Polarised world must learn the ultimate lesson from lives of Martin McGuinness (and Abdelhamid Abaaoud)

We are all framed by our past but our destiny and final legacy do not need to be defined by it. That is perhaps the key lesson for a troubled world from the life and times of Martin McGuinness and Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suggests Irish Examiner digital editor, Dolan O'Hagan.

BORN into and forged by one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of his native city he was from a large, close knit and religious family.

From an early age he was acutely aware and angered by the large scale poverty, unemployment and discrimination being experienced around him.

From a community already seen by authorities as a hot bed of political dissent this early school leaver, but undoubtedly highly intelligent, non smoking and non drinking teenager was soon identified by political activists in his community as a natural leader and a key target for recruitment.

Shortly afterwards he came to the attention of authorities as one of the leading voices from the region advocating a more militant response to what he and many others in his community saw as as ongoing state supported oppression.

Before long was placed on a watch list and marked out as a key threat by both police and military intelligence agencies operating in the city.


A day after  his funeral you may recognise this as the early life of James Martin Pacelli McGuinness who was laid to rest in his beloved Derry City amid huge crowds who heard him lauded by none other than a former US President as one of the world's most outstanding peacemakers.

It is not only the early life of Martin McGuinness, however. It is also a description of the early life of Abdelhamid Abaaoud who grew up in the notorious Sint-Jans-Molenbeek district of Brussels as one of six children born to Moroccan parents.

We know him better as the 'radicalised mastermind' behind the horrific terror attacks of 2015 which left 90 innocent people dead in Paris.

Paris attack 'mastermind' Abdelhamid Abaaoud was linked to four foiled terror plots before Paris attacks
Paris attack 'mastermind' Abdelhamid Abaaoud was linked to four foiled terror plots before Paris attacks

Unlike Martin McGuinness, however, Abdelahamid Abaaoud's life ended at 28 years of age when, days after the Paris attacks, he died from injuries sustained when a woman he was in hiding with detonated a suicide belt during a police raid in the St Denis region of Paris.

While this comparison may sit uncomfortably with some - they were very different men with very different ideologies - it is perhaps the comparison from which our increasingly divided, unequal and dangerous world can take its most valuable lesson from the life journey of the true peacemaker who was Martin McGuinness.

Indeed as the world reels from the Westminster attack in London it is now more important than ever to reflect on what his journey of peace and reconciliation can teach us as we are increasingly bombarded with confrontational and dangerous rhetoric from political leaders and media commentators from West to East.

The truth is that Martin McGuinness would have been equally condemnatory of the largely unreported US led air-strikes, like that which killed 33 civilians seeking shelter in a school in the ISIS controlled city of Raqqa in Syria as he would have been of 52-year-old Khalid Massood's mindless and evil rampage on Westminster bridge 24 hours later.

Martin McGuinness would and did point out that such events and injustices are intrinsically connected and the world is not served by ignoring these undisputable facts.

The aftermath of a US drone strike in Raqqa, Syria
The aftermath of a US drone strike in Raqqa, Syria

Despite his 'radicalisation' Martin McGuinness, unlike Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was fortunate enough to live long enough to realise it would only be through dialogue and peace that he and his community would ultimately achieve equal rights, parity of esteem and a better and shared future.

He came to that conclusion because he and the British establishment accepted they had to listen to what he (and those he represented) had to say.

By accepting or even initiating that out stretched hand Martin McGuinness (and others) were able to begin the process by which he (and others) were able to lead his people from hopelessness and slaughter to a better future.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, however, was only able to lead his people and 90 innocent civilians into the eternal darkness and further diminish any hope of an understanding among Western powers (and the people who elect them) of the political aims he was willing to die for and the injustices which drove him.

The 66-year-old Martin McGuinness, if he had met Abdelhamid Abaaoud, would no doubt have told him that while you are framed by your past, for good and for ill, your ultimate destiny and legacy does not necessarily need to be defined by it.

The challenge for us and our political leaders, domestically and internationally, is to learn that lesson as well and travel the same road of hope.

One wonders, however, do we in the West or those just like us in the East have the leaders who are willing and brave enough to shed the injustices of the past and define a path to a new and hopeful future.

If not now, let's hope soon, for all our sakes.

* Dolan O'Hagan grew up in Derry in the 1980's and 90's.

More on this topic

Fundraising charity walk to mark first anniversary of Martin McGuinness taking place at weekendFundraising charity walk to mark first anniversary of Martin McGuinness taking place at weekend

’I miss him terribly’: Gerry Adams on Martin McGuinness’I miss him terribly’: Gerry Adams on Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness funeral: Divisions fall away in salute to unique and complex manMartin McGuinness funeral: Divisions fall away in salute to unique and complex man

Funeral of Martin McGuinness in picturesFuneral of Martin McGuinness in pictures


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