Belfast Telegraph

Never-ending flirtation with trappings of terrorism is keeping a dark spirit alive

By Eilis O'Hanlon

There are many emotions which would be normal upon emerging from a long period of violent conflict. Relief. Regret. Shame. Post traumatic stress. Disbelief that it went on so long.

Anger that it didn't end sooner. Surely the strangest of all, though, is nostalgia. How can anyone with a working moral compass feel a sentimental attachment to a time when terrorist atrocities were as common on the news as the weather forecast?

That's a question worth putting to those Sinn Fein members and supporters who took part in an historical re-enactment in Derry over the weekend, in which grown men (in name, at least, if not in mentality) dressed up as Provos, complete with balaclavas and replica rifles, and put on a show for a crowd of people with nothing better to do than get their kicks from revisiting some of the worst horrors of the recent past.

One was pictured in a camouflage jacket, lining up with other pretend terrorists against a white wall, like models on a fashion shoot, the purpose of camouflage having clearly gone way over his head.

The girls, meanwhile, got to bang some bin lids, because republicans are all about equality, right?

Sure, Gerry even lets Michelle O'Neill speak for herself some times.

It's feminism gone mad, I tell ya.

Incredibly , one young man was even roped into playing dead.

The pictures look particularly insensitive now as TV screens fill with images of the victims of the Las Vegas massacre lying where they fell.

Gun violence is not entertainment.

Corpses are not props.

Stand by for the excuses.

It will be said that this is an expression of republican "culture", or that Sinn Fein needs to appeal to a yearning for paramilitarism to stop young people gravitating towards the dissidents, especially in Derry, where the Real IRA is strong.

For every justification, there's a more compelling counter argument, not least that, by continuing to flirt with the trappings of terrorism, Sinn Fein is keeping a dark spirit alive, making it easier for those coming after to reignite it when the fancy takes them.

Ultimately, excuses are all they are.

They're doing it simply because they want to. Because participants and spectators alike get a kick out of it.

David Hare's play Plenty was filmed in the 1980s with Meryl Streep in the lead role as an upper class Englishwoman who fights with the French Resistance during the war, and can never afterwards recapture the intensity of life she felt with a gun in her hand.

Bored, dissatisfied, she goes off the rails for the simple reason that she can't move on.

Dressing up and playing cowboys and Indians on the streets of Derry is part of the same malaise.

It's a yearning for simplicity.

For a time when, if you didn't like something, you blew it up, and, if you disagreed with someone, you tried to shoot them.

Clinging on to old certainties is comforting.

Letting go is scary.

It means thinking for yourself.

Remembrance is always for an idealised, simplified past, never the real thing.

History was messy and painful.

The reason it often doesn't seem so bad in retrospect is because you're experiencing a sanitised version of events, a fantasy.

It would be a tragedy if even one young person watching that event in Derry over the weekend was misled into thinking of terrorism as romantic; but this is a city where former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was buried under a headstone celebrating his role as an IRA Oglach (Volunteer). Toxic nostalgia doesn't come from nowhere.

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