Tag Archive for 'Northern Ireland'


More on Northern Ireland vs. Israel/Palestine

After my last post on this, I’ve been listening to the responses of Sinn Fein to the recent murder of two guys in the British Army by the “Real IRA” and, believe it or not, thinking about the parallels with Islam.  There’s nothing particularly original in my thoughts, but I thought I’d put them up here anyway.

a) I think that many beliefs – and often more importantly, many practices that are based on beliefs – change only very slowly over time. Often, the practices retain importance even when the beliefs they’re based on have long since evaporated.

b) What’s more, beliefs – and practices – change much more across generations than within them, so that once you reach your first full set of beliefs at around the age of 20, they’ll change extremely slowly, if at all, over the rest of your life. Real change comes when children choose to differ from their parents. This sort of thing is not particular to ideas of religion or morality. There’s been some recent work showing that people’s attitudes to risk-taking are essentially shaped when they’re young.

c) When somebody makes the discrete choice to turn to violence, it’s common to conclude that they are an inherently violent person (or, in the case of the radical Islamist stuff, operating under inherently violent beliefs). Contrary to this, I suspect that the violence emerges at a point of inflection (a “tipping point”) in how they cope with perceived opposition to their beliefs. It doesn’t matter if their beliefs are constant but their perception of society’s opposition to them is changing, or if their beliefs are changing and their perception of society is constant. At some point, the distance between their private beliefs and their perception of what the world is imposing on them becomes great enough for them to break from their previous behaviour and move to something disjointedly different. Violence from radical Muslims is one example, but so is violence from Republicans in Northern Ireland, or violence from working-class gangs in Northern England in the early ’80s.

d) There is an important difference between the distance between two two sets of beliefs and the level of opposition between them. Opposition might be more likely to increase when the beliefs are a long way apart, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. It is the sense of opposition that leads to the disjoint jump into violence.

e) Therefore, what brings about peace in the long term is long periods of calm. Calm with grumbling, certainly, but calm. The newly migrant family might stick out like a sore thumb, but so long as they are tolerated and they tolerate their new home, then their children (or their grandchildren) will eventually conform to the society they find themselves in.

I think the greatest victory in Northern Ireland was in convincing people to put down their guns for a while. The details of any particular agreement are less important, because the real details will emerge from the ground up as the people who had previously been spitting in each other’s faces find themselves (awkwardly, painfully) interacting with each other instead. Yes, the details of the agreement are what helped put the guns down in the first place, but that was all.

I read somewhere that before the recent crap in Gaza, Hamas had offered Israel a 30-year truce. Not a peace agreement. Not an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist. Just a truce. If it’s true, I think Israel made a mistake in not accepting it.


One of the challenges in negotiation for Israel/Palestine

There’s a perennial idea of proposing Northern Ireland as a model of how progress might be achieved in the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.  After reading this recent posting by Megan McArdle, one of the difficulties in such an idea becomes plain.

In Northern Ireland, both sides had moral, if not logistical, support from larger powers that were themselves allies.  So while the nationalists found it difficult to trust the British government, they would generally trust the US government, who in turn trusted the British government, while the same chain applied in reverse for the loyalists.

By contrast, while Israel receives moral and logistical support from the USA, none of America’s close allies really comes close to giving the Palestinian cause at large, let alone Hamas in particular, the sort of tacit support that America gave the Irish nationalists.