Flying flags of fear: The role of fear in the process of political transition

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As tension mounts during the build-up to the Orange marching season, which occurs each summer in Northern Ireland, the streets of many cities and towns are festooned with flags. The proliferation of Union Jacks, Irish Tricolours, Ulster flags and paramilitary banners adorning the streets symbolize loyalty and serve as sectarian markers of territory. In July 2002, however, something unusual happened: republicans started hoisting the Palestinian flag alongside their Irish Tricolours while, in neighbouring loyalist areas, the Israeli flag flut- tered alongside the Union Jack and paramilitary banners. This paper suggests some reasons for this by focusing upon the concept of ‘fear’ in the context of the peace processes in Northern Ireland and South Africa. It begins by offering some thoughts on the phenomenon of Israeli flags flying in Belfast before moving on to consider briefly how the psychological and sociological literature generally treat the concept of fear (and risk). This leads to the argument that fear and the use of fear are unrecognized variables in popular discourses surrounding politi- cal negotiations and processes such as truth commissions. The paper analyzes the role of fear in the political transition process, a subject seldom dealt with in the academic literature, and examines the way that the concept of fearŒlike the suffering of victims of political violenceŒis politicized and depoliticized. The paper then concludes by trying to apply some of the ideas that it presents to the South Africa and Northern Ireland contexts and, particularly, to approaches to political risk-taking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-142
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2006


  • flags
  • Belfast
  • fear
  • Northern Ireland
  • Israel
  • Palestine


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