Savagery by any other name

Sadly, innocent blood has once again been shed in Northern Ireland. Last week in County Londonderry Kevin McDaid was beaten to death by a mob who had left a football match, gone drinking and from there to his Catholic area. According to various media, McDaid was a "community worker" committed to helping reduce tensions in his area. Here's the lede from the story posted on the Times Online website:

A Roman Catholic man was beaten to death and another is in a critical condition after a sectarian attack in Northern Ireland on Sunday.

Kevin McDaid, a 49-year-old community worker dedicated to easing sectarian tensions, was attacked outside his home in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, by a mob of up to 40 youths while out looking for his children. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said last night that nine people had been arrested in connection with Mr McDaid's death.

I wish that the writer had explained what McDaid was doing in the community prompt cooperation between neighbors. It's a sad irony that he doesn't seem to have been picked because he was helping residents learn to get on with each other, but simply because he went to help a friend who was being beaten by loyalist thugs after the football match. But I do think that Times writer Sharrock uses the right word when he calls the attack "sectarian" instead of religious. The ingredients that go into the animosity between Protestant and Catholic in Northern Ireland are complex, but seem much more centered on economic issues, culture and history than they do on religious differences.

There's a fascinating and disturbing article by Henry McDonald on the website about the rise in Northern Irish hate crimes where professor Dr. Peter Shirlow, who has studied the phenomenon of hate crimes extensively, makes precisely this point ( great minds think alike).

Commenting on McDaid's murder on 24 May, the Queen's University Belfast academic said: "It's all very well for politicians in the Northern Ireland assembly to condemn [such] murders . But there is no serious attempt to tackle sectarianism at its roots. No one is challenging the people as to why some of them are sectarian. And no serious effort is being made to encourage communities to confront the issue of why there is still so much sectarian division in our society.

"If you listen to unionist politicians during this European election campaign, all they talk about is more money for Protestant areas. They emphasise only one community instead of talking about a shared, united society. So if politicians are fighting a resource war for their rival communities then it's no wonder those communities still the other side as the enemy."

So why are these hate crimes termed "religious" when they are as much, if not more about a struggle for resources -- and about bias? The writer goes on to quote Northern Ireland's community relations council asserting the need to grapple with the issue of "structural sectarianism." That's rather different than a religious hate crime.

By and large the articles in the British and Northern Irish press which I saw used the word "sectarian" instead of "religious." That's one possible signal that, after many years of viewing this as a faith-based confliict, the media (as well as the politicians and social service agencies) are widening the lens with which they view the forces that drive bigotry in Northern Ireland.

By the way -- the YouTube clip I've included is long, but well worth watching, both for the time it spends on the McDaid killing and for the fabulous interview with Graham Spiers, the Times sports correspondent at the end talking about the issue of fan-related violence in Scotland. He seems to indicate that the U.K. sports media have been proactive in trying to combat bigotry among both soccer/football players and fans.

Have the bias problems and the violence in soccer and football become so horrible that sports commentators now are trying to be a moral force in U.K. society?

There hasn't been much coverage of this killing over here in the United States -- I wonder why not.

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