On the 16th of May 2013 the Daily Beast published an article by the Massachusetts-born travel writer and author Paul Theroux where he expressed his views on the terrorist attack in the city of Boston on April 15th.
“For several decades, starting in the early 1970s, I traveled regularly from London, where I lived as a resident alien, to Boston, where I grew up, and each time it was like a tumble through the Looking Glass.
Arriving in Boston was like landing upon the bosom of serenity from the derangement of a war zone. Britain at that time was in the grip of a bombing campaign by well-funded and feuding nationalists in Ulster, who were driven by spite, folklorism, and religious bigotry and were tribalistic in their antique grudges, absurd in their speechifying.
London was weary and anxious, and by the mid-1970s there had been a number of bomb outrages…
The astonishing fact is that these unspeakable events in England were not as hideous as the everyday horrors in Ulster. Belfast was full of no-go areas and bomb craters throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and the mildest country town was not spared.
Boston seemed innocent of the terror, or else conniving in it, making a conscious political statement, to the extent that one of the notable features on Boston roads were the bumper stickers supporting the IRA. It is well documented that a portion of the money collected in the U.S. by Noraid (the Irish Northern Aid Committee) was used to support the IRA bombing campaigns, and in another grotesque irony, some of the money used to buy weapons from the U.S. came from Libyan bagmen sent by Muammar Gaddafi, as one of the colonel’s many hobbies was the propagation of mayhem.
After the bombing in Boston, a banner was lifted by rebels in Syria: BOSTON BOMBINGS REPRESENT A SORROWFUL SCENE OF WHAT HAPPENS EVERY DAY IN SYRIA. DO ACCEPT OUR CONDOLENCES.
Boston did not deserve this—no city does—and it is lamentable that Boston has come to resemble the wider world of wreckage and bereavement.”
Several points immediately spring out from this opinion piece. Firstly Theroux very deliberately ignores the actions of the British Forces, military and paramilitary, during the four decades of the conflict in the north-east of Ireland. He presents the war as entirely originating with the Irish Republican Army and driven by that guerilla force without any explanation of its origins and how it rose as a response to Britain’s colonial presence in Ireland. The shrunken British colony on the island of Ireland that was the brutal Apartheid-state of “Northern Ireland” is completely glossed over.
Indeed the existence of the separatist British Unionist minority in the country is barely hinted at nor are the terrorist factions that existed within that community, violent groupings that sparked the conflict in the mid-1960s. One wonders if Theroux makes little reference to these British terrorist organisations because he and we now know (thanks to the efforts of numerous journalists and several official enquiries) that those terror gangs were integral to Britain’s counter-insurgency war in Ireland? Would he prefer that American readers were unaware of the existence of British terrorist groups on the island of Ireland that were organised, financed, armed and fed intelligence information by the British government or that such groupings contained significant numbers of serving or former British soldiers and paramilitary police officers, not to mention agents of Military Intelligence and MI5?
What about the largest and most notorious British terror faction, the Ulster Defence Association or UDA? Remarkably under Britain’s jurisdiction this was a legal terrorist organisation. Yes, you did read that right. The UDA, a terror faction responsible for the murder and maiming of hundreds of Irish men, women and children, was a legal terrorist organisation in the North of Ireland and in Britain for over twenty years. This of course was not at all unrelated to the fact that in the mid-1980s a quarter of the UDA’s membership was made up of serving or ex-soldiers and police officers and that two-thirds of the leadership were agents of various British Intelligence services, including the notorious Force Research Unit.
Another obvious point is Paul Theroux’s apparent comparison between the conflict in the north-east of Ireland, and Irish-America’s support for a just and lasting peace in the country, and the unwarranted attack on the Boston marathon that was carried out with the purposeful intent of inflicting civilian casualties. Is he in effect stating that what goes around comes around? That this is some sort of circuitous – and frankly grotesque – way of saying to the people of Boston: well, back in the 1970s to 1990s some of you supported the Irish Republican Army and the slowly evolving Peace Process in Ireland therefore this is what it feels like to be involved in a guerilla conflict. And deservedly so?
I didn’t comment or draw attention to Paul Theroux’s original article when I first read it as I thought it to be something of an aberration. However not content with that obvious case of adding insult to injury he has now expressed similar views again, this time in a question-and-answer session with the National Geographic magazine:
“You’ve spent your career traveling to some troubled places—Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, and others—and you’re also a native of Boston. How have your travels influenced the way you view those terror attacks in your hometown?
We need to remember the past. There were communities in Boston that supported the IRA in Northern Ireland. They were very sentimental about the Irish. They thought the Irish were fighting for their freedom, that’s the way it was put: The IRA were freedom fighters. They were fighting against the Protestants and the British soldiers. And the method that the IRA used in Northern Ireland and in England was the nail bomb.
I lived in England for 18 years. What happened in Boston on that horrible marathon day was a very common occurrence in Belfast, even in London.
And no one in Boston condemned it. And when Gerry Adams [the leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA] came to Boston, he was marched around like a conquering hero.
The idea that our people are chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” because a punk has been cornered and another one killed isn’t really reason for rejoicing. Go see what’s happened in the past, how other people have suffered. What the Tsarnaev brothers did was grotesque and appalling. But I lived in England when this was a common occurrence, and there was no sympathy from Boston.”
Good lord. Here is a man, a respected American author and commentator, who seems to be taking something akin to satisfaction in viewing the suffering of the people of Boston as the result of a terrorist outrage. Who seems to believe that it was some sort of retributive justice visited upon the many citizens in Boston who in times past opposed Britain’s war in Ireland. A dirty and squalid war that one presumes Theroux believes was quite justified and apparently not open to question or criticism.
One is prompted to ask: how is Paul Theroux in his stereotyping and misrepresentation of the Irish-American communities of Boston any different from the Islamic fundamentalists and their stereotyping and misrepresentation of the American people as a whole?
Finally, some facts for the causal American reader should they stumble across this article. Perhaps someone might be kind enough to forward them on to Mr. Theroux so that we can liberate him from his mental prison of Anglophile apologisms (or if one were being more uncharitable in thought, simple Hibernophobia).
The majority of causalities inflicted by the Irish Republican Army during the Northern War were members of the British military and paramilitary forces. Fact.
The majority of casualties inflicted by the British military and paramilitary forces during the Northern War were members of the Irish civilian population. Fact.
So if the killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism who were the terrorists during the war in the North of Ireland?
Please follow the link for more on Ireland’s British Troubles.