The introduction of new legislation to protect those offended by certain expressions of another person’s religious world view and cultural heritage has proven to be largely unpopular among many people.
When the offensive behaviour at football matches and threatening communications legislation kicks in, the debate about whether it was required in the first place will eventually fizzle out, but its effects will be felt for quite some time.
One such effect is that it has inadvertently created a situation in which some of the individuals most ardently in favour of the legislation have morally positioned themselves dangerously close to the unwanted persona they thought were trying to remove.
This is what I mean -
We have all heard someone say that they are starting to feel like an immigrant in their own country.
Now, more often than not, individuals who make this type of comment are expressing what they believe to be a genuine concern.
For them, it is a genuine concern that their cultural identity has been eroded by too many different nationalities and ethnic groups appearing to have a stronger voice and claim to rights than they are comfortable with.
Underlying this concern is a mangled interpretation of the priority of their rights over the rights of others who have come to live and work in ‘their country’.
It is an interpretation that is often driven by a subconscious belief that the dominance of their cultural identity ought to be guaranteed over any other.
Yet our history was shaped by immigrants and shifting groups of people. It is a mix of stories. It is a mix of different groups of people with different cultural identities. It is a mix of displaced Irish, Italians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, and many more.
The concerns expressed by some people today are the very same ones that many more people have been expressing for hundreds of years.
Discrimination, prejudice and bigotry are woven tightly into the fabric of our society, and always have been, leaving many people feeling psychologically compelled, and others legally forced, to suppress the natural expression of their different cultural identities.
Having to suppress the expression of your cultural identity, because of arrogant and aggressive intolerance shown towards your particular ethnic group, creates a context in which that identity is in danger of becoming redefined in a negative way, both in a self-questioning sense, and also in the growing opinion of the aggressors.
The very act of having to suppress your cultural identity connects it to feelings of resentment and anger, which occasionally spills over into overt behaviour that happens to offend other people, and thus the vicious circle kicks in.
But in addition to dealing with genuine cases of violent and vile behaviour, introducing new legislation specifically aimed at stamping it out ironically feeds the vicious circle of suppression, anger and resentment, and keeps it going round.
Now, to return to the original point about those who feel there is something wrong with groups of people expressing their cultural identity because they find it offensive.
Such individuals are themselves edging dangerously close to the distorted and ugly image they have of the people they want to silence. They are guilty of turning their intolerance into a campaign for legislation against the positive expression of cultural identity and diversity.
Those individuals who say that they are starting to feel like immigrants in their own country probably should be feeling this way.
The country they live in has a different cultural structure and ethnic diversity from the one they feel comfortable living in.
It has always been this way, but rather than embrace this positive diversity, they have tried to enforce its suppression through displays of bitter intolerance and prejudice.
And that is pitiful.