Can British grit against terror help the Kurds?

Last week’s premature death of veteran Irish paramilitary warlord Martin McGuinness and the murderous attack on Westminster criss-crossed and sparked discussion about terrorism new and old, but those who argue that Britain bears much blame for terror were much more muted, and such change could help the Kurds.

The funeral of McGuinness was overshadowed by the Westminster attack and would otherwise have been big news. McGuinness’ life divided into heartless and helpful phases. In the first phase, he was a senior military strategist who killed, and devised war crimes of cruel ingenuity that sent many to heaven without warning. Take the assassination of young mother Joanne Mathers for collecting census data in Derry. Or strapping British Army canteen worker Patsy Gillespie into his car as a human bomb who was exploded at the entrance to a British military base in Derry. There are many more examples.

But by the mid 1980s, the IRA was addled by bugs and riddled with informers with most IRA operations aborted or intercepted. The IRA sued for peace and McGuinness became a wily negotiator with British and Irish governments and abandoned republican red lines — not recognising Northern Ireland’s legitimacy, and decommissioning IRA arsenals. Irish unity was discredited by IRA terror and would owe nothing to the IRA if it results from Brexit.

In the second phase, McGuinness became Deputy First Minister and was the unrepentant hardliner who persuaded his comrades to swallow this and genuinely embraced his old foes, which deserves respect as much as his earlier life deserves contempt. Irish writer, Eoghan Harris adds: ‘True, McGuinness made the bandage. But before he made the bandage he made the wound.’

A few commentators excused the choice McGuinness made in joining the IRA but this is bad history. Discrimination against Catholics in jobs, housing, and voting was, it is true, shamefully and long neglected by the UK. But a non-sectarian civil rights movement challenged this in the late 1960s and the UK government wrested control from a one party Protestant state and righted those wrongs.

Apologias for McGuinness insult constitutional nationalists who fought hard within the law. Take my old drinking partner, Gerry Fitt, a no nonsense former sailor who came to lead moderate nationalists, was Deputy Prime Minister in the early 1970s, and was burnt out of his home in Belfast by the IRA. McGuinness was not forced into the armed struggle but the British and Irish Governments finally forced the IRA out of business.

McGuinness’ comrade in arms, Gerry Adams argued at the funeral that McGuinness was a freedom fighter not a terrorist. Such respect to the republican base is hardly surprising — how could they sleep at night if they thought otherwise. But most British and Irish people dismiss this and deplore IRA attacks but appreciate the symbolism of unionist leader Arlene Foster attending McGuinness’ funeral despite suffering IRA actions at first hand.

The excuses of some for the IRA during its ‘armed struggle’ were transferred to understanding Islamicist terrorism after 2003 as the result of British foreign policy and the invasion of Iraq. The July 2005 attacks on the London Underground were said to be blowback. That rancid dog barely barked after last week’s attack on Westminster. The Stop the War coalition, which once supported the right of Iraqi insurgents to resist occupation by whatever means, condemned the attacks while arguing wars in the Middle East and South Asia have increased terrorism. Mild stuff, relatively. And no MP echoed it, as some would have in the past, when the Commons questioned the Prime Minister who spoke for many in saying ‘We are not afraid.’

The ‘we are to blame’ brigade may have been muted because it wouldn’t wash after the horrors of last week or the old bitterness about the invasion of Iraq is becoming distant and disconnected from contemporary Daesh terror, of which there may be more as it turns from a physical caliphate to a dispersed movement.

This relative silence from the blame brigade is positive because their acrimonious opposition often obstructed solidarity with those fighting the insurgency, Al Qaeda, and Daesh and for democracy. Many who opposed the invasion of Iraq sat on their hands or worse as Iraqis and Kurds tried to pick up the pieces. Such critics seem less important now and vestiges of imperial guilt seem to have been overtaken by a typically British defiance and grit in the face of adversity.

My tentative view is the refusal by most to excuse McGuinness and the IRA, the muting of overblown rhetoric by the anti-war movement, and popular revulsion against the Westminster attacks lifts roadblocks and widens opportunities for Muslim allies like the Kurds, with their friends, to more persuasively argue for more solidarity in the continuing ideological battles against Islamism.

Gary Kent, Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region, and columnist for the Kurdistani Rudaw media, writes in a personal capacity.

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