The reaction of the Irish far-right to the assault of a 17-year-old boy in Carrigaline, Co. Cork on Saturday night should be enough to put paid to the fallacy that Ireland does not have a problem with racism. The abhorrent behaviour of a small number of individuals has been used by these groups to make explicit suggestions of white supremacy, to call for an end to “third world” immigration to Ireland and for the extrajudicial deportation of black families. The victim’s stabbing has been exploited by these groups in order to tar all members of ethnic minority groups with the same brush, to blame the actions of the few on the many, and as a tool to further their divisive, racist, conspiratorial agenda. It has been presented as some kind of ‘gotcha!’ to the Black Lives Matter movement, as if it had ever been suggesting that black people are incapable of violence – which was never the case.
The far-right thrive on incidents like this. They use the very worst of humanity on an individual level to bring out the very worst on a collective level – people’s anger on seeing a defenceless teenager being subjected to senseless violence can find an outlet by placing the blame on inherent racial characteristics, sowing further division in society.
From the perspective of a progressive, the worrying thing about the exploitation of incidents such as this by the far-right is the ease with which ‘decent’ or ‘reasonable’ people can become co-opted into supporting their movements. “If this was the other way around, we’d never hear the end of it”, some wildly suggest despite the fact that this story has been widely covered in the national media. The idea that this story is getting less attention due to the skin colour of the alleged perpetrator is simply false, and plays on the false notion that members of ethnic minority groups get special treatment in the media, another favourite trope of the far-right.
Emotion is a powerful tool, and many on the far-right are experts at using it for their own gain, the methodology is simple, and it always goes a little like this.
- Present a few isolated violent incidents perpetrated by whichever minority they wish to target – be it immigrants, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, transgender people or others – and blame it on the group’s inherent characteristics.
- Portray these incidents as being part of a plot by anonymous ‘liberals’, establishment political parties or as orchestrated by a boogieman such as George Soros, who aim to undermine some kind of ethnic or moral purity held by the national populations.
- Suggest that the only way of solving this ‘issue’ is by giving your political support to the far-right, who will implement overly simplified, illegal or immoral discriminatory reforms to ‘solve’ the issue.
It is folly, but it works – the exploitation of similarly violent events on the continent and subsequent electoral success by parties such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece and the nationalist Alternative für Deutschland in Germany stand as testament to this (although the former have declined in recent times). It is the politics of fear, and Ireland is not immune to this poison, whatever we might like to think.
My advice to any angry white Irish person who suddenly feels that certain right-wing figures are making a lot of sense is to step back and to think of the bigger picture. Put yourself in the shoes of a black person in Ireland, would it be fair to blame you for a violent incident perpetrated by someone you didn’t even know simply because you share the same skin colour? Perhaps we don’t even need to imagine you are someone else, how would you feel being confronted with suggestions of being a bomb threat whilst on a trip to the UK, as some Irish people still experience?
It is nonsense, of course. Race is a social construct – from a biological perspective the majority of scientists say that there is no such thing. Therefore, accusation of inherent racial flaws can only ever be false, but emotion and the powerful false narratives of protecting ‘our country’ and ‘our children’ can make otherwise good people fearful and suck them into this vortex of hate and suspicion – but in the end getting them nowhere. Critical thinking and cool heads are anathema to the far-right, which relies on unthinking prejudice and dogmatic ideology in order to further their hateful agenda.
Yes, it’s okay to be angry when violence occurs; it’s okay to want to do something to make our towns and cities safer; it’s okay to seek justice against an individual. What is not okay is to use it as a tool to further oppression of ethnic minorities and promote racism, as many on the far-right are attempting to do as they weaponise the assault in Carrigaline for their own political agenda – we owe it to ourselves and to society at large not to fall into this trap. The far-right is not the answer.