Sectarianism and Racism Must be Defeated
The establishment of the Tomás MacGiolla Centre for Citizenship and Reconciliation will help the direct confrontation of the related problems of sectarianism and racism, writes Seán Garland.
Sectarianism and its near relations racism and xenophobic nationalism, are menaces principally because they poison relations between members of different traditions; stultify the creation of a decent society for all citizens; and lend spurious justification to odious practices, including murder.
In identifying these menaces the ambition is not to obliterate cultural differences between citizens. Cultural plurality is an undeniable feature of human experience, love of one’s culture is an entirely appropriate emotion. The problem arises when this love takes extravagant and exclusive forms, which deny our common humanity and work against the possibility of members of the same society sharing a common citizenship.
Sectarianism and racism involve intolerant attitudes and actions that exaggerate and exploit our differences. It creates antagonistic divisions in its extreme preoccupation with its own religious/cultural political interests and sense of superiority.
Citizenship is the political category that provides the best antidote to sectarianism and racism.
Thinking of ourselves as free and equal citizens enables us to appreciate what we share in common despite our differences. It encourages us to cooperate for the sake of creating and sustaining a society we can all share and participate in. Its inclinations are inclusive rather than exclusive; it fosters respect of difference; and it emphasizes our mutual indebtedness.
Unfortunately in Northern Ireland there has not been enough done to supplement the institutional and structural changes introduced through the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement to bring about the transformation of sectarian attitudes. An unhelpful tendency has developed that attempts to reify traditional sectarianism as “culture.”
The point is if sectarianism is culture then it is a malign culture: one whose beliefs, attitudes and practices must be scrutinised and challenged.
There are practical steps that can be immediately undertaken to oppose sectarianism and racism in the name of citizenship. These include speaking out against sectarian attacks and practices, conducting an advertising campaign to promote civic values, advocating the benefits of dialogue, supporting all positive initiatives in the workplace, in trade unions, in sporting organisations and so on.
In order to aid these efforts to create an inclusive concept of citizenship in Ireland, and honour a man who dedicated his life to confronting sectarianism, I’m pleased to support the establishment of the Tomás MacGiolla Centre for Citizenship and Reconciliation.
Key to this new body’s objectives will be the cultivation of common ground among citizens and the encouragement of respect of cultural, religious and political difference.
In order to achieve this a number of strategies will be adopted including the development of programmes of public education, the facilitation of intercultural dialogue and the hosting of conferences which will seek to promote transnational debate on problems of citizenship and reconciliation in divided societies.
Tomás MacGiolla Centre for Citizenship and Reconciliation
Chairman: Rev Chris Hudson MBE Secretary: Ultán Gillen
Keep updated on the Tomás MacGiolla Centre for Citizenship and Reconciliation at www.lookleftonline.org