The Somali Islamic terrorists who are perpetrating appalling crimes on neighbouring East African societies (Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror) remind me of the IRA terrorists of my British youth. They too were fund-raising from their countrymen in the diaspora and augmenting that with criminal business activities. This went on until quite recently. I love Celtic music and so was delighted when the Eire national folk music tour Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had a show in nearby Buffalo. What I hadn't bargained for was standing at attention for the IRA 'anthem' in addition to the Irish Republic's national anthem. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised since some denizens of Buffalo in those days sported bumper stickers reading "Don't Buy From the British Bastards".
The IRA is remembered by many of the older generation in Great Britain for, amongst other great atrocities, killing Lord Louis Mountbatten, bombing several military barracks and parades with considerable loss of life, and trying to wipe out the Conservative Party's annual convention in Margaret Thatcher's time. There were however numerous small transgressions and assaults that don't figure in popular memory. A young Irish lad, his Dublin accent and vocabulary still intact, joined my grammar school class one year. After the school's cadet corps armoury was cleaned out over a weekend, our Irish fellow student was never seen again. My father travelled several times a week up to London by train from our country town location to manage a second company plant. Unusually for such a punctual man he missed his regular train one day, the day the IRA bombed it.
Men with a fixation on major religious or political change proving to be violent criminals has been so common in history that it is puzzling that we continue to be surprised when it happens. In the Middle Ages, despite having once taken vows of chivalry, wandering 'hedge' knights became all too frequently little more than bandits. The Mafia began in Sicily at around the time of the Italian Risorgimento as an association of local businessmen keen to shift power away from the medieval aristocratic hegemony then still prevailing in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Lenin's Bolsheviks helped overthrow a cruel monarchy but afterwards took sole power, and spawned 'Uncle Joe' Stalin, arguably the greatest mass murderer in history.
All too often these criminals are allowed to morph into mainstream politicians, as with former IRA chieftains as Sinn Fein now holding posts in the current government of Northern Ireland, Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists in the early government of Israel, Yasser Arafat being given a Nobel prize, and former brutal commissars still making up much of the present government of Roumania. Should not these onetime violent zealots atone for their crimes like any other criminal who has been found out? How is it that a lot of older Russians still regard Stalin's reign with nostalgia as do Chinese for Mao? We still hunt Holocaust enablers but Japan has not been held to account for much of its savagery during its C20th empire. Murder is murder however much it is clothed in justification or considered as best overlooked. At least Argentina and Bangladesh have made a start at bringing to justice those citizens who in their troubled past murdered innocents, but much of the world continues to turn a blind eye to former killers in its midst.
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