Respect and tolerance for traditional bombings

A significant hurdle to cross community harmony in Northern Ireland is the amorphous concept of ``respect for diversity''. Each side has its bizarre rituals -- excuse me, ``traditions'' -- and demands they be able to play them out at the traditional time of year and in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Let's remember too that for most every traditional thing there's an equally traditional anti-thing, borne of the other side, usually enacted by way of bricks, bottles, Molotov cocktails and spittle.

Having regard to the value of traditional community walkabouts, the equally traditional riots that erupt in the opposing camp are as sacrosanct as the marches themselves. The nub of objection to interference is conceptually simple: the routes walked and garb worn are traditional, as is the company of fat men with drums and aerial assault by petrol filled milk bottle. That which is traditional is intrinsically sacred and immutable. Rerouting a parade, for example, is a delicate business, best done with deft diplomatic pixie dust, and a generous application of C.S. gas. To deny any particular caste its right to do today what it has been doing for some number of years is to disrespect them, their forebearers, and probably God.

It's a neat gig: by hook or by crook, do something public and obvious. Twice. Call it an expression of your cultural identity. It needs no objective merit. Once you've been getting away with it for a few years you can push some buttons and have your ``tradition'' added to the riot control squad's packed calendar. So added, it may never be removed without treading on delicate, bellicose toes.

Belfast's Europa Hotel has a grim claim to fame as the most bombed in the world. It has been hit on more than thirty occasions. This beacon of stubborn defiance has been blasted to bits so many times, and with such regularity, that doing so must count as a traditional activity by now.

In this present era of respect and tolerance for all traditions from every background I suppose we should encourage its bombers to seek and be granted permission to engage in a reenactment of a traditional demolition of the Europa, as their ancestors did for nigh on forty years. It would be a discriminatory slur to suggest they abandon their cherished ritual.

(c) James Raftery, April 2003.

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