On the ineffectiveness of 'terror'…

Quentin Peel, writing in today’s FT, argues that despite ‘a good result’, Sinn Fein should not be allowed to forget (subs needed) the parallels between their own campaign of violence and that being waged in Baghdad, London and other places against innocent people.

The IRA move is not just because al-Qaeda has given terrorism a bad name, to put it crudely. That is true, of course. The attacks of September 11 2001 suddenly brought home to ordinary Americans, in particular, that you cannot distinguish between “good” terrorists and “bad” ones. Financial support in the US for Irish republicanism virtually dried up. Ever since, leaders of the IRA and Sinn Féin, their political wing, have been desperate to distance themselves from “global terrorism”.

But their problems go back well before 9/11. They are not just a matter of image. The armed struggle is being abandoned because it has failed in both its fundamental goals: to deliver a united Ireland, regardless of the will of the Protestant majority in northern Ireland; and to protect the Roman Catholic minority in the North from intimidation and discrimination. If anything, IRA terrorism has made matters worse, inviting a brutal backlash from loyalist thugs that has cost many innocent Catholic lives and driving Protestant voters into the extremist arms of the Reverend Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist party.

If Irish unification is any nearer today than it was in 1969 it is because of the “Celtic tiger”, the economic boom that has transformed the Irish republic both socially and economically, while the north has stagnated. The European Union has been another factor, since the UK and Ireland joined together in 1973. Higher Roman Catholic than Protestant birth rates are also changing the demographics of the North, where
the anti-unification majority is shrinking. Against such a changing background, IRA terrorism has been utterly counter-productive.

That is what has driven Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin/IRA leaders, to espouse the new realism.

  • Denny Boy

    Once again we have that old canard emerging from the shallows: “Proof that terror is doomed to fail.” I don’t think so.

    Unfortunately for civilized society, terrorism works. No matter how tight or hi-tech the security measures are, the odds will always be stacked in favour of the determined terrorist. It’s impossible to police a city of millions, or a province the size of NI; compromises must be made, and compromises are the cracks through which the terrorist crawls.

    The GFA came about precisely because the IRA bombing campaign worked, and might have gone on indefinitely had John Hume not convinced Gerry Adams that unionism might be ready to discuss terms.

    Unionists would never have sat down at the negotiating table with Sinn Fein/IRA had the latter espoused exclusively peaceful means to secure a fair deal for Ulster’s nationalists. Nobody likes to admit this though. It’s more comforting to believe that the IRA were somehow defeated.

  • Mike

    “Unionists would never have sat down at the negotiating table with Sinn Fein/IRA had the latter espoused exclusively peaceful means to secure a fair deal for Ulster’s nationalists. “

    Did Unionists (of various hues) sit down at the negotiating table with the SDLP at the Darlington talks (1972), Sunningdale talks (1973), NI Convention (1975), Atkins conference (early 1980s), Duisburg talks (1980s?) and Brooke-Mayhew talks (1991-92), as well as other occasions?

  • Fanny

    I suppose that is one corollary from the clear observation that pressure on Sinn Fein works like a charm.

  • micktvd

    From my understanding of history, terrorising civilian populations is a very effective tactic. From the Romans to the Soviets; from the US in Nicaragua to the British in Tasmania state terrorism has been used because it works. STATE TERRORISM is still far, far more likely to leave people dead in a ditch than the retail variety.

  • Denny Boy

    I don’t know what your point is, Mike, so I’ll let it be for what it is.

    Micktvd, I’m sure Quentin Peel wasn’t including state terrorism in his argument, but yours is valid.

    My own argument is that terrorism of whatever calibre does work, and is unstoppable. Witness the appalling carnage in Iraq, where as many people were slaughtered within a few months as in 30 years in NI.

    George Bush vowed to wage war on terror. Was he successful? Israel had to build a wall around its suicide bombers, but they still get through.

    The only way to stop terrorism is to eradicate the problems that cause men to choose terror. Shame that we didn’t think to do this in 1968.

  • Alan McDonald

    Denny Boy,

    A question: What do you do with two groups of terrorists with mutually exclusive agendas, i.e., how do you eradicate both theire problems?

  • Denny Boy

    Are they fighting one another, Alan?

  • Yoda

    Terrorism, like poverty or murder, will always be with us.

    We should try to tackle the problems that cause them, but I’m very doubtful that we’ll solve them all.

  • Alan McDonald

    Denny Boy,

    Let’s say they are both fighting a third party for the same resource/piece of land/entitlement, with a zero-sum outcome.

  • Yoda

    The concept of zero-sum can only have meaning for someone looking in from the outside. What one side gains, the other loses. That means a lot if you are on either side.

  • Denny Boy

    “Let’s say they are both fighting a third party for the same resource/piece of land/entitlement, with a zero-sum outcome.”

    Perhaps a first step would be to ask them why they’ve chosen violence. Maybe there’s a better way for both factions and they haven’t gone down that road yet.

    This is hypothetical stuff we’re discussing, right? 😉

  • Alan McDonald

    Hypothetical, to be sure, and definitely from the outside. While I agree that dialog would be best, I’m positing a situation where the violence is active and the third party that holds the desired resource is going to protect it using counter-terrorism measures. If you can’t talk the out of it, what should be done? If giving the resource to either warring party rewards one at the expense of the other, how can you eradicate the problems that cause men to choose terror?

  • Denny Boy

    One extends and advances the resource so that the move is beyond “zero-sum”.

