Those who enjoy Paisley’s ill health must be sick people
No sooner than Ian Paisley had been rushed to hospital with a serious heart condition than the hatred started bubbling up.
Soon moderators on news media sites could barely manage to contain the torrent of invective against the veteran preacher.
‘If ever there was man deserved to be struck down by God, this was him,’ said one poster, while a local blogger wrote, ‘I’ve just heard the joyous news that Ian Paisley has been taken to hospital after a suspected heart attack and sincerely hope that it marks the prelude to his imminent and painful death.’
I find such antipathy profoundly shocking, and difficult to understand. Whatever you think of the public figure of Paisley — and his controversial legacy will be fully weighed up when he does pass on — how can such naked hatred be justified, especially when it's directed against a frail old man lying critically ill in hospital?
Where is the human compassion? In fact, where is the basic humanity?
The unappetising trend for wishing current or former hate-figures dead seems to be gathering pace.
In Britain, Margaret Thatcher — now a confused and vulnerable old woman — is the easy target for much of this bile.
Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle quipped that if Thatcher was given a state funeral, “it would be the first time that the 21-gun salute shoots the coffin”.
Last year, another Scots joker, Brian Limmond, tweeted, ‘If I was to find out right now that Thatcher had died, I don't think my heart could take it. Jackpot.’ He added, ‘How removed from reality must you be to not see Thatcher's death as a celebration?’
And just in case anyone hadn't got the message, the BBC Scotland comedian posted a picture of Thatcher with her eyes and mouth crossed out, a blood red line slashed across her throat and the words Die Now written across her forehead.
The likes of Boyle and Limmond know there is a constituency who love to see Thatcher denigrated and for whom no vicious slur on the former British prime minister is too debased.
There's even a website which looks forward to her passing and provides a Spotify playlist for celebratory parties, with songs such as Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead and, of course, The Day that Thatcher Dies.
Now I can take an edgy joke — in fact, I'm known in my house for my sick sense of humour, better suited to a teenage boy than a 38-year-old mother-of-two — but, to my mind, this is all just dumb, vicious misogyny passing as radical comedy.
In fact, it's anything but radical — hating Thatcher and looking forward to her demise has become a familiar and acceptable national prejudice, as comfortable as an old pair of slippers.
It seems that hatred is okay, perhaps even desirable, as long as it is directed against one of the socially approved list of bogeymen and women it's seen as right and reasonable to loathe.
And it's not just illiterate ranters fulminating anonymously on message boards. I've been at middle-class dinner parties where people wear their hatred of the likes of Paisley or Thatcher like a badge of honour.
Recently, at such a gathering, an acquaintance said that she thought Thatcher was an evil monster who deserved everything she got and others at the table agreed with her.
Before long, they had moved on to declare a similar casual fatwa on Iris Robinson: in their eyes, her hypocrisy in preaching sexual continence while having an affair with a teenager made it acceptable to relish her downfall.
Let's be clear: I am not mounting a defence of the actions of Paisley, Thatcher or Iris Robinson. Their political and personal failures are not the point here. Rather, it makes me feel sick and fearful when people allow gut prejudices and violent antipathy to overrule their capacity for simple human empathy, delighting in putting the boot in when their enemies are laid low.
This is the brute eye-for-an-eye logic of the tribe, the acceptable face of the virtual lynch mob. There's a certain stupid irony in accusing Paisley of bigotry, then saying he deserves to die for his beliefs.
Wishing someone dead is one of the most hateful things you can visit on a person, as well as one of the most empty and pointless — after all, their demise cannot undo the perceived harm they have done.
And it diminishes and denigrates the hater themselves far more than the target of their venom.