The peaceful protest against the planned Pegida rally in Dublin on Saturday was a positive demonstration of how citizens should respond when they believe that a political movement is threatening our democracy. The street thuggery that happened beside it does not reflect the aims or methods of the peaceful protesters, and it undermines the campaign against Pegida. Violence, and incitement to violence, cross a dangerous line for human rights and democracy.
A group called Anti Fascist Action Ireland has admitted responsibility for the thuggery, claiming it was organised by the AFA, Irish republicans, anarchists, socialists and football casuals. Football casuals are better known as football hooligans, not primarily known for their political or human rights expertise. But, while the pseudo military terminology of the AFA statement may seem comical, it is describing organised criminal assaults on the streets of Dublin.
We should always strive to protect democracy and human rights, through a mix of civil society advocacy, public meetings, public rallies, political lobbying, direct involvement in politics, and legal challenges, while both respecting the role of the police in upholding the law, and opposing miscarriages of justice. We should do so peacefully, while respecting the rights of others to hold beliefs contrary to ours, as long as they do not take actions that infringe on others’ rights, and while we robustly criticise the content of their beliefs.
I have spent decades involved in such campaigns against IRA and loyalist terrorism, unlawful killings by the Irish and British States, other criminal activity, miscarriages of justice from the Birmingham Six to the Tallaght Two, political corruption including the European Investment Bank scandal, Catholic Church domination of Ireland’s laws and schools, the outlawing of contraception, homosexuality, divorce and abortion, and human rights abuses by Islamist States against Muslims and people of other religions and none.
I have always supported the right of others to promote their political beliefs peacefully and democratically, even when I strongly disagree with those beliefs and find them dangerous. For example, I opposed the IRA and Sinn Fein, and also opposed the Irish and British broadcasting bans against them. I believe the best response to bad ideas is better ideas, and I might discover during the process that I am mistaken about their ideas. But a line is crossed when any group moves from persuasion to violence, as happened in Dublin on Saturday.
Statement from Anti Fascist Action Ireland
This is how the Anti Fascist Action group described the criminal assaults on Saturday in a statement on their Facebook page.
“Over 2,000 people from all across the island took over the Pegida Ireland meeting point at the GPO from 1.30pm. This broad anti-Racist demonstration was supported by all the main left-wing political parties and migrant support groups.
There were separately up to 200 militants divided up throughout the northside of the city made up of AFA, Irish republicans from many groups, anarchists, socialists and a significant number of football casuals from the four main Dublin clubs.
Utilising key intelligence, the leadership of Identity Ireland/Pegida Ireland including Peter O’Loughlin and Ian Noel Peeke were confronted on the Luas (tram system) as they made their way into the city centre around 2.30pm. With their egos, among other things, battered and bruised – they quickly headed back to their cars at the Red Cow roundabout never even making it to O’Connell Street.
A group of around twelve Polish right-wing hooligans were then monitored as they met in their favoured pub Brannigan’s on Cathedral Street off O’Connell Street. This group attempted to head to the GPO but were routed and chased all the way down North Earl Street by a large group of militant anti-Fascists. Seeking temporary refuge at one stage in a ‘2 euro’ discount shop.
This group made it back to Brannigan’s where they were surrounded by anti-Fascists. Numbers were bolstered as hundreds sprinted up from the main anti-Racist demo. The fascists’ safety was only made possible by a large number of Gardai and members of the Public Order Unit who baton charged the crowd. The Garda Mounted Unit and the Garda Dog Unit were also deployed throughout the day.
A separate group of around seven Polish right-wing hooligans were physically confronted later in the day near the Jim Larkin statue on O’Connell Street.
Later in the afternoon, another group of around eight Polish right-wing hooligans were thumped and chased out of Murrays pub on O’Connell Street.”
Incitement to violence
I discussed these attacks on Twitter on Sunday, and I’m genuinely shocked that some people not only refused to condemn thugs attacking people on the streets of Dublin, but in some cases implicitly or explicitly endorsed it with language that could incite further violence.
Two psychological methods are commonly employed to justify or avoid condemning injustice. They were both used by some people on all ‘sides’ during the Northern Ireland conflict, and I saw them again in online discussions of Saturday’s street thuggery.
The first method is ‘What-about-ery.’ This involves avoiding addressing injustices by people who share your aims or your enemies, by asking ‘what about’ people on ‘the other side’ who also behave unjustly.
The other method is dehumanising the people who are being attacked by labelling them with the most extreme words you can use. In the context of Saturday’s attacks, some people have labeled the victims as ‘fascists,’ ‘Nazis,’ ‘scum,’ and (ironically in the context of supposed anti-fascism) foreigners.
Using those two psychological methods, some good people have said in conversation with me that chasing people off streets is fine, that hitting them is fine, that it was only a few slaps, that it wasn’t top of their worries, and that people aren’t too bothered if these people are beaten up.
I’m not identifying the authors, because I want to focus on their ideas, and because I believe that they mistakenly believe that they are defending democracy and human rights. I hope that they will come to realise that street thuggery is incompatible with democracy and human rights.