‘Harmless Words’ and Hateful Language Can be a Politician’s Most Powerful Weapon

Dear Mr. Trump,

Congratulations on making it to the final race to the White House. I have to say, I am impressed how far you’ve come given that most of the things that exit your mouth are things that no other candidate would ever get away with saying. It is difficult to imagine you verbally shooting yourself in the foot, as it seems no matter how ridiculous and inflammatory your statements, you don’t lose popularity. On the contrary, you seem to gain it.

The media have gone so far as to label you “bullet-proof” (let’s hope not… Wait, what? Oh no, that statement is definitely not an incitement to assassination). When confronted about your invitation to “knock the crap out of [anyone who protests you]”, your suggestion that gun nuts should take out your political opponent, or your call for Russia to spy on government business, you play the innocent, and claim they’re only words.

Unfortunately, I, my family, and the people I grew up around know all too bitterly well what effect “words” can have. Born in Belfast in 1988 I experienced the tail end of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. I doubt many outside of my tiny country are well informed of what went on there, other than a lot of bloodshed, so let me break it down. Beginning in 1968, The Troubles would span more than 30 years, and thousands of innocent people would die, because of “words” such as yours, Mr. Trump. “They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin,” said the so-called Reverend Ian Paisley, referring to Northern Irish Catholics at a Loyalist Rally in 1969.

Ian Paisley - HeadStuff.org
Ian Paisley, image source

Paisley often made impassioned speeches that laid the blame of all Northern Ireland’s trouble at the door of Catholics. These sentiments were usually in reaction to violence from the terrorist organisation the IRA. But he decided, in his vicious speeches, to blame every Catholic. It was not unusual for young, disenfranchised Protestant men to sit drinking and watch Paisley’s speeches, get riled up and leave the house looking for Catholics, armed with pipes and sticks.

To be Catholic, to live in a Catholic area such as Ardoyne as my family did, to drink in certain pubs or have an Irish sounding name such as Sean, Michael or Paddy, was to leave yourself vulnerable to attack. Just as a certain skin colour or a hijab might single out those who you decide to scapegoat in many of your speeches.

I can tell you two stories from my very own family, Mr Trump, to demonstrate the real, human result of another prominent public figure’s “words.”

The troubles - HeadStuff.org
Still from the Troubles, image source

My mother was burnt out of her house when she was a young child. Word had spread up the street that the loyalists (who followed Paisley) were setting fire to Catholic homes. My grandfather, the incredible man he was, the unsung hero, got wind of this and over the course of a few days began moving bits and pieces subtly out of the house where his wife and two young daughters lived. The night before their house was burned down my mother recalls taking one drawer of personal belongings with her to her aunt’s house where they would be safe. That Christmas she received a little handbag for a gift, nothing more. The family couldn’t afford anything as they struggled to replace their home and possessions.[pullquote]To be Catholic, to live in a Catholic area such as Ardoyne, to drink in certain pubs or have an Irish sounding name such as Sean, Michael or Paddy, was to leave yourself vulnerable to attack.[/pullquote]

My father, as a young man, was traveling home from one of his reporter gigs, late one night. He saw a man lying injured at the side of the street. He looked as if he had been beaten up badly. Without hesitation my dad stopped to help the man, and offered him a lift to wherever he needed to go. The man said he didn’t want to trouble him, where was my dad going and he would go from there. No, my dad argued, I’ll take you wherever you need to go. Are you going to Ardoyne? The man asked. Yes, my dad said, trying to help him into the car. Suddenly the man let out a yell and several other men, armed and ready, ran out at the car. Instantly my dad realized he had given himself away and jumped back into the driver’s seat, trying to yank the doors closed as he went. He narrowly escaped a sectarian beating, or worse. 

How many other families in Northern Ireland have similar stories to tell thanks to the violent rhetoric of public figures such as Mr. Paisely? I bet you didn’t know about the little girls of Holy Cross School, who were shouted at and spat on as they tried to make their way to school through loyalist thugs who saw them, in all their innocence, as a scourge upon their land, purely for their religion? What about the bricks that came through the windows of Catholic School buses around the province? I doubt you knew about that.

Donald Trump - HeadStuff.org
Image source

Yes, of course IRA have much to answer for, as ISIS do today. Look at the destruction and devastation that both have caused. I am not denying that many hundreds of innocent Protestant lives were lost also. But the words of Paisley fuelled a gruesome pseudo-war on innocent people, purely because of their faith. Do you think you are any different, Mr. Trump with your anti- Muslim attitude? You say that Muslims should be banned from entering your country, that they should be subjected to surveillance, day and night.[pullquote]How many other families in Northern Ireland have similar stories to tell thanks to the violent rhetoric of public figures such as Mr. Paisely?[/pullquote]

How many Muslims have already been arrested, or escorted off aeroplanes under “suspicion,” just for looking Muslim or having an Arab sounding name? Is that any different to the internment by a sectarian police force of a young man in Northern Ireland because his name is Patrick? With hindsight we saw that this behaviour is what drove Patrick into the arms of the organization he saw as fighting for him and his community, the IRA. If you are trying to push young Muslim men and women towards ISIS recruiters, you are doing a stellar job.

My head spins as I watch with dread what is unfolding in one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world. You claim, Mr. Trump, that your speeches amount to nothing more than harmless words, but the history in my country shows us that words are anything but harmless. In fact, they can be some of the most powerful weapons in the hands of a high profile politician. So Mr. Trump, choose your words more carefully, lest your hands too will be drenched in the blood of the innocent. 

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