much else, courtesy of the peace process, insults
here tend to come in outsize portions. Alex Reid,
having proved susceptible to the riling of waspish
Willie Frazer, retorted with his Nazi barb and the
rest is not quite history because it is it is still
being mulled over and dissected. Reid's use of the
overstatement was hardly the deviation from normal
discourse it has since been portrayed as. Hyperbole
is what we are about in the North. The greatest
crisis ever is perennially about to land on us,
the most important elections only ever occur here,
local stone throwing incidents at an interface send
comparison-seekers off to all the wrong places in
search of some diabolical atrocity so that we can
say, 'look here humanity, and see another civil
war Beirut or Warsaw ghetto in our own time.' If
degrees were to be awarded in victimology this place
would be a world leader in professorships, with
at least one per household.
revel in it and the international attention it brings
us. For that reason culpability is not ours alone.
In 1994 when thousands were being slaughtered on
a daily basis in Rwanda, the US government deliberately
averted its gaze and looked here instead. Yet on
virtually any one day between April and June of
that year more people died in Rwanda than lost their
lives here throughout twenty-five years of conflict.
Genocide can be ignored while our sectarian squabble
becomes the concern of international statesmen and
women. Any wonder we think a little whining works?
Reid is hardly alone in over-egging the sectarian
pudding. Maximising ones own victimisation while
simultaneously ascribing the characteristic of the
demon to the 'other side' is the staple discursive
currency here. Most do it to one degree or another,
even those of us who comment on others doing it.
Nevertheless, it was intellectually and strategically
futile for Alex Reid to hurl the particular boomerang
of Nazism in the general direction of unionism.
For as certain as it will come back heavily propelled
with top speed, it also trivialises the phenomenon
that was Nazism. Even if he was only repeating Mary
McAleese's lines, he should have learned from the
hostility she provoked what was certain to result
from similar comments. Nor is it just unionists
who take offence at being tagged with the Nazi label
and rush off a la Willie Frazer in pursuit of legal
action. Daily Ireland not so long ago announced
its intention to issue a defamation writ against
Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell for likening
the paper to the Nazi Party's Volkischer Beobachter.
that he decided to draw on a Nazi analogy, the most
prudent approach for Reid to then take was to say
that elements of unionist behaviour resembled some
aspects of Nazi society and then point to discrimination.
In that way he could have drawn much of the sting
from the flak that would inevitably follow. But
isolated elements of a system do not a system make.
Sure, there are comparisons between someone falling
from a kerb and another falling from the top of
the Empire State Building. But the analogy only
ever holds good if the dissimilarities are so few
as to avoid courting ridicule for having made the
comparison. There is so much more that distinguishes
Unionist run Northern Ireland from Nazi run Germany,
that isolated points of convergence merely serve
to illustrate the exception rather than the rule.
general response of nationalists has been to take
the stance of 'wrong but
' Perhaps their attitude
is like that of a taxi driver who informed me Reid
was right but should not have said it in public.
The more prudent 'wrong but
commentators have sought to replace Nazi Germany
with apartheid South Africa as a more plausible
comparison. This is an old refrain. Gerry Adams
tried it on in the wake of the McAleese diatribe:
'I don't want to draw any comparison with the Nazis
or anyone else but certainly there was a system
of apartheid.' This lazy comparison reckoned without
Fintan O'Toole's demolition of the ground on which
a like-with-like comparison could be made. Unionist
Northern Ireland, as much as we might hate it and
point to some South African minister saying how
he envied the Special Powers Act, simply failed
to measure up to the scale of repression visited
on the black population by the apartheid regime.
additional problem with drawing ill-fitting comparisons
based on some similarity is that they can all too
easily be turned against the user. Unfortunately
for the republican backers of Reid there is enough
within the republican history to flesh out the tu
quoque being made by unionists. Fewer incidents
over the decades resonate more of Nazi behaviour
than the act of taking workmen from a bus and saying
'you that side, you the other side' and then proceeding
to butcher the ten given the thumbs down solely
on the basis of their religion.
Victor Klemperer's book on the use of language in
the Third Reich, it is hard not to be struck by
the many similarities between the Nazi deployment
of terminology and the Provisional republican usage
of the same. Every Nazi event, meeting, initiative,
speech was described as 'historical.' Just like
the numerous 'historic' occasions Sinn Fein has
been part of. Yet, to describe the Provisional Movement
as Nazi would be a gross distortion.
Northern Ireland conflict has its own unique character.
Why exchange uniqueness for ridicule by seeking
similarities which exist only in caricatured form?