In recent years the term "terrorists" has come to connote those Islamic extremists who kill innocent civilians at random to call attention to their cause. However, for the past 36 years, terrorism by fellow Christians in Northern Ireland has caused the deaths of more than 3,500 men, women and children -- Protestant and Catholic alike.
The world recently welcomed an announcement that the Irish Republican Army has chosen to lay down its arms after all these years to pursue its agenda by purely political means. Ironically, its decision for peace was prompted by the fact that terrorism has been taken out of the hands of Christian extremists and discredited by Muslim suicide bombers.
Former supporters of the IRA's goal of joining Protestant-majority Northern Ireland to the overwhelmingly Catholic Republic of Ireland have become increasingly disillusioned by the IRA's criminal methods. Army members covered up their brutal barroom killing of a Catholic man last January and were held responsible for a $50 million bank robbery the previous month.
The would-be good guys were acting like thugs and criminals.
Protestants outnumber Catholics in Northern Ireland by about two to one. Catholics tend to be working-class and live together in enclaves apart from the majority. From an outsider's perspective, Protestant-Catholic animosity appears to stem from cultural, political and economic differences -- Catholics believe they are treated as an underclass -- not from the citizens' religious differences. After all, the Irish of Northern Ireland are all Christians.
A cease-fire was negotiated in 1997, and the following year a power-sharing agreement was signed that promised to guarantee equal rights and full political participation by the Catholic minority. However, Great Britain was forced to suspend local rule nearly three years ago amid allegations of weapons stockpiling and other criminal activity by the IRA.
Means over ends
British prime minister Tony Blair has been roundly criticized for taking such a hard stance against Islamic terrorism while keeping open the door to negotiating with the IRA. His response has been that the IRA at least attempts to negotiate, and that unlike the Islamic extremists, they use terror tactically rather than exulting in taking vast numbers of innocent lives.
In this, Blair may have been proven prescient. In any case, IRA Christians, who have a political and democratic objective, are determined not to be tarred by the Islamic terrorists, who show no restraint pursuing objectives inimical to democracy, human rights and justice.
There's a lesson here about how religious faith -- real or bogus -- can be used as an excuse to justify inhumanity. Before the massacre of the Albigensian heretics in the 13th century, a soldier sought his bishop's counsel: "Whom should I kill, and how can I distinguish between Catholics and heretics?"
"Kill them all," the bishop advised. "God will know his own."
Scripps Howard News Service