Nelson McCausland: Horrific scenes like we saw in Christchurch are the result of drinking from ‘poisoned well’
We in NI know only too well the consequences of creating a narrative of imagined grievances.
The far-Right terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15 left 50 people dead and many others injured.
The victims included men, women and children and it was a bloody and brutal attack that shocked the world.
Since then much has been said and written about what happened in Christchurch, but one of the most insightful commentaries came from Stan Grant, a global affairs analyst with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and professor of global affairs at Griffith University in Queensland.
He said: “When you look at radicalised groups, they drink from the same poisoned well of vengeance and grievance and resentment. It is an identity that is rooted in some form of historical wrong, fear and anxiety.”
Grant went on to say: “Listen to the language that is used by political leaders today. Xi Jinping in China talking constantly about the 100 years of humiliation of China by foreign powers. Vladimir Putin lamenting the end of the Soviet empire as the great catastrophe of the 20th century.
“Listen to (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan in Turkey talk about reviving the Ottoman Empire. Islamic State talking about reviving the caliphate, the neo-Nazi groups harking back to the fascism of the Thirties. These are people who imagine some pristine golden age; they imagine wrong and they seek vengeance for the wrong and they identify themselves around that idea of vengeance.”
It was a short, two-minute interview, but Professor Grant provided a beautifully clear analysis of something that is happening around the world.
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There is a common thread that runs through each of these situations and it is a thread, or narrative, of a pristine golden age, a wrong and then anger and vengeance.
However, we do not need to look abroad to China or Russia or any other country to see that “common thread”. We have seen it here in Northern Ireland, especially in relation to radical Irish republicanism.
President Xi Jinping in China may talk constantly about 100 years of humiliation, but how often have we heard Irish republicans complain of “800 years of British occupation and oppression”.
If you have £105 to spare, you can buy an “800 years of struggle” bodhran in the Sinn Fein bookshop, with its depictions of an ancient Irish warrior, an Irish rebel and a masked IRA an with a sub-machine-gun.
Alternatively, you can turn up at a Wolfe Tones concert and sing along with Go On Home British Soldiers Go On Home and how “for 800 years we've fought you” and “we’ll fight you for 800 more”.
As Professor Grant said: “When you look at radicalised groups, they drink from the same poisoned well of vengeance and grievance and resentment.”
That thread of Irish republican ideology starts with an imaginary “pristine golden era”. It starts with a sanitised and glamorised image of an ancient Ireland that was pure and perfect and Gaelic and free.
The Irish republican narrative then continues with “800 years of occupation and oppression” and a mindset that “blames the Brits” for everything that has happened in Ireland since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century.
We have seen the outworking of that divisive narrative of grievance in a series of republican terrorist campaigns, from the Fenian dynamite campaign of the 1880s in England through a series of shorter IRA campaigns and, ultimately, to the 30-year terrorist campaign of the Provisional IRA, which murdered more than 1,700 people.
Against that background, I think we would do well to reflect on the words of Professor Grant.
Sinn Fein is still very much in the business of manufacturing grievances and deepening divisions and, while that radicalisation is currently directed into building up Sinn Fein politically, it can very easily spill over into something more.
The bloodshed on the streets of Christchurch should serve as a reminder of what can happen when people drink from the poisoned well, but sadly I doubt if Sinn Fein will heed it.
That picture of Mary Lou McDonald in New York with an ‘England Get Out Of Ireland’ banner suggests that the message of Christchurch will fall on deaf ears.