The IRA didn’t die, it was supplanted by al-Qaeda
The 9/11 attacks gave the Irish republican movement the perfect opportunity to effortlessly insert itself into civilian life
If a week is a long time in politics, then a decade must be aeons. So it seemed to those of us who had followed Northern Irish politics during the 1970s and 80s, when, post-9/11, the archetypal terrorist became a Muslim. Or, to put it more strongly, for some people terrorist - or at any rate, terrorist sympathiser - and Islamic became synonymous.
And then, after the 7/7 London bombings, the equivalence became even more complete because these weren't just shadowy foreigners but our very own home-grown killers.
I don't want to belittle everything that Tony Blair achieved during his premiership, but for all the chest-thumping of the politicians, I don't imagine the 1998 Good Friday agreement would have held were it not for the bespoke image-change handed to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness three years later by al-Qaeda. With such practitioners of atrocity at large in the world as well as their own sterling work on a democratic makeover - the Provisional IRA cadres began to look positively cuddly.
The Omagh killers remain unpunished, even though their identities are known
The murder of two soldiers by the Real IRA in County Antrim and now the brutal ambush and slaying of a policeman in Craigavon are revolting ways for the amnesiac British public to be reminded that we do these grotesque things indigenously quite as effectively as any immigrants - but reminded we should be.
And reminded also of what an atrocity the Real IRA's bombing of Omagh was: not just in terms of numbers, although 29 is a lot, but because the killers remain unpunished, even though we know full-well who they are.
Furthermore, if anyone needed a wake-up call from the sad delusion that British justice/policing/counter-terrorism is the finest in the world, it is that due to cock-ups and malfeasances from the individual level all the way to the very top of the RUC (now the PSNI), the relatives of the Omagh victims are having to bring a civil action against those who murdered their loved ones.
And while we're all increasing our memory power, let's take a look at some of our fundamental assumptions about the peace process in Northern Ireland, and see if they've worn the test of time.
The Real IRA are the real nutters, aren't they? Those who wouldn't accept that the armed struggle had been defeated; whereas Adams and McGuiness sought a genuine accommodation with the British state, while still holding on to the ideal of a united Ireland.
The Troubles didn’t disappear, those involved just stopped killing each other
In time - or so the Tony Blair version would go - even this ideal will become hazy and indistinct, like a production of Riverdance that you've seen half-cut in a provincial theatre, or some such Celtic twilight twaddle.
But there's nothing remotely hazy about Sinn Fein's ideals: they remain crystal clear. While on the other side of the mural-daubed wall, the Unionists democratic or otherwise cleave as strongly as ever to their bizarre notion that they are more loyal to the British monarchy than to life itself. The casus belli of the Troubles never went away; it is just that for a while they stopped killing each other so we forgot about it.
In the eight years since the attacks on the Twin Towers, there have been billions of words expended explaining the inherently violent and expansionist nature of Islam and the Muslim world; even the most dispassionate of Western liberals will, once confronted with this or that example of jihadist zeal, revert to the type who sees Islam as nothing but malevolent. It's as if we can't function without some nebulous 'other' on to which we project all our anxieties.
Once the Catholic Irish use to fit the bill but then they became too assimilated; now British Asians have taken on the role, but that can hardly last us aeons. I give it a decade, and then we're going to have to accept that people can commit terrorist atrocities regardless of race, creed or colour. Evil is an equal opportunities employer. ·
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