In Britain today there’s a celebration which on the face of it is enormous fun, especially for children. Bonfire Night; a night when there’s a bonfire, fireworks and a communal gathering. What’s often (almost always) missed is the underlying reason for the ‘celebration’ – the conviction and death of a Roman Catholic (Guy Fawkes) for trying to overthrow the monarchy in 1604 by blowing-up Parliament.
The purpose of this post is not a lesson in English history but to point out the divisions in society.
400 years ago Roman Catholics were in the minority in England and were treated in most cases worse than the Protestant owned farm animals, so not even second class citizens. In fact even today it isn’t constitutionally possible for a Catholic to be the Monarch! Yup, that’s right 2013 and a Catholic cant sit on the crown thrown!
The point is that communities live side-by-side and not generally speaking together. The present day situation often revolves around immigrant communities, large and rapid in-fluxes of peoples who’s sole aim is a better life. The Protestant/Catholic question has largely been resolved, well in England any-way, Northern Ireland and Scotland may be peaceful places but I’m quite sure the tensions remain even today.
Its probably true to say that ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ and its to be expected that new immigrants will naturally coalesce into mini-communities centred on the familiarity with those from the home-land, and traditional customs. This is to be expected and initially at least accepted. However, the behavior of the native ‘do-gooders’ does seem to encourage difference, it encourages the whole-scale preservation of cultural practices from far away places. It might even be that these ‘do-gooders’ have a sense of neo-colonial social condescension flowing through their thoughts and ideas. Of course if this is the case then they are guilty of prejudice of an intellectual nature; I’m not sure which is more damaging the thug on the street practicing violence or the intellectual who constructs social barriers to progress.
The politically far-right has begun to take a-hold over some sections of society and intellectually they have been clever in claiming secularism for themselves. They use the cloak of secularism to hide their ‘hate talk’. Yet it is also true to say they pick their causes, they will often march shoulder to shoulder with religious fundamentalists against causes such as same sex marriage or gay rights. Non-the-less when it comes to some religions the message is in no way complex; The Jewish and Muslim faiths come-in for some very pointed accusations from the far-right.
The realities of every-day life in a multi-cultural society play into the hands of these people, communities living side-by-side in mistrust fueled by the hate speak of the far-right lead inevitably to these divisions being exploited for the benefit of hate. Cultural symbols become a metaphor for religious and cultural intolerance. Those of hate who hide in the Churches and Mosques openly accuse and attack those who do not practice as they do. The phobias become pervasive, leaching into everyday society, the press, the media and yes even into everyday conversation. Difference becomes a topic of conversation, it becomes a main event, a reason to hate, to mistrust, not to live together.
The issue really isn’t the head scarf or whatever symbol is chosen, its the definition imposed by those who might wear and use it as a justification of their personal being and by those who do not wear it and point to their own justifications for its removal. The head scarf, the golden crucifix, the yarmulke… these become the very things that generate hate, the ideas become something obscured.
The dominance of a Protestant culture remains in the British legal system and it could possibly be argued that strengthening of this could actually lead to greater harmony. Those with conflicting views would have a firm rule to live by and if they cannot may seek out less difficult places to dwell. The cultural gaps that have been allowed to develop are where those who hate have come to exist, to thrive, to push out from. The cultural gaps are often defended as the places that freedom exists but is this so? Well, yes actually, but its the freedom to practice hate that gives them a bad name.
The current situation is difficult and set to become even more difficult with further removal of barriers to migration. The far-right I’m sure will gain more favor over the coming year after the in-flux of Romanians & Bulgarians. It seems inconceivable that the bonds of kinship will be broken on arrival in Britain (or France or Italy or anywhere else for that matter) and I’m sure it will provide food for the far-right that these people fail to integrate with immediate effect. I’m sure that they will fall prey to the emphasis on skin-colour, on religious difference, on cultural practices but most importantly that they are just plain different.
In my mind, equality, emancipation and universalism should be the goals of society applied evenly to all, the immigrants, the far-right, the far-left and those in the centre. Assimilation should be the aim of all peoples, to live together not side-by-side.
- U.S. Roman Catholic Church And Protestant Denominations Agree To Recognize Each Other’s Baptisms (aconservativeedge.wordpress.com)
- Obama Orders Priests Arrested If They Say Mass On Military Bases (politicalvelcraft.org)
- “How long must we sing this song”: From Belfast to Beirut (eyeontheeast.org)
- Do You Know What Day It Is? ~ Remember, Remember The 5th Of November – Million Mask March! (politicalvelcraft.org)
- N. Ireland: Army defuses explosive (edition.cnn.com)
- The Persistence of Memory: Northern Ireland’s Challenges in Overcoming “The Troubles” (dorieanna.wordpress.com)
- Why H is the most contentious letter in the alphabet (theguardian.com)
- Top 2 Candidates Vow to Make City Hall More Faith-Friendly (nytimes.com)
- Roamin’ Catholics (charleymckelvy.wordpress.com)
- Irish-speaking Norman proud to be an Orangeman (newsletter.co.uk)