Hate in Belfast, hate in the world

I few years ago I had some hate mail from Combat 18, the neo-Nazi splinter group with historical links to the National Front and the BNP. Apparently C18 is a tiny organisation beloved of would-be bovver boys who really did absorb that thing from the 1970s about having red or white laces in your DM boots (18 eyelets, all of that) to indicate what kind of fascist-racist you were. (Yeah, those were the days).

This minor brush with the racists came after I did some Amnesty interviews on asylum-seekers from Afghanistan. “Oh, he’s pro-Afghani, the bastard – let’s say we’re on to him and we know where he lives”. 

As far as I can make out, racism seems to be come kind of simplistic-yet-logic-defyingly-complex mindset – they’re undesirable/bad/hateful/“scum” because they’re “foreign”, “dark-skinned”, from “another tribe”, the wrong ethnicity, or – sort of – the wrong physical shape (tall and skinny Tutsis, not well-proportioned and handsome Hutus like us).

All of this is by way of saying that what’s going on in south and east Belfast is disgusting and disturbing but actually not that new. Northern Ireland has been seeing a rise in racist violence in recent years – first against Chinese and Polish immigrants, now Romanian Roma. Reports that Combat 18 and Sieg Heil-saluting neo-Nazis are involved probably shouldn’t blind us to the fact that wider racism is a general feature of life in Northern Ireland, in mainland Britain and the wider Europe (okay – the world!). Pathetic, appalling, but true.

The fact that Roma are now on the receiving end is also sadly predictable. As Amnesty has documented before, anti-Roma discrimination and violence is pretty well endemic in places like Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Italy (infamously), Slovakia … and, I’d guess, everywhere else where Roma minorities are to be found. The Roma are history’s whipping boys, along with Jews, Africans … native peoples in North and South America, Australasia …

Phew. I’m starting to get depressed here. The point, as made by Jon Snow on Channel Four News last night, is that we should look to the responsible authorities – the police, the emergency services, social workers, politicians etc – to rise above bigotry and set an example. Reports that police have been slow in responding to the attacks on the Belfast Roma is undoubtedly the most disturbing part of this ugly, unpleasant affair.

After BNP successes (relative, not that big) in recent elections, this upsurge in race-hate crime in Belfast should obviously set some biggish alarms bells ringing. The important thing now, is that the warning sirens are attended to.

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