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 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. 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.”
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.
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.