When I heard the bad news, I was struggling with a mug of particularly nasty instant coffee in Kathmandu, trying to get my head around a report that gadgets now outnumber human beings; and while our global population grows at two people per second, mobile telephones now proliferate five times faster. This was worse; a fundraiser for terrorists, and in America no less!
My former landlady and downstairs flatmate in London’s Belgravia, the late Patricia Countess Jellicoe, had long lived next door to a man whom I met the night before, Norman Tebbit, once the most loyal and dependably conservative of Mrs. Thatcher’s deputies. Every day she had watched him push his wife and her wheelchair down the street for her afternoon outing. Both had been blown up in their Brighton hotel by IRA terrorists during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference. She was crippled for life, he survived with lesser injuries, and he turned down a plausible chance to succeed Mrs. Thatcher as Prime Minister so that he might care for his beloved wife. Thirty years later at age eighty-three, the ever dutiful, kindly and principled Lord Tebbit still pushes her wheelchair. Now supporters of their bloodthirsty attackers are raking in the loot at American fundraisers.
I suppose my first encounter with the IRA was as a suspect. A 1979 IRA bomb, this time in the parking lot of London’s House of Commons, had murdered Airey Neave, an heroic and rare escapee from the Nazi Colditz prisoner-of-war camp who later became Mrs. Thatcher’s close confidant and a top Conservative Party parliamentarian. He was slain only weeks before his colleagues came to power. Days after the bombing I was ferrying a big, black, plastic trash bag from the laundromat a few blocks from Parliament when what looked like two Mormon missionaries approached me, weaving through the lunchtime throng. They looked neat and wholesome, and travelled in a pair, so they had to be Mormons. I dodged them adroitly until they out-manoeuvred me and flashed police badges. What was in the bag, they asked politely. Then I realised that, bearded and scruffy as any British post-graduate student, and carrying an enormous plastic bag, I looked utterly suspicious. Laundry, I said, quickly producing socks and underwear that were, mercifully, clean. They studied my underwear carefully, rocked back and forth on their heels and murmured, like actors playing policemen in a 19th Century British music-hall, “Well, well, well! Simple as that, is it? Laundry.” I wished them good luck in their search.
My next brush was back in America, when I discovered that my Irish-American grandmother, a retired teacher in a Catholic grade-school, had been making donations to NORAID, the IRA’s American fundraising arm. Fortunately she was poor and could never afford more than five bucks at a time, and I explained that there was nothing Catholic about blowing up buses. Convincing her took effort, and I realised that she had been my age during the 1916 Easter Uprising. Stuck in the past, she continued to fulminate at the mention of the English but stopped sending checks.
Apart from old Irish-American ladies, I had thought the matter settled until I began working in Washington, DC, in late 1979. Conservative activist friends, Irish-American Catholics, stopped talking to me once they learnt of my opposition to terrorism and have not spoken to me since.
In the 1980s, at a London birthday supper for a British friend, an expert on Northern Ireland, I was surprised to meet a guest whom he had interviewed, a former IRA killer who had changed sides and was then sensibly worried about assassination. Unobtrusively, I moved away from the restaurant window. These are “hard men,” but there is no community or community scrutiny in modern cities, he explained. So one’s neighbours might be railroad hobbyists or racing-pigeon enthusiasts, or IRA killers and their families and friends who associated exclusively with similar radicals but otherwise went unnoticed. The phenomenon exists today among the West’s radical Islamists, whose violent tendencies are often kept secret even from their peaceful and law-abiding kinfolk.
I next assumed that the matter was over when brave and saintly Protestant and Catholic Northern Irishwomen spearheaded the successful peace process in the 1990s. Wrong again, apparently.
Now the Belfast Telegraph reports that “Sinn Fein is still living it up in style in the United States, where its schmoozing with the rich and powerful has pulled in more than £200,000 (US$ 321,000) in the space of just six months…” The Sinn Fein, now the second-most popular political party in the Irish Republic, was closely linked to IRA terrorism. A republican document from the time of the Brighton bombing stated, “Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign… Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement.”
