When terror looks like us

October 02, 2001|By Tom Mudd

DUBLIN -- Terrorists, their hatred stoked by religion, live just a couple hundred miles north of me, maybe closer. People who support them could live next door to you.

One difference between these terrorists and the ones we're hearing so much about is that their names are comfortable and familiar to us.

Another is their religion.

These terrorists have names like Michael and Sean. And the religion on which they base their hatred is not some radical offshoot of Islam, but different versions of Christianity.

While the world is transfixed by endless replays of the attacks on the World Trade Center, terrorism on a smaller but equally sickening scale is conducting business as usual in Northern Ireland.

The latest reports from that benighted province concern threats that snipers would fire on anyone who dares to walk down the Ardoyne Road in Belfast. The snipers' targets would be parents who have the audacity to want to walk their little girls to or from school.

The other day, after those threats came to light, some daring soldier in this sectarian war tossed firecrackers at the mothers and fathers of these little girls. "Once the bangers were thrown, a lot of parents thought it was an attack on them, that they were going to be shot," said a politician sympathetic to the plight of the parents.

It doesn't matter which side did the throwing of firecrackers, or which side was on the receiving end. At any given time, the roles could be reversed.

What matters is that we can't overlook this sort of hatred as we look to stamp out global terrorism.

When it escalates, we get events like the car bomb in Omagh, which killed 29 innocent people. Or we get a Molotov cocktail thrown through a window, killing three sleeping boys.

And it could escalate further if the bitterness and hatred intensify.

So twisted by rage are some of the people on either side of the sectarian divide that suicide attacks are far from out of the question.

Only this time, the terrorist cells involved in the attacks would not be traced to exotic places that are unknown to most Americans. They would have their roots, instead, in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York. Maybe the bombers themselves wouldn't be in North Baltimore or South Boston, but the money that paid for the bullets or the bombs would have come from there.

Growing up Catholic in Towson, I knew a couple of people who romanticized the Irish Republican Army to such an extent that they helped raise money for the republican -- i.e., anti-British -- cause. One guy from my homeroom in high school used to sport a button depicting Bobby Sands, one of the IRA hunger strikers who died in prison during the 1980s.

I met more people like that in Massachusetts when I lived there, and more still on the west side of Cleveland. One day a few years ago, I had just returned to Cleveland from a two-week stay in Dublin when I met an Irish-American woman in a bar. "I know all about Ireland," she said in a moment of bourbon-inspired wisdom. "What they need to do there is to keep killing the Brits until they get the hell out."

This view, so skillfully exploited by the IRA and its supporters, has its roots in a vision of Ireland formed at least two and more likely three or four generations ago. According to this perspective on the country where I live, Catholics and Protestants are locked in a life-or-death struggle based on centuries of hatred and mistrust.

That would be news to Niall and Diane from next door, who happen to be Protestants. When I take my son, Charlie, to school in the morning, they don't throw firecrackers at us or deride us as Fenian scum. Nor do I issue threats against them and their 5-year-old.

In fact, when the hate-filled scenes began playing out on the Ardoyne Road, we were united in our revulsion at the behavior of these people, and in our hope that they might find a way to put aside their rage and resentment and let these little children have normal childhoods.

I can safely say that most people on this island share those feelings.

The message to Irish-Americans, then, is simple: While you're railing against terrorists with names like Osama and Mohamed, remember that there other people around who murder innocents, and they have names like Bobby and Kevin.

Tom Mudd, a Towson native, lives in a suburb of Dublin, where he is European bureau chief of IndustryWeek magazine.

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