Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why I think LAD have missed the point. Again.

Last week, the Alliance MLA Anna Lo was subjected to a whole load of racist abuse. That racist abuse was widely condemned by any politician that was asked about it and a twitter hashtag - #istandwithanna - gave users of social media the chance to add their condemnation (which will surely mean the end to racism *eyeroll). What did Anna Lo say or do to 'provoke' this abuse? Who cares? What has she said or done prior to that? Who cares? What exactly is Anna's nationality? Who cares? What party is Anna a member of? Who cares?

There is literally nothing that justifies racism. Nothing. I don't need to know anything about the victims of racism to know that racism is abhorrent. For me to be able to condemn an act of racism, I just need to know that someone has been racist. I couldn't care less who the victim was, what they do, what they've said. You'd think this was obvious, right? Well, we all know it's not. There are plenty who qualify their condemnation and when they do, they need to be pulled up on it. It's not just wrong for people to do that, it's actually dangerous - it gives racists a clear message that there are some circumstances where racism may be justified. When it may even be funny. 

The rules above apply to rape, sexual assualt, and the threatening of both. 

Amidst the condemnation of the racism that Anna suffered last week, a DUP Councillor - Luke Poots - posted on Facebook that he had previously been threatened with violence and rape. For me, this was simple: someone had revealed that they had been threatened and that needed to be condemned and the victim needed to be reassured that society doesn't accept that. 

Except that is not what happened. 

LAD noticed the post and screenshotted it, tweeted it and sat back and let the responses roll in. Almost all mocked Poots, doubted him, accused him of being opportunistic and some went so far as to say that Poots would be lucky to be raped. LAD didn't condemn these people. They didn't screenshot their attacks on Poots. Why not? It would appear that LAD agree with them - Poots is a liar and shouldn't be believed. 

LAD wrote a blog post outlining their reasons for it, while being careful to add the discliamer that if Poots has genuinely been threatened they of course condemend it. Oh well, that makes the whole thing fine doesn't it, LAD? Let's remember the rules: Who the victim is is irrelevant. What he/she has said/done previously is irrelevant. What party they're in, is irrelevant. When the first thing you do when hearing about someone being threatened with rape is to doubt them, you need to examine your prejudices and consider the wider damage you do.

Sexual crime is a huge, huge problem in society and one of the biggest issues we have is convincing victims that a) they are victims and b) they can come forward and be believed. Oh, and if you don't think rape threats count as a sexual crime then stop reading now - we'll never see eye to eye.

Here's the missing the point part: What LAD forget is that they're not representative of everyone. Luke Poots is a public figure in the largest party in the Northern Ireland. Luke Poots, whether LAD like it or not, has people that look up to him the same way others look up to LAD. They like Luke; they respect him; they believe him. Some of those people may be victims of such similar threats and what do they see when someone they know to be a good, honest person being mocked and doubted for revealing the threats they recieve? 

It is hugely damaging for anyone who talks about such threats to be so openly mocked and doubted simply because of our prejudices toward the individual. We must believe them and we must condemn the threats. Not for them so much, but for those who may well be looking at them and wondering if they should come forward too. I hope that next time LAD will stop and think about the bigger picture instead of just who is making the claims. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Who is holding back progress in NI?

It’s not the likes of Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer or even the Republican dissidents that are holding back Northern Ireland. As much as it’s nice to believe the popular narrative that if we could just somehow do away with these people and their supporters, the rest of us would march together toward some shared utopia, the reality is that Bryson, Frazer et al are not the architects of this failed society, they are merely products of it. The flag protests are another example – they are not the cause of NI’s economic and social woes, they arose from it. 

An oft uttered moan – or variations of it – is that flag protests and other such identity issues distract us from the important things like Education, Health and Housing. Nonsense. We weren’t paying attention to them beforehand. The only difference is people were distracted from those issues not by protests and civil unrest but by jobs, active social lives and a relatively peaceful existence. Does anyone really believe that the issues we face on Education, Health and Housing didn’t exist previously? 

I’d happily wager that had the decision to restrict the Union flag flying to designated days been taken a few years prior, when we were reaping the benefits of buoyant economies in the UK and Ireland, there would have been much less unrest – if indeed there was any unrest at all. Obviously the decision would always be contentious but contentious decisions tend to have less consequences when the people that contend them are relatively comfortable with their lot. When they’re already angry, miserable and feel life has limited hope, then having something to fight for is an attractive option.

So who is holding us back? 

Well, we are. It’s us – as a collective – that want our kids in segregated education, our housing in segregated areas and our body of government to be formally segregated by legislation. There is no great desire for any of this to end, much as people may profess otherwise. If there was, it would have. What I imagine most people actually desire is for us to just go back 5 or 6 years where most people had the economic freedom to enjoy the status quo. I mean, really, isn’t that the limit of the ambitions of the people we elect? 

We’re not voting in parties that are threatening to deliver great change or even promise it in the first place. We’re voting in parties that will do as little as possible in order to not risk destabilising things. While it’s certainly admirable to keep things stable, it’s not such a good idea if that stability is utterly dependent on things you have no real control over – such as the economy. Let’s not pretend that NI has its own economy because it doesn’t, no more than the North East of England has its own. And so, when the economy of the UK or the ROI (yes, it’s important to us too) takes a dive, our government in NI are powerless to adapt because adapting means changing the status quo – the exact opposite of the agenda these parties follow. 

I would dearly love to eat my words if, after the local elections in May, we see a massive rise in voting and a significant swing to parties such as NI21, the PUP, the Greens etc but I sincerely doubt that will happen. I am confident, sadly, that things will pretty much stay the same. The same parties will be in charge, with the same majorities and the same agendas. The people will bemoan the lack of change and instead of blaming themselves will look to place that blame on someone else - the troublemakers. After all, if they would just pipe down, we’d all be fine wouldn’t we?