The one road

July 31, 2005

CAN POLITICS be the continuation of terror by other means? The Irish Republican Army says the answer is yes. IRA leaders told their men to "dump arms" last week because, they said, they believe they can achieve their goal -- a united Ireland -- through democratic and peaceful methods.

For starters, they must show they mean it -- though this looks genuine. They also must show that the IRA has turned its back on organized crime. Then they must show that they can be serious participants in a government of Northern Ireland that they hope one day to see dissolved.

With Islamist terror focusing the minds everywhere, the IRA surely understands that there is no possibility the British government would consider concessions in the face of another outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland. Moreover, the movement's political wing, Sinn Fein, has established itself as the leading republican party there, and it clearly hopes to build on that strength. An argument can be made that terrorists are motivated by a sense of humiliation -- that, for instance, young Arab men turn to jihad because of what they perceive as the humiliation of Islam at the hands of the West -- and there's no question that Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland once lived with daily discrimination at the hands of their Protestant neighbors.

But attitudes and institutions have evolved, and the sting is gone. It makes sense that the impulse toward terror should have become exhausted. And the more successful the republicans are in politics, the more pointless violence will seem.

In the Middle East, Hamas and Hezbollah should take note. Today these groups pursue violent and political means; if the hard men of the IRA can renounce the one for the other, so can they.

There's a lesson for London, too. Not all the violence in the north and south of Ireland was the IRA's, and for 31 years the British government has refused to cooperate with an Irish inquiry into bombings that killed 33 people in Dublin and Monaghan. A loyalist group claimed responsibility, and London's continued silence suggests that elements within the British government were somehow implicated. As Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomes the IRA disarmament, and as he continues to cope with the bombings of July 7, surely it's time for Britain to come out against terror in all its forms.

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