A few days ago the so-called ‘renowned travel guide’, ‘Fodor’s’ published a blatantly sectarian and dehumanising guide to political murals in Northern Ireland, lavishly praising Irish republican murals making the ludicrous assertion that such murals “often aspire to the heights of Sistine Chapel-lite“, whilst the cretinous author compared Loyalist artwork to “war comics without the humour”.
Not only are such assertions insulting and offensive, they are also completely without basis in fact. The author of the lazy, pernicious and prejudiced piece in question is allegedly a veteran ‘journalist’ and ‘historian’!
Professor Peter Shirlow, head of Irish Studies at Liverpool University, expressed shock at the content-
“It represented them as Bible-bashers, against liberalism and it evoked an idea that on the other side there was humour, a capacity for art and also evoked the idea republican violence was something to be glorified and where it represented the unionist community, it is not, if it was the Catholic, nationalist, republican community (being lampooned) I would say the same thing. It is just ultimately wrong and gave an incredibly unfair representation of murals in the city.”
Professor Shirlow added-
“The academic issues with how the story of Northern Ireland is presented to visitors need to be addressed.”
Clearly Prof. Shirlow knows what he is talking about. Indeed, it is abundantly clear that the academic is everything that the hack journalist is not; knowledgeable, impartial and not prone to lazy sectarian stereotypes.
A Loyalist mural in Derry (in memory of Cecil McKnight of the Ulster Democratic Party)
Unfortunately this incident is symptomatic of a much wider problem, i.e. the constant and absolutely relentless denigration and dehumanisation of the Unionist and Loyalist community, particularly the working class element of that community.
Historically illiterate Irish republicans feel enpowered to repeat the most ridiculous ahistorical nonsense because their so-called political ‘leadership’ regularly spout such nonsensical fairytales and are rarely challenged for it.
The Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome.
Irish republicanism in general, and the Provisional republican movement in particular, has carefully constructed an utterly, utterly toxic narrative in which Loyalists and Unionists are depicted as being less than human. This Nazi-esque propaganda is constant, unsophisticated, crude and laced with sectarian euphemisms. The anti-British racism is as overt as it is nasty. The infantile stereotyping as unintelligent as it is unsubtle.
Irish republicans have been constantly, unrelentingly, told that they are ‘oppressed‘ and discriminated against. The message that they are perpetual victims is reinforced over and over and over again.
That narrative though is hugely undermined by the contrary and simultaneous narrative that the so-called ‘Irish gael’ is resilient, smart, capable and in every possible way superior to the ‘Protestant planters’.
Another view of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Handily though, republicanism has a kind of ‘get out clause’ in order to lessen the cognitive dissonance among it’s adherents; the carefully spun message that yes, indeed, nationalists and republicans were (and are) the poor oppressed but it wasn’t (or isn’t) the ‘planter’ doing it, it was the ‘evil Brits’. The British Empire, the British State, the British Army. According to the propaganda of Irish nationalism it was/is the ‘big bad Brits’ that kept them down, discriminated against them and victimised them.
Loyalists and Unionists are presented as mere hapless proxies of the British State. A confused and stupid people who have been duped into doing the bidding of ‘imperialist’ England.
“err da stoopid Loyalists can’t even do a mural”
Loyalist armed groups are presented by republican extremists as being nothing more than criminals- armed, organised, trained and directed by the Army, MI5, Special Branch, GCHQ, MI6, etc etc etc. The far-sighted and sophisticated political contribution of militant Loyalism is conveniently forgotten. ALL effective operations against republican terror gangs are dismissed as having been the work of secretive special forces units of the British Army.
Politically, Loyalism and Unionism is dismissed as backward looking, old fashioned, innately negative and ardently right-wing. Irish republicans attach themselves to whatever causes they think will help them appear ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ and forward looking.
It is totally predictable. It is also something which Loyalists can, and must, seriously combat. Republicans have weaponised their vocabulary, especially online. It is high time more Loyalists did the same.
It takes time to build up a negative stereotype of an entire community but it is not difficult. Repeating the same old tropes ad nauseam may be mind numbingly boring and repetitive but it is hardly neuro surgery.
Definitely no paramilitary imagery on any republican murals. Nope. None. Zero.
It would be exceedingly easy, for instance, for Loyalists to continually link Sinn Fein, as a party, with the deeds of their terrorist wing, the Provisional IRA. Not in the way that some Loyalists do at present, but to do so in a more organised and unrelenting way.
It would also be relatively simple to push the narrative that Irish republicanism is inherently a Far-Left ideology, one which is economically unrealistic and forever tainted by the horrors and atrocities, not only of republican ethno-nationalism itself, but also by association, of Marxist and Communist regimes such as the USSR, DDR and the Khmer Rouge. After all, there are many examples of republican murals which are overtly Marxist and, of course, republican murder gangs have well documented links with extreme Leftist terrorist groups such as the ‘Red Army Faction’, ‘PFLP’, ‘Red Brigades’ etc.
Behold! the sophistication of republican Wall art.
Far better though for ALL stereotypes to be dropped. For our divided society to heal, ALL unhelpful and toxic narratives must be sidelined, without exception. Reconciliation can never be achieved when one community regards another as being lesser than themselves.
The obvious arrogance and sense of superiority within Irish republicanism is a virulent poison, a corrosive and devastating toxin which is destroying community relations, heightening tensions and, if unchallenged, runs the very real risk of sectarianising yet another generation of our young people.
Therefore it must be challenged and challenged effectively. In short, the dehumanising rhetoric of Irish republicanism is a cancer which must be excised.
Unfortunately, it would seem that this particular cancer has spread throughout the body politic of Irish nationalism as a whole and is, as evidenced by this latest ridiculous episode, extremely deep rooted.
Time then for the leadership of nationalism, such as it is, to accept responsibility for the outgrowth of this malignancy and to begin to tackle it. Time for those most active in perpetuating these iniquitous stereotypes (‘Ladfleg’, ‘Themmuns’ et al) to permanently leave the stage, and time, most of all, for Loyalists and Unionists to begin calling out this repugnant, dehumanising narrative every single time we encounter it.
To do otherwise is to condemn our community, and society as a whole, to even further division, conflict and unnecessary pain. Something for which future generations will, quite rightly, condemn us.