Confederate flag “celebration of culture or something more sinister” (News Letter)

Letter to News Letter
OPINION: Steven Alexander (News Letter)
12 July 2003

Cllr Long did not dismiss the Confederate flag as ‘racist’, but argued that it was tainted or associated with racism. Her concern seemed to be more about the abuse of the flag, rather than the flag itself. Comparisons could be drawn with how loyalist paramilitaries have used and abused other symbols in recent times.

Context is important when discussing the connotations of symbols. The Swastika, for example, used to stand for something positive, but after World War II, it became firmly associated with Nazism. And the PUP often argues that the UVF flags their supporters erect are there to commemorate the ‘old’ UVF or 36th Ulster Division of 1912. For some reason, everyone else seems to associate them with a loyalist paramilitary group.

Billy Kennedy seems to acknowledge this when he admits that flags “can be dragged through the gutter by those who, while purporting to uphold what it stands for, show absolutely no respect for it”. However, he doesn’t actually state what the Confederate flag stands for, either at the time of the American Civil War or in 21st century Northern Ireland.

Likewise, Mr Kennedy shies away from entering into an argument about whether or not it should be flown here on the Twelfth – exactly the issue Cllr Long was highlighting. What does he believe loyalists are celebrating by flying this flag? He doesn’t say, although given the association of the flag with racist, far right thinking, I’d say Cllr Long has made a fair stab.

Mr Kennedy argues that, at the time, the Confederacy was a cause considered lawful and respectable. But CUr Long was talking about its use in Northern Ireland today. Why is the Confederate flag flying alongside the flag of a terrorist organisation? What respect is being shown there? Are they being used to celebrate or intimidate? I think we all know the answer.

Loyalists have hijacked a number of symbols from outside Northern Ireland over the last five years or so. I remember last summer the News Letter published a photograph of one of the UDA’ s efforts in South Belfast. It consisted of some UDA emblems, a display of national flags including the Israeli flag, a Swastika and ‘KKK’ painted beneath. Was this display of muddled thinking an innocent celebration of culture or something more sinister?

While Thursday’s News Letter article provided an interesting history lesson, it completely failed to deal with the issues Cllr Long raised.

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