Would you let Peter Robinson go to the shops for you?
Liam Mac Uaid draws some conclusions from the DUP leader’s off the cuff Islamophobia.
Most members of the Democratic Unionist Party would resent being described as “Neanderthals”, though that’s mainly because they believe that the creation myth in Genesis is the literal truth. However, the DUP, which is kept in government in the north of Ireland by Sinn Féin, has a long history of freely expressing views which would confine them to the fringes of far right politics in most of Europe. Not even Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage can match them when it comes to outrageous, flagrantly racist and sectarian comments. While no leftish politician in France or Britain would consider going into government with the Front National or UKIP, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuiness is happy to play second fiddle as deputy to DUP leader Peter Robinson, first minster in the Belfast assembly.
Robinson came to the defence of wacky evangelical pastor James McConnell earlier this week. McConnell said in a sermon that “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.” Just to make sure there was no doubt he emphasised the point by saying “a new evil had arisen… there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain”. Robinson could have chosen to say McConnell’s views were a statement of theological opinion. He could have said that in a state with the forms of democracy even the most outrageous views should not be suppressed. What he actually said was “there “isn’t an ounce of hatred in his (the pastor’s) bones”; that it was a duty of any preacher to denounce what he described as “false prophesy”. He added that he would not trust Muslims either, “particularly with regard to those who had been involved in violence, or those who are “fully devoted to Sharia law, I wouldn’t trust them for spiritual guidance”. However he wanted to show he wasn’t as completely bigoted and racist as the pastor whose church he attends and added “he would trust Muslims to “go down to the shops” for him or to deal with a number of other “day to day issues”.
This man leads the party that got 23% of the vote in the northern state’s council elections yet even UKIP would have the sense to kick him out for remarks like this. The reasons he’s going to keep his post are, on one level, quite straightforward. His coalition partner Sinn Féin will not call him a racist bigot because that would bring down the colonial pseudo-parliament which allows them to dispense jobs and patronage. Then of course there’s the issue of who from the DUP would replace him. His views are utterly mainstream inside the party and judging from the comments in the local media are widely shared by the party’s voters.
The only political figure in the north to have been principled on this issue is the Alliance Party’s Anna Lo. She called on Robinson to resign and explained that remarks like his legitimised the racist attacks which are now commonplace in the six counties. She added that despite having lived there for forty years she was subjected to constant racist abuse, no longer felt safe as a person of Chinese origin and was considering leaving the place. One of Robinson’s party members responded to this by saying ” I see Anna Lo as racist! Towards the people of Northern Ireland.”
Loyalism, racism and sectarianism
It’s no secret that the racist attacks in the north of Ireland are being organised by loyalist terror groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force and, though the police acknowledge this, there’s little evidence that they are doing anything about it.
There has always been of a division of labour within loyalism. From the first days of the northern state its political class relied on state and non state paramilitaries or terrorists to conduct pogroms and run sectarian murder campaigns. Robinson’s predecessor as DUP leader Ian Paisley had an ongoing relationship with them from the mid 1960s, and Robinson himself even conducted a farcical mini invasion of the southern town of Clontibret in the 1980s. Robinson and his party create a political framework in which it is considered acceptable within loyalism to run a systematic campaign of racist attacks against every ethnic minority in the northern state. Just as sectarianism is an integral part of loyalism so too is racism.
Anna Lo is one of the few people to have made this connection in public. The SWP’s newly elected councillor Gerry Carroll, who stood for People Before Profit has declared that he is neither a unionist nor a nationalist. This is the sort of “neutrality” much favoured by the local union bureaucracy too when it had one of its occasional demonstrations against sectarianism. Everyone knows that the overwhelming bulk of sectarian attacks are carried out by loyalists against Catholics, but the union leaders never say so. The enemy was always an abstract sectarianism wholly unrelated to any particular political current .
Meaningful opposition to racism and sectarianism in the north of Ireland has to start with a clear understanding of their roots in loyalism. It is an ideology which expressly sets out to divide the working class along religious lines. For more than two centuries its main purpose was the systemic oppression of Irish Catholics. Now as well as using pogroms, marches and terrorism to remind northern Catholics that the state was not theirs it’s setting out to teach newly arrived communities that they too aren’t welcome in the Orange state.