Throughout history and certainly , as I am seeing, throughout Northern Ireland, the struggles and potential hopes for a bright future are similar. It really doesn’t matter if we put a different name or place on it, be it the struggles from both sides in Northern Ireland, during the times of The Troubles, through Bloody Sunday, to today, with conflicts and sectarianism in other communities: Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, or previous conflicts in Kosovo, Sarajevo, Russia/ Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan, Burma/Myanmar, Vietnam, India/Pakistan…..the faces change but the issue remains the same. When are differences things to be celebrated, accepted, acknowledged, and welcomed….without discrimination, hatred, acts of violence, or just plain mean-spirited-ness? Is there a place on this earth where differences are actually welcomed? Without unkindness?
I am struck by the Bogside Artists’ Peoples’ Murals, several of which we saw today in Derry. Each depicted the peoples’ struggles during The Troubles….turbulent times facing the people in Northern Ireland, and in particular, Derry and Belfast, coming to a cataclysmic tragedy with the events of Blood Sunday on January 30, 1972 (see the Bloody Sunday Trust website, a true historically unbiased version of events leading up to this incident, for background) - http://www.bloodysundaytrust.org/index-02.html . The innocent people – men, women and children. Participants in the struggle for Civil Rights. There were a lot of innocent people killed that day……and many injured…..what came after was the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Peace in the air…or is it? For the most part, this observer sees that at least on the surface, it is. However, little nuances linger – the man describing the Troubles as being between ‘this side and that side’ – choosing instead not to identify sides, perhaps for fear of giving his own allegiances away…or perhaps wanting to maintain the uneasy peace which has tenuously prevailed all these years – or the lady in the shop telling a group of us when we informed her we were here studying history – The Troubles – and she says, “Well, there’s a lot of history here.” Or was it the worker who solicitously directed several in our ‘tour’ group towards a section of town that ‘was better to shop there.’ Who knew? Or maybe was it the youth who were brazenly taking down some flags at night, unhurriedly and without a seeming care in the world. I still don’t know for certain if they were part of the flag protest or they were up to youthful hijinx.
On the good news side, there was the elderly shopkeeper working in a section of ‘Ulster’ who clearly and proudly identified some of the products I had purchased as “Truly Made in Ireland”. And so they are.
I think at least thus far, the peace work that has started, and continues, still has a way to go. But until the younger generation is taught the way of peace at an early age, and until those who still can remember ‘those times’ lets go of hatred and sectarianism – at least from a subtle perspective, there still is a wee bit of a way to go. There’s always hope.