Tag Archives: religious hatred

Sectarianism as a Political Tool (Some General Thoughts)

To some people, having a religion is about having a deeply personal relationship with their God.

It is an intrinsically private set of experiences that provides strength, purpose and comfort. As such, it remains a uniquely personal feature of their inner world. It helps define their sense of identity.

To others it is better described as having a firm commitment to a particular way of living. It is about being immersed in a set of sociocultural practices, participating in fixed routines and engaging in rituals that have a distinctly public, yet intensely spiritual feel to them.

Some find themselves shifting around somewhere in the middle; whilst others hold no such beliefs at all. To me, it shouldn’t really matter how religious beliefs are understood; nor should it matter which particular religious beliefs people live by, if any at all.

What does matter is that religious beliefs are authentically and honestly preserved by those who hold them, and not mocked, disrespected or vilified by those who do not. But achieving that is always problematic.

The honest preservation of religious beliefs is often left to interpretation, and influenced by other competing factors, occasionally leading to corrupted versions of how they were intended to shape values and guide behaviours. And likewise, the obligation not to be disrespectful towards other religious beliefs is not universally felt today, sometimes as a direct consequence, and other times without any sound reason at all.

But this is precisely the point at which sectarian conflicts begin to emerge, not just in this country, but in any country in which there are very complex historical relationships between religion, ethnicity and politics. Sectarianism is rarely a stand-alone problem.

Various histories of military invasion, occupation and aggressive intervention, typically with the primary purpose of economic control and exploitation, have created the right mix of ingredients for the emergence of violent conflicts, local skirmishes and global wars among religious fundamentalists, extremists and other terrorist groups at different times.

Encouraging the growth of certain forms of sectarianism – by means of discriminatory Government policies, blatant or otherwise, pushed through media propaganda and establishment institutions – can be a very effective means of ethnic management and political control in some countries.

In this sense, sectarianism is a political tool through which ethnic groups can be managed, manipulated for electoral support, and territorially adjusted when it suits for economic purpose. But this takes us a very long way from the original starting point of religion as a bundle of fortifying personal experiences or as a guide to a peaceful way of life.

Sectarianism used as a political tool is a deliberate attempt to create a dangerous climate of suspicion, distrust and hatred. In extreme cases it leads to appalling violence and shocking acts of terrorism; quite often because it is used within a context of greed, exploitation and corruption, but usually always because it has been intertwined with an array of ethnic management measures that run deep into the fabric of our global society.

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(Not Very) Philosophical Occasions: Listening In On Generational Bigotry

This week I heard a story about a seven year old child at primary school who claimed that he didn’t speak British, but he could speak some Irish! He arrived at this conclusion because he didn’t like Rangers. He explained that they were a British team. But he supported Celtic. And they were an Irish team.

In the confused and highly impressionable mind of a child, this probably makes some kind of sense. To the rest of us, it is just plain nonsense. We recognise that it contains the seeds of hatred. Yet in fairness to the child, he is too young to really understand what he was talking about it. He couldn’t have meant anything by it.

Coincidentally, this week I also heard a story about a teenager. He was walking along the street with his Dad. He spotted a Celtic fan coming towards them. His Dad laughed as he continued his story – his son said to him, ‘Quick Dad, cross the road, there’s a Celtic fan coming.’

He had clearly inherited his attitudes from his Dad, who appeared to be quite proud of his son’s behaviour. It was regarded as a joke, a bit of banter. In fairness, it probably was.

A conversation I overheard on the train a few weeks ago, between a drunken elderly gentleman and a polite young man, went something like this:

‘Are you over here for a job?’

‘No, I am here to study…engineering.’

‘Right…so are you from Poland?’

‘No, Czech Republic…’

‘Aye, I knew you were some kind of foreigner.’

Although his behaviour is not defensible, to give the elderly gentleman the benefit of the doubt, he comes from a generation of people who would think there was nothing wrong with this conversation. He was just making conversation. If the polite young student was offended in anyway, it wasn’t intentional. He didn’t mean anything by it.

A common thread running through many such instances is that the individuals concerned seem to inherit their bigotry from other people around them and keep it going. The process begins at an impressionable age and the attitudes become more deeply entrenched as time goes on.

The younger the individual, the more inclined we would be to say that they didn’t really understand what they were talking about it. They tend to get away with it. As they become young adults, their bigotry is disguised as banter. It is a joke. They tend to get away with it.

Then as they mature into old age, their bigotry is explained away as a generation thing. It is just the way some older people are. They would have gotten away with it in their younger days when life was different. And they tend to get away with it today.

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