Opinion

Jarlath Kearney: Joined-up approach needed to tackle the fascists - now

The Belfast Mela, held this Sunday in Botanic Gardens, is an example of how diversity is celebrated in Ireland. More similar initiatives are needed, says Jarlath Kearney. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.
The Belfast Mela, held this Sunday in Botanic Gardens, is an example of how diversity is celebrated in Ireland. More similar initiatives are needed, says Jarlath Kearney. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

FOR the fifth year, the Immigrant Council of Ireland is coordinating a major anti-racism campaign in partnership with Dublin City Council and Transport for Ireland.

Over 1,000 posters are appearing on the south's transport system - Dublin Bus, Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann, Transdev, Local Link bus services and the taxi industry.

It's an important awareness-raising initiative from Sr Stanislaus Kennedy's group.

Two actions could further assist the campaign's positive impact. First, the Irish government could swiftly introduce an effective 'hate crime' legislative framework in the south, thereby directly outlawing hate crime against protected minorities.

Second, the Immigrant Council's campaign could be embraced across the island of Ireland by partners here in the north.

After all, if Iarnród Éireann or Bus Éireann can cross the border and pull into Glengall Street station, then could joint campaigning against borderless racism not also be considered?

The priority must be both to protect and to celebrate the diversity of Ireland and its minorities. This pleads the logic of a 'one system' approach across the two states.

In Ireland today we need a reality check about what's ahead. Beyond the dewy fog of a nation successfully marketing our seaboard, sainthood and scholarship under a banner of trendy progress to the world, our society is, in truth, at some risk from the self-delusions of our own propaganda.

Organised fascism is marching across the streets and cities of our major cultural and political partners. A significant danger now exists that it could also muster with menace in Ireland. Racism is already socially embedded here.

Throughout Europe, fascists are rising. Marie Le Pen and the National Front received 11 million votes in France's recent presidential election - 11 million votes.

In Britain, in the context of the EU Brexit referendum, there was a substantial increase in the levels of reported racial hate crime against minorities - including in schools.

Speaking for the National Police Chiefs Council, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton commented: "We know that national and global events have the potential to trigger short-term rises in hate crime and we saw this following the EU Referendum last year."

It's worth noting that, in conjunction with the Policing Board, the PSNI is proactively placing a campaigning focus on hate crime and its under-reporting.

But it's in the United States that the spectre of organised fascism, with high-level political approval, has now wakened the world to the flaming cross on the doorstep.

Exactly 50 years ago, in his seminal 1967 work Chaos or Community, Dr Martin Luther King wrote: "Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life... It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future.

"Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual or physical homicide upon the out-group."

We are witnessing that precise reality scorching across the northern hemisphere today.

So there is an onus of morality and humanity upon democrats - from all backgrounds - across Ireland to coordinate and campaign collectively.

We need to challenge the rancid curse of racism and dark shadow of fascism through a stronger, more effective criminal justice framework.

Organised fascism is marching across the streets and cities of our major cultural and political partners. A significant danger now exists that it could also muster with menace in Ireland. Racism is already socially embedded here

But we also need public policy and focused resources to liberate the sunlight of our diversity by positively promoting and celebrating achievements and aspirations, particularly those emerging from within minority sectors.

A couple of weeks ago, BBC News broadcast a significant package by journalist Colleen Harris about diversity in the mainstream acting industry. It's an industry that shapes many of our cultural norms.

The report focused on the success of Identity, Britain's first black drama school formed in London in 2003. Almuni include Star Wars actor John Boyega.

Identity founder Femi Oguns said that "rather than join the chorus of complaint" about lack of diversity, he had decided to do something about it and challenge the status quo narrative.

"We develop this whole sense of worth. You have to celebrate your sense of purpose and you have to realise you are the architect of your own fortune."

That's a tremendously powerful idea. Initiatives like Identity show how courage and creativity can redirect the intended humiliation of systemic discrimination into a highway of meaningful hope and new opportunity.

We're lucky to have some such powerful initiatives here in Ireland.

Even on Saturday, Foyle Pride will be celebrating the LGBT community in Derry, while on Sunday the wonderful Mela Festival takes place in Botanic Gardens in Belfast.

But they're not yet enough. We need more. We need them all across this island. We need them joined up. And we need them today.