Much has been said about the parallels between the Northern Irish and Middle Eastern peace processes. In geopolitical terms comparisons are minimal, nevertheless de-legitimisation as a political tactic is a common and disreputable theme.
By the late 1980’s Sinn Fein (and by definition the Provisional IRA) recognised there was no prospect of uniting Ireland through political violence. The American, Irish and British governments worked (in the main, genuinely) as facilitators of the nascent peace process. There was no existential threat to Northern Ireland from a maniacal neighbour, and no history of attempted mass foreign invasion.
Constructive ambiguity, an incredulous negotiating device by which ‘all things meant all things to all men’ plagued the process for years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. 9/11 pushed Sinn Fein through a one-way-door; Irish America had to wash its hands of IRA support. With Britain shoulder to shoulder with George Bush and the ‘war on terrorism’ it was unimaginable that any support for Marxist terrorism would find acceptability.
Former US Senator, George Mitchell made an important contribution in Northern Ireland. Mitchell resigned as a Special Envoy to the Middle East just over a year ago, with little to show. Tony Blair is in all senses a ‘common denominator’, representing the Quartet and seemingly through hand-shakes, smiles and extensive foreign travel, attempting to deliver world peace (whilst providentially increasing his personal wealth).
The weasel words of de-legitimisation are politically loaded. Die-hard Irish republicans label Northern Ireland ‘the occupied six counties’. Their more house-trained comrades term it ‘the north of Ireland’ demonstrating their rejection of Northern Ireland’s status, first established under the 1922 Partition of Ireland.
De-legitimisation of the British identity in Northern Ireland is an important ‘post-terrorism’ strategy for republicans. Politicisation of policing, a culture of victimhood and dispossession, isolated cases of ministerial abuse and promotion of the Irish language and culture above all others are tangible illustrations.
Politically motivated, scurrilous and grossly offensive, de-legitimisation reared its ugly head this week at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. A Northern Ireland flag has reportedly been removed following complaints that it was ‘sectarian’. It was alongside Scottish, Welsh and English flags in the mess at Bastion 1. Troops from Northern Ireland form part of the British contingent serving in Afghanistan and throughout the generations have fought with great distinction in national and international conflicts.
Removal of the flag is abhorrent and an insult to the Ulster soldiers.
De-legitimisation is a widely employed tactic to undermine national and cultural identity. Be mindful of it, in all its forms.