Lest one think that the Sinn Fein’s support for terrorists is long over, the press report describes, with irony, their current fundraising items:
…a “hand-painted and framed” picture of the IRA “martyr” Bobby Sands can be bought for only £156.73 (US$ 252). The depiction of Sands…who died at the age of 27 after 66 days of refusing food in the Maze Prison in May 1981…and three IRA men firing a volley of shots over his coffin, with inscription and Celtic motif, is only one of dozens of items celebrating the Provisional IRA now on sale on Sinn Fein’s web-based shop. (They also include) the “undefeated IRA” T-shirt at £11.75 (US$ 19). An IRA mug at £6.65 (US$ 10) at least has something more than purely decorative value, and a “hunger strike bodhran” (Celtic drum) at £94.04 (US$ 144) might come in handy at one of the party’s popular culture nights.
In 2013 at Manhattan’s Sheraton Hotel, a $500-a-head gala dinner hosted by self-confessed terrorist and now rehabilitated president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, raised US$ 199,000 from 390 guests. Their money-making efforts world-wide—chiefly in America, Australia, Canada, Germany and Britain—are secret, but they are obliged to report US earnings to the American government: US$ 321,000, for the first half of 2014. One is not quite sure why Germans support them as opposed to, say, the French or Swedish, but the IRA collaborated with the Nazis in World War II, plotting to help them invade Northern Ireland.
If you are handier with a computer than I, download the linked article from Belfast and “search and replace” the words “Sinn Fein” and “IRA” with “Al Qaeda.” Does it look plausible? In America? Moreover would it be legal? What if Bobby Sands were replaced by Osama bin Laden? Would radical Islam’s admitted former terrorists, now supporting the principle of terrorism with posh dinners and souvenir goodies, be sitting in handcuffs while a Homeland Security official dons his rubber glove?
Or should we just let bygones be bygones? Dangerously vast funds are being raised (have you priced C4 explosive at Wal-Mart recently?), but are America’s diehard IRA supporters just modern versions of the romantically grey-uniformed geriatric on the porch with his hound-dog, babbling that the South shall rise again? Maybe not.
An expert in peace studies reports that “The killings in early March of two soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland, in two separate incidents, were the first murders of security forces since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Two IRA splinter groups, ‘Continuity IRA’ and ‘The Real IRA,’ have claimed responsibility.” He continues that while “95 percent” of Northern Irish support the peace process, up to 300 unreformed terrorists formed breakaway groups from the formal Sinn Fein, upset by that party’s modern peaceful stance. But the Sinn Fein, still marketing terrorist trinkets, have been duplicitous before, and one only need watch Saudi Arabia’s two-faced support for and against the radical battalions of ISIS to realise that such nightmares are possible.
To be fair, the IRA link to organised crime is old and well-known, and lasting peace would deprive Irish gangsters of their livelihoods. Terrorist break-aways may continue until the scoundrels die of old age or are arrested and imprisoned. But what of the Americans who support their cause, even if not the modern killers themselves?
It is almost axiomatic that Americans, almost all descended from immigrants, fall immediately out of touch with “the Old Country” as soon as they arrive. My Iranian-American friends are frozen in time, about a year after Khomeini’s revolution made them flee, so their modern perspectives on Iran are useless. One of the unsung joys of the fall of communism was that we could meet real Russians face-to-face and be spared Washington’s cadre of professional Czarists, droning of how the serfs just longed to be under the lash again. Semi-professional Irish-Americans, singing maudlin battle-songs, over-served at the bar and fumbling to dye their Guinness green, are no better but have less excuse for 1916 Fenianism than my Victorian-born grandmother.
My German ancestors fled the nationalist uprisings of 1848. It is an American irony that the descendants of immigrants, who often fled nationalism, have spawned such tiresome and often venomous pseudo-nationalistic progeny. Many immigrant groups fit the bill.
It will take scientists years to prove or disprove, but there may be a dark corner of the human genome that delights in fragmentation and internecine battle — that possibly evolved as extended families of hunter-gatherers grew more numerous and competitive. It would explain such idiotic long-distance nationalism, and among those with well-mixed ethnicities or no nationalistic axe to grind, the desire to persecute their countrymen on false charges of racism, sexism or warming the planet. The heretics of Progressivism burn just as brightly as the old-fashioned religious or nationalistic kind.
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