August 11, 2014

The Lundy terror, Ctd

The scene in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, as spectators watch the annual Burning of Lundy ceremony. Robert Lundy
I was struck by the Israel-Gaza debate. One point repeatedly made, as Ed O'Loughlin did, was that it is eminently possible to be fiercely critical of Israel policy without hating Jewish people. What a perfect epigram to articulate the situation in Northern Ireland - it's eminently possible to be fiercely critical of loyalist policy and conduct without hating the loyalist people.

Yet it remains that anyone who criticises loyalism is automatically calumnied, castigated and cast aside as either, a demoniser/generaliser (though it be eminently self-evident that loyalism does the demonisers work for them) or, a "Lundy", "Guilty Prod" or "Rotten Prod". This second reaction is by far the more dangerous, coming as it does with an exterminationist impulse, so let me look at the "Lundy"-"Guilty Prod"-"Rotten Prod" pejorative and slander more closely.
For much of its existence loyalism has existed an inviolable faith. It can do no wrong. It is the final revelation. Those who dare challenge it's unwritten orthodoxy are to be expelled or exterminated. And I don't say that lightly. I'm deadly serious. Excuse the pun. Think Edgar Graham, the man who Jim Molyneaux said, "would have become the leader of [the Ulster Unionist Party]", had he not been killed for, as Alex Kane said, the plain reason that "he was an enemy of all paramilitarism." An especially noxious effect of this exterminationist impulse has been the enforced supine silence of the moderate, with a very few exceptional exceptions. This is the veto of the mob. Speak and feel the solemn strike of wood on flesh, or the sense of hot metal spiralling through your innards. This is the fool and fanatic over reason, moderation and skepticism.

Yet this relentless, unremitting closed-ear refusal to listen to a contrary word and to make even the slightest amend is the clearest and most present danger to the loyalist, unionist tradition. It's clerical dogma rather than actual policy. Heresy-hunt over genuine debate. The burning bush over enlightenment values of Locke, Paine and Jefferson. The kind of debate that refines the sinew and muscle of an argument is blasphemy and utterly prohibited. By fostering and tolerating this feudal philistinism, exiling and exterminating its best minds, eroding the middle class protestant, unionism-loyalism has signed its own death warrant. As Frances Fitzgerald said:
"It is the accretion of unexamined habits that inhibit progress." 
And Colm Dore:
"Fair criticism is a beneficial analytical workout, making policy fitter.”
In this society, where anti-Lundy authoritarianism governs, the dissenting, questioning unionist is worse than the republican opponent. Yet the presbyterian-protestant constituency, from where unionism-loyalism draws its stock, has an esteemed history of producing radical thinkers and progressive agents of change. As the Ballymena native and Irish Times writer Andy Pollack wrote:
"Roger Courtney, like me, is from that freethinking, left-of-centre Presbyterian tradition which has largely disappeared in the past 50 years as Northern Irish society and politics have become more polarised than ever between the extremes of unionism/loyalism and nationalism/republicanism. I think this is a real tragedy for the cause of non-sectarian and progressive political thinking (defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as “favouring or implementing rapid progress or social reform”) in Ireland."
And so he asked:
"But in this new, relatively peaceful era – albeit with sectarianism entrenched in the North’s institutional structures by the Belfast Agreement – is it wishful thinking to wonder if a renewal of this progressive element of Northern Protestantism might be contemplated? Presbyterians’ historic commitment to democratic structures, as reflected in their church governance; their former championing of civil and religious liberties; their now largely forgotten identification with those groups who because of poverty or oppression did not have a voice in society (which for several hundred years included Presbyterians); their promotion of tolerance and reconciliation at home and abroad: 150 years ago these were characteristic of many Irish Presbyterians. Is it impossible that this attractive radicalism might be re-discovered by a new generation of younger people from this important Protestant tradition?"
The historian and progressive protestant Philip Orr who says he's "British but very, very Irish" said that if you leave out parts of you own history you disempower yourself. By failing to encourage diversity of opinion and idea, unionism disempowers itself. In its current form Unionism is monolithic. But society is not monolithic. Monolithism is not a normal state of society. Those who say that one belief is inviolable and undebatable, are mental serfs.

Click the links to read about being called a "Lundy""Guilty Prod" and "Rotten Prod".

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