When the Belfast Child sings again…

Mehru Jaffer
The thought that there seems no solution to terrorist attacks is sad. The thought becomes sadder as colleagues from Belfast counter question, what peace are you talking about in Northern Ireland?
 
To be asked that question is the saddest.
 
For the process that ended terrorism in Northern Ireland is seen as a model for other parts of the world. When warring Catholics and Protestants decided to make peace and came together to sign the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, terrorism did end after having devastated lives and property in Northern Ireland for three decades. This was a time of wasted childhoods for all those who are around 40 and plus today.
 
Exhausted peace activists were quick to seize the moment and dismissed history and the past as just that, the past. Everyone was exhilarated and in a hurry to move on, to make life safe and secure for the future generations. An explosion in economic and cultural activities ever since the Good Friday Agreement followed to transform Belfast into a city that attracts a drove of visitors today.
 
However, some in Belfast are reluctant to celebrate just yet. They see the absence of violence as momentary stability, and no real peace. The actual work of peace making is said to be languishing as most people are content at the thought that at last they can go to the pub in the evening.
 
According to those aspiring for real peace, the tough job is to continue working to create a solid Northern Irish community within which there is a shared sense of being Northern Irish and not just Catholic, or Protestant.
 
Despite an end to the terrible attacks on ordinary people that first burst upon Belfast in 1968, the suspicion is that borders of distrust continue to exist in the minds of people. Some citizens still dream of the day when Northern Ireland will merge with the rest of Ireland, while others want it to remain part of Great Britain.
 
The tough task is to build a community of people within the present-day boundaries of Northern Ireland, all of whom feel that they belong to the place they live in and are safe within that space. This sense of belonging is essential for all human beings to lead a life free of fear and aggression, and without feeling threatened by those with opposing political views and different ways of worship.
 
To create this sense of belonging, of feeling at home within a community, of being able to trust one’s neighbours with closed eyes and an open heart, is another name for real peace. Everything else is just gloss and substitute.
 
Peace builders also point out that real peace is the work of several generations.
 
The troubles in Northern Ireland began in the late 1960s like most troubles between human beings anywhere in the world. Today, the population of Catholics and Protestants, if not at par, is only slightly in favour of Protestants. However, once upon a time the Protestants were 65 per cent of the total population and held 100 per cent power in the country.
 
When members of the minority Catholic community stood up to the status quo, the community was brutalised. Soon, each brutal incident was retaliated with one that was more brutal. Gradually, this led to such suspicion and hatred that neighbours forgot the good times they had shared and each began to further brutalise the other. It was the heart of darkness.
 
The tragedy is that the majority community in power reacted to the rebellion by members of the minority community by shrouding itself in an irrational fear of its own ethnic annihilation. Those who have lived through the start of the troubles describe the terror brought upon Catholic neighbourhoods where homes were wrecked and women tormented by policemen.
 
Once the social contract between the State and citizens was smashed, then what else but hell was let loose. Once the minority community had convinced itself that the State was no longer willing to protect it, it organised itself into deadly militias out of the debris of which was born Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, which has stood for political and economic independence from Great Britain and the unification of Ireland, and is the political branch of the Irish Republican Army. He is also a peacenik. The Northern Ireland tragedy is that politicians first poisoned the minds of the population against each other three decades ago and now they talk of peace. 
 
In India there is peace among the people — let us not allow politicians to poison that.     

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2011

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