Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

We must not flag in our efforts to end this dispute

Don't imagine there'll be too many road blocks tomorrow. Nobody'll be out, so there's no point. And anyway, even protest-ants (maybe the clue to why they do it is in the name?) like to rest on Christmas Day and focus on warm, fluffy things like presents, family and the Queen's speech. I don't suppose Her Majesty will have a special message for her most loyal of all subjects, partly because her speech was recorded before the flag shennanigans (or should it be shen-not-igans) began and partly because she probably doesn't give a flyin' corgi about them.

One of the saddest soundbites of the past week, for me, was an older man on the Shankill being asked what he thought about Mike and Peter's Save Our Skins (sorry, Unionist identity)Forum idea. While the other interviewees stopped at a simple, "Put the fleg back up, that's all we want", this man's analysis was deeper.

"We're like lost people wandering in the wilderness. We need a leader. We need someone to lead us."

Firstly I was struck by the fact that a grown-up would declare, basically, that he is a sheep. We might secretly long for an adult to come in and take charge, but I don't think many of us would admit to it so easily.

But then I thought, "Who would that leader be?" and I had the awful image of thousands of 'disaffected' loyalists flocking to hear some eloquent, rabble-rousing, hate-filled but articulate bigot, offering to lead them to a new 'reich'.

No, no, you cry, no-one could say anything rational to make the case for what's being going on the past few weeks here. That'll never happen.

Unfortunately, it doesn't have to be rational to be popular. In fact... if rational thought was a pre-requisite for political popularity, a lot of our representatives would never have been elected.

Fascism, for that is what we are looking at here, doesn't need reason, it just needs rage. Watching a documentary recently called The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, it was scary to see how easily one little loser of a man became so powerful, because he jumped on a band wagon of discontent, fuelled by the laziness of blaming some other group for their own ills.

Hitler didn't create anti-semitism, he just made it sound 'reasonable' enough to those who wanted someone else to blame.

I hope the numbers of people here who are intent on being discontent aren't large enough to threaten our democracy completely. But we can't just sit and hope it'll all go away.

The fact that there'll be a break over Christmas is hopeful. The fact that deep down, everyone has a sense of pride and care and loyalty to loved ones, is a good starting point for seeing common ground. I'm always amazed that warring sides can declare a suspension of hostilities at certain times of the year. Remember the odd Christmas ceasefire from the IRA?

An ability to stop, albeit temporarily, shows that there is a choice. It's that ability to choose that must be kept to the forefront now, here. No-one reacts well when backed into a corner.

Like it or not, we reasonable, rational adults, must reach out to those who feel cornered and offer a way out. Not to save 'Brand NI' but to save brand humanity.

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