A large majority of Belfast is sick. No, not from tainted eggs from the United States, but from a petty, chauvinistic, force-you-to-roll-your-eyes, want-to-be legitimate conflict that is run by the city's confused twenty-somethings and supported by few.
Let's take a quick look back at what was the "real" conflict in Northern Ireland and what the city's morale was like. This comes from what I was told by several, probably hundreds of people, from both sides of the conflict while I lived there from 2005 to 2007.
Men, either from the UDA, UVF or IRA, wore balaclavas while they did TV and press conferences announcing their paramilitary group's stance on certain political issues, while a lot of people at home cheered or jeered with passion. Bombs blew up entire buildings. Huge marches proclaimed civil rights abuses. Cities like Derry became divided by a river and inspired U2 songs. The world watched as two groups of people fought over land and borders (side note: not religious differences).
Paramilitary groups had started as gangs trying to defend neighborhoods. Gangs amalgamated and then took on names. Weapons came in, and people moved away from each other to stay safe. There was passion behind the violence and group's like Sinn Fein garnered support from that passion.
The violence culminated from rising tensions between the two communities and leftover bitterness from generations fighting for, say, 800 years.
Then President Clinton went over in 1998, talked to Tony Blair for a bit, brought over his buddy George Mitchell, who called David Trimble and John Hume, and then they all hashed out a big "Agreement" to stop the Troubles (Ian Paisley hid in the corner, pouting). It was the first major stopping point to the violence, people actually believed in it and it caused major, positive changes.
Since 1998, and probably during the lulls of violence of the late 90s, the people of Belfast have moved on from those darker days. Paramilitary members who were let out of jail rarely re-offend. Integrated schools have been built. Many people are moving across town into what are known as "mixed areas." Cross-community projects were state-funded and some, like the Ulster Project, were highly successful. And the majority young people of Belfast carry on as if the Troubles never happened, making friends across nationalistic lines without a care in the world - like it should be!
Not surprisingly but definitely unfortunately, the US and UK media fail to show such improvements. Instead, they only show scuffles that happen in Belfast's most violent neighborhoods, they show the riots that, yes, still happen, and they show the politicians at Stormont arguing or refusing to actually enact the Good Friday Agreement, now 12 years old. (They apparently finally finished the thing two years ago, but hey, who knows with those guys).
What an absolute disservice that has been to the forward thinking people of Belfast, whose numbers are very, very populous. To give legitimacy to the pathetic members of groups like the Real IRA or the UDA, to show video to the world of jobless thugs throwing petrol bombs in Ardoyne, North Belfast and parts of the West, and to legitimize any of the politicians who have a history of paramilitary membership or, in some cases, murder as being actual problem solvers is so, so sad.
The bombs being set today are immediately condemned by Northern Ireland's politicians - but that means nothing to me, at least. More important, they're condemned by nearly 90% of the city. Maybe even 95%. People in that city can't stand to watch the news or have to drive to a detour because police are searching for an apparent bomb. And when they travel to other countries, foreigners ask them, "What is it like to be from Belfast, oooooh?" What's it like? It's like being from London, Dublin, Edinburgh or Glasgow - fish and chips, a jolly old time, plenty of beers, modern fashion, great music and friendly people!
I once met with one of the highest-ranking members of the IRA in his home. While my opinions on him are shaky, even he said he thought that today's members of the Real IRA were fighting a unknown battle that certainly was not the battle he had grown up fighting. And I heard the same from the old school members of the UDA and UVF. They want nothing to do with it.
The people are sick of it, the men who fought in the streets back in the 70s, 80s and 90s are shaking their heads at it. But the politicians of Northern Ireland aren't doing enough to keep the Agreement going, or, to truly enact it.
I liken this to a schoolyard brawl: the co-principals (Blair and Clinton) came outside with some help (Mitchell/Hume/Trimble) when they saw everyone fighting and they broke it up. Then, they decided their job was done, and passed the torch of power and office to other leaders (McGuinness/Robinson, etc). These new leaders didn't just not doing anything to help the situation - they made it worse. In this new age of supposed Northern Ireland reform, they sometimes even refused to shake hands in public! At some junctures, they wouldn't speak to each other for months! Who are the schoolchildren in this case? I'm so confused!
And as it is my shtick, sports have been doing so much more for the good of that city than many other avenues of reconciliation. Two of my best friends, one a Protestant, the other a Catholic, had been running a semi-pro basketball club in Belfast with an equal protestant/catholic ratio for years while local politicians sat on the sidelines. William "Plum" Smith, the only truly converted former paramilitary member I ever met, started "Belfast United," a soccer program that's been uniting rivaling youth from the Falls and Shankill Road since he was let out of prison in 1998.
As two of the former members of the Belfast Bulldogs, a Full Court Peace integrated team, said of last week's bombing in Lurgan, "We think it's a disgrace that this minority of people are trying to look back and cause trouble in Northern Ireland. We're looking forward and nothing can break the bond we've formed as teammates."
So when you see a story on Northern Ireland that is really about its misdirected youth causing violence, throw the media's message in the garbage, ignore the "condemning" politicians and try and think of the vast majority of "Nor'n Iron" that could care less about the differences their ancestors held Irish grudges over.
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