Gerry Adams' bullets

Sinn Fein president an impressive embodiment of real politics


(from The Toronto Sun, November 14, 2009)

I grew up with Gerry Adams.

Not literally of course because I'm English and he's from Belfast . But the president of Sinn Fein was a constant in the news from my teenage years until adulthood.

Although he has always claimed not to be a member of the IRA, he was very much the symbol of the armed struggle of Irish republicans as they fought a bloody war against the British and the Protestant, loyalist majority in Northern Ireland , both in Ulster and the British mainland.

So it's a strange, jarring experience to meet this man, spend time with him, interview him. For an hour, he appeared on my television show and while I was always conscious of what he has been accused of doing and that here was a man still with three bullet holes in him from an ambush, he did manage to impress me.

After years of listening to mediocre, if well-meaning, Canadian politicians groan on about tax levels and trying to score largely meaningless partisan points, this was real politics in the flesh.

Adams spoke of Irish history and the Catholic experience of British colonization, widespread discrimination and forced diaspora.

"So when we are told that violence is awful and causes suffering", he says, "we obviously know it to be true, but we also know that it's a product of persecution and injustice and that without it we change nothing."

And here is the point. It would be nice if the world could be improved by negotiation and reason and, indeed, sometimes it is. But not often.

Gandhi would have failed miserably against the Nazis and, to his credit, admitted so himself. Apartheid fell with limited armed resistance, but there was certainly war and terror.

Adams points out that the IRA was dormant for two generations before the late 1960s and that the peaceful civil rights marches were met with baton charges and beatings.

"If the British government, if the unionist majority had agreed to treat us equally, there would have been no support for armed resistance," he explains.

So let us be blunt and take further examples. Would Israel have even considered a two-state solution if the Palestinians had not used violence to force the world and Tel Aviv to listen to their demands and acknowledge that they were a people to be helped rather than a problem to be hated? Would the Israeli army have withdrawn from Lebanon if there had not been a Hezbollah?

Would we care about Islam if it hadn't been for the horrible but effective actions of Islamic terror groups? And did the Kremlin's outrages in Chechnya cause international concern before deadly violence was used against the Russian people by Chechen militants? The list goes on and it shakes the comfortable sensibilities of good-natured, generous, but arguably unworldly North Americans.

I do not write any of this as an advocate of violence, but as a realist who has seen that soft and noble words often count for nothing and that the gun changes the minds of people with a terrifying speed. If you doubt me, look at the success of numerous western countries with large armies!