Easter was marred for Polish families living in North Belfast who were the targets of hate crime. It is not the first time. In May last year The Guardian reported the Polish Consul’s concern about attacks on families living in East Belfast. At that time the PSNI were reporting a 40% increase in race and hate crimes, mostly in the greater Belfast area.
Driven from their homes, these families will carry with them the scars that run deep into their souls. When one part of the human family turns on another the crime is as deep as betrayal and as dangerous as any physical attack in its emotional implications. The attempt to expunge, shame or drive out any human being is an affront to the united and diverse community we are attempting to build in Northern Ireland. It is also an abuse that any society calling itself ‘human’ cannot and should not tolerate.
One of our public representatives said to me that condemning hate crime is not enough on its own. She is right. In the slippage that comes with electioneering, when hearts and minds are focussed on winning one battle, eyes are further off the ball than usual. There is no doubt that for some time there has been slippage in rebuilding communities. The peace dividend runs thin and we have not yet sourced the tools, energies and values to build for the future. We need to do more than fixate on matters of the past, which can be addressed with political will and societies cooperation, and condemn the things of the present. We need to find ways to sources tools, energies and values from the future we want to reach. Hating hate crime is not enough.
From my perspective, one of the sources for energy in dangerous and challenging times is the Bible. My tradition is rooted back into more generations than I can count, back to the children of Israel who travelled by the call of God into futures often unknown. Even when settlement came new challenges presented themselves. The words of Deuteronomy 10 have sung out like a constant refrain in the history of those who stand in the Judaeo-Christian tradition:
The Lord defends the rights of orphans and widows. He cares for foreigners and gives them food and clothing. And you should also care for them, because you were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10 vv18-19
Recalling our history of being strangers in a strange land evokes the memory of strangeness and the importance of welcome in which is found security, safety and the kind of human flourishing that comes from knowing that we belong to the one human family.
Northern Ireland has a community history of ‘putting people out’. That is one of the things of the past that we will have to leave behind if we are to build the future in which community, human community in all its diversity, is cherished. We are challenged to find ways to unite against hate and to dredge up, from our various cultures and traditions, what we need to inform us for tools, energies and values that are future focussed.
Race and other hate crimes –
Somewhere in the stories about the Polish families we almost lost sight of another hate crime, this time against a disabled person. You can read the story here:
You can make a difference here:
Just another example of how we strike at the dignity of another human being. Enough is enough. The destruction operates at every level of our beings and erodes our humanity. If you have never been the victim of a hate crime you are unlikely to know the level of emotional abuse that is experienced by that person and indeed by their family who have loved and cared for them in self-sacrificing ways.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.