We all must stand firm against racism
Sectarianism has long been common in Northern Ireland and people often went to extraordinary lengths to hide their religious affiliation if they were in the minority in their locality. But when you can be judged simply by the colour of your skin, then there is no hiding place, as two Nigerian men living in east Belfast found out yesterday morning. Racist graffiti was daubed on the front and back of the home they had moved into only four days earlier and doors and windows were smashed.
Subjecting people to attack merely because of the colour of their skin is a heinous crime more reminiscent of bygone days in other regions of the UK than of life in Northern Ireland. But as the province has become more multi-cultural, racism has occasionally reared its ugly head. Remember the attacks on the Roma community in south Belfast some years ago and it is a tendency which exists just below the surface of everyday life.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of yesterday's attack was the fact that some people appear, if not to applaud it, at least to tolerate it. That is behaviour of the basest kind fed by prejudices which should have no part to play in a civilised society. It takes brave people to stand up to the kind of thugs who carried out the attack on the men's homes, but society must make its abhorrence of their actions crystal clear. The two men attacked have been working hard to support families back in their homeland and should be praised for their contribution to society here, not made the target of bitter, twisted minds.
Northern Ireland has hardly covered itself in glory since the beginning of this year with the flag protests, the violence associated with parades and the attack on the Lord Mayor taking some of the gloss of the successful G8 conference and Londonderry's continuing triumph as the UK City of Culture. Now the word racism adds another slur on the reputation of this region which, in spite of all its ills, has always been known as a welcoming place.