Loyalism bears the brunt of much criticism, abuse and downright vilification. This comes from sections of the media, elected politicians, online satire sites, bloggers and wider civic society.
During the flag protests the term ‘flegger’ became common terminology. It was a mocking of the speech of working class loyalists, yet it was gleefully adopted and became a running joke for the media, politicians and civic society. It became a ‘fun and fashionable’ term for the great and good to use, a term that allowed a label to be attached to a community that felt isolated, misunderstood and without a stake in the current political process. A label that allowed the blame for all of society’s problems and frustrations to be lumped onto one community.
Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment- what if a derogatory term arose that was used to mock the Chinese community? There have been many unacceptable terms used to describe Chinese persons, some which wrongly mocked their race and some their accent, yet these terms have rightly been viewed with distain by the great and good and if one was to publicly label the Chinese community using one of these terms then the public outcry would be enormous. The great and good and wider political and civic society would be the first out of the traps condemning it, and rightly so. Yet when loyalists are mocked because of their speech, their education or cultural expression, it is seen as fair game- all a bit of craic.
When online sites such as LAD spent over two years targeting the loyalist community with jibes, jokes and mocking- political and civic society largely joined in with this. The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has often used the term fleg or flegger, as have vast numbers of journalists, bloggers and members of civic society. This has gone unchecked, it is seen as acceptable, but why? Would it be acceptable if the Chinese, Polish or Muslim community were mocked because of their speech or accent? Would it be acceptable for a website to set up an online campaign targeting the migrant community with jokes, mocking videos and cheap jibes? I would safely say that political and civic society would be up in arms, as would the media, so what is different when it is the loyalist community who is the target of the jokes and jibes?
Pastor James McConnell made some comments about Muslims and there was outrage, yet when Loyalists are mocked and derided the media and society either join in for the ‘craic’- or stay silent.
The imbalance is startling. Loyalism needs to challenge this unequal treatment and the attitude of wider society. Loyalism needs to challenge the accepted norm of labelling and abusing our community for a bit of ‘craic’. It isn’t a bit of craic when jokes are made about the migrant community or the disabled community, so why should society have a different tolerance level when it comes to loyalists?
Loyalism also needs to open up to the media and engage. Stereotypes and mistruths need to be challenged in the public battlefield, not from the trenches.
I can imagine the self righteous bloggers and satirists sitting sipping their gin and tonic during one of their gatherings or summer BBQ’s, laughing and mocking the loyalist ‘fleggers’, people they are unlikely to have ever met or had a conversation with.People who have very real fears and concern for their culture but who have no way of expressing that due to continued exclusion. People who have normal concerns and worries about feeding their families, paying rent or heating their homes.The jokes and mocking remarks directed against loyalists on twitter pages or blogging sites, met with an approving chuckle by the political class who are more than happy to look haughtily down their nose at one section of the community.Imagine if someone at one of these gatherings of the self righteous stood up and began to label the Polish community using derogatory terms or joked about the racial complexion of the Chinese community? The rest of the jolly good fellows and self appointed ‘politicos’ would immediately distance themselves from the remarks, heaping scorn on the vile racist who dared to make such a joke. So I ask again, why is it acceptable to target the loyalist community?
The onus is on society as a whole, but especially those who champion equality, to ensure that there are no double standards, that there is no hierarchy of who can be abused and who can’t.
Either every community is fair game to be targeted by jokes and jibes-for the craic- or else everyone is respected equally. The great and good can’t have it both ways.