I've been watching the events unfolding in the areas of Belfast and Derry this afternoon, and most likely will continue following twitter and the online news sources all evening for these areas. I knew yesterday when reading about the Orange parade arrangements through Ardoyne that there would certainly be some sort of violence after the march, just as I am sure the Orangemen participating knew. The fact that they had to bus in their token marchers to meet the deadline set by the Parades Commission suggests that this march was entirely unnecessary for the overall parade march, because otherwise how did all the rest of the much larger parade, of which they were a rather small sample, make it through the day without getting stuck? I am sure I am oversimplifying a bit, since I am hardly a local, and do not know the streets, but I suspect that the march that set off the violence in Ardoyne was planned to reconquer, or more accurately to conquer Ardoyne and its nationalist population. What would a winning, non-violent strategy be in the face of this 'peaceful' invasion by Orangemen and police, for the violated local neighborhood who was victimized in this July 12th celebration/situation?
First of all, to the extent that the Catholic or nationalist, or neighborhood rights oriented people objected to the parade being routed through Ardoyne, they were not being represented at all by the government that is set to protect and govern them. That government had to know just as well as I did what sort of violence this march would produce, and yet knowingly accepted the route that the march followed, even providing police escort for the transplanted marchers as they made their symbolic invasion of this 'enemy territory' which did not welcome them. In any of the places I have lived in the US, parades are generally not permitted in residential areas, or in places where those parades might create unrest. Yes, parades have a long history in Ireland, as a sort of pseudomilitary display of machoism that allows the rest of the world to see a less pleasant side of certain factions of Irish people. But unrest also has a long history in Ireland, going hand-in-hand with that parade history. If parading through streets of people to lord it over them that they were conquered and remain conquered is an integral and valuable part of Irish culture in NI, than so are the riots an integral and valued part of the NI lifestyle. Overstated? I'm not so sure.
In any case, if the Catholic neighborhoods which are subjected to Orange marches against their expressed wishes simply say nothing, or step back and allow the marches to continue unmolested and unresisted, the Catholic people will in a very real sense have been conquered completely at last. If the Catholic neighborhoods stop 'rioting' when Orangemen invade them under police escort, they will have been defeated and colonization can continue unresisted. Sure, this is in part what the British government wants, too. Nationalist Irish people, even if they are peaceful, remain quite far from the 'docile bodies' that make for good, obedient, manageable subjects. This is part of why Catholicism was so hated, too, in that so long as people retained loyalties to the Pope, as well as to the King, they were not completely cowed, not completely the docile subjects that would accept unquestioningly anything the King required of them. The Catholic nationalist is thus doubly resistant to being cowed by the British government and its power. And, as jobs are again scarce and all of Europe is going through a major depression/recession, these people who dare to remain personally unconquered by the great powers of the UK make safe targets, if only they can be demonized enough.
So, while not rioting would play into the hands of the British central government by making their conquest of Northern Ireland more complete at last, rioting also plays into their hands by turning justifiably angry people into thugs and domestic terrorists in the eyes of the world. This frees the Northern Irish government to use greater force against the unruly and volatile nationalists who 'clearly' threaten the security of Belfast, and Derry, and the whole of NI. Thanks to the rioting, raids on anyone and everyone linked to nationalism can proceed with less international scrutiny, and we can lose track of the fact that the violence was triggered knowingly by the Orange marchers in the first place. The Orange 'side' doesn't have to fire a shot to fight the nationalists, if they can get the nationalists to start rioting- the police will take all the injuries and cause plenty in return, while the Orangemen sit back and gloat.
So, what was the correct answer, the one that would neither sell out the Catholics and nationalists of Northern Ireland nor allow angry nationalist/Catholic people to become victims of escalating violence as police stand proxy for the Orangemen long gone? Democratic institutional procedures along the lines of lawsuits or formal protests? General strike? Unfortunately when historically the British government has wanted to exterminate or otherwise remove all Irish from their own land, any sort of strike would seem to be a step towards allowing the British a win. And, buying into the courts and bureaucratic systems of the ruling government similarly gives Britain the win. So long as the government is happy to sell out the safety of whole communities so that a handful of loyalists can symbolically march down that community's street is not going to care about lawsuits, petitions or formal complaints from that already marginalized people.
Thankfully, most people in Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, loyalist and nationalist, are not willing to take up arms for their 'side'. They will most certainly take up arms to defend their homes, their families and their friends, as any sane person might, but they are not looking to escalate 'sectarian violence'. Sure, Britain conquered Ireland several centuries ago, but no one on the island today was alive back then. If the governments running the cities and counties, and the governments running Northern Ireland and the UK, can refrain from treating their Catholic citizens as a conquered or marginalized people, most of these people would rather move on and live their lives in peace. The choices open to these people depend heavily on how the police and local governments respond in the next few hours, days and weeks to the tensions, suspicion and violence that have once again sprung up on Irish soil. So long as Catholic people or nationalist people are seen as an enemy, or potential enemy, chances are that they will have further need to defend their communities and their loved ones, with whatever means they have at their disposal.