It is a common, and at times cynically perpetuated analysis that those who are opposed to the peace process are by extension opposed to peace. Or that those who want to express their single identity culture are sectarian bigots. This simple, narrow and broad brush approach is often used by those who seek to suppress and silence dissenting viewpoints, quite often to suit their own political agenda or by those who wish to neutralise single identity cultural expression.
Republicans lament anyone from the Protestant community that dares to dissent or resist the pro peace process mood music as ‘sinister elements’ or declare that anyone articulating an opposing viewpoint is ‘hostile to peace’ or that such persons only want to go back to the ‘bad old days’. Anyone who dares to celebrate their culture- even strenuous pro agreement advocates within the PUL community- are sectarian bigots.
Common sense would tell you that Sinn Fein wants to suppress and demean any anti-agreement Unionist voices because the peace process is the greatest weapon they ever had, and they are using it to their full advantage to wage an unrelenting attack on the PUL community.
Supporting this suppression of any form of dissent we also have those who self-identify as the ‘silent majority’ or as Brian John Spencer (a blogger) referred to the group he purports to be a part of- ‘the muzzled majority’.
A respected academic remarked to me only this week that when you read Brian John Spencer’s blogs what comes through clearest is his inferiority complex, his need to cram as many unorthodox words or obscure references into his pieces as possible, so as to somehow make himself feel like everything he wants to be.
This need to attach cliché after cliché to everything that comes from his mouth could be best summed up by his car crash appearance on UTV. Reviewing the papers with Allison Morris he left the presenter, and most of the viewing audience, speechless with his horrific performance.
The supposed vehicle for this muzzled majority group of people to unshackle themselves from the so called ‘us’ and ‘them’ politics was NI21- and look how that has turned out. It has largely been left to Basil McCrea, and his assistant at Stormont Gary Kirby, who has went from an administrator of LAD to an employee of NI21 at Stormont- paid with tax payers money!
The muzzled majorities, LAD and NI21’s of this world are acceptable, the sub culture of civic society demands that they have a voice and that their voice is respected- but loyalists are fair game. It is fine for ‘satire’ sites such as LAD to make the speech of loyalists- flag becomes fleg- or the spelling or academic ability of those engaging online, the butt of their rather tedious jokes. What those hiding behind this sort of ‘satire’ fail to grasp is that whilst many within the PUL community may be unable to write an essay with all the correct spelling and grammar- they are not stupid people.
Those who may appear intellectually inferior via social media quite often are people with real social skills, real life skills and a sharp brain. On the flip side of that coin I have encountered many of the ‘bloggers’ or online superheros- and they have zero social skills, they walk along with their shoulders hunched and head down and are unable to hold a conversation, their online ‘profiles’ are everything they want to be- but in reality what you see and read from these people is put through the filter of their own vision of how they want others to see them, and using the tool of a computer- they often succeed in portraying themselves as something they are not.
The most venomous trolls are more than likely people who have sadly been bullied at school or who suffer from deep anxiety. They get their own back on the world, and those who they despise- because they epitomise what they wish they were- by acting out their revenge via the medium of social media. The same people would cross the street if they saw you outside of the ‘virtual world’.
All of the above feeds into an accepted culture of attacking, demeaning and mocking working class loyalist communities at every opportunity. Would it be acceptable to make fun of how Anna Lo’s accent or speech sounds? Of course not, there would be outrage, but when it comes to loyalists- we are a socially acceptable group to attack and demean. It is almost fashionable. And when you have a loyalist who also happens to be on the anti-agreement side of the loyalist family- then there is double the amount of legitimacy to troll, demean and ultimately try and silence and suppress those views. It is fashionable to attack loyalists, and it is even more fashionable to attack anti agreement loyalists.
Being a loyalist is not something to be ashamed of; we are a proud people and a proud tradition. Many within the loyalist community may not have the best spelling in the world or be able to articulate their arguments cloaked in the Brian John Spencer dictionary- but these people have real life experience, real stories to tell and legitimate viewpoints. Perhaps some of those who the online trolls or self appointed ‘satirists’ attack worked their whole life in the ship yard or a factory, they have life experience and social skills that would dwarf those who hide behind a computer to call them dumb or mock their spelling. Whilst the trolls shuffle along with their heads down and shoulders hunched, uneasy and uncomfortable outside their virtual world- those working class loyalists that they attack, walk with their heads high, greeting their friends and neighbours as they walk to the local shop to get a paper or to the bookies to place a bet or maybe to the pub to socialise with old friends. They make new friends effortlessly using the social skills that they learned working endless hours in the shipyard, playing on the streets or marching with their local band or lodge.
The trolls, dictionary eaters and satirists that make up the muzzled majority want to present a view of loyalism through the lens of their own narrow virtual world. In doing so they console themselves in the belief that loyalism is an uneducated pack of sectarian bigots who should be shunned, derided and ultimately who are responsible for all the ills of this society. That is the face of loyalism that has been constructed by the muzzled majority, who have devoted many hours in their bedroom, to designing and nurturing their image of loyalism as an inferior class of people.
Had the virtual soldiers taken a trip down the Newtownards Road on Wednesday night their virtual world would have been shattered. The true face of loyalism, residing in the real world, was on display. Children playing in the streets waving their flags or throwing their band poles up in the air, the buzz of excitement waiting on the bands, political debates between old men who had forged their friendship over years in the yard or during service in the UDR and families mingling, using the warm hospitality of Ulster loyalists, to embrace new friends and converse with old ones. And no one really cared what the muzzled majority thought, they are but a fleeting thought in the minds of a proud people.
The virtual world is just that, an online platform for those who themselves feel inferior to create myths and demean those whom they despise, it is a place where you can become part of the online sub culture by joining in on attacking whoever it is fashionable to attack at the time. You can feel you are part of the pack of attack dogs, in reality you are really nothing more than sheep shouting baa at lions.
Ulster loyalism is a proud tradition and our backbone is the life experience of the older folk in our community, our traditions, culture and the defiant spirit that has seen Ulster loyalists survive our darkest hours. The Provisional IRA could not make Ulster Loyalism bow the knee with decades of bombs and bullets- with this in mind I seriously doubt our community, or those within it, will falter due to a siege of satirists, trolls and Brian John Spencer’s!