Posted 6:05 p.m. Oct. 10
By Ashley M. Heher
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
BELFAST, Northern Ireland – In Northern Ireland, a province notorious for tension and terrorism between Loyalists and Republicans, students reacted to the latest stage of the United States-declared war on terrorism with mixed emotions.
Many who live, work and attend school in Belfast sympathize with the families of those killed in last month’s attacks in New York and Washington. But others quietly say the worldwide attention on America’s terrorist blight reopens old wounds in a region where unofficial counts estimate more than 3,000 people have been killed in terror-related incidents in the past 30 years.
“I think this country has a lot further to go [in relation to terrorism] than Afghanistan,” said 18-year-old Ian Montgomery, a first-year student from Northern Ireland studying at Queen’s University in Belfast. “Here, it’s very delicate. There are too many issues to be resolved. It can’t be seen as us versus them, like in Afghanistan. I think it can be seen that to almost the entire world, Afghanistan is wrong. In Northern Ireland, there’s no way of telling who’s right.”
Other students, like 19-year-old Emily Pickering and Martin McGovern, 17, are worried about a potentially unmerited retaliatory strike on Afghanistan.
“I can’t work out if it’s a revenge act, or if they think this will really eradicate terrorism,” Pickering, from England said. “I see [U.S. President George W.] Bush as someone who is relatively trigger happy. But England will always support America. I have always been a great believer in prevention as opposed to punishment. Part of me would be happy is rather than spend time and money on attacks, people would just sort out the problems that led to this.”
McGovern, from Northern Ireland, said he fears the attacks on Afghanistan are a rash reaction by a country scorned.
“I think it’s more of a thing that Americans have to find a scapegoat for the violence on the 11th of September,” McGovern said. “The most likely suspect is Osama bin Laden, so that’s why they’re doing it. They want him, but they’re doing it all the wrong way. It’s just to satisfy American bloodlust. The world now has a couple of less tons of concrete. If I were an American, I’d be outraged, but it doesn’t concern me that much.”
In Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland, ties to terrorist paramilitary groups — both Loyalist such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Freedom Fighters, and Republic such as the Irish Republican Army — are proudly displayed in graffiti, murals and flags. Riots and demonstrations in the sectarian neighborhoods of The Falls and Shankhill Road are almost a nightly occurrence.
Military officers patrol the streets with loaded semi-automatic weapons and armoured police cars cruise up and down the city’s streets. Two weeks ago, a protestant paramilitary group claimed responsibility for the execution-style shooting death of a British journalist and 33 police officers were injured during one particularly violent night of rioting.
It is still unclear though if Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pledge to join the global war on terrorism will include the most-domestic terror activities within his own country and the Republic of Ireland.
“I don’t see how you could fight a war on terrorism in Northern Ireland because you already have two groups fighting a war on each other,” Montgomery said. “The U.K. government will have to be seen making a careful effort here or else they’ll be hypocritical.”
But 19-year-old Donald McCrory is quick to point out that the terrorism attacks in the United States are markedly different from the attacks that occur in Northern Ireland.
“This is different from terrorism here,” McCrory said. “It’s sad though. This one attack is such a big deal and it’s been happening here for 30 years. I think all if it is sad. It shows how much a life is worth. Is one life worth more than another?”
After summer jobs as camp counselors in New England, McCrory and Montgomery spent several days touring New York City. They returned to Northern Ireland two weeks before the two hijacked airlines crashed into the famous Big Apple skyscrapers.
“I think Sept. 11 hit home a little bit harder with me because I was in the World Trade Center about two weeks before the crash,” Montgomery said. “I think it was an atrocity and was just an act of plain hatred.I think the biggest insult is that the buildings didn’t just belong to America — the buildings were the hub of international banking and commerce. They belonged to the world.”