Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Tomorrow's leaders seen by yesterday's target

Ten years as a University of London student are an eloquent testament to my misspent youth. Single-mindedly buckling down to study was not my top priority. Still, I had a lot of fun, and not all of it morally reprehensible. 

But among a lot of good memories one that jars was the low-grade anxiety I felt every time I stepped onto a train, a bus or an underground. It became second-nature to check under seats, in overheard racks, up and down aisles. Was there an abandoned case or a bag? ‘Who,’ someone might ask, ‘does that bag belong to?’

I never saw a bomb explode but twice heard them. And once the police stopped me leaving a Chinatown restaurant for several hours, while they cleared the streets in response to an IRA bomb threat. The restaurant had a plate glass front and, although my colleague and I were sitting at the back, it was quite obvious that if a bomb went off nearby the flying glass would have a distinctly career-limiting effect on us. 

Now, I’m a strong supporter of the Irish Republican cause. It strikes me as indefensible that six out of 32 counties on one island should be run by the island next door. It seems almost obscene that for 25 years and more young Englishmen were sent out there to become targets or, even worse, perpetrators of brutal violence.

Not only do I believe that the Republic should take over Ulster, I often toy with the idea that it could take over the rest of the UK too. The role of the Catholic Church is unattractive, but surely waning, and at least absorption by Dublin would rid us of the monarchy and the House of Lords and perhaps reduce our inclination to get mixed up in further foreign wars.

But my enthusiasm for republicanism stops short of wanting to be cut to shreds in furtherance of its aims. Even in a Chinese restaurant. However good the restaurant. I find it hard to maintain much cordiality to anyone likely to be cut me into little bits.

Nor am I partial to the people who fund actions to spoil my meals in this way. Way up at the top of the list in eighties was a bunch called Noraid, the Irish Northern Aid Committee. This is a US organisation which strenuously denies ever having financed terrorism, which presumably means that it only proves the oppressive nature of the American establishment that the Department of Justice obliged to Noraid to list the Provisiona IRA as its ‘foreign principal.’ 

All this is interesting because all those upstanding gentlemen currently bucking for the Republican presidential nomination are making such mileage out of their commitment to eradicate terrorism. And not just the candidates: a leading light of the Republican Right is Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who has gone so far as to organise hearings into the radicalisation of American Muslims. 

‘80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists’,  he declared in 2004, describing this presence as ‘an enemy living amongst us.’ Curiously, this same King was a long-time leading supporter of Noraid. Only last year he declared that ‘if civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it.’ 

It’s nice to know that had the IRA blown my restaurant to pieces and taken me out in a storm of glass shards, Congressman King would have found this regrettable. On that point, at least, he and I are in complete agreement.

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
But it's all the same if you're at the receiving end

At the risk of seeming a bit picky, though, I’d feel more comfortable if he denounced the terrorism that targeted me back then with the same vehemence he directs at the Islamic variety today. Otherwise one might suspect it isn’t so much terrorism he abhors as Moslems.

Now that's a position it would be nice see Santorum and Gingrich distance themselves from, wouldn’t it? 

But I'm not holding my breath.

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