    In short, instead of three belligerents fighting over a finite resource, the situation exists where a portion of the gained and potent resource must, of necessity, be shared.

    And you keep ’em talking….

  • Yoda

    I can’t speak for Denny, but personally, I don’t think it’s possible to eradicate all those conditions. It’s almost as difficult as trying to define “terrorism.” As the old chestnut says, “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.”

    All you can do is try to address the situations as they arise. That’s why there will always be some form of “terrorism.”

    That’s why “The War On Terror” (TM, (c)) will fail and why “terrorism” will always be somewhat effective.

    If it was totally ineffective, people wouldn’t continue to do it. It is, and they do.

  • Par Example

    New US black operations unit said to have arrived in Baghdad.

    In a dispatch posted at 3:55 GMT Wednesday, Quds Press reported that it had learned from “exclusive sources” that a special American detachment had arrived in the country about a week ago with the task of carrying out “dirty operations” that could be blamed on the Iraqi Resistance in an effort to try to erode mass support for the independence movement.

    The sources said that the American unit, dubbed “gnawing rats,” was to carry out assassinations, sabotage of government installations and random bombings, all of which could be blamed on the Iraqi Resistance.

    The sources said that the American black operations unit had been formed six months ago and underwent special training enabling the commandos to recognize the political, natural and social “geography” of Iraq. Among the soldiers in the unit are Arab-Americans who have received training in the Iraqi spoken dialect of Arabic.

    The command of the unit is directly subordinated to the supreme US military command in the Pentagon rather than to the local US military occupation command in Baghdad, the sources told Quds Press. Its headquarters is said to be in one wing of the as-Sujud Presidential Palace in the occupied Iraqi capital.

    http://iraqwar.mirror-world.ru/article/58917

  • Alan McDonald

    Let me add at this point that I won’t be looking to Washington or London for help with this conundrum. Both administrations have made it clear that they consider terrorism to be unreasonable, so no reason can be applied to eradicate it. To paraphrase Karl Rove, we can’t be nice to terrorists, we just have to kill all of them.

    BTW, Denny, I came up with the same answer about the “finite resource.” Yoda, you are probably also correct, and terrorism cannot be wiped out.

  • Denny Boy

    I’ve just depressed myself 🙁

    Right now I’m going to curl up in front of Catherine Tate and see if she can’t cheer me up!

  • Alan McDonald

    Who’s she when she’s at home?

  • Yoda

    The “black ops” poster adds yet another wrinkle: what happens when so-called “legitimate” third (and fourth) parties start colluding with those “illegitimates”? Collusion is a very thorny question, especially in the context of NI. One person plants a bomb or shoots someone but many on all sides are “responsible.”

  • Biffo

    “If anything, IRA terrorism has made matters worse, inviting a brutal backlash from loyalist thugs that has cost many innocent Catholic lives and driving Protestant voters into the extremist arms of the Reverend Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist party.”

    Sloppy, analysis. The DUP became the predominant party of choice for protestant voters in an era notable for a lack of IRA terrorism.

    Also, loyalist terrorists are responsible for their own brutality, not the IRA.

    It’s worth remembering that the UVF reappeared and began to carry out sectarian assinations in 1966, 3 years before the IRA reappeared.

    One “reason” was the plan to hold a republican parade in Belfast that year to commemorate the 1916 rising.

    Fast forward to 2005 and the plan to hold a republican parade in Ballymena and the recent upsurge of loyalist intimidation of catholics in county Antrim.

    Loyalist violence wasn’t a reaction to republican violence, it was a reaction to change.

  • aquifer

    “A question: What do you do with two groups of terrorists with mutually exclusive agendas, i.e., how do you eradicate both their problems?”

    Good question when people are trying to say that terrorism works. South America has been rife with left and right wing terrorists and death squads.

    Though the revolutionistas might claim that the two sets of terrorists, rooted in the working classes, will conclude a socialist settlement.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ”Against such a changing background, IRA terrorism has been utterly counter-productive.
    That is what has driven Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin/IRA leaders, to espouse the new realism.”

    For reasons better known to themselves, IRA/SF thought for years that the best way to unite Ireland was by bombing town centres, murdering Protestants, blowing up small boys in Warrington and parting their own community from their kneecaps.
    What never seemed to occur to them was the revolutionary idea of trying to convince the Unionist community of the benefits of a United Ireland.
    Now that peace has broken out in the Republican community, I’m sure we can expect an avalanche of good reasons for the Unionists to leave the UK and embrace the thrill of a 32 county socialist republic.
    As a little taster, they could address a few of these issues which Unionists need to ask themselves before even contemplating such a move.

    1. Do I wish to renounce my British citizenship and become a fully fledged Irish citizen?
    2. Do I wish to leave the fourth largest economic unit on the planet and throw my lot in with a nation whose long-term economic prospects are dubious (even assuming SF don’t manage to install their unique brand of socialism)?
    3. Do I wish to live in a state where prices are so high that tourism has slumped by 20% in the past year?
    4. Do I wish to learn Irish?
    5. Do I wish to live in a state still dominated by the Roman Catholic religion (even more shocking nowadays given the revealed antics of
    that particular institution)?
    6. Do I wish to live in a state where the very mention of the term British is enough to see you spat at in the street? Where incomprensible Gaelic games are ‘in your face’ on a daily basis? Where 1916 is remembered fondly and where a union jack (even outside a major hotel)is as rare as hen’s teeth?
    7. Do I wish to live in a state where SF have the real prospect of gaining real power, as opposed to adminisering British rule at Stormont?