Sunday 19 January 2020

Graham Clifford: Ignorance fuels hatred so we must learn from these mistakes

CHILLING: An image taken from a video provided by Vice News Tonight shows a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia Photo: AP/Vice News
CHILLING: An image taken from a video provided by Vice News Tonight shows a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia Photo: AP/Vice News

Graham Clifford

His little hands, dainty feet and perfect features had me mesmerised. I could feel little new-born Cillian’s every breath as he rested on my chest last weekend. I kissed his head and grabbed the television remote to switch on the news.

Quickly a beautiful moment turned sour.  

While the most exquisite and purist form of humanity slept in my arms, the most poisonous and despicable form of humanity terrorised Charlottesville in Virginia.

White supremacists armed with hate and disgust stood proudly to spout their message of evil. They punched, they kicked and ultimately one of them drove a car into a crowd of opponents killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. These fascist cowards sought and received cover from the top as Donald Trump refused to condemn them by name. It was Orwellian, sick and twisted. Those of faith could have imagined laughter amid the fires of hell. 

For a moment I had to ask ‘how could I bring such a perfect and innocent little person into a world which has become so utterly imperfect and broken? A world where nuclear war is now a possibility’. 

I could tell myself that ‘this is little old Ireland, we’re not cracked like those bearded brutes carrying guns and confederate flags in Charlottesville’, but to do so would be to concoct something that helps me sleep at night. Not that there’s much sleep to be had with a two-week-old and three other little scamps in our abode.

The truth is Irish society has always been so heavily influenced by the Americans (now ruled by the scariest man in the world) to the west and the British (‘Brexit means Brexit’) to the east. Add to that the influence from Rome over the centuries and it’s clear we’re much less tolerant, sensible and caring than we so often like to tell ourselves.

In fact, we’ve an army of extremists on our little island. You’ve the religious fanatics who will stick by their leaders even when the young and the vulnerable suffer. And then there are the hard-line Republicans who believe the end always justifies the means (even if the means included murder, torture, bombings, kidnappings and crime). Then there are the growing number of right-wing anti-immigration bots. High-pitched little men in badly fitting suits shaking their fists and warning us that we’ll be overrun by foreigners. They deserve scorn but pity too.

The State stands by its inhumane direct provision system, thereby treating refugees and asylum seekers as lesser souls. And the people stand by. Nothing to see here.

We don’t need to look to the US or Britain, where racial undercurrents flow strongly, to find extremism, intolerance and worrying levels of hate and distrust. It’s among us already.

British tabloids packed with anti-migrant vitriol are now on sale in every newsagents here. My heart sank when I moved back to Ireland from the UK in 2012 to find papers such as the ‘Daily Mail’ and ‘Daily Express’ for sale in a local shop in south Kerry. 

Our young people watch British and American TV channels daily and get their news online. 

Are we sleep-walking towards a Charlottesville or into a ‘Brexit’ state of mind, where facts and logic matter far less than jingoism and division?

I hear bigotry across Irish society every day, on the radio, on the street. To the migrant, to the traveller, to the unemployed and homeless. It comes as naturally to us as it does to many of the skinheads stateside.

Our best hope of moving to a path of tolerance and respect for all is through our education system. All my children will study history in school. I’ve told Cillian’s older siblings that all I ask of them is that they take history class in secondary along with a language. Grades matter far less to me than the learning portal opened up to the children. After all it’s only through learning from the mistakes of the past that we can avoid making them in the future. The skinheads and bearded brutes didn’t study history (or at least an impartial, balanced version of it) nor, I wager, did many of those who voted for Brexit. If either had they’d be building bridges not barriers and Donald Trump wouldn’t be in the White House.

The British and American education systems, in both universal standard and access, leave so much to be desired. And now their countries are paying the price. The ill-informed and under-educated have become subsumed into the waves of populism.

We must make sure we don’t make the same mistakes here. Racism, bigotry and hatred flourish amid ignorance. So, for the sake of little Cillian and all his peers in Ireland today, let’s make sure we continue to invest in education, promote inter-cultural diversity and never let the hate-mongers divide us. We must encourage students to take history and civic studies as subjects, support our free press, care for those who seek our island as refuge and demand more of our politicians.

That’s the only way to curtail the spread of hate-filled and extremist ideology. In this case, knowledge is a power required not just for advancement but for the survival of mankind.

Irish Independent

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