This is what nationalism looks like

If you ever wondered what nationalism looks like then you’ll find the answer in this week’s Bogside bonfire and in the mirror image bonfires built by loyalists.

As a political philosophy, nationalism – British and Irish – is inward looking, narrow, unimaginative and toxic.

No matter the protests from the people who embrace it, no matter the claims that their nationalism is a legitimate expression and nothing to do with the annual displays of raw tribalism.

Many nationalists may feel uncomfortable about these displays, they may even distance themselves for them, but events like these are the outworking and public display of nationalism’s core philosophy.

Nationalism, Irish or British, is not only a backward political philosophy: it is a toxic one. It seeks to divide and exploit difference. It blames others and otherness. It is a political cancer that deliberately subverts progressive politics and invariably is home to the worst examples of native gombeen men and women. At its worst it can become a hate fest.

If bonfire builders anywhere in Northern Ireland want to channel their energies towards building a different and better society, and that’s a very big ‘If’, then they should commit themselves to the struggle to defend public services, fund education, secure the NHS, champion the rights of women, eradicate sectarianism, racism, homophobia and misogyny, stand up for worker’s rights, oppose zero hours contracts or campaign for a real living wage.

Obviously, they find compounding and sustaining community division much more to their taste.

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