|Cartoon by Ian Knox, you can buy prints of his work here|
Ed Moloney wrote that censorship of public broadcasters extended the troubles by up to a third and took many lives. I submit that the censor of the mob has extended Northern Ireland's abnormality by decades. Censorship exists to remove opponents to the status quo. Opposition to conventions and conceptions is the father of progress. Progress therefore relies on the removal of censorship.
The censor of the mob has exonerated the extremist from criticism and excluded the moderate from expressing honest opinion. Censorship has exempted Northern Ireland from the balancing and conciliatory effects of the moderate, non-sectarian and anti-tribalist.
The authoritarianism and censor of the mob on each side has created two fixed and inviolable orthodoxies. Deviation is apostasy. Is there anything worse than the “Lundy” and the “rotten-Prod”, or the “West-Brit”? This is W.B. Yeats’ two boots of fowl and festering Protestant and Catholic bigotry. That’s an ochlocracy, not a democracy.
Of the many peculiarities of the Northern Ireland way, the hushed whispers and cusped comments are a vintage. There’s a code we all learnt growing up. Don’t stare people in the eye. Don’t respond to heckles if you hear them. Don’t speak overtly politically. Don’t speak out about delinquency, scary parades, scandalous bonfires, paramilitarism, racketeering, bullying and menacing and the ruthless and relentless undercutting of democracy and the civic square. Keep your head down. Dead or fled.
As Michael Longley said, “The North of Ireland is a place where you have to be on your toes, you have to be alert… to avoid being beaten up of murdered.” Think Edgar Graham, dead for his being “an enemy of all paramilitarism.” What a message - and so the moderates fled. The reason why the G7 had a dozen protesters where other cities have thousands is because Northern Ireland is “still too scary for middle class protesters.”
Remember Gary Mitchell, loyalist playwright firebombed out of his house in 2005 for his broadmindedness. In response Mick Fealty said: "The consequent loss of the talent represented by the forced departure of playwright Gary Mitchell damages all of Northern Ireland's society. It should serve as a warning to the post-modern world beyond his native Rathcoole Estate, of the nasty consequences of the routine compromising of freedom of speech."
Then in 2012, Alliance Party offices firebombed, which, as Brian Feeney said, gave “a sufficient warning to prevent any middle-class liberal unionists from becoming involved in politics.”
Now we have Duncan Morrow and Emmet Larkin McDonough Brown targeted for their moderation and fairness by faceless hoods. Yet another direct threat on life, yet another direct warning to wider society.
An attack on an elected democrat is an attack on our democracy. Under the great roof of our unwritten constitution, free speech, debate and the democratic process are core constitutional rights. By intimidating and putting fear into the civic square, these core rights are fatally undercut.
It is incumbent on society to respond to this forcefully. If certain loyalists are vicious enough to put down free expression and the public’s democratic process, it is our duty to debate and discuss the context and culture that allows this kind of barbarism to arise so routinely.
For too long fear has conditioned Northern Ireland to this kind of madness. But by being silent you forfeit any hope of change.By being silent you feed the crocodile that will eat others and come to you in the end. The nullification of the middle, moderate voice needs to end.
We need to embrace skills of contestation and civil intolerance to show that we will not put up with this kind of promiscuous vigilantism. Be intolerance of intolerance. A belief in monism and a rejection of the multi-confessional is a rejection of modernity. Progress in Northern Ireland relies on the transformative power of robust, vibrant exchange of ideas.