Terrorism in Europe: remembering the IRA


When I was young, growing up in London, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) launched a campaign of terror in my hometown. Indeed, throughout the 1970s the IRA planted bombs – which killed and maimed – throughout England.

The IRA planted bombs in shopping centres, the underground, family pubs and bars. They planted bombs full of nails, pieces of metal, random bits of shrapnel designed to kill and to tear through flesh.

They planted bombs at family attractions such as Madame Tussauds, the Boat Show at Earls Court, the Tower of London, and Selfridges department store in the days leading up to the Christmas of 1974, when families were shopping for presents.

They planted bombs at Harrods, they planted bombs in hotels, railway stations, record stores, post offices and a Wimpy burger bar.

It was a full-blown campaign of terror by the IRA.

As a young girl of 10, 11, 12, I remember reading the newspapers, watching the news; people running from tube stations covered in blood, people dealing with the loss of their legs, their eyes, the loss of their sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters. Many of them barely knew what the IRA was fighting for, or even why they were fighting, let alone why their mother needed to be killed in a tube carriage on her way to work.

As a little girl growing into the world, I remember feeling the fear in the adults around me, I remember people no longer going to pubs, refraining from family visits to attractions in London, I remember cancelled visits to exhibitions and sporting events.

I remember the fear in those around me, the fear of the terrorists and their bombs placed in all the homely places. The terrorists wanted to strike fear into the hearths of England – and they did.

People in England of the 1970s were fearful of the terrorists’ bombs and their attacks on innocent people. It could’ve been me in the tube carriage, it could’ve been you.

They didn’t always understand the reasons why these outrages were carried out, who exactly the IRA were, but they felt the sense of unpredictable violence, and they felt the fear.

Now, here’s the point I wish to make – just once, I won’t labour it.

The IRA wanted Ireland to be an independent republic. During the 1970s, this desire for independence took the form of political activism, and then political violence.

The majority of IRA members identified as being of the Roman Catholic faith. The IRA was, basically, an organisation whose members were Christian.

The IRA launched a campaign of terror that went on for years, a campaign in which many innocent people were killed and injured.

Neither the British Government, nor the British people said “Close the borders to Catholics”, “Stop Catholics from entering England!”, “All Catholics are terrorists!”, or “Some of my friends are Catholics and they’re nice, but now we must turn all other Catholics back at the Dover Ferry Port”.

Why were these comments not made back in the 70s when I was a girl?

Because people rightly knew that not all Catholics were members of the IRA.

They knew that not all Catholics were terrorists.

They knew that not all Christians were “basically of a fractious, blood-thirsty Western Crusading nature”.

That’s why, while deploring the violent acts of the IRA, while being crushed by the scenes of carnage on television, and the devastation about them in the streets in which they lived and worked, they made the correct call…

The people planting bombs were terrorists – not Christians.

The people killing and maiming were terrorists – not Catholics adhering to the principles laid down by Christ.

The people taking hostages were terrorists, they were terrorists, they were terrorists – whatever they chose to call themselves – they were simply terrorists.

And 40 years ago, the people of Britain living through this reign of terror knew that the evils were being carried out by terrorists.

And so, in conclusion, the lady pushing the pram through the shopping centre (who happens to be wearing the hijab) is a mother, who might or might not be Muslim; she is not a “terrorist pig”.

The man who having lived in Cronulla for decades running – peacefully – the corner deli is, in his own words, an honest, peace-loving man who loves living in Cronulla. He is not, as he is now being called on a daily basis, a terrorist, who is charged with “Why don’t you and your son go back to where you came from!” – a difficult proposition for his son, I imagine, as he was born in Cronulla.

They might be Muslim. That does not mean they’re terrorists.

Please inform yourselves, undertake a little self-education, make sure you understand what exactly a terrorist is, as opposed to what a Muslim is. The terms are not interchangeable (just as ‘woman’ and ‘bad driver’ are not interchangeable terms…).

In 1996, Martin Bryant shot 35 people and injured 20 more with a Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine (.223) and a L1A1 SLR battle rifle (.308), at Port Arthur. He is an Australian with blonde hair.

Can you imagine how foolish I would appear if I kept repeating the mantra, “All blonde Australians potentially carry weapons, and are probably killers!” I would seem ignorant, addled and oddly fearful.

The argument: “Terrorists are Muslims, therefore all Muslims are terrorists”, is rubbish.

Just as: “The IRA are Catholics, therefore all Catholics are terrorists”, is rubbish.

I knew that when I was 10 years old.

What’s your excuse?

Have a quiet moment, and a small think. If you feel a sense of unease, what are you really frightened of?

What’s really scaring you?

Here in Australia you stand a far greater chance of being killed or injured by a fellow Australian. Statistically, there’s an even greater chance of being killed by someone in your own family: husband, your mother, step-father, etc., than by any sort of terrorist, particularly if you don’t travel overseas.

So, the problem isn’t really Catholics, is it?

The problem isn’t really Muslims, is it?

The problem’s ignorance, misplaced fear, blaming the wrong person, and a loud mouth, isn’t it?

And the answer lies in the question: What are you really frightened about?

You only have to ask the question of yourself, and answer yourself because mostly no one else is listening. Everyone’s talking. No one’s listening.

So, I can send my Hvalsang quietly out to the oceans… probably to a resounding silence…

At 10 years old, I was frightened of the bombs, anxious about people crying on TV whilst clutching bloody limbs, and I was frightened when I sensed the fear in the adults surrounding me.

Now, in my 50s, I’m alarmed by senseless and unpredictable violence (carried out by anybody, but more so the possible threat of violence in the streets of Perth carried out by a fellow Australian, or a home invasion carried out by a fellow Australian).

When I’m in an airplane, I’m as anxious about a bird-strike or typhoon as I am about a bomb on board, to be honest.

So, when some say:

20 years ago, “We’re being swamped by Asians …”

15 years ago, “Stop the boat people …”

Now, “Close the borders to Muslims …”

What are they really frightened of?

What are you really frightened of?

By Karen Overman-Edmiston

Karen studied at the University of Western Australia. She worked for the Western Australian Government for many years. She’s the author of the award-winning novel “The Avenue of Eternal Tranquillity” and “Night Flight from Marabar”. A very private individual (‘small, quiet life – big, loud opinions? Thinks deeply, loves anonymity’), Karen loves to travel, loves life. Detests unfairness of any sort. And likes a good laugh.

Previous Story

Original version movies in Leipzig, 27 July-2 Aug

Next Story

French White Dinner, Grünau style

Latest from Opinion