Hell raising in Portadown
BY FERN LANE
In Book One of that great Protestant biblical epic, John Milton's Paradise Lost, the angel Lucifer, newly cast into hell and reincarnated as Satan, considers his hopeless condition and then ``with obdurate pride and steadfast hate'' tells his cohorts ``To do aught good never will be our task/But ever to do ill our sole delight'', deciding that ``To reign is worth ambition though in hell/Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven'' and resolving to destroy the inhabitants of the newly-created Eden in bitter revenge.
Given current events, a belief that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven is what the Orange Order is really displaying when its mobs misappropriate the revolutionary dictum `Better to die on your feet than live on your knees'. The Order and its allies, it would seem, would rather rule the roost in a sectarian hell and burn the entire Six Counties to the ground in the process than serve the new political dispensation (although it is no Eden) as equal partners with their Catholic neighbours. What we are witnessing is the spectacle of Orangeism, of its own volition, dying on its feet.
The idea of Drumcree as the manifestation of a more generalised Protestant discontent with the peace process has entered into the political discourse of the Six Counties without any semblance of analysis of what such `discontent' is actually based upon or indeed whether it is valid. In the rush to understand the inner workings of unionism, Protestantism and then its loyalist exponents, whose psychotic cruelty knows no bounds, the question of whether this dissatisfaction has any moral legitimacy whatsoever has rarely been addressed; it has simply become a lazy way of explaining away the continuing chaos encouraged by the Order. The best that most political commentators can come up with is that the unionist community has had to tolerate the release of republican prisoners. That the nationalist community has to suffer the likes of Johnny Adair roaming the streets as part of the deal is not acknowledged.
What very few are willing to admit, from Peter Mandelson downwards, is that the discontent of the Orange Order and their paramilitary associates - and even many of those middle-class unionists who affect to sniff in disgust at the antics of their co-religionists - is based on nothing more than a sense of outrage. They are irate that those who feel themselves to be British are now expected to behave in a civilised manner towards those they see as alien and racially inferior (``a bunch of monkeys'', according to one of the Portadown brethren) and who they have traditionally excluded, bullied, abused and killed. A blind refusal to regard others, namely Catholics, as equal is the sum total of their dismay at the working out of the Good Friday Agreement, but nevertheless they expect - and, worse, are receiving from some influential quarters - sympathy for this inability to come to terms with the affront of seeing fenians in power.
Archbishop Robin Eames, for example, wrung his hands and said that he understands the `anger' of Orangemen, implying that this anger, energised by the Drumcree protest, is in itself legitimate so long as there is no violence. Even his very belated comments in the Irish Times on Tuesday have only had the effect of emphasising the Church of Ireland's moral cowardice up until now.
He could long ago have told Orangemen of the shame and ignominy they have visited on the name of Protestantism. He could have disowned all their protests and the justifications behind them without equivocation or qualification because he knows as well as anyone else of the unbridled supremacist tendencies which lie behind the demand to march without consent. He could also have pointed out the irony of a religious sect, which expends huge amounts of time and energy accusing Catholics of idolatry and slavery to their church, being engaged in the flagrant idolatry of believing that the combination of a strip of orange material and a piece of tarmac has talismatic powers upon which their very existence depends. And rather than half-heartedly telling the Orange Order that their current stance goes against their own brand of peace-loving, law-abiding christianity - an assertion not borne out by history - he could instead have told them that to use highly dubious interpretations of obscure biblical battles to justify fascist political action and sectarian violence is only a small step away from the manner in which the Nazis used Shakespeare to justify their persecution of the Jews.
Harold Gracey seems to spend his spare time scouring the Old Testament for references to anybody standing on a hill before attempting to bend them completely out of shape to serve as analogies for his own hopeless condition as he surveys the hell of his making. But the embodiment of this willingness to hand the mantle of discontent with the political system as well as the undeserved status of victim to the most recidivist elements within unionism, are to be found less in a scriptural analysis of Gracey's demented (and alarmingly ungrammatical) ravings than in the recent UDA threat to retaliate for completely fictional `attacks' by Catholics on Protestant homes. They made it up. They lied. There was absolutely no basis to their claims. But still, the threat and the reasoning behind it was carelessly recycled throughout the media - including on the main BBC news bulletins - for two days before anybody actually thought to check for facts behind the fiction. How much longer will the new cliché of `Protestant discontent' be repeated before government, church and media start to acknowledge what really lies behind it?