Terrorism is nothing new. It is used by those who cannot otherwise persuade by argument or numbers.
What has changed is the nature of terrorism.
During the Cold War, the superpowers couldn’t afford an all-out conflict between each other, so they backed proxies to engage in smaller battles. Think South Korea, Vietnam, Angola. Our battles in Northern Ireland were sideline shows that weren’t ever going to cause a clash of the titans.
Then remember after the Berlin Wall fell down when someone declared the end of history — communism failed, democracy won, and that was that? But then came the collapse of Yugoslavia and the re-emergence of wars between ethnic groups. It put our situation in a contemporary context.
The US, acting as global policeman, locked the Balkan actors into a room in Dayton, Ohio, until they came to agreement. President Clinton expended much political capital to at least coax us to the Good Friday Agreement.
That period of time, from 1989-2001, was a kind of a honeymoon for much of the West, in that there was no fear of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), and addressing ethnic conflicts was the priority of the day.
What 9/11 brought was the use of technology, combined with a fanaticism of suicidal sacrifice, to attack otherwise peaceful societies. Of course, there were Japanese Kamikaze pilots in World War II, but they were attacking another state to achieve imperial domination.
The religious fanaticism that fuels al-Qaeda attacks, as well as the current instability in Iraq, was a product of the Cold War: to repel the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the US funded the guerrilla soldiers that progressed the Taliban, and Sadam Hussein was supposed to be “our son of a bitch”, as an American official put it.
So what’s our excuse? We were hardly proxies for a higher superpower clash. With repeated opinion polls showing mainland British all too willing to extricate themselves from Northern Ireland, is it really a battle to expel British imperialism?
‘But we don’t do suicide terrorism,’ you say. No, but we do sectarian fanaticism pretty well. ‘Yeah, but we’re not as violently fanatic as we once were.’
Okay then, let’s call a spade a spade. If we don’t believe we’re patsies for someone else’s conflict, if we believe that attacking innocents is always wrong, then it’s up to us to come up with the answer. Relying on Messrs Blair and Ahern only prolongs the agony.
The honeymoon is over. The West is concentrating on the new nature of terrorism. Here, we must take our own responsibility for our own situation. For peace’s sake, let’s get ourselves sorted, once and for all.