Inside the Mind of a Terrorist
John Heelan writes: "The autobiography of Eamon Collins [Killing Rage, Granta:1998] describes his mental development as an Irish Republican Army Volunteer and his part in sundry assassinations and bombings. At one stage (p.148) he reflects that he was moving towards a state of terrifying efficiency as an IRA operator; "I was getting better all the time. I had no illusions about the nature of my work: I never lost sight of the awfulness of what I was doing, yet I felt this savagery was the necessary price of our struggle to create a more just society. We were involved in a war of attrition and even then I knew that my participation in the war had changed me: I knew that I no longer existed as a human being. Every aspect of my work was educated to the purpose of death....[...] I had almost rid myself of any sympathy for my victims and fought hard to suppress any feelings of compassion for my enemies. I kept telling myself that compassion for the oppressor was a debilitating legacy of the bourgeois morality of my upbringing..... by the summer of 1983, I had become a person who could, with barely a flicker of disquiet, contemplate the killing of any enemy of the republican movement" (p.164)
Previously Collins had described his upbringing as being heavily influenced by his mother who had instilled in him the grievances of the vanquished. "She helped convince me from an early age that the Irish had been the victims of terrible cruelties inflicted by the English and their Scots planters over many centuries.... as I got older and read about Irish history for myself I became hostile to the Protestant-run state. (p.36)..... In my mind Plunkett (the bishop murdered by Cromwell for his Catholic faith), Pearse and Connolly (Republican leaders executed after the 1916 uprising) were all linked together. They were all martyrs for our Catholic faith, the true religion: religion and politics fused together by the blood of martyrs. I was prepared to be a martyr, to die for this true Catholic faith". (p.37)
Reading Collins' words made me ponder about the development of similar mentalities of other terrorists/freedom fighters around the world, such as Al Quaeda, ETA, Sendero Luminoso, FARC and so ; how much of their motivation was fuelled by past wrongs committed by their enemies and accelerated to combustion point by the fusion of contemporary fundamentalist religions (or atheism) and politics?
Perhaps the lessons learnt from the 30 years of Northern Ireland "Troubles" could be applied to Afghanistan and Iraq? Among them are the fact that the basic problems underlying the terrorism can be solved only by politics and not by overwhelming military might that only exacerbates the problem. The second lesson is that of the role of fundamentalist religion (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism) as powerful shapers of opinion and progenitors of discord leading to morally-condoned violence and martyrdom".
RH: WAIS chose the title "Learning History" because it involves much more than history textbooks. I am writing a review of Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward, History Lessons, which uses texts from around the world to show how US history is presented in foreign textbooks. The authors are professional historians who make their points in a quiet way. Much more poisonous are the bitter, angry complains of parents. The children can carry on this historical memory for generations.
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