Andy Burnham, the new mayor of Manchester, who coped so gracefully with the aftermath of the terrible atrocity at the Manchester Arena, said that we must not blame or stigmatise Muslims for the evil deeds of extremists. He drew a comparison with not stigmatising Irish people in general for the bombing campaigns carried out by the IRA.
He is right, both morally and politically. The person who carries out a wicked deed is the person responsible – the guilt does not belong, collectively, to a wider group of co-religionists or compatriots.
And yet when I look back on the IRA bombing campaigns of the 1970s, 1980s and even early 1990s, I believe the sense of horror and shame that we came to feel did play a useful part in increasing public repudiation of these acts of terrorism.
I remember having conversations with Henry Kelly and Fergal Keane about this: conversations whose theme was that such attacks were “not in our name”.
The Irish community was exercised by the way in which the wrong people were accused and convicted of the Birmingham and Guildford bombs in 1974, and was much taken up with reversing those miscarriages of justice (campaigns in which Cardinal Basil Hume played a leading role). But while the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four were wrongly convicted, somebody carried out those killings of ordinary, innocent people, and somebody did so in the name of the Irish Republican Army.
In Ireland, the leading intellectual Conor Cruise O’Brien mounted an effective campaign of words against what he called the “sneaking regarders” – those who had a “sneaking regard” for terrorist violence. His influence grew, and after the two little boys in Warrington were killed by an IRA bomb, the then President Mary Robinson flew to Warrington on her own initiative to bear witness at the funeral. She was emblematic of that “not in our name” feeling growing among the Irish community, at home and abroad.
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