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Friday, July 13, 2012

On further reflection: POLS analyses for Belfast?

It would be rather uncomfortable if I were Irish and Catholic and in Northern Ireland, especially as I am at least sympathetic to the nationalist cause anyway. I suspect that the Republic of Ireland is a bit too bankrupt at the moment to attempt a reunification with the northern counties even if Britain relented, and I am not so sure Northern Ireland has the basis for economic security internally if independence was secured right now. Realistically a lot of people would be impoverished and suffering as a direct result of Northern Ireland winning its freedom now. Still, the Irish people have suffered greatly at the hands of the British in the past, and it was not long ago that certain people in Britain wrote about Catholics as if they were subhuman and fit only for slavery or extermination. After such a history, I would hate to be at the mercy of police and British politicians entirely, and yet so much of what determines the future of the tensions in Northern Ireland right now lies outside the purview of the Irish Catholics.

The way violence is excused and sanctioned during riots, battles, skirmishes and wars is that it is made distinct from daily life. A man may murder as many people as he wishes so long as he is in a war zone where he can assert that those people were at least potential combatants. We also have such terms as 'collateral damage' to cover all those obviously innocent people who die at our hands while we are trying to kill combatants. None of these deaths are classified as murder because as a society we agreed to turn away and let those deaths slide, because somehow in those cases the people killed were not quite people perhaps, or because their deaths were not entirely the fault of those who killed them, or because those who did the killing were acting on behalf of the king or queen or president. The police, when they beat or kill someone, do so on behalf of their superiors by rank, and ultimately their violence is done on behalf of the US President here, or the Prime Minister in the UK. Those positions are the seats of legitimate power in our respective countries, and any violence by US or UK citizens that does not ultimately derive its power from them is not legitimate.

The decision to allow a group of Orange Protestants to march through an Irish Catholic area was indeed an act of institutional, legitimate violence, to the extent that it used the power of the state, through the police escort and the threats of arrest which protected the parade. This rather inflammatory tradition continues despite all the public statements from all sides saying that they wanted the Troubles to be over, and to live in peace. Thus it may be more profitable at this point to really start applying political, social, economic and historical analysis at a fine-scale and more broadly, to trace the actual processes and influences that lead to these counterproductive events. The most effective weapons that could be used right now in Northern Ireland to achieve justice for everyone, and peace, may be in fact political science, sociology and psychology. These tools could expose the people pulling the strings that make cities like Belfast and Derry dance, and which could suggest the best future strategies for achieving better representation for marginalized neighborhoods and peoples.

Information gathering and analysis is only a first step- one can gather information forever and do nothing with it- but the kind of analyses that go on in a political science department in the US, tracing the power dynamics, influence structures, agenda and policy-making patterns, etc., should give a clear enough picture of what goes on under the surface. Certainly some of this does go on in Irish colleges now, so I am hoping that what I am envisioning is already out there in some journal where I could find it tomorrow through the university library. It is dry stuff to read, usually, in the US, in part because we aren't often likely to see people lobbing bricks and homemade explosives at each other as a direct result of their city political systems. In a place like Belfast, where there are car-bombs turning up every few months, and militants parading through each other's territories regularly complete with drums and whistles, city and local politics suddenly seems much more exciting, even translated into political science jargon.

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