Terrorists have exploited religion, the media and democratic processes in pursuit of their goals. This can be demonstrated by the tactics employed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and its political front Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. The British government and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) have been locked in a battle over Northern Ireland policy for many years. The presence of British troops and the rise of violence between Protestants and Catholics saw a split occur in the IRA in 1969 (Lutz 2004: 176).
One side favored a peaceful approach to negotiating with the British the Official IRA, the other group chose a more violent confrontation seeking a separation of Northern Ireland from Britain the PIRA. Numerous terrorist activities performed by the PIRA will show how they helped raise their profile and globalize the conflict. To obtain legitimacy in the public face, most terrorist causes require a political facility or front which can distance them from violent conflicts while trumpeting the common goals for a positive outcome in the conflict.
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A good example of this is the PIRA and Sinn Fein, whose ethnic, religious and geographical constituency found plenty of support (Richards 2001: 73) amongst the local Catholics. The PIRA were providing the military conflict with the British occupancy, while the Sinn Fein, was the political party immersing itself in the democratic process to bring about reunification with the Republic of Ireland. As Richards (2001: 74) notes Sinn Fein and the IRA have been umbilically linked ever since 1949, when an IRA Army council member Patrick McLogan was elected to lead the political party.
Although both sides never publicly admitted to being linked, they were united in a common cause. Family religion, especially in a cultural sense was instrumental in separating the Irish from the British in Northern Ireland (Lutz 2004: 183). Recruitment for the PIRA and Sinn Fein came predominantly from the Catholic minorities which were the repressed religious denomination in the conflict. It is through this religious divide that IRA members convinced Irish Catholics to help fight their cause.
The religious boundary is exceptionally clear, when a child is born it is typically marked with religious affiliation within a few days (Coakley 2002: 6). Religion fulfills four basic social functions which define its role in politics, society and conflict: it provides a meaningful framework for understanding the world, it provides rules of standard and behaviour that link individual actions and goals to this meaningful framework, it organizes it’s adherents through these institutions, and it legitimates all related actors, action and institutions (Fox 1998: 44).
There were differing living conditions which the PIRA seized upon in emphasizing the differences in the two religious denominations neighbourhoods. The structured economic inequality and flagrant political discrimination on the basis of religion meant the Protestants enjoyed better living conditions (O’Donoghue 2004: 124). With Catholics witnessing the obvious inequalities in power and living conditions enjoyed by neighbouring Protestants, this clearly inferred a favouritism for Protestants by the British.
Catholics then started to rebel and protest against this prevalent repression and the security forces counter terrorism policy specifically targeted Catholics with arrest rates considerably higher in that religion then other denominations (Sanchez-Cuenca 2007: 292). Legitimacy is the way that power is institutionalized and given moral grounding and is often theorized as something held by those who do or do not govern society (Mitchell 2008: 3).
The contested topic between the PIRA and the British is their legitimacy to be in Northern Ireland and to gain this power they have to find legitimacy and power by winning over the public. As opinionated by Sanchez- Cuenca (2007: 292) ‘Bloody Sunday’ helped legitimize the IRA’s campaign when British soldiers killed 13 protesters in Derry on 30th January 1972, this saw a great influx of recruits into the IRA ranks. Incidents such as these not only helped gain sympathy for the republican cause but also helped to gather some much needed media attention.
The British long acknowledged Sinn Fein’s mastery in publicity stating that it was “energetic, subtle and exceptionally skillful in mixing truth, falsehood and exaggeration” (Laqueur 1999: 44). The British government couldn’t underestimate the effect media could have on the conflict and quickly sort to gain control over any such issues which could undermine them. In 1979 the BBC showed PIRA members guarding road blocks in Carrickville which implied a lack of security by the army and perceived support for the PIRA (Hayes 2003: 138).
This resulted in the government raiding the BBC offices but it showed even though how hard the government tried to suppress information to the public the PIRA could still exploit the media. Sinn Fein using its relationship with the PIRA to manipulate media coverage cultivated journalists who wrote beneficial articles for the republican cause (Morley 2003). Sinn Fein would set up interviews with high ranking PIRA officials where journalists got first hand source information and the PIRA would gain much needed publicity.
Whilst no liberal democracy allows for absolute freedom of expression there is a presumption that a free media serves a valuable function in placing before citizens information and ideas that are needed for the public to exercise informed democratic control over elected power holders and security/intelligence services (Cram 2006: 337). Liberal democratic states ordinarily cannot take control of media organizations but as witnessed especially in the British government case with its handling of Northern Ireland can severely manipulate media to its own ends.
The media contributed significantly to the misrepresentation of reality since the media created representations which criminalized rather than politicized the conflict (Hayes 2003: 146). Various media outlets often portrayed what the government considered newsworthy in helping to further their own ends. The state set up the British Army Information Policy Unit in 1971 to help with ‘black propaganda’ and ‘psychological operations’ with the explicit aim of discrediting the IRA and enhancing the profile of the security forces (Hayes 2003: 140).
