As a reminder of the UK’s old TWAT, there are some amazing photos of Belfast’s militant art in the Belfast set on the Flickr site of Gerry Ward.
I have been told that many of these Northern Ireland murals have been painted over as part of the peace process, which is a pretty powerful artistic metaphor for political processes that are painting over the old sectarian divisions.
I feel completely ambivalent about these images. I’m not exactly convinced that seeing adverts for murder – with direct sentimental appeals to religion, nationalism, a sense of injustice – can be anything other than spurs to cultivate hatred. I am, deliberately, putting this in too mealy-mouthed a way. In reality, this is propaganda that helped to foster violence for decades.
At the same time, I don’t like the idea of erasing history. And many of these murals are chillingly beautiful. On balance, I would like to feel that the NI population is reaching a condition in which they can appreciate the paintings as historical truth, while marvelling at the alienness of the world-views expressed in this art of war.
But, what has the UK government learned after 30-odd years of homegrown warfare? Nothing like enough, it seems. Gordon Brown seems to think there is no comparison with the current TWAT, almost presenting the IRA/UVF with the same self-deluding nostalgia as the lunatics who talk about the era of the Krays, as if they were lovable cockney villains.
One lesson is surely be that repression fuels resistance. As in the instance of the murals, repression can spark awe-inspiring levels of creativity in the expression of resistance. But, repression, in itself, is pretty bad at dispersing the will to resist. (Think French Resistance or Yugoslav and Italian partisans in World War II.) The only road to peace is conflict resolution. It always comes to that in the end, unless we are going to make war on abstract nouns for ever.