According to this week’s Economist the Sinn Féin statement announcing the end of the IRA’s armed activities was delayed so that it would not “be overshadowed by the new, more violent terror campaign being waged by jihadis on the British mainland.” Were the IRA bombs that killed civilians in pubs and shopping streets less violent than al-Qaeda’s? The only difference, as far as I can see, is that the IRA members did not believe in blowing up themselves in the process. Does that make them less violent than suicide bombers?
Other commentators, too, tend to make a distinction between the terrorist movements associated with political struggles between population groups within the European states themselves, and the series of terrorist attacks by Islamic groups on Western targets since 9/11. I do not believe that there is a real distinction between “old terrorism” and “new terrorism.” There is only one kind of terrorism and it is always to be abhorred.
Moreover, this “new terrorism” is not new at all. It has been around for decades in the Arab world, and this is not even the first time it has been exported to the West. Some people seem to think that 9/11/2001 meant the beginning of the age of terrorism, but an al-Qaeda related organisation, the Algerian terror group GIA, had already bombed a Parisian underground station in July 1995, killing 7 civilians and wounding 117. This was long before the neocons had any influence in US foreign policy.
The IRA itself was funded, trained and armed in Libya, and received assistance from the PLO. If terrorism is how frustrated Palestinians and other Arabs feel compelled to fight the Israeli occupation of Palestine, why were they so eager in the 1970s, 80s and 90s to support non-Muslim terrorists like the IRA? Or the ETA? Or the German RAF?
Having grown up in an Irish border town I resented the way in which reporters on the continent systematically referred to “the Catholic IRA.” The IRA were no more Catholic than Che Guevara – one of their heroes. To perpetrate their acts in the name of the Catholics of Northern Ireland was in itself an assault on the reputation and the identity of these people and a distortion of their history.
The IRA originated as an unholy alliance of marxist activism and Arab training. Like ETA in the Basque provinces, it took advantage of a local situation of manifest injustice and oppression as an alibi for its activities. Many Irish republicans, however, never identified with the post-1969 IRA. That the IRA had to glean support mafia-style, by intimidation and coercion, is well known. History has overtaken them and I am glad Gerry Adams has finally realised that their reign of terror is over. If this is the result of George W. Bush refusing to invite him to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day 2005, then this is another victory for the Americans in the fight against terrorism.