A reasoned American take on the IRA situation
In a comment to this post, a chap by the name of Ronnie in New Orleans, who has visited the site before on and off to have a few arguments with a wishy-washy liberal Brit, has a rather good summary of the attitude of many in the US to British exasperation over the lack of condemnation of the IRA as terrorists. As I've suddenly been inundated with work, I'll reproduce it here in lieu of any time to knock up something original. It deserves to be read more widely than just by those who click the comments link, after all:
It's not really hypocrisy, it's just reality.
As a French-Spanish Catholic with no historic or emotional stake in the situation in Ulster let me try to explain some of the problems that arise when you equate Arab terrorism against the US with Britain's problems with Ireland; and with expecting a proportional reaction from our government.
I don't think Brits in general have a real appreciation of the pure hatred, rancor, dislike, disdain, disgust, and just plain unfriendly feelings that many, and maybe most, Irish-Americans have for England. You could spend oceans of electronic ink explaining and deconstructing many of the arguments used to justify this dislike, but it won't change many minds. We have a large Irish Catholic population in New Orleans, one of our major old city areas is called the Irish Channel, but I had never really felt the weight of this animosity until I grew up and got into discussions with friends and acquaintances of Irish descent about issues related to the troubles.
It is also true that although many of the claims made regarding systematic genocide, forced starvation, and other government sponsored acts of slaughter are often exaggerated or untrue, Britain spent about 350 years or so cultivating this hatred by treating Irish Catholics as less than human. You got where you are the old fashioned way; you earned it. I don't think the same can be said for the US history with the Arabs. As a matter of convenience we have just become the hated symbol and religious whipping boy for the existence of Israel. If we would have attacked Tel Aviv instead of Baghdad all references to the Great Satsn would have disappeared as quickly as Europe's Jews.
I've been in a bar where people of Irish descent clapped and cheered when hearing of British ships being sunk in the Falklands. I've heard well educated people assert that Irish Catholics starved while the English refused to unload the grain ships sitting in Irish harbors, or sold the food on the European market... of orders given to British soldiers to crush the heads of Irish babies. And this is the "G" rated list.
At the local Celtic bar in the French Quarter rebel songs are sung with passion and meaning. I love the music but references to a "Thompson gun" sort of spoil the atmosphere. The music is good but the theme can really get tiresome. British friends come often to the bar with me because they like Celtic music, and comment that "nobody cares about that stuff anymore" though one of them did say the amount of it sung during the show was "sort of extreme." Wish it had been. Come back next week.
And this is in Southern, Conservative, Red State Louisiana. The Irish here are almost all Democrats, and represent a good portion of the Kerry support in the city during the last election. These are the folks the Brit media seems to think has all of the good sense and political nuance. Let me assure you they are not well intentioned toward Britain. Judge for yourself if that's good sense.
And there lies the problem. This is a visceral political issue for these folks, and they represent a substantial voting block, one that any politician, especially a Democrat, offends at his peril. Give some kudos to George Bush... he snubbed the IRA and in so doing forced the hand of Ted Kennedy, who would have looked to be a boot licker if he would have entertained Adams. The pull of the old hatreds is so great, however, that other members of the Kennedy clan did visit with Adams, I'm sure to tell him to lay low until the heat is off.
Is the IRA a terrorist organization? Of course.
Are they a bunch of armed criminals? Yeah.
Is Sinn Fein a political front for a gang of thugs? Sure.
Is Gerry Adams a murdering scumbag with a slick image? Absolutely.
Should SF/IRA be banned from fundraising in the US and have all of their assets seized? Yep.
But George Bush has only so much political capital to spend, and I doubt he will find it prudent to invest a large portion of it into an issue as peripheral to US interests as the Ulster/IRA/SF/GB problem, which most Americans who aren't Irish don't care about anyway. The most he can do is keep up the symbolic gestures. It will have some effect. I would sum up the prevailing independent opinion over the years as "they deserve each other."
I hope that's changing and I think it has to some degree. The stupid criminal acts by the SF/IRA coalition are having an effect on US public opinion since they can equate it to a criminal organization rather than a terrorist group. Americans are familiar with government limiting and punishing criminal organizations. It is all to the good that this is the way it is presented. Americans have long ago separated Italians from the Mafia, and the pursuit of the criminals no longer stigmatizes all Italians by association. Painting the IRA criminals as criminals is neither inaccurate or dishonest and will serve to separate the current crop of mobsters from Collins and Childers, as well as from good ole Paddy down the street. They're more like Capone. These guys are not insurgents, freedom fighters, or latter day avengers. These guys give rebels a bad name. They're just common crooks.
Up the Irish!
And the rule of law.
By -ronnie in new orleans-