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Sunday 7 September 2014


Time for reality check - we must face domestic terrorism

We hide behind neutrality, but some of the world's problems may be coming home to roost

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Jordan's King Abdullah II reach to shake hands during a meeting at the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, September 4, 2014 (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

These are times that would have taxed the Skibbereen Eagle.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, the said newspaper had both an admirable interest in international issues beyond West Cork and an occasionally risible sense of its own importance. Famously, it warned that it was "keeping an eye on the Czar of Russia" over his designs on China. (I want to believe the version my mother gave me - "We give this solemn warning to Kaiser Wilhelm: The Skibbereen Eagle has its eye on you" - but I'll need more evidence than Wikipedia offers. Can anyone help?)

So enduring is its fame that it featured in a recent Guardian cartoon about Ukraine.

These days, there's much more than Czar Vladimir Putin and Ukraine to worry about. Apart from vivid pictures of beheaded journalists - one, James Foley, was Irish-American - just for starters, there's the Ebola virus, the euro back in danger mode, the thousands of despairing migrants in Calais, the hundreds of thousands of equally desperate people from the Horn of Africa, Syria, Iraq and many other war-torn places desperate to find a home in Europe, and Iran's backsliding on its agreement with the UN agency monitoring its nuclear programme. And, of course, there are our home-grown jihadis.

Apart from our modest contribution to peace-keeping forces (and there are voices now demanding that Irish troops be withdrawn from the Golan Heights because they're in danger), we still believe we have a sacred right to our traditional free ride when it comes to the defence of the West.

We refuse to join Nato, but hide behind it. We do plenty of pointless posturing, though.

One letter in the Irish Times last week was a brilliant example of us at our most sanctimonious, self-deluding and Skibbereen Eagle-ish. The writer wanted Ireland to address the sins of Israel - the chattering classes's demon of choice. "As Irish people," she explained, "we need to use our recognised position as a neutral country, take a stand, and withdraw our ambassador from Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador. This step could become the turning point, one which starts to mobilise world opinion, and forces Israel to operate in a civilised manner."

I was particularly taken with this interpretation of the concept of neutrality, which seems to involve having and eating.

Might I gently suggest a reality check.

Muslim extremism is a big problem facing the world and however much we shut our eyes tight and say our Muslims are lovely - and, of course, most are - we have serious problems to deal with at home if we don't want bombings and beheadings on our streets.

The immediate threat comes from the death cult variously known as Isis, IS and now Isil. There's nothing new about its most important distinguishing feature: as our Hamas chums frequently remind the world, Islamists "love death like our enemies love life". Nor is its aspiration to a world-wide caliphate new, or its determination to rid the world of the cancers of Christians, Jews or any other groups who don't agree with it, including - in this case - all non-Sunni Muslims.

What's scary for us is that we can no longer say this is nothing to do with us.

In June, the Minister for Justice told an Oireachtas committee that about 30 suspected Irish jihadists had travelled to conflict zones. This mightn't seem like many from a Muslim population of around 50,000, but in an authoritative CNN list of the leading 25 countries of origin for jihadis in Syria as a proportion of their Muslim population, Ireland came second.

Encouragingly, with the help of the US National Security Agency, the Garda have increased surveillance of suspects, estimating so far that perhaps only 100 are Isil sympathisers. Unfortunately, as Britain has learned the hard way, one blood-thirsty Islamist can do terrible things.

There are also plans to step up the already unprecedented level of cooperation between the Irish and British immigration authorities to stop terrorists coming in through the back doors.

I'd feel more reassured if I thought that there was a real determination to learn from Britain's successes and failures. There are, for instance, many London think-tanks - some with one-time fanatics - who have rich wisdom to draw on about how to combat the disastrous effects of politically correct multiculturalism and persuade minorities to share our common values.

Learning what happened to Birmingham when hardline Muslim parents were allowed to control schools might give our politicians the courage to say that Irish schools should not, and will not, adapt to the demands of a religious minority. That is not bigotry. It's common sense.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards