Contested Spaces and Conflicting Identities: The Politics of ‘Othering’ and Sectarianisation

Conflict Resolution
Political Violence
Political Activism
Cathal McManus
Queen's University Belfast
Cathal McManus
Queen's University Belfast

The British referendum on EU membership, the election of Donald Trump as US President and the continuing growth of ‘radical right’ parties across Europe, all suggest that we are witnessing the growth of a populist politics grounded in xenophobia and nationalism.
This paper will argue that the roots of this politics are to be found in a longer-term process of ‘Othering’ that developed rapidly following the terror attacks in the United States on 11th September 2001. It will be argued that, in the aftermath of these attacks and subsequent attacks in Europe, political leaders, commentators and media outlets – both intentionally and unintentionally – have helped to foster an “Us and Them” culture that has not only contributed to a widening divide between large sections of Western society and Islam, but has also helped to fuel a new nationalist sentiment.
To develop this, the paper will advance the idea that this nationalism has generated a political activism reflecting Paulo Freire’s concept of “sectarianism” and, as such, will put forward a model outlining the ‘Processes of Sectarianisation through Othering’. Using a case study analysis of the Northern Ireland conflict, the paper will examine how Othering contributes, not only to creating the conditions for sectarian violence, but also helps to sustain it over the longer-term. It will highlight that Othering is a two-way process in which “our” fears and stereotypes of the Other are often perpetuated by the actions of the Other who, crucially, will be experiencing similar processes of sectarianisation. It will, therefore, also emphasise the importance of understanding how “our” actions impact this process.
Finally, the paper will identify how such sectarianism has been addressed in Northern Ireland in a way that challenged the extremism that fed thirty years of violent conflict.
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"Politics determines the process of "who gets what, when, and how"" - Harold Lasswell

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