Getting to grips with the politics of hate
2018-07-15 15:11:06 -
By Mohammed Samaana

It is a hot summer in Belfast, and the soaring temperature is only expected to get higher — especially as the US Confederate flag flies in the city, and different racist groups come to the city centre in large numbers. 

I attended the counter-protest when the far right held their first rally in support of Tommy Robinson, founder of the racist England Defence League, who is serving a 13-month prison sentence for contempt of court. It was shocking to see no less than 150 people attending the racist rally. Some of them were carrying British and Israeli flags and giving a Nazi salute. 

For their second rally, the people of Belfast came out in force to say no to racism, with the racists being well outnumbered by the counter protesters. While the racists were waving the union jack, they really echo views better represented by the Nazi flag, the banner of those who inflicted suffering on tens of millions of human beings simply because they saw them as inferior. 

It took millions of soldiers from different nations, including Britain and Ireland, to sacrifice their lives in order to defeat the Nazis. And like myself, I’m sure the vast majority would find it insulting that these racists are waving the same union jack which was carried by the soldiers who fought against Hitler’s armies.
At the heart of organising and hosting these racist rallies is Jolene Bunting — a councillor for the Greater Shankill Area, originally as a candidate for the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), and the only elected representative in Northern Ireland with links to the far right. 

There were issues with some of her previous social media posts in relation to anti-Catholic sectarianism which led to her resignation from the TUV last year. Ideally, you would think that she should have been pushed by the TUV before she jumped. But here she is, still standing as an independent councillor at Belfast City Hall.

But apart from her sectarian views, it’s Bunting’s strong connections with the far right — especially Britain First — that put her in the spotlight after leaving the TUV. The combination of these associations and her already troubling social media screeds resulted in more than 100 complaints being filed against her to the Local Government Commissioner for Standards. The commissioner’s office confirmed that an investigation into Buntings’s conduct is underway. Prior to that, several sources at Belfast City Hall said she would be disqualified from standing in the next year’s council elections. It is only right that people who hold such extremist views are banned from public office.

However, the most important thing if we want to defeat racism is to analyse and understand Bunting’s transformation from an ordinary working-class young woman who went through the ranks of the TUV and then threw herself into the arms of extremism. Her journey to the far right reminds me of a similar journey that took Ann Cooper from the same TUV to unsuccessfully stand as a candidate for the racist BNP during the 2011 NI Assembly election. Unfortunately, she also jumped before she was pushed.

I believe that understanding this transformation is important in order to stop more people moving to the politics of hate.

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.
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