Why is there terrorism? What conditions help produce a terrorist? (We're using the conventional definition of terrorists here. The Resident and the US don't count, just for the sake of this discussion.) There are a lot of theories floating around, but few of the theorists have actually spoken to anyone who engages in political violence.

In yesterday's Toronto Star, there was an interview with someone who has.
Talks began last week to restore self-rule to Northern Ireland after the Independent Monitoring Commission, the body charged with, among other things, monitoring paramilitary activity in the province, said in a major report that the Irish Republican Army was no longer engaged in terrorism. It was a major step to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, which has suffered under 30 years of conflict between Catholic Irish Republicans and pro-British Protestants, during which 3,600 people have been killed.

John Alderdice, a psychiatrist, former member of the Northern Ireland assembly, and a member of the House of Lords, is a commissioner with the IMC. A Protestant, he has also worked tirelessly to bring the sides together over the years. It has meant he has had to talk to, and try to understand, terrorists — something most authorities and governments engaged in the war on terror today seem unwilling to do.
Some excerpts:
You have some theories about the pathology of terrorism.

One thing that came out for me as I started to talk to people in Northern Ireland, those involved in violence and those who were sympathetic to the violence, was a strong feeling that their community had been humiliated, and it was historical and it had been deeply felt.

And when I went to other parts of the world — the Balkans, Middle East, Latin America in Peru, Nepal, Sub-Saharan Africa — I discovered this was a widespread phenomenon, the feeling that their community was not treated with respect. They responded in an angry and very violent way.

That's not to say that economic disadvantage and other political issues are not of importance. But this is something that has kept coming out to me as a common feature of countries and communities where terrorism emerges.

. . . .

What is it that IRA leader Martin McGuinness said during peace talks that struck you so deeply?

He told the story of wanting to be a motor mechanic and asking to be taken on for a job. And the guy said there was no job available. He said, "Keep me in mind." But the guy explained to him that he'd never have a job there because he's a Catholic. He became really humiliated with that.

But he also said, "Sometimes I wonder if I'd ever have got involved in all the subsequent things if I'd gotten that job." That was a powerful thing for those of us listening to hear. And I wonder if that garage owner had heard that, would he feel any sense that maybe he played a part in it?

But is giving someone a job enough to stop him from becoming a terrorist?

It's not a question of giving him a job. It was the emotional reaction to the reason for not giving him a job.

. . . .

Why have you been so willing to embrace those that have been behind so much terror in Northern Ireland?

It hasn't been at all easy. I've had to struggle both emotionally and intellectually, my colleagues advising me not to do it. For a long time I felt that to get moderate people working together we had to marginalize those responsible for the violence. But we tried it and it didn't work. Repression was tried, and it didn't work. So should we continue with something that wasn't working? Or take a risk? It was very difficult, and it took a very long time, but it made an enormous change. If we didn't try to engage with people who supported the use of violence and involved the use of terrorism, then you can't come to understand why they did it.

The conventional wisdom nowadays is to never talk to, or negotiate with, terrorists.

Well, it may be the conventional view, but it's not wisdom.

What about terror in the name of Islam?

Hamas and Hezbollah, they have clearly identified origins and a political agenda they want to achieve, different from the global jihadists. I've gone and sat down with people in Hamas and Hezbollah, not because I agree with their positions or their methods, but because I don't agree with the way they've done things and want to find a way in which disagreements can be handled in a different way. People don't see a way out without resorting to violence. Then they go down the democratic road, Hamas gets elected, and then people say we don't want to do business with you.

What does that have to do with humiliation and disrespect?

Because if you talk to those people, they will tell you how profoundly they feel disrespected and humiliated. Some of it is current, some historic. It's not difficult to find reasons why they feel this way. And again, like our situation, there are two sides of it. There's a profound insecurity and despair and long history of disrespect and humiliation of the Jewish people. You've got to understand the profound depth of feeling there. You can't just deal with Palestinian feelings.

. . . .

This is not to justify terrorism; it's appalling, reprehensible. But you can't say that you can't find a way of understanding it if you think only a military approach is usable. You'll find it gets worse and worse.

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