Their job amongst others included providing public relations information to the media which was normally non-attributable aimed at destabilizing the IRA and winning over the public. The PIRA with the British government restricting its access to the media in its home country sought British targets internationally where media constraints weren’t so prevalent but also where security was more lax. The ‘Death on the Rock’ documentary on a failed PIRA terrorist attack in Gibralter suggested that British SAS soldiers had killed three captured PIRA members in cold blood (Death on a Rock: 1988).
This was embarrassing for the government as it led to questioning of British tactics not only in Britain but worldwide. The communication system being global in nature helps domestic terrorism tap into international media which helps them gain an audience away from their target countries (Nacos 2003: 23). The development of media technologies allowed for the PIRA to exploit many new avenues not just limited to military capabiltity. New media technologies, especially the Internet are enabling terrorists to form transnational networks and provide the pursuit of ideological and strategic objectives. Tekwani 2004: 228). Historically terrorists have progressed with technology in communication from word of mouth and print to television, radio and the super quick Internet. Laqueur stated that “terrorist act by itself is nothing at all, publicity is all” and publicity is the main reason for the act which the mass media help to propagate (Tekwani 2004: 228). Globalisation with technology as a facilitator has helped the PIRA link up with other terrorist organizations around the world.
Globally extremists are merging onto the ‘information highway’ to communicate, raise funds, recruit and spread propaganda (Tekwani 2004: 228). It has enabled the transfer of ideas quickly but also for the transport of equipment and people efficiently. As suggested in Lutz (2004: 179) the PIRA enjoyed a close working relationship with Libya and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation who were interested in causing unrest in Britain. Direct links with other organizations can be attributed to an event in Columbia in 2002.
Three suspected members of the PIRA were arrested in supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia who were in a guerilla campaign against the Columbian government (Lutz 2004: 182). This sort of worldwide involvement with other like minded organizations helps the PIRA in profiling their cause but to succeed within a democratic society other methods had to be explored besides violence. Although Sinn Fein has seized upon opportunities arising from the PIRA’s skirmishes with the British army nationally and internationally, politically it has been able to exploit the democratic process.
It cannot be understated though without the PIRA’s success Britain would not have come to the negotiating table willingly (Lutz 2004: 179) but having a political party such as Sinn Fein helped with mediating the peace process (Lutz 2004: 247). Further emphasizing the fact that the PIRA and Sinn Fein worked closely together was a quote by their then Sinn Fein media publicity officer Danny Morrison (Mc Allistar 2004: 3) “Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box?
But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite (gun) in the other, we take power in Ireland? “. Even though admitting that the campaign against the British involved violence they were at least willing to engage in democratic processes to achieve their final goal. Sinn Fein is the oldest political movement in Ireland and translated means “We Ourselves” and champions the cause of self determination for Ireland (2008: http://www. sinnfein. org/).
During the 1980’s Sinn Fein was able to get elected at local levels and was even able to get Gerry Adams elected into parliament. Sinn Fein’s vote in parliament went from 9. 9% in 1989 to 24. 3% in 2005 (Sanchez-Curnca 2007: 302). Political entities especially of Protestant persuasion were suspicious of Sinn Fein being involved in terrorist activities but they were able to meet the criteria of political status after having all their financial records and party members examined and cleared under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989 (Schiff 1997: 130).
In democratic societies violence is inexcusable amongst the majority of the public, now with Sinn Fein involved in the democratic process they became more legitimate amongst the people in trying to come to a resolution peacefully. The root cause of the conflict in Northern Ireland is the denial of democracy, [t]he solution lies in the democratic exercise of that right in the form of national reunification, national independence and sovereignty (Martin 2006: 53). The democratic process has provided the PIRA through their political front Sinn Fein an avenue to achieve their goals.
Because liberal democracies abhor violence the PIRA would have found it hard to drum up any sort of support especially with the British suppressing certain liberal liberties such as the media. As Wilkinson (1977: 121) states “The primary objective of a counter-terrorism strategy must be the protection and maintenance of liberal democracy and the rule of law”. As previous examples show the PIRA and the Catholics would attest the British showed a severe inequality in its dealings in Northern Ireland.
It can be established that the PIRA has used religion, media and democratic processes to achieve their aim of reunification of Ireland and the withdrawal of British troops. Religion biased inequalities were exploited to provide the recruitment of members and was a divisive factor in the population of Northern Ireland. Media was significant in highlighting the turmoil and conflict helping propagate PIRA activities, even after initial attempts by the British to suppress media opportunities. The democratic process with Sinn Fein at the front, has provided inroads into establishing a reunified Ireland through government.
Even though Sinn Fein’s history of violence is questionable it has proved that peaceful non-violent process can achieve a positive outcome in its fight to reunify Ireland. BIBLIOGRAPHY Sanchez-Cuenca, Ignacio. 2007. ‘The Dynamics of Nationalist Terrorism: ETA and the IRA’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 19:3. Mitchell, Claire. 2008. ‘The Limits of Legitmacy: Former Loyalist Combatalists in the Peace Building Process in Northern Ireland, Irish Political Studies, 23:1, p3. Fox, Johnathon. 1998. ‘The effect of religion on domestic conflicts’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 10:4
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