August 10, 2005


The Discreet Charm of the Terrorist Cause (Anne Applebaum, August 3, 2005, Washington Post)

Like British Muslim support for Muslim extremist terrorism, Irish American support for Irish terrorism came in many forms. There were Irish Americans who waved the Irish flag once a year on St. Patrick's Day and admired the IRA's cause but felt queasy about the methods. There were Irish Americans who collected money for Catholic charities in Northern Ireland without condoning the IRA at all. There were also Irish Americans who, while claiming to be "aiding the families of political prisoners," were in fact helping to arm IRA terrorists. Throughout the 1970s, until Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked President Ronald Reagan to stop them, they were the IRA's primary source of funding. And even after that they were widely tolerated.

I concede there is one major difference: The Irish terrorists were setting off their bombs across the ocean and not in New York or Boston, which somehow made the whole thing seem less real. But in Britain the explosions were real enough. In 1982 -- the year an IRA bomb killed eight people in Hyde Park -- four IRA men were arrested in New York after trying to buy surface-to-air missiles from an FBI agent. In 1984 -- the year the IRA tried to kill the whole British cabinet in Brighton -- an IRA plot to smuggle seven tons of explosives was foiled, an action that led to the arrests of several Americans. As recently as 1999, long after the IRA had declared its cease-fire, members of an IRA group connected to an American organization, the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid), were arrested for gun-running in Florida.

The range of Americans who were unbothered by this sort of thing was surprisingly wide. Some were members of Congress, such as Republican Rep. Peter King of Long Island, who stayed with IRA supporters on visits to Northern Ireland and drank at a Belfast club called the Felons, whose members were all IRA ex-cons. Some were born in Ireland, such as Michael Flannery, Noraid's founder, who once said that "the more British soldiers sent home from Ulster in coffins, the better," and whose flattering obituary in 1995 described him as a man who "treated everyone he met with gentle respect." Some were Americans of Irish descent, such as Tom McBride, a businessman who is still the chairman of the Hartford chapter of Noraid, and who still refuses to condemn IRA terrorism. "I think they are protecting a segment of the population that needs to be protected," he told me over the phone.

Nor were these opinions irrelevant. The Irish journalist Conor O'Clery, who has followed Irish-American relations for more than a decade, says the IRA has "always looked to the diaspora for moral backing" as well as money. That meant that when, in the 1990s, prominent Irish Americans began to advocate "constitutional nationalism" (meaning the political process) instead of "armed struggle" (meaning terrorism), the views of many in Northern Ireland shifted, too. The IRA's announcement last week that it would finally abandon armed struggle was at least partly the result of a decade of Irish American pressure. Which means, of course, that if Irish American pressure had been applied much earlier, the whole thing might have been over long ago.

My point here isn't really about Northern Irish politics, however, but about the extraordinarily powerful appeal of foreign, "revolutionary," "idealistic" violence to the inhabitants of otherwise peaceful societies. You don't have to be Muslim, or poor, or an extremist, to feel the romantic pull of terrorism. You can be a middle-class American and a lapsed Catholic whose grandmother happened to come from Donegal.

But that is totally different, right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2005 10:55 AM

What's totally different? I have always despised IRA fellow-travelers* and supporters just like I despise the caliphascist fellow-travelers and supporters. Are there any IRA boosters who condemn caliphascist boosters in the West? The IRA boosters I am aware of have mostly the same attitude toward organizations like CAIR as they did toward NORAID. Then as now, I couldn't understand that viewpoint. So it seems pretty much the same to me.

* Although, honestly, that's not the primary reason I despise Senator Ted Kennedy.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 10, 2005 2:38 PM

What AOG said. Do you think anyone here is a big fan of Peter King and his IRA cheerleading?

"...until Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked President Ronald Reagan to stop them, they were the IRA's primary source of funding."

Here's my question: If asked (have they been asked?), would the Saudis do anything to stop their citizens from supporting AQ? Doubtful in the extreme.

Just a couple of the big moneymen winding up dead would end the WOT tomorrow.

Posted by: b at August 10, 2005 2:46 PM


Yes, I suspect most folks of Irish heritage harbored much the same attitude towards the IRA in the 70s as Muslim-Americans did towards the PLO.

The Sa'uds have crushed AQ within the kingdom because it's a threat to them far more than to us.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 2:51 PM

oj: "within the kingdom" being the important words. As Ms. Applebaum would say, for the Saudis the fact is that AQ "were setting off their bombs across the ocean and not in [Riyadh] or [Mecca], which somehow made the whole thing seem less real." I concede that as an American my interests do not mesh with those of King Abdullah, but I'm fairly certain we could make him some offers he can't refuse...

Posted by: b at August 10, 2005 3:24 PM


We need them more than they need us--they can Reform Wahhabbism from above.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 3:28 PM

oj: Who cares about reforming "Wahhabbism"? The Iconoclasts weren't "reformed"--they were defeated. Now if reforming Islam is what you're talking about, the Wahhabbis will have to be reduced to the babbling fanatics in the desert that they started from...

Posted by: b at August 10, 2005 3:59 PM


Well, they won't be.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 4:53 PM

Orrin foams at the mouth about Catholic terrorism but never a peep out of him about Protestant terrorism.

Why is that?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 10, 2005 5:48 PM


Because I like Protestant terrorism. That's the point.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 9:31 PM