The elevation of Gerry Adams from the mires of terrorism to political respectability, and that of Martin McGuinness, has been a cause of bother for me. Adams’s retirement should be marked but not celebrated. He is not a statesman. He did not bring peace. He just turned the violence off.
It is yet another example of how violence facilitates entry into political systems which have been under British control in one form or another, and of the function of violence in a political system. There have been numerous political leaders whose careers were started by murdering British soldiers. Adams’s success appears to validate the use of violence and the murder of innocents for political advancement.
The paradox is that democracies should remove the need for violence in the political system. However, the success of Adams and McGuinness could encourage Muslim extremists in this country and validate violence, especially if Labour equivocates over political violence as it does at present. I read somewhere that a senior member of the IRA kept a press cutting of a Greek Cypriot terrorist leader photographed entering Downing Street for talks. Will we see some Sharia-based compromise in 30 years’ time after the murders of a few thousand innocent people in this country? The death toll of Islamist violence in the UK since the turn of the century is approaching 100. Hundreds more have been injured.
British politics, having experienced the trauma and national devastation of the Civil War, was informed by the collective desire for political compromise and progressive freedom. While the Restoration did not lead to a land of peace and harmony, repressive responses to dissent by the state were limited compared with Europe and elsewhere. Great Britain has been consistently better-governed than any other major European country. The exception was in Ireland, where the strife behind the Civil War, Cromwell’s subsequent rule, and the Glorious Revolution never properly went away.
Terrorists, while spreading terror amongst those they do not murder, goad the state into measures, such as internment, that will spread disaffection amongst defined sections of the populace. Terrorism helps cohere a community identity that believes itself under siege. The community looks for its defence to the terrorists and their political representatives. Adams rose to prominence based on the siege mentality of a community that refused to be governed and policed by consent in a democratic process. There is also the fact that this community was in effect being policed by the IRA and that dissent was met with violence.
It is ironic that while serial killers such as the Moors Murderers and the Yorkshire Ripper are regarded as figures of hate, serial killings by organisations with a political agenda arouses less public hatred even though more people are killed. What is worse is that the arguments of the political representatives of these serial killers are not intellectually challenged or indeed ridiculed. Gerry Adam’s oft-repeated quote about his opposing ‘all violence’ is now parroted by Jeremy Corbyn when it is plainly bogus. It simply means that Adams cannot, or refuses to, accept the difference between murderous terrorism killing innocents and a lawfully-elected government exercising the state’s monopoly on violence to protect the people. Yet this point was never made to either Adams or Corbyn. The point of ridicule that the IRA’s solution to any problem it encountered was more shooting or bombing was made briefly by the comedian Marcus Brigstocke on the BBC’s ‘The Now Show’, but he desisted for some reason from pursuing this line of humour.
By coincidence, Gerry Adams is retiring at the same time as Robert Mugabe is being forced out of office. Neither should be honoured. They both got to where they were by directed acts of violence against innocent civilians. It was their ability to manage the violence, not civic-mindedness, economic competence, or innovative policy ideas that kept them in power.
As such, Adams belongs on the lowest rung of politicians, lower than trades union leaders who use bullying and intimidation in industrial disputes.