Neill and his brothers were carrying their mother's coffin in the chapel grounds when the attack began. Jean O'Neill had
died suddenly and prematurely of cancer at the age of 54. A
family already grief stricken at the untimely loss of a mother became the target of loyalist aggression.
"As we reached the door of the church we saw a large number of masked loyalists with banners coming towards us," a distraught son told the press. The mourners fled into the chapel and locked the doors as bricks and stones rained down on the cortege. One brick bounced off the coffin as it was hurriedly carried into the church.
Inside, the mourners were unable to hear the funeral Mass above the commotion of the continuing loyalist bombardment outside. Children among the congregation cried and sobbed in fear and distress. The family were forced to take the coffin out by a back door.
In a blatant distortion of the truth, DUP Assembly member Sammy Wilson subsequently criticised the PSNI/RUC for failing "to remove the republican mob from the chapel grounds." Within the last week, the Catholic community of Short Strand has been prevented by loyalist lynch mobs from attending the local post office, collecting prescriptions from the local chemist and seeking medical attention at the nearby doctor's surgery. Shopkeepers, who have been ordered not to serve Catholics, are too afraid to defy the mob.
As a consequence, families have been unable to collect their
welfare, mothers have been unable to collect baby food from the clinic, and the sick and elderly have been denied medical access. Catholic children are too afraid to wear their school uniforms, Catholic families are too afraid to sleep in their homes at night. A number of Catholic workers have been intimidated into leaving their jobs. A number of Catholic churches and schools have been torched. Loyalists have marched behind banners demanding "Taigs Out" and
sectarian graffiti has appeared on walls. "No Short Strand Taigs on our road" and underneath the warning "At your own risk" the threat's date of issue is also recorded, "31-5-02".
And what has the First Minister to say of this sorry state of affairs? "I don't want any excuses. I don't want any lies. The truth of the matter is that what we have seen in East Belfast in recent weeks is simple, naked aggression," a suitably irate David Trimble spoke into camera. But incredibly, his outrage was not directed against loyalists
currently besieging the Short Strand.
These are the mealy-mouthed words of a former lawyer and a politician unwilling to acknowledge that his career and political agenda is embedded in the sectarian violence of others. "It is absolutely clear that leading members of Sinn Fein/IRA have been publicly involved in agitation leading to serious disorder on our streets," said the First Minister. Inadvertently evoking the notorious sectarian ballad 'The Sash', Trimble claimed republicans were "up to their necks" in organising rioting and he demanded immediate sanctions be imposed on Sinn Fein.
And Trimble wasn't alone. Fellow Ulster Unionist Chris McGimpsey criticised the election of Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey as Belfast Mayor. While republicans were behaving aggressively, said McGimpsey, the election of Maskey proved that Sinn Fein now believed itself to be beyond sanction.
Meanwhile, David Ervine of PUP was labelling the political
representatives of the nationalist community 'corporate liars'.
Accusing the people of the Short Strand of 'ethnic cleansing', Ervine insisted that violence had been orchestrated by republicans. And on a further sinister note, referring to loyalists who had been injured during the siege, Ervine said loyalists saw themselves as "five-nil down" and warned that they would want to "settle the score". "The IRA has orchestrated this," he said.
While loyalist lynch mobs have adopted the methods of the Ku Klux Klan, their political apologists uphold their right to do so as surely as the Alabama state of 50 years ago.