Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sympathy for the devils

Ever wonder how moderate and seemingly sane people can sympathize with terrorists?

Anne Applebaum doesn't. She noted the parallels between Irish-American support for the IRA and Muslim-Brit sympathies for Arab terrorists acting OUTSIDE Britain. An excerpt:

. . . Like British Muslim support for Muslim extremist terrorism, Irish American support for Irish terrorism came in many forms. There were Irish Americans who waved the Irish flag once a year on St. Patrick's Day and admired the IRA's cause but felt queasy about the methods. There were Irish Americans who collected money for Catholic charities in Northern Ireland without condoning the IRA at all. There were also Irish Americans who, while claiming to be "aiding the families of political prisoners," were in fact helping to arm IRA terrorists. Throughout the 1970s, until Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked President Ronald Reagan to stop them, they were the IRA's primary source of funding. And even after that they were widely tolerated.

I concede there is one major difference: The Irish terrorists were setting off their bombs across the ocean and not in New York or Boston, which somehow made the whole thing seem less real. But in Britain the explosions were real enough. In 1982 -- the year an IRA bomb killed eight people in Hyde Park -- four IRA men were arrested in New York after trying to buy surface-to-air missiles from an FBI agent. In 1984 -- the year the IRA tried to kill the whole British cabinet in Brighton -- an IRA plot to smuggle seven tons of explosives was foiled, an action that led to the arrests of several Americans. As recently as 1999, long after the IRA had declared its cease-fire, members of an IRA group connected to an American organization, the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid), were arrested for gun-running in Florida.

* * *
My point here isn't really about Northern Irish politics, however, but about the extraordinarily powerful appeal of foreign, "revolutionary," "idealistic" violence to the inhabitants of otherwise peaceful societies. You don't have to be Muslim, or poor, or an extremist, to feel the romantic pull of terrorism. You can be a middle-class American and a lapsed Catholic whose grandmother happened to come from Donegal.

But the appeal of foreign violence can also be destroyed, or at least reduced, if community leaders agree that they want that to happen. If British Muslims deploy every one of their religious, civic and business institutions, they may, over time, be able to eliminate the climate of tolerance that made the London bombings possible, just as Irish Americans -- as well as Rep. King, who has now called on the IRA to disband -- eventually helped eliminate the climate of tolerance around the IRA. And if they don't -- there will always be recruits willing to die for a glamorous foreign cause.

Read it all.

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