Maybe it’s something in the air, but anti-racism seems to all the vogue here at the moment. Take a walk around Belfast city centre and you’ll see lots of big yellow posters bearing the brand of the Socialist Workers Party, advertising a public meeting this coming Wednesday. We are told that new British SWP supremo Martin Smith is coming here to talk to the broad masses about the urgent danger of fascism. Lucky masses. And you know, I’ve heard Martin speak, and unless he’s doing his talk on John Coltrane, I can think of better things to do on a Wednesday night.
Anyway, there are more people than the left exercised about this issue. The Human Rights Commission, in yet another attempt to justify its existence, was puffing its new fifty-point plan for helping the Roma. But no, there was another event this week that was much more eye-catching, and about ten times as big as Martin Smith’s audience will be.
Yes, it was the big launch party for Unite Against Hate. This is a big scheme whereby divers public bodies and agencies go on record against hate – hate crime, hate speech, whatever, we don’t approve of it. This is presumably aimed at refurbishing our image after that little trouble with the Roma this summer. UAH defines itself as follows:
- To inspire and to unite. Change to a more tolerant and peaceful Northern Ireland is both desirable and possible. We need to have the optimism, hope and confidence that we can work together to bring it about.
- To sensitise the general public to the problem of hate crime and its real costs. Hate crime destroys the lives of all of us through the damage it does to the quality of life, our reputation and our economy.
- To create a climate of zero tolerance for hate crime and discrimination. Hate crime is violent and wrong; it will not be tolerated. There is no room in Northern Ireland for sectarian, racist, homophobic, transphobic, religious or disability related hate crime. This will continue to be vigorously implemented through the promotion of equality and the enforcement of rights.
- To promote diversity. Living with diversity is an integral part of modern life and we all need to take responsibility for creating an atmosphere where diversity is accepted as normal. We need to recognise benefits of diversity.
Well, I don’t want to be too cynical. It’s all worthy stuff no one could really disagree with, and Nigel Worthington has been talking once again about getting the Norn Iron football fans to be a bit more valuing of diversity and a bit less like, well, Norn Iron football fans. If Nigel makes much headway there, I’ll take my hat off to him.
Anyway, there was a big get-together at the Harbour Commissioner’s offices to launch the thing, attended by such worthy figures as OFMDFM junior ministers Gerry Kelly and Robin Newton, NIO minister Paul Goggins, Deputy Chief Constable Duncan McCausland and, er, Cool FM DJ Pete Snodden. Not to mention all our local celebrities – hoteliers, restaurateurs, newsreaders and the like. Oh yes, and local singing sensation Peter Corry was there. In a departure from his hallmark Rat Pack repertoire, he’s recorded a cover of Jacko’s “Man In The Mirror” to be our new diversity anthem. At least he’s not duetting with Eoghan Quigg.
Oh aye, and TV’s Zoë Salmon was there too, as the poster girl for our new diverse Norn Iron. I’m not sure about that. It’s not that our Zoë doesn’t make an appealing poster girl, or that she isn’t articulate – the real challenge is getting her to stop talking – but… how do I put this? If we’re going to have a poster girl for multiculturalism, do we have to have one who looks quite so Aryan? They couldn’t have offered Mehrnoosh Dehaghani the job?
There is of course the other qualm that I usually have about these things. That is that, when you’re trying to put together such a broad and worthy coalition, you run the risk of not saying anything that could possibly upset anyone. Most notably, there’s the way that sectarianism, instead of being seen as the single most important defining feature of our society, gets relegated to one form of intolerance amongst many, and not necessarily the most important one. And isn’t it great that we get a big pro-diversity campaign just as the marching season has ended? We had a fairly big display of sectarianism up in Rasharkin a couple of weeks back, but I can’t imagine most of the great and the good having gone up there to make their views plain. That would have been divisive.
Mind you, it’s hard to imagine Martin Smith and his acolytes having made the trip to Rasharkin either. There are a lot scarier people in this society than the BNP. But then, the BNP make for an easy target, and nobody can possibly object to bashing Griffin. Which may be the point.