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Rise in racist attacks in north

JM Thorn

22nd April 2004

New statistics have confirmed that there has been a surge in racist attacks in the north.  According to police figures, attacks have increased by 60 per cent over the last year.  Given that many attacks go unreported the true scale of the problem is likely to be higher. 

Only the most shocking make the headlines.  The most recent of these incidents came at the end of March when the home of two Filipino couples was attacked in Portadown.  The two women who lived in the house were nurses at the nearby Craigavon Hospital.  This attack was notable in that it provoked a statement from the government of the Philippines calling for more to be done to tackle racism in the North of Ireland.  Apart from the subsequent high profile intervention, the attack bore all the hallmarks of most of the previous racist attacks.  It was directed against immigrants/refuges living in a predominantly loyalist area, and almost certainly carried out by people in or around loyalist paramilitary organisations. 

The continuing and upward trend in racist attacks poses some difficult questions for anti-racist campaigners.  For while they have been successful in highlighting the dangers of racism and raising its profile as a political issue they have not developed a strategy to successfully challenge it.  The essence of this failure is the acceptance of the of the “two communities” political framework that underpins the ‘peace process’ and the politics of the North generally.  This makes it impossible to identify loyalists as being responsible for the majority of racist attacks.  In the “two communities” framework such an assertion would be seen as discriminating against one side of the community.  Therefore the issue of racism, like that of sectarianism, can only be approached at the most general and vague level, to avoid offending the sensitivities of those who are actively promoting it.  Of course this approach is futile.  How you can’t tackle racism without challenging the racists?

Unfortunately this is the approach that has been adopted by the Anti-Racist Network (ARN), the main campaigning group in the North.  It has accepted the “two communities” framework and has bent over backwards to accommodate loyalist bigotry.  A good example of this was the ARN’s welcome for the report that the UVF had removed its “commander” in the Donegall Pass area,  someone who had been blamed for orchestrating recent racist attacks.   ARN spokesperson Sara Boyce said the group would seek guarantees that the move would mean an end to the attacks.  "The challenge now is for ordinary people and leaders in the Village to work together with minority ethnic groups and others to build respect for cultural diversity," she said.  However, this move was nothing more than a PR stunt from the UVF and its political mouthpiece the PUP to win some media kudos and give the impression that it was being tough on racism.  It was just as ridiculous as the earlier commitment by the PUP leader David Ervine to “walk away” from the UVF if it was found they had been involved in racist attacks.  The endorsement of the ARN for such patent nonsense only lends credibility to loyalism and confuses the fight against racism.  It is also dangerous, affording loyalism a legitimate and “progressive” role within the Protestant community.  We must assume that the “leaders” in the ARN statement refers to loyalist paramilitaries.  The acceptance of these sectarian gangsters as legitimate leaders condemns both the Protestant community and the ethnic minorities living in areas under loyalist control to a grim future. 

The reality of this was borne out only a month later with a racist leafleting campaign by the UVF in the Donegall Pass area.  The 'Yellow Invasion' leaflets, which were handed out at a public meeting, came to public attention when a Chinese pupil at a Belfast primary school found one had been planted in his bag.  The leaflet accused the Chinese of "undermining the Britishness of Donegall Pass".  The news of the leaflets came at the same time as it emerged that two-thirds of the Chinese population have been forced out of the Donegall Pass area by racists trying to block their attempts to build a community centre.  At its height, the Chinese population in Donegall Pass numbered 60 families.  But that number has fallen dramatically in the face of threats and violence.  This was confirmed by Anna Lo, of the Chinese Welfare Association: ''There are only 23 families left because people were intimidated out of the area.'' 

This incident shows the close relationship between sectarianism and racism.  Loyalists are carrying out racist intimidation not only because they are motivated by racism but also as part of their broader sectarian campaign.  This has centred on the myth of “nationalist encroachment”.  In this schema, ethic minorities living in loyalist areas are seen as a bridgehead for the eventual movement of Catholics into an area.  Given this belief amongst loyalists it is no surprise that racism is a bedfellow of sectarianism.  Racism is not a change of direction by loyalism but an inevitable consequence of its reactionary nature.  The tragedy is that many of those who proclaim themselves to be anti-racists fail to recognise this reality. 



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