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Violence and the Sacred in Northern Ireland Duncan Morrow University of Ulster at Jordanstown For 25 years Northern Ireland has been a society characterized not so much by violence as by an endemic fear of violence. At a purely statistical level the risk of death as a result of political violence in Belfast was always between three and ten times less than the risk of murder in major cities of the United States. Likewise, the risk of death as the result of traffic accidents in Northern Ireland has been, on average, twice as high as the risk of death by political killing {Belfast Telegraph, 23 January 1994). Nevertheless, the tidal flow of fear about political violence, sometimes higher and sometimes lower but always present, has been the consistent fundamental backdrop to public, and often private, life. This preeminence of fear is triggered by past and present circumstances and is projected onto the vision of the future. The experience that disorder is ever close at hand has resulted in an endemic insecurity which gives rise to the increasingly conscious desire for a new order, for scapegoats and for resolution. For a considerable period of time, Northern Ireland has actively sought and made scapegoats but such actions have been ineffective in bringing about the desired resolution to the crisis. They have led instead to a continuous mimetic crisis of both temporal and spatial dimensions. To have lived in Northern Ireland is to have lived in that unresolved crisis. Liberal democracy has provided the universal transcendence of Northern Ireland's political models. Northern Ireland is physically and spiritually close to the heartland of liberal democracy: it is geographically bound by Britain and Ireland, economically linked to Western Europe, and historically tied to emigration to the United States, Canada, and the South Pacific. Nevertheless, 146Duncan Morrow Northern Ireland has continuously failed to obey the norms prescribed by the myths of liberal democracy. It has distinguished itself by the presence of systematic political violence and terrorism and by the ineffectiveness of its legal order to carry out the primary function of halting the cycle of revenge. In the myths of the West, disorder is generally attributed to individuals who live on the 'edge' ofthe community, to those who are ontologically different, as in the case of criminals, by virtue of existing 'outside' the community. This implies that the defiantly nonindividual public disorder of Northern Ireland is distinctly dysfunctional. As a result, Northern Ireland has been regarded as an aberration. Northern Ireland is mimetic not only with liberal democracy but also with Christianity. Christianity retains an importance within the society which is unusual in comparison to other countries of Europe. More than 80% of the population maintains an active involvement with a church (Stringer 5). Also, the immigration of non-Christian minorities, unlike in other parts of Europe, has been very limited. Institutional Christianity in Ireland nevertheless has not been successful in transcending; it has been frequently the axis of rivalry. As a result, the religious question is commonly reduced to an analysis of me failure of Christianity to transcend political division. Northern Ireland represents a strange space in the mimetic evolution of communities. Transcendence in the form of legal norms, of liberal democratic values such as human rights, and of Christianity has not entirely disappeared. Whereas historic and accepted structures of relationship such as family relations have diminished elsewhere, in Northern Ireland such structures still remain relatively intact. At the same time, fascination with mimetic violence has become a permanent feature of life. Everywhere people see in some 'other' the ontological face of evil and they seek to drive it out. Although liberal democracy and Christianity have prevented the conscious resolution of the crisis in all out violence, these institutions have failed to provide positive models of how to resolve that crisis in freedom. As someone bom and living in middle-class Northern Ireland, it is impossible for me to write about these themes without open acknowledgement of my own participation in, and belonging to, them. Not only do I live in Northern Ireland, but I, like many others, make much of my living from my indirect relationship to political conflict. Many of the feelings...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 145-164
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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