As we approach the 11th night and the Orange Orders 12th of July celebrations for this year I’ve been reflecting on the changes that have occurred and how so many things remain the same. There is a depressing repetitive narrative each year surrounding this weekend and the fallout which often continues for a considerable period afterwards. From a broadly nationalist perspective there is a sense of incredulity at the perceived nihilistic, self destructive behaviour of the “bonfire crowd” as well as the, at best, ambiguous response of political unionism. I’m struck by the contrasting views withing unionism towards the whole thing. I also note that this year there are subtle changes.
Carrickally of this parish blogged eloquently on this blog last year about what the 12th meant to him. It was a welcome article and described a cultural celebration that was of great importance to him. It painted a picture of a day which threatened nobody and, although not something I would partake in, I would have no objections to. Unfortunately, Medusa like, there is more than one head to this snake. Unionism is famously diverse in its opinions and difficult to unify except in the face of a common threat. Therefore a common threat must be identified if political unionism is to endure and thrive. For the avoidance of doubt that threat has “traditionally” been the likes of me, my flag and my fellow citizens in this part of the world. The threat this year appears to be extended to Anna Lo, the virgin Mary, Pakistan, Poland, the people of Palestine and the Ivory Coast amongst others. I hear not a single unionist voice raised against this. Not one.
Yet I see subtle things. Perhaps I am mistaken. The Orange Order have actually discouraged violent protest this year. It is qualified but it is a start. It certainly makes a change from the threats of yesteryear. One of the most interesting contributions has been made by Sammy Wilson of all people. Read the last six paragraphs of this. A direct challenge to his party leader and the Orange Order I would think.
A vibrant self confident culture is one which finds expression in a celebration in the positive celebration of its virtues and which stands proudly anywhere in the world. A culture that finds expression in burning the flags and images of its perceived enemies is a culture that is dying. I would be happy to see Carickallys vision taking its place as part of the nation but until the ugly snake is confronted and defeated within the unionist community, until the silence is ended, until respect is shown instead of hypocritically demanded, that day is some distance off.