What Terrorists Want by Louise Richardson
On August 14, 1969, Great Britain deployed its army to Northern Ireland to protect the minority Catholic population and restore order following months of rioting. At first, the Catholics welcomed the British. But as time passed, the military presence inflamed local opinion, and permitted the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to cast its bloody campaign as a struggle against imperialism. For the next three decades, London remained mired in a messy, inconclusive war that would claim more than 3,500 lives. In the end, Northern Ireland’s terrorists were persuaded to lay down their arms not by British might but through a lengthy, painstaking process of negotiation.
To Louise Richardson, a lecturer on international security at Harvard and a student of the “troubles” in her native Northern Ireland, the lesson is clear: If democracies are to defeat terrorism, they must understand the terrorists’ motivations, recognize their legitimate grievances, and work toward a solution with any pragmatists who are willing to forswear violence. It took Britain many years to learn this lesson, according to Richardson. In What Terrorists Want, she urges the United States to be quicker about it.
Richardson begins with an account of her upbringing in rural Ireland, where she learned to hate the British while keeping a journal of atrocities committed against local Catholics. “If the IRA would have had me,” she writes of her reaction to Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972—when British paratroopers killed 14 unarmed civilians—“I’d have joined in a heartbeat.” Her first-hand experience of the IRA convinced her that terrorists are anything but crazed sociopaths.
About the Author
Jonathan Kay is managing editor for comment at Canada’s National Post.