GUEST BLOG by Brian John Spencer
They make grand claims and wield arbitrary power over a moderate majority and you can do absolutely nothing about it. Nothing. You have to shut up and put up. Less you be a snob. Less you be seriously assaulted.
Upon this equation the progressive majority have long-time been silenced. They are the muzzled moderate. This is the worst kind of censorship: Self-censorship and prior-restraint. Silence is enforced by two means. First, by the charge of being a "snob". Second, by the use of fear and intimidation. Let's look at each in turn.
Firstly, being the "snob". This is the standard charge laid against myself and others who speak against the worst elements within loyalism. And it comes from two sources, liberals and loyalists.
You get it from liberals like Ed Simpson who err towards indulging and nurturing those who commit promiscuous violence. You can be accused of being snobbish, elitist or intolerant for simply saying criticising the most extreme within the working-classes.
History will surely judge this an abject failure. A failure on the part of liberals for their inability to stand by their principles and fight movements, which are sectarian, homophobic and racist. This “liberal formula” is an illiberal bar on free expression. This “liberal formula” is not a recipe for pluralism or multiculturalism. To the contrary, this formula is the exploitation of pluralism for use against this very concept. This is a victory for bigotry, the anti-plural and anti-multicultural.
Then you get it from loyalists like Jamie Bryson who want to whitewash their responsibility by smearing people like me as a "snob" and in one swipe render my view and my voice worthless. For as Newton Emerson said: "ever since the Good Friday Agreement, [snobbery] seems to be the only crime you can commit in Northern Ireland." Alex Massie spoke in equal terms here, that being offensive has become "the greatest sin imaginable."
Upon this first formula we must not hurt the feelings of the vandal. This is horrendous. This is what Christopher Hitchens calls "multicultural masochism". Upon this formula, the violent vandal has the whip-hand over the muzzled moderate, and you can say nothing.
Secondly, fear and intimidation as a means to shut out criticism and unwelcome views. The whole history of Northern Ireland has been of a very violent minority who racketeer, blackmail and extort the progressive moderate. By this equation, the whole history of Northern Ireland has been of the best leaving as social and economic emigrants, or staying and speaking out against deviants and feeling the heavy hand of intimidation and violent attack.
Think Edgar Graham. As Alex Kane said, "All we need to know, and remember, is that was killed because he was an enemy of all paramilitarism." Upon this second formula, the worst in society are beyond reproach. The best are hostage to news-talk and fear. This is abhorrent and a perversion.
What are we to do? Loyalists and other extremists are not beyond reproach. They do not hold a special privilege in society. There is no specialist branch of ethics known as loyalist exceptionalism. They have committed and continue to conduct unpardonable behaviour and must be held to account. For too long extremists have been long-nurtured, never checked. For too long we have bent the knee to madness for fear of being a “snob” and for fear of violence.
Having experienced the absolute absence of opportunity in Northern Ireland and felt the searing of indifference of politicians to that absence, I have made it my mission to speak boldly, openly and freely to call out hypocrisy, corruption and mismanagement wherever I see it. And this applies to loyalists and other extremists who hope, wish and intend to turn Northern Ireland into a bucket shop. I in turn hope, wish and intend their containment and call to account.
I want to utterly expose their absolute absence of ideas or alternatives. This means speaking plain English. It means calling a spade a spade. A violent vandal, a vandal. A racketeering gangster, a racketeering gangster. It also requires you to be provocative. As Peter Tatchell said, dismantling hidebound orthodoxies requires people to be contentious, disputatious, uncivil and even rude.
Change does not come by the moderate’s tradition of speech that is staid, dull and conformist and terrified of offending people. This is cowardly, shameful and masochistic. You cannot tolerate intolerant bigots and vandals. Those who play nicey-nice and stand indifferent are approvers, colluders and sustainers of delinquency (albeit tacit).
The muzzled moderate needs to become the unmuzzled-muscular-moderate. The aggressive progressive. They need to abandon their habit of neutered speech, cleansed of anything even slightly contentious, colourful or offensive. As Tom Hickey said here, the young and the moderates need to adopt the skills of contestation. As The Quilliam Foundation said in their policy document here, the moderate needs to adopt the doctrine of ‘civil intolerance’.
“Ideas and ideologies that sow division, bigotry and hatred such as those that may eventually lead to terrorism should not and cannot be left unchallenged in our society. Here, a doctrine of ‘civil intolerance’ is encouraged.”I’m on board with civil intolerance and contestation. I ask: are you with me?