Northern Ireland conflict informs America
This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland and Ireland as a part of Seattle Pacific University’s Celtic Literature and Culture study abroad program.
At first this experience does not seem immediately applicable to a psychology major like myself. However, I love to write, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to read and write while learning about a rich culture with a far longer history than our own.
I did not expect the experience to be so relevant to issues back home.
Northern Ireland has been the stage for religious conflict between historically Catholic Irish and the historically Protestant English and Scottish, who were planted in Northern Ireland under British rule.
Although this conflict is less extreme than the period of Irish history dubbed “The Troubles,” they still represent a wound in modern Irish culture.
These religious conflicts have become tribal in nature; locals now ask loaded questions in attempts to determine if someone is Protestant or Catholic.
Even though blatant fighting in the streets has ceased, thanks to the Good Friday Accords, it is obvious that a very present tension exists between the two groups.
These signs can serve as a lens to examine our own country.
Political parties and different religious affiliations have been reaching breaking points over the past few years. The more divisions that have cropped up over the years, the more violence and tension has been created.
For example, the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland is known for its peace walls, which the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.
While these walls have served as a protective means in some cases, more often than not they have served to further the divide between Belfast’s inhabitants.
A similar example of this division of people in the name of protection can be found in President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall separating Mexico and the United States.
This wall, just as the walls in Belfast, is advertised as one borne from a necessity, in order to increase safety. The reality is that walls only serve to exacerbate situations.
They have continued to widen the divide between Catholics and Protestants, and they would place a wedge between Americans and Mexicans.
While political parties in the US are not strictly affiliated with religious groups, any US citizen can see a reflection of Ireland’s conflicts when questions of policy are thrown about in conversation.
These seemingly casual conversations about politics can become ways to probe out which party a person supports, causing a division between individuals if they do not support the same political party.
It is important to be wary of these divisions and educate oneself on what can come of these differences.
While America has not experienced oppression in the same way that Northern Ireland has, especially during the period that has now been dubbed the “Troubles,” in recent years division between the American people has become more severe.
With incidents such as the Charlottesville protest and the #MeToo movement, it is hard to deny that society as a whole is waking up to unjust practices and is ready to fight oppressors.
This in of itself is not a bad thing. However, if we are not careful, this could lead to America looking like Northern Ireland, culturally fractured and divided.
History tells us if we do not learn from it, then we are doomed to repeat it.