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13 July 2015

My fascist granny taught me the dangers of nationalism

Mary Lou McDonald

I sometimes get accused of hatred by aggressive tribal nationalist tweeters who can't stand any challenge to their bigoted beliefs, especially it if comes from one from their own tribe.

If I post something critical of Sinn Fein, or the SNP, I'm motivated by anti-nationalist hatred. If I try to explain the point of view of the Orange Order, I'm a crazed religious bigot.

A recent article, in which I defended on free-speech grounds the right to burn effigies on bonfires, led to all kinds of bonkers accusations. (May I repeat that I'm happy to have my own effigy burned by anyone. It's better than being shot at.)

I reply, politely, that I don't hate, but they seethe on, secure in their conviction that anyone from a nationalist background who puts in a good word for unionists is driven by evil motives.

Actually, I'm lucky enough not to hate, which I owe to my fascist granny and my open-minded parents.

Granny lived upstairs celebrating the Easter Rising and spewing hatred for the Brits, whom she accused of manufacturing black propaganda against dead heroes of hers like Hitler.

Fortunately, having to their horror seen me give a Hitler salute when I was four, my parents took care to teach me about Nazis, genocide, the evils of prejudice and the right of others to have a point of view other than one's own.

They were clear, too, about the difference between patriotism, which they approved of, and nationalism. Both of them strongly opposed the notion that in order to be Irish you had to be a nationalist.

Unlike Granny, they didn't approve of killing for Ireland, but they had friends who had been caught up in the Irish revolution and they understood their intentions had been honourable.

I have friends and acquaintances who have been paramilitaries, or fellow-travellers, and I have sympathy for those whose idealism led them in a terrible direction: my overriding emotion is, "There but for the grace of God go I".

Still, though I try to be civil to everyone, I don't have any friends who would still defend the awful things paramilitaries did.

My critics will now shout that it's obvious from my constant criticism that I hate republicans. Well, no. I don't. I genuinely hate the sin and not the sinner.

While I deplore what the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness did to foment violence and hatred and want to see them fail politically because I think Sinn Fein sinister, I've never wished them personally even a headache. (And that was true too of how I felt about the Rev Ian Paisley.)

I do, however, hate ideologies like fascism, communism, Islamism and extreme nationalism that turn people into obedient henchmen.

Every time an able person like Mary Lou McDonald, or Conor Murphy, tells us with a stony face that, "I believe Gerry", I regret they belong to a cult that inhibits free thought, free expression and a reverence for truth.

What excited some tweeters last week were the Nazi and Confederate flags erected in Carrickfergus and the "Taigs will be crucified" graffiti in Belfast.

These were blamed on unionists in general and the Orange Order in particular, even though the perpetrators were just thugs, flags were taken down immediately by locals and, like the graffiti, were condemned by Peter Robinson, by Grand Lodge and by innumerable Protestants.

But the photographs provided haters with the ammunition for further demonisation of the Orange Order in advance of the Twelfth.

Sorry to indulge in whataboutery, but the people who should be embarrassed about Nazi links are republicans, for the IRA supported the Nazis during the Second World War, Sinn Fein commemorates the IRA chief of staff, Sean Russell, who died on a U-boat in 1940 after three months of explosives training in Germany and it's less than 20 years since I walked beside republican parades hearing little children shouting, "SS RUC".

Like all tribalists, my critics might usefully follow Jesus' injunction not to complain about the mote in their brother's eye until they've got rid of the beam in their own.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards