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March 16, 2005

Comments

Frank McGahon

There's a simple explanation for the double standard at work here: Osama bin Laden looks appropriately foreign and scary-looking, while the friendly "freedom fighter" Gerry Adams does not. Besides, bin Laden doesn't have the distinction of adhering to the "progressive" ideology of Marxism to which the IRA remains faithful

It might be a simple explanation but that doesn't mean it's the correct one. I have no doubt that the "freedom fighter" schtick plays well within Irish America and the simplistic (Irish) Republican narrative of Northern Ireland is a lot easier to understand than the messy reality. It would be hard to explain to Americans that the Northern Ireland dispute is an ethnic conflict analogous to, say, that in former Yugoslavia, when what they have in mind is the default "colonialist" model. The notion that "the boys" now constitute an organised crime gang, the 'rafia ,to use the recent coinage, and that post-ceasefire NI resembles "Sicily without the sun" had been a difficult sell but that's changing now with the McCartney sisters' campaign.

With Britain, it is different. I am sure that Blair genuinely wants a lasting peace in NI, but he has chosen the wrong methods. His attachment is not to Gerry Adams' "freedom fighter" image, but to a type of appeasement policy, taking on trust claims from those in the Republican movement that if he only offers one more concession, they will be able to bring the "hardliners" on board. The joke is that there are no "hardliners". Their continuing presence and the threat of a return to full scale bombing is a valuable negotiating tool for Adams which he is not going to surrender lightly. The British (and Irish) government(s) have been suckered, but wishful thinking rather than any romantic attachment for "progressive" liberationism is the problem here.

It is also worth differentating between terrorists groups with whom it is (at least theoretically) possible to negotiate and fantasists such as Al-Qaeda. If the IRA's demands were conceded it would be bad for plenty of people within NI and it might have negative game theory consequences for the next set of terrorist negotiations. But, it would be realistically possible to deliver and some sort of compromise position is imaginable. With Al-Qaeda their demand is that a worldwide caliphate under Shariah be established with all infidels converted or killed. There is no imaginable compromise between this and liberal democracy.

Phil Hunt

In one word: hypocrisy.

praktike

I'm not going to defend the IRA, which is certainly a terrorist group and so forth, but I don't think it's nearly as dangerous as Al Qaeda.

Abiola Lapite

"I'm not going to defend the IRA, which is certainly a terrorist group and so forth, but I don't think it's nearly as dangerous as Al Qaeda."

Many a Briton would disagree. The IRA has killed far more people on British soil than the 0 which Al Qaeda has to date.

Abiola Lapite

In any case, what is of more concern to me is that a lot of Americans continue to view Irish terrorism as "excusable" in a manner they'd never tolerate from Muslims or Arabs with grievances to air. Just take a look at the following article.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4352035.stm

It is simply unacceptable that Americans should take IRA terrorism any less seriously than they do Al Qaeda; if Britain tried to play the same game by turning a blind eye to Islamist fundraising in exchange for immunity from terror, virtually all Americans would go ballistic, but when it's other country's citizens whose lives are at risk, all sorts of mitigating factors are found to treat their situation differently. From where I stand, it seems even Hamas is treated more stringently than the IRA, despite never having staged any terrorism outside Israel's own borders.

Kevin Donoghue

“There's a simple explanation for the double standard at work here: Osama bin Laden looks appropriately foreign and scary-looking, while the friendly "freedom fighter" Gerry Adams does not. Besides, bin Laden doesn't have the distinction of adhering to the "progressive" ideology of Marxism to which the IRA remains faithful....”

Of course there is a double standard at work, but if there is a simple explanation I have yet to see it. A couple of points (which don’t purport to amount to an explanation) may be worth noting.

