What can we do to fight racism in NI?
2018-09-01 17:05:56 -
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By Mohammed Samaana

 

Last time I wrote about the rise of the far right in Belfast ,where the largest racist rally in the history of the North was held this summer. Since then, independent unionist councillor Jolene Bunting, who hosted the far right rallies, was proscribed by Britain First after allegations of her involvement in the theft of £1,000 from the credit card of the party’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen.

However much has been written about the far right, its activities and racist ideas, the main issue remains how to combat the far right and racism in general. The challenges facing the anti-racism movement include those from within, as it becomes more active as a reaction to racism and racist attacks instead of being proactive in order to prevent them. This usually takes the form of a number of activists coming together with an informal structure to organise counter-protests and public meetings, and then it dies out. There is a need to have solid structures that lead long-term proactive work against racism in order to prevent more bigotry. We all know that prevention is better than cure.

Another problem facing the movement is that despite its broad base of support, which includes trade unions, churches, charities, human rights groups and political parties, it is divided and fragmented. These divisions have weakened the movement. While being united in one group might be difficult for different reasons, networking and communication will make it more effective.

External challenges are varied. One important one is the media. The story of alleged theft involving far-right extremists mentioned above received scant media attention, while the story of the release of EDL founder the Tommy Robinson from prison after an appeal court decision quashed contempt of court charges received maximum publicity.

When I lived briefly in Oxford, there was a story about a far-right extremist in the region who possessed arms and explosives. The local media covered the story but it was not mentioned during the national news bulletins, where violent attacks on minorities are often overlooked. The media also presented immigration as a problem with a focus on negative stories when it came to ethnic minorities. This needs to be challenged with well organised campaigns. The media also needs to call neo-Nazis violence what it is: terrorism.

Social media is another important battleground. There is a need to use it as a tool to challenge media bias and to tell the reality about immigration, and the contribution made by immigrants and ethnic minorities. It is also essential to use it to challenge the myths and ‘fake news’ used by the far right to spread hate and fear.

Considering the nature of Northern Irish society and its sectarian divisions, efforts must be made to ensure that any work to combat racism is cross-community. It is important that politicians from both sides speak out against racism, and that punitive — not protective — action is taken against politicians who make racist remarks.

Another issue is the absence of Stormont and a functioning executive in the North, where the criminal justice system is still failing ethnic minorities. It is still the case that more work needs to be done in order to have stronger hate crime legislation.

These are only some proposals that need to be developed and added to, as the struggle against racism is much more complex.

 

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast.

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