Thursday, July 28, 2005

Some Terrorists Decide to Give Up


After 35 years, 3600 deaths, bombings, brutality, hunger strikes, Bloody Sunday, Good Friday, Guildford, Enniskillen and Bobby Sands, it appears that the Irish Republican Army has officially renounced violence in response to British rule in Northern Ireland. In an unprecedented video statement, a representative of the IRA announced what could amount to an end of "The Troubles."

The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann (the IRA) has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4 p.m. this afternoon. All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means.

This is not the first time that the IRA has pledged to renounce violence, but there is reason to believe that this time they mean it. Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm seems to have been fully co-opted by the political process and appears to hold significant sway over the paramilitary arm. As the political process has progressed in recent years, the IRA has been more involved in common criminality than actual terrorism.

If the IRA really does decommission its arms and commit to its pledge to engage in deeper, constructive political dialogue, then this is great news for the people of Northern Island and the UK as a whole. Anyone who has listened to early U2 albums, or seen films like In the Name of the Father, The Boxer, Bloody Sunday and others knows the heartache that this violence has generated on all sides and must rejoice upon hearing this news. Moreover, the tireless efforts of Bill Clinton and George Mitchell must be credited with aiding the process. This moment could never have come without the Good Friday agreement negotiated by Clinton's inspired choice of Mitchell as Special Envoy.

But in celebrating today's announcement and hoping for it to hold, it is important to look at the greater meaning in a story that has been surprisingly under-reported in the US media. Should the IRA carry-out its commitments, this represents an example of a violent, terrorist organization getting out of the business of perpetrating violence against civilians for political purposes. It behooves all of those interested in how best to fight the Global War on Terrorism to intensely study Britain's handling of the violence in Northern Ireland. While there are fundamental differences between an IRA that often phoned-in warnings of attacks and an al Qaeda which isn't known for such humanity, it seems to me that it would be valuable to study Britain's successes, failures and intelligence methods along with the general trajectory of the IRA movement and ultimately, the role of the political process in bringing this tragic era to a close.

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