When Adams and the PIRA became the standard-bearers of the Republican movement, they did it, not by embracing Marxism but by breaking, in the late 1960s, with the Marxists of the now-forgotten Official IRA. That movement, led by Cathal Goulding, sought to persuade working-class Catholics that working-class Protestants were their allies in the class struggle and that those who supposed otherwise were victims of a false consciousness promoted by wealthy unionists. The Catholic working-class treated that shit with the contempt it deserved. Adams & Co. revived an older, more ethnic style of Republicanism which is formally non-sectarian (the few Protestants who have been staunch nationalists are especially admired) but which is in fact murderously hostile to Protestants (not for their faith but for their politics). If you look at the way Sinn Fein plays up the cult of martyrdom and a mythical version of Irish history, you see something that looks a lot more like fascism than Marxism.

Of course it makes little odds to the victim whether his murderer is a Marxist, a fascist or some blend of the two, but knowing what makes people tick helps if you want to defeat them. To understand why “so many Irish-Americans continue to turn a blind eye to what the IRA really is all about” it is useful to know that they aren’t responding to leftist radical chic (although Adams can dress that part too if he wants to). They are responding to the same call that moved W.B. Yeats, great poet, fervant nationalist and ardent admirer of Benito Mussolini.

The peace process has had a bad smell from the start, but most of us have held our noses and gone along with it, in the hope that the IRA would gradually fade away. It isn’t that Blair and Ahern have become disillusioned with it; they probably had few illusions about it. If you want to trace the steps which have led to the current chilliness towards Sinn Fein, the following events were important: (1) the capture of three IRA men in Columbia, with obvious implications for American attitudes; (2) 9/11, with similar but stronger implications; (3) the bank raid and the McCartney murder.

But there is also an important sub-plot: for years members of Ahern’s Fianna Fail party have been toying with the idea of ditching their current coalition partners and turning to Sinn Fein for support. It has gradually become clear that this move isn’t on. The idea was buried recently when Ahern said he believed that Adams had prior knowledge of the bank raid. Whether he has good information on this is a matter for conjecture, but it would be a very foolish Irish-American politician who would pretend to know better.

Jim

Frank,
Kevin,

You are over-analyzing the American response to this. It is far more mindless and vague than you imagine. It is based on a vague, out-dated sense that Britain is an occupying power which gets mixed in with a big dose of sentimetalism to give this kind of spastic nonsense. The only people who give a shit about Ireland in this country are at least a century out of date with their information, but they vote, so who does the rest of the country go to when something like this comes up?

This has to do with why there isn't much outrage over the IRA's victims in this country. Nobody bothers to remember that most of the victims are in Ireland. And there is a nasty sense that, in the words of a British woman commenting after 9-11 as to why she wasn't more upset over all the dead Americans "Well, a bully with a bloody nose is still a bully, innit?"

OBL does look foreign, which is ironic considering how queer this country is for anything Old Testament, but more than that is why Adams does not look foreign. Chechen and Alabanian leaders look like a lot of people's uncles too, but they don't get nearly the same traction, do they?

praktike

Abiola, what's the largest-casualty IRA attack?

Kevin Donoghue

"You are over-analyzing the American response to this. It is far more mindless and vague than you imagine."

I grant you the mindlessness. That is part of the reason I mention the change in Bertie Ahern's position. An American politician who snuggles up to Gerry Adams in a bid to win Irish-American votes is taking a much greater risk now that Ahern has accused Adams of duplicity. One of the things which bug me most about all this is that the Irish Government has influence which it could use to squeeze Sinn Fein, but as often as not that influence has been used to help Sinn Fein obtain favourable treatment for its supporters. That plays well with nationalists in Northern Ireland and with Fianna Fail supporters in the South, but it also provides Sinn Fein with far more clout than it should have on the basis of its electoral support.

I think Irish-Americans get too much of the blame from those who rage against appeasement of the IRA, while Ireland's own political and diplomatic establishment gets off too lightly. Irish-Americans may be granted a fools pardon, "for they know not what they do", but Bertie Ahern knows only too well what he is doing. Quite often he is doing what non-violent Irish nationalists have been doing ever since Parnell's time: "using violence to secure a hearing for moderation" - a kind of good cop, bad cop ploy designed to extract maximum concessions from the Brits.

