Belfast's Troubles Echo in Today's Washington

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tags: Northern Ireland, political violence, Troubles, Ian Paisley

I’ve seen this film before — and I didn’t like the ending.

Violence roiling a society. Soldiers on the streets. Lawmakers in fear that their colleagues will conspire to harm them.

The insurrectionary violence of Jan. 6 ripped away an assurance that many Americans felt — that such strife occurs in other places, not here.

Those of us who come from some other places feel a painful thud of familiarity and a growing dread of what may be to come.

I was born in Belfast in 1974. 

The conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles was by then — depending on when exactly you date its start — four or five years old.

By the time the worst phase of the conflict ended with the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, more than 3,600 people had been killed. Those deaths overwhelmingly took place in an area with a population of 1.9 million — roughly the same as Nebraska.

In some ways, the contours of The Troubles are very different from the current American moment. Rival national identities and naked religious sectarianism loomed large.

But there are huge and ominous similarities. 

The biggest is a grim equation that holds true everywhere — incendiary words lead to incendiary deeds.

During my youth, the most dangerous demagogue was the late Rev. Ian Paisley.

Paisley was a fundamentalist Protestant preacher and an ambitious politician. 

His appeal was built on three often-repeated claims: the majority Protestant population of Northern Ireland was being undercut by a subversive minority; the “plain people” were being sold out by a traitorous establishment elite; and he alone could save them.


Read entire article at The Hill