A survey by the Office of National Statistics (contributing to an EU-wide project interviewing 41,000 people in 79 cities) recently saw 75% of those questioned in Belfast agree with the premise “The presence of foreigners is good for my city”. It was the only UK city to score higher then the EU average (the others surveyed were London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle).
A freak result, surely? After all, there was another round of disgraceful bigoted attacks only last week.
Well, that is possible but statistically unlikely. So why this seemingly bizarre outcome?
Firstly, the media are right to highlight hate crimes, which happen all too frequently in Belfast. Yet could it be that it is carried out by a minority not only increasingly desperate to oppose social change but also subconsciously aware of their minority status as they do so?
Secondly, as a legacy of sectarian conflict, Belfast arguably has a higher tolerance of hate crime than it really should have. There is still likely to be more support/protection for those who do it than elsewhere; but that does not put in doubt for one second the fact that the vast, vast majority in every part of the city oppose it.
Thirdly, the media don’t report the good side – good news doesn’t sell after all. They don’t report the Ukrainian delayed on a ferry and thus unable to access his home who was immediately offered an overnight stay at the home of a fellow passenger; they don’t report the queue at the city centre bus stop who agreed that a new Polish immigrant had such a convoluted route home to his new residence that they just pooled together on the spot and paid a taxi fare for him; they actually scarcely mentioned the selection of (by citizenship) Indian, Polish, Lithuanian, Spanish and Australian candidates for election recently.
Fourthly, and I accept this is controversial argument, there is an argument that the Troubles prove we are a pretty tolerant lot. Where similar ethno-religio-national clashes have resulted in the complete removal or even extermination of one side (compare us, for example to Yugoslavia), ours actually saw the maintenance of at least the basics of public administration, application of the Law and local elected representation.
Finally, there is also an argument that Belfast is a blunter place than most. Just because other societies are not open about intolerant (or frankly racist, xenophobic or homophobic) views, does not mean those views are not held. There is an argument at least for saying that putting such views out there actually demonstrates the need to discuss and tackle them – something which may in fact make us generally more tolerant, not less so. (“Tolerant” is not a great word here, by the way, but that’s probably for another blog piece!)
Over to you, dear readers – what say you?