Beware the tribal pride trap

May 03, 2002|By Tom Mudd

DUBLIN -- Word from Paris that Jean-Marie Le Pen had qualified for the second round of the French presidential elections sent shivers of disgust up my spine. Mostly because I'm my father's worst nightmare: an unrepentant liberal.

But then I started thinking about soccer, and not just because the World Cup is approaching. Rather, it was because something ugly happened at a recent World Cup tune-up match between the United States and Ireland.

I'll bet most of the Yanks didn't understand why, but American captain Claudio Reyna was booed by a small percentage of the crowd just about every time he touched the ball. Those boos echoed boos that had rung out two weeks earlier during a game between Ireland and Denmark.

The boos for Mr. Reyna came because he used to play for the Glasgow Rangers. The Dane was jeered because the public address announcer screwed up and gave the crowd the name of someone from Denmark who now plays for the Rangers, though it was somebody else who took to the field.

And why should fans in Dublin boo an American and a Dane who play for a Scottish team? Because the Glasgow Rangers are considered the Protestant squad in that very divided city. And religion has become mixed up with nationalism to create the sort of noxious cocktail that's apparently become quite popular in France.

The same sort of people who booed Mr. Reyna in Dublin would have voted for Mr. Le Pen in Paris. And it's all because of nationalism.

The same sort of people who voted for Mr. Le Pen would, in another setting, hold aloft posters of Osama Bin Laden. And it's all because of nationalism.

After three years of living in another country, I love my country all the more. But I have come to believe that the greatest curse of humanity is tribalism, which has metamorphosed into both religious intolerance and nationalism, which is a fancy way of saying national intolerance.

The thought rings true to me all the more because I recently spent a couple of days in Belfast, the very Mecca of tribalism. The people there have a buzzing, vibrant city, but those on the margins insist on fighting the Battle of the Boyne -- which happened 312 years ago -- over and over again, precisely because the tribes never learned to live together.

We've had thousands of years to try to get things right, yet we keep falling into the same trap. Whenever we're faced with any problem, even if there's a logical reason for the problem, we fall like vultures on the other.

Pat Buchanan does it. Osama bin Laden does it. And a squirrelly guy named O'Flynn in Ireland's parliament does it.

But they prey on our worst instincts, the instincts that created the Ku Klux Klan and the Waffen-SS, instincts that inevitably bring us shame as a species. (Good thing there's no species court at The Hague, by the way, or we'd be in trouble.)

I've made a point during my time here of claiming no Irish background. When asked my nationality, I've always said that I'm an American, leaving the hyphens to others.

But I think I'll change my policy. From now on, if I'm asked about my nationality, I'll tell people I'm a human.

It's not much, but it's a start.

Tom Mudd, originally of Towson, is a free-lance writer based in Dublin.

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