Where would we be now if British prime ministers had conflated Irishness with terrorism, asks Victoria White
I might be just a south-county Dublin housewife, but I know more about stopping terrorism than Francois Hollande.
I know you can’t defeat terrorists with military might.
No matter what war drums you beat, no matter what arms you deploy, you can’t beat terrorists if there is an underlying injustice, some popular support and murderous fanaticism.
I know this because I am Irish and of a certain vintage.
I grew up watching The Troubles from over the fence of the border, and reading a history of constant agitation against the world’s most powerful empire.
Great Britain could not defeat piddling little Ireland, because of the underlying injustice, some popular support and terrorists with murderous intent.
Whenever Britain attempted to crack the nut of Irish nationalism with a hammer, it missed and whacked itself in the leg.
Think of the ‘terrible beauty’. Think of Bloody Sunday. Every time the empire put itself on a war-footing with Ireland, nationalism gained in strength.
Look at the response to IRA atrocities — such as the Birmingham pub bombings, which killed 21 people — and compare them with France’s response to ISIS.
Imagine if the UK had gone in and bombed IRA bases, about which they must have had good intelligence. Imagine if some of those were in the Republic.
Yes, I know UK security forces were implicated in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, which killed 34 innocent civilians out shopping on a Saturday.
But imagine if there had been no Loyalist middle-men, and imagine if the bombings had been routine.
Imagine, in other words, if open war-fare had been official between our two countries.
Where would we be now? How many more innocent people would have been killed, simply because they were out enjoying life?
Where would we be now if British prime ministers had conflated Irishness with terrorism, as David Cameron is conflating Islam with terrorism?
He says you can’t deny “any connection between Islam and the terrorists”, but you don’t need to state the connection, because it isn’t relevant.
Terrorism is not an extremist version of Islam, any more than the IRA is an extreme version of being Irish.
Our terrorism was treated differently to ISIS less because it was on a much smaller scale and more because we are next-door neighbours.
We know each other. We can look each other in the eyes. That makes dehumanising harder on both sides.
If the UK had entered into open warfare with the IRA, she would have had to murder her own people, and people who look and sound just like her own people.
But Syria is far away. The people speak a different language and they mostly have a different religion.
The deaths of Syrians don’t seem like the deaths of real people.
That’s why Hollande can seek to win popular approval in France by launching murderous air strikes against Syria, which seem about as well-planned as a hurt child’s kick in the schoolyard.
That’s why David Cameron can pose as a strong man in the British parliament, saying he will “personally build the case for RAF strikes against Syria.”
To persuade the French or British public that air strikes can be effective against ISIS you have to use the tricks every parent uses when calming a frightened child.
“The Republic will defeat ISIS”.
Daddy is strong and can chase off the villains.
Hollande and Cameron are presenting their people with a terrorist organisation whose HQ can be taken out in Raqqa like “the head of the snake”, in Cameron’s words.
But ISIS, like all terrorist organisations, is a many-headed monster.
Several of its heads have already been chopped off and it keeps growing bigger ones.
The assassination of Osama Bin Laden, controlled from that ghastly television screen in Washington, achieved nothing except a short spike in Obama’s poll ratings.
The ‘defeat’ of Al Quaeda in Iraq spawned ISIS in Syria, helped by the experience of prisoners from the American Bucca Prison in Iraq: “Bucca was a factory”, an ISIS fighter told The Guardian.
“It made us all. It built our ideology.”
That is no surprise to anyone who remembers the name ‘Long Kesh’.
How could the Americans have been so stupid as to think their illegal invasion of Iraq could bring stability — even their brand of stability — to the region?
There was hardly an Irish person who believed that.
The voice of cautious conservatism here, as exemplified by former Fine Gael Taoiseach, John Bruton, spoke out strongly against that invasion.
His position then is little different to the current position of the so-called hard Leftie, British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who says he will not back air strikes in Syria and will not allow a free vote on the matter in his party.
This lessens Cameron’s chances of getting parliament to back the strikes; though you’d have thought he’d have been less willing to try, given the defeat of 2013 plans to bomb Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader, who is now back in the frame as part of the solution, in new talks between Russia, Iran, France and the US.
Corbyn has been pilloried by the British tabloids for saying he would not have authorised the assassination of Jihadi John last week, because, he says, “If we are setting ourselves up as the West, as in accordance with the UN, with international law and with our own laws, then I think we have to act in accordance with them.”
That he is right was brought home to this Irishwoman on Saturday morning, when the early edition of The Guardian crowed from the news-stands about Jihadi John’s death, even as the corpses were being counted from the Paris massacre.
We have a unique role to play, as a European country that was colonised, and that spawned terrorism and then a peace process.
We hold, in people like Bertie Ahern, Martin McAleese, Martin Mansergh and many others, massive experience in brokering peace.
We have an understanding that a solution can’t be found without the admission of the underlying injustice, in this case the historic wrongs done to the Arab nations, from Napoleon to the First World War to the invasion of Iraq.
These wrongs were gifts from politics to terrorism.
I want to hear the Irish voice appealing to the world powers to step back from war and concentrate on finding this political solution.
I want to hear Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan, stating unambiguously that no Irish airport will be used by any foreign power launching futile military strikes in Syria, which will only succeed in forcing thousands more Syrians to knock desperately on our doors.
This is a horribly historic moment and Ireland can’t stay silent but must speak up, loudly, bravely, forcibly, constructively, for peace.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved