Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Death of Martin McGuinness

I have a strange affinity for Irish Republicans. Perhaps it is because my grandfather fought with them during the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1921, or perhaps it is because I have an in-depth knowledge of the terrible history of British and English rule of Ireland. But most likely it is because I spent some time in Ireland during the 1980s when the Provisional IRA had effective control of significant parts of Northern Ireland and I met people who were almost certainly IRA members. They didn't seem like the evil people one imagines terrorists to be, although I was as appalled as anyone by the bombings at Hyde Park, Harrods and the Brighton Hotel that happened while I was living in England. I did not accept the IRA's justification for the murder of innocent people but I gained an understanding of what might drive people to commit such acts.

It was common knowledge in the Irish community that Martin McGuinness was the commander of the Provisional IRA in Derry and that he personally ordered, and perhaps participated in, many of the attacks in that city and further afield. I heard rumours that the British government, in spite of Margaret Thatcher's public statements to the contrary, was negotiating with the IRA, even back then. McGuinness was involved in those negotiations that led ultimately, under Tony Blair's government, to the Good Friday Agreement. McGuinness did some terrible things and I think it does him no credit that he never publicly owned up to his role in many terrorist incidents, but his willingness to negotiate the peace and power-sharing agreement showed he had a rational mind at least.

Someone once said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and with the passage of time many who would have been thought of as terrorists in their day are now considered to be heroes. The American revolutionaries were terrorists in the eyes of the British, as were those who fought in the Indian Mutiny, but no one considers them terrorists today. Events that are closer to the present time, like the attacks by Jewish groups Irgun and the Stern Gang that led to the establishment of the state of Israel, still tend to be more contentious. I think it will be a long time before McGuinness is universally considered to have been a freedom fighter, but if Western leaders like Justin Trudeau can mourn the death of a mass murderer like Fidel Castro, then anything is possible.

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