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Loyalists don't need lectures in bigotry from those liberals who gleefully demonise them

It seems social media decides who is nice and who is nasty. It's a false dichotomy, says Fionola Meredith

Published 15/07/2016

A bonfire with election posters and flags
A bonfire with election posters and flags

Are you one of the nice people? Or are you in the nasty crowd? I'm sure you have noticed, principally through the miracle of social media, that the world is increasingly divided into these two opposing camps.

On one side there's the wonderfully tolerant, open-hearted and right-thinking "liberals".

Celebrating diversity, embracing difference.

Full of love and hope for humanity.

Metropolitan, at least in aspiration. Cultured. Passionate about social justice, distraught about Brexit. Mine's a gin and elderflower martini, please.

The other side? Well, that's everyone else. This includes unrepentant God-botherers, Brexiteer coffin-dodgers, gay cake refuseniks. Culchies. Tories. Sexist men. Spides. People who shop in Wyse Byse or Iceland. People who refuse to recycle. All of these may legitimately be despised.

Come on, now, you've got to choose. If you're not a fully signed-up member of the nice people, then you must be nasty. Sorry, no exceptions, that's the rules, I didn't make them. But it's really important that we stick to them. Because if you're not with us, you're against us.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell who's in and who's out, so let's practise with a little game.

Nigel Farage, Pastor McConnell and Jim Wells: nasty or nice?

Jeremy Corbyn, Martin McGuinness and Richard Dawkins: nice or nasty?

See, you're getting the hang of it now.

One of the things that the nice people like to do is to show other people how very nice they actually are. After all, what's the point of keeping your niceness all to yourself, you've got to get it out there, where everyone else can appreciate it.

That's why we saw a number of people walking around wearing safety pins on their clothes after the EU vote. It was ostensibly a campaign - started on Twitter, where else - to show fellow-feeling with immigrants following the disturbing rise in racist attacks. The safety pin was supposed to identify the wearer as non-racist, "a safe person to sit next to on a bus, walk next to on a street, even have a conversation with".

This is another feature of the nice people that I forgot to mention. Some of their ideas, while well-meaning, are eye-wateringly dumb and juvenile.

There's the practical question of whether a prominently displayed safety pin can always be assumed to be a sign of multicultural solidarity: your neighbour on the bus might equally be a wild-eyed member of the BNP in a tattered, pinned-together old shirt, no?

That aside, it seems absurd to wear a badge to prove you are a non-racist, the absence of which presumably indicates that indeed you could be. What next, must men wear a sticker to show that they are not rapists?

Of course, the deeper point of the safety pin was not really to reach out to immigrants.

In reality it was yet another example of "virtue signalling", that awful narcissistic impulse to demonstrate to the world what a wonderful person you are. Look at me, smile at me, honour me: I am nice.

I've been thinking a lot more about the local implications of the nice/nasty divide over the Twelfth. Because if there's one group that's automatically consigned to the dark side, it's loyalists. Burning pictures of nationalist politicians on their huge, irresponsible and dangerous bonfires, which belch out carcinogenic smoke from illegal tyre dumps.

It's really not nice, is it? Well, no, it definitely isn't. I am no fan of loyalist culture. The Twelfth sees me fleeing to the hills to escape the tribal thump of the drums, the tension, the lawlessness, the ever-present possibility of disorder.

But equally it seems wrong to castigate and condemn an entire working-class community as nasty, stupid and bigoted oiks. Not all bonfires burn tyres or set roofs on fire; not all loyalists like to incinerate pictures of Gerry Kelly.

It's particularly distasteful when the people doing the sweeping, sneering condemnation are middle-class "liberals" who no doubt think of themselves as tolerant, progressive, open to difference and diversity. I don't see anybody proudly wearing a symbol to show love for loyalists, seeking to reach out to a deprived, alienated community. What I see is undifferentiated scorn and contempt.

Bigot: that's what nice people call anyone who dares to flout the rules of their creed. It's an ugly, overused word, an all-purpose insult that has come to mean ignorant, small-minded, prejudiced and irrational.

But the Oxford English Dictionary actually defines bigotry quite precisely as "intolerance towards those who hold different opinions to oneself".

It makes me wonder who the bigots really are.

Is nice the new nasty?

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