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In Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics unite against minorities

By John Nagle, Slate

 For the rest of the world, Northern Ireland already has a notorious reputation for religious intolerance and sectarian hatred.

Despite the 1998 peace accord to end 30 years of violent conflict, Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided society, and the appearance of intense residential segregation, separate schooling and low levels of mixed marriage are a serious problem.

But Northern Ireland has now put in a bid to be seen as a haven for equal opportunity bigots, demonstrating its capacity to broaden the local sphere of intolerance to embrace groups outside of the traditional Catholic/Protestant dualism.

First, a leading Protestant preacher announced that "Islam is Satanic." The pastor's reputation was defended by the leader of Northern Ireland's government, Peter Robinson. Robinson added, somewhat peculiarly, that while he doesn't trust Muslims who practice Sharia law, he would "trust them to go to the shops" for him.

 

Then, Anna Lo — a local Northern Irish politician originally from Hong Kong — threatened to leave politics after experiencing racist threats and abuse.

In 2004, Belfast was awarded the dubious honor of "Europe's race hate capital" after a series of racist attacks.

In 2009, around 20 Roma families were forced to flee their homes in Belfast in the aftermath of sustained racist attacks from local gangs.

Recent research notes increasing numbers of attacks against ethnic minorities. Sexual minorities are also the targets of hate crime in Northern Ireland. In 2013, there were 246 homophobic incidents reported to the police, the highest number of incidents ever recorded. In June that year, Northern Ireland's biggest political party used its power of veto to block the legalization of same-sex marriage.

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