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Archive for Saturday, October 27, 2001

Ireland offers lesson on terrorism

October 27, 2001

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In one form or another, terrorism has been endemic to the Irish experience at least since Henry VIII assumed the title King of Ireland in 1541.

This week's agreement by the Irish Republican Army to decommission arms and explosives, and the trust it implies in a peace process, suggests that if Ireland is no longer safe for terrorism, terrorism everywhere may be in greater danger than we imagine.

There are so many subtleties to the Irish question that it is always dangerous to generalize, but one thing is plain: Europe made it possible.

Europeanism, a regional form of globalization, made it clear on both sides of the Irish border that it matters less who has title to Northern Ireland than who sets the rules for a new, integrated European order.

I suppose it's also a strong argument against faith-based politics, which often lead to faith-based terrorism. If the early Irish had held a mass apostasy and embraced Buddhism, it's hard to calculate the lives likely spared in centuries of bloodshed over the fine points dividing Papal Christianity from the Protestant branch of the same faith.

Sean Lemass, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1965, lamented that the Irish "have an undue disposition to be sorry for ourselves." In the 26 counties of the Republic, this took the form of such self-defeating policies as Eamon De Valera's insistence that Ireland erect a tariff wall to exclude British commerce and his sublimely idiotic pretense that neutral Ireland was indifferent to who won World War II. These had the effect of condemning the republic to an isolation and economic stagnation that didn't fully dissipate until it entered the European Economic Community in 1973.

De Valera's intransigence took other weird forms, including the incident in which he called at the German Embassy in Dublin to express sympathy over the death of the German chancellor. His failure to do so would have hardly provoked displeasure in the rubble of Berlin, where, in the spring of 1945, officials were more preoccupied with fleeing the Russians than being consoled on the death of a maniac who'd led them to ruin. In not deserting Hitler, De Valera displayed the asinine consistency of a man who forgot nothing and learned nothing.

It is fitting, or perhaps just ironic, that as the United States is entering into a new war on terrorism, the war on Irish terrorism seems to be winding down. If so, good riddance to a war in which all sides behaved badly and the front lines were sloppily drawn. Even in the Republic, the pretense to owning the six northern counties was a half-hearted claim. The last thing Dublin ever wanted was the expense and grief of governing them.

Now maybe all the Irish will be free to do what they do best and I don't mean spreading insipid blarney like it was Velveeta. Let's hope that from their myths and superstitions will rise a self-confident island that no longer exports its population and wallows in self pity, yet never forgets a past that made it one of the least spoiled spots on Earth, where lyrical gifts are still cherished above all others.

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