It is not American support for the IRA that bothers me most. The IRA are a resourceful bunch and they will get the wherewithal to make trouble from other sources if they have to. Crime probably raises more revenue than American funding. The really harmful thing about the peace process is the corrupting effect it has on politics in both parts of Ireland and in Britain. Luckily it seems more and more people feel that way about it.

Jim

Kevin,

"I think Irish-Americans get too much of the blame" You are too generous with us. People are responsible to know when they don't don't know enough, and they ought to keep out of matters where they are ignorant. And sentimentality is a vicious crime. So no pardon for fools.

But a ray of hope that people are coming around; my father stopped hitting the tip jar 25 years ago and maybe others started catching on too - which may coincide with the IRA's dalliance with Qaddhafi and their consulting work for the coke-rich FARC.

As for crime, the IRA may end up morphing into a European Triad, starting out the same way with a political motivation and then just doing what it takes to survive at all costs as an organization. And then again it may not work, if they lack the offshore communities to hide in and work from that the Triads have.

Final note on American partialities - English-Americans have had much more influence on policy down through the years than Irish-Americans have ever had. This includes staging a Civil War that was the best training ground for actual war the Republicans ever had.

Abiola Lapite

"Abiola, what's the largest-casualty IRA attack?"

And why exactly is this information of any interest to those resident in the British Isles? Even an IRA attack that killed just one person would be deadlier than anything perpetuated in Britain by Islamists, and as hard as it may be for Americans to accept at times, the rest of the world doesn't revolve around their own tragedies.

It is simply bad taste to start making comparisons about the deadliness of the IRA versus Al Qaeda - the only reason one could see for such argumentation would be as an exercise in apologetics. Those Gerry Adams and his colleagues have murdered as just as dead as anyone killed by Islamists, and somehow I doubt any American would think Islamic terrorism acceptable if it killed "only" 30 or 40 people on US soil at a go.

What's particularly irritating about this whole discussion is that if it were, say, the Black Panthers we were talking about, and a European government were entertaining its leadership as if they were serious statesmen while turning a blind eye to their fundraising within its borders, said country would be marked down for "regime change" by now. Instead Gerry Adams gets to make do with a snub from the White House and a meeting with a former high-level diplomat; some punishment, that.

Ross


There is a core of IRA supporters for whom the radical chic angle is the motivating factor, but the majority of supporters in the USA are motivated purely by ethnic bigotry. The IRA's most shameless supporter in Congress is a Republican who is not likely to be supportive of their marxist stance, nor are NRO writers-

http://www.nationalreview.com/nr_comment/nr_comment031502.shtml

Sebastian Holsclaw

"What's particularly irritating about this whole discussion is that if it were, say, the Black Panthers we were talking about, and a European government were entertaining its leadership as if they were serious statesmen while turning a blind eye to their fundraising within its borders, said country would be marked down for "regime change" by now."

Hmm, my history of the Black Panthers is a bit fuzzy and my books aren't easily accessible, but I seem to remember them getting a good reception in Europe.

In any case, I take the change in US treatment of the IRA as very encouraging. It never made sense to deal with the IRA as anything other than terrorists.

Abiola Lapite

Ross,

That NRO piece by Elizabeth Fitton is really something. I especially like the following bit of understatement:

"The IRA of the 1980s and 1990s exhibited serious and unforgivable flaws."

Can anyone imagine the National Review ever letting anything like this on behalf of, say, the ANC, grace its pages, despite the centuries-long oppression of blacks in South Africa? Hell, even Martin Luther King's peaceful resistance was thought too much by these guys back in the 1960s ...

João da Costa

"It never made sense to deal with the IRA as anything other than terrorists."

I'm curious to know where would you put the Chechen rebels.
In this case also, the USA has had an ambiguous position, oft (apparently) seeing that group as a representant of the Chechen people, and urging the Russian state to negotiate with them, but lately classifying them as terrorists.
Actually, and to generalize to all corners of the globe, I would like to see people here writing down a set of universal, objective and verifiable criteria to separate unambiguously what is a "liberating army" from a "terrorist organization".

