Yesterday in the House of Commons, U.K. leaders and MPs from all parties declared with restrained dignity and admirable unanimity that the terrorist who murdered a policeman and three other people, and who severely maimed (and may yet kill) more than 30 others, had embarked on a fool’s errand as well as a murderer’s one. His crimes would not advance his perverted cause. He would never succeed in intimidating a strong democracy. Our democratic and liberal values would survive and triumph over his indiscriminate brutality.
“We are not afraid and our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism,” said Prime Minister Theresa May. She was echoed by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has not always been firm against terrorism but who rose to this occasion, saying that we “must not allow fear or the voices of hatred to divide or cower us.” Tributes were paid to the House of Commons policeman who died protecting MPs and to the Tory MP, a former soldier, who rushed to defend the parliamentary community and to help the wounded. These expressions of grief and pride were returned with interest from leaders and friends abroad.
I have to confess that as someone who covered many such events from the parliamentary press gallery from the 1970s onwards, I hate these occasions. They fill me not with pride in our “values” or self-confidence in our institutions but with a dread sense that our actions will not live up to our words. One set of condemnations that had real value was the very forceful criticism of terrorist acts from Muslim leaders who, in effect, called on their communities to disavow jihadism in unmistakable terms. That mattered; it might make impressionable young people think twice about killing innocents.
Otherwise, will the brave words have real meaning? Will Her Majesty’s Government repeal the Human Rights Act when next some judge, polishing his conscience in public, cites it to prevent the extradition of a mass murderer who has served his time, on the grounds that it would separate him from his family in the Home Counties?
Suppose this week’s terrorist had not been shot by security guards as he tried to cut his way into Parliament. What would his future have been?
Well, we can hazard a guess from some events that took place on the previous day. Had he survived, the terrorist might have lived until nearly his full lifespan on a government salary, and after his death received a series of (admittedly shifty) tributes from previous and present prime ministers, had crowds and numerous dignitaries at his funeral, heard from the grave Bill Clinton urging that his work be completed by those who remain, and even feel a quiet satisfaction that his widow and children would be getting a “private” letter of condolence from the Queen.
After all, exactly such tributes this week were lavished on the corpse of Martin McGuinness, who was the organizer of mass murder in Northern Ireland by the Provisional IRA and who personally murdered a handful of the more than 3,600 people who died in the Troubles. Adjusting for population size, that would be roughly equal to 750,000 murder victims in the U.S. Half of those were directly murdered by the “Provos,” and they bear the lion’s share of the moral responsibility for the rest. In the 25 years before the renewal of the Troubles, there had been only two murders in Northern Ireland.
It will be argued in mitigation that he was being praised for his work in the “peace process” that finally ended the Troubles. Historian Ruth Dudley Edwards provides a brutally fair judgment on that here.
He never repented, never apologized, never showed remorse for the killings, tortures, and maimings he had inflicted. And what little credit he deserved for his role in the peace process was vastly outweighed by the political, financial, and “respectability” credentials he gained from it. In the 1990s the IRA had been beaten by the security forces, including the British Army, the intelligence services, and a reformed Special Branch in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They had infiltrated the IRA from top to bottom, convicted and imprisoned more and more of its terrorists, and forced McGuinness and Gerry Adams into a life of squalid failure on the run with the threat of eventual prosecution and a lifetime in prison over their heads. They were beaten and they knew it.
McGuinness never repented, never apologized, never showed remorse for the killings, tortures, and maimings he had inflicted.
So they proposed to the London and Dublin governments a deal that would halt the murders and bring them in from the cold — a deal that meant not only a ban on terrorist prosecutions but also a guaranteed ministerial position in a formally gerrymandered Northern Ireland assembly. The Good Friday Agreement meant many things, some of them good, but its most politically significant meaning was as a face-saving and employment measure for McGuinness, Adams, and Sinn Fein/IRA.
Were there no heroes in this? As at Westminster this week there were some brave and largely unacknowledged heroes — and they came from the same stable of police and public service workers. In the coming issue of the Australian magazine Quadrant is a review of a book by such a hero of the Troubles, an RUC Special Branch officer, William Matchett, who fought the IRA to a standstill from the early 1980s to the end. It is reviewed and recommended by one of the terrorists he fought, Sean O’Callaghan, who, unlike Adams and McGuinness, did repent and joined the forces of democracy, law, and civil order (at great risk to his own life). O’Callaghan ends his review by demanding “Read the book.” Good advice.
I add: Read the review and ask yourself if William Matchett would have worked as hard and taken so many risks to protect the rest of us if he had known in 1982 that an unrepentant Martin McGuinness would go to his reward wafted on the hymns and praises of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and the combined choirs of the British and international establishments?
Then ask: What will a young jihadist think this week when he compares the harsh condemnations of Thursday with soft impeachments of Tuesday? Might he not be persuaded that History, as well as Allah, is on his side?
Original article here.