What is wrong with this picture?



















What is wrong with this picture?
A shorter answer might be elicited by the question what is right with this picture? No-one in their right minds would combine a picture of an armed Klansman and a quote from Martin Luther King Junior.
Yet in my home area of East Belfast the following mural has been painted over a recently commissioned mural of footballer George Best...


At least they didn't have the gall to put Dr. King's name to the quote. Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle's comment that it is "Perverse beyond belief" probably sums up my feeling on it... Although the people that painted it probably couldn't care less what people like Chris or myself think... They clearly don't care what anyone else thinks. They are the faceless men with guns who answer to no-one. Neither democratically elected representatives, including the PUP who have historic links with the UVF, or the people who elected them. It is they who oppress, by threat of violence, the people they claim to defend from oppression. The previous mural was paid for by public funds after a wide community consultation as part of the Re-Imaging Programme across Belfast, aimed at changing paramilitary murals into something that both celebrated the past and pointed towards a more hopeful future. I've written before saying that some of our chosen role models, like George Best, are somewhat flawed, but at least Best was a world class footballer. What this mural speaks of is Northern Ireland's world renown for sectarian violence.
This mural would not be any more legitimate had it been in West Belfast or the Bogside with an IRA crest over the quote rather than a UVF one... (Although one suspects that had it been there then the gunman wouldn't have had a balaclava on... There seems to be an inability among loyalist mural artists to paint actual faces!)
The claim that the terrorist activity of republican paramilitaries was driven by a desire for civil rights is a myth with little basis in reality, and ultimately did little to secure the ultimate establishment of those rights. But I doubt that there are many within the republican community would have dared to put a quote from the most prominent non-violence advocate of the late 20th century beside a painting of an IRA gunman. (I look forward to someone with a more comprehensive knowledge of Republican murals correcting me on that one.)
Certainly Unionist reluctance, nay outright hostility, to equality for the Catholic/nationalist minority in Northern Ireland, added to the sense of oppression historically experienced in the Catholic community, might have resonances with Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham jail" from which this quote is culled. But where he argues for "direct action" rather than waiting for equality to come, he was not arguing for the use of bombs or bullets to achieve his ends, but peaceful protest and civic disruption.
On that front it was encouraging to see that the loyalist flag protest from to the City Centre to the Woodvale/Ardoyne interface was carried out in a peaceful fashion, despite what seems to have been a deliberate policy of flouting the determination of the Parades Commission. It is a "legitimate" if not legal tactic of non-violent protest to contravene what you perceive to be unjust laws and be prepared to take the consequences in order to have those laws struck down or replaced.
However, what saddens me is that all of this political energy in loyalist communities is being chronically misdirected. Is there really oppression of PUL culture when our national flag is flown on designated days, as per many civic buildings in English towns and cities? No other flag is being flown in its place... Is there really oppression of PUL culture when loyalist bands and crowds are asked to respect Catholic places of worship during parades? (Actually, respecting all places of worship fullstop would be good in these celebrations of religious liberty)
Do I think that the Ligoniel lodges should be able to parade past the Ardoyne shops? Yes... Is the current stand-off and rhetoric about civil rights for loyalists and the oppression of PUL culture the way to achieve it? No. Because it is patent nonsense. And the threat of the masked gunman standing up for the "oppressed" doesn't help the case.
I started by referring to a miappropriated Martin Luther King quotation. Let me end by offering another one, from earlier in his career, just after a bomb had been thrown into his house in Alabama:
"If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you." This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love."

Perhaps too long to put on a mural... It isn't a soundbite or a slogan... But it is a mindset we could do with living by...

Shalom



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