Abiola Lapite

"Targets civilians" -> "Terrorist organization." It's that simple.

Jim

The Black Panthers were indeed welcomed warmly in Europe, and for that matter in Manhattan salons - see Tom Wolfe's "Those Radical Chic Evennings". But the Black Panthers were never in the same league as the IRA. They weren't the terrorists in that era, the New Left groups like the Weather Underground and sympathizers committed the bank robberies and those small scale bombings we had in the Bay Area. But then, the IRA is not in the same league as Al Qaida. It is too inept in its targeting process and too limited in its objectives to rate with Al Qaida. Its strategic vision does not extend beyond its little corner of the world.

The world doesn't revolve around America's tragedies, but Al Qaida has a lot more to answer for than 9-11. It is behind Jemaah Islamiya and the Abu sayyaf Group, and thus threatens hundreds of millions of people.

As for the US finding 30-40 deaths acceptable, the criterion seems not to be so much who the attackers are as it is who the victims are. The Oklahoma City bombing did not result in seizure of NRA membership records, seizure of Fundamentalist church records and all that perhaps becuae the victims were just government workers, in the same way that military lives are considered expendable, but when stock brokers, entrepreneurial people, get killed, well, that is another matter. Those people have lives and futures; now the world will never be the same.

Anyway, snubbing someone from a meeting with Bush is no punishment at all, but at least it reverses a mistake.

Abiola Lapite

"The world doesn't revolve around America's tragedies, but Al Qaida has a lot more to answer for than 9-11. It is behind Jemaah Islamiya and the Abu sayyaf Group, and thus threatens hundreds of millions of people."

The point is, though, that as of yet, Al Qaeda has nothing to answer for to British residents, and an unscrupulous British government could feasibly play the same sort of duplicitous game with Al Qaeda that America has long played with the IRA.

Or how about an even better example, namely France? France, like America, has a very large domestic constituency substantial numbers of whom look favorably on terrorism abroad: how about if the French government gave a wink to their domestic fundraising activities, on the understanding that the terror they inflict only takes place on foreign soil? What if French senators and ministers feted their representatives, and French presidents welcomed them to the Elysée Palace? That's just how I feel about the kid gloves with which Sinn Fein, Noraid and all the rest of the IRA apparatus has and still is being treated in the US.

Jim

"That's just how I feel about the kid gloves with which Sinn Fein, Noraid and all the rest of the IRA apparatus has and still is being treated in the US."

There's no excuse for the kindly reception that whole gang has gotten, just an explanation of the mechanisms at work - some of it sentimentality, some of it outdated understandings of the situation, and then all the political posturing and opportunism that feeds on that.

Comparing this behavior to that of the French is a telling criticism - they used to behave towards Arafat in exactly this way. They have been very reluctant to designate Hizbullah as a terrorist group and on and on. Comparing US treament of the IRA to anyhting the French do is a damning criticism.

The IRA is the sloppy afterbirth of a really nasty colonial episode. "The cause of Ireland" just doesn't resonate in the US the way it once did because Ireland is hardly in the dire straits it once was.

And about time. You don't believe in collective culpability - targeting civilains for something their government did 400, then 200, the 150 years ago. Would that that were way the rest of us think. That is rational and high-minded and obviously the path of sanity. So how likely is it? Applaud it when you see it, nurture it when you can, condemn it when people backslide.

So I take your point about what Al Qaida has or has not done in Britain. They have recruited British men to their war and some have ended up dying or in US detention, but after all, no one twisted those guys' arms. You are of course right in pointing out that they haven't carried out any attacks there.

praktike

Well, I guess what I'm getting at is that Al Qaeda is a lot scarier than the IRA, because the former has an ideology that leads it to favor massive, spectacular attacks with massive casualties. The IRA is a loathsome terrorist group, but it doesn't frighten as many people because AFAIK it has confined itself to smaller operations. They're a shitty group and they should be dealt with accordingly; I'm just trying to explain why the groups are viewed differently, so don't jump all over me here.

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