As someone who remembers the Troubles in Northern Ireland that started in the late 1960s, I am beginning to see some horrible parallels with the jihadist attacks in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere.
A history lesson. During the Troubles cities like Londonderry and Belfast had substantial areas where the majority of the population were disaffected Catholics, with some genuine reason to hold grievances. These were pretty much no-go areas for police and security forces except if entered in force.
A minority of that Catholic population were active supporters of the IRA and other terrorist organisations. The majority were sufficiently alienated that they were not much inclined to help the security forces.
This meant the IRA et al were able to operate there, collecting funds, using safe houses and storing weapons.
This is exactly the situation in Molenbeek in Brussels, in some banlieues in Paris and, to a much lesser degree, in parts of the UK that have produced their own home grown jihadis. That Paris bomber who was shot in the leg and captured the other day, Salah Abdeslam, was almost certainly caught after a rare tip-off to police. He had been living, unhindered, in Molenbeek for several months.
You have a large, disaffected religious minority. You have a minority within them, and the opinion polls bear this out, who support the extremists. You have virtual no-go areas. You have terrorists able to hide among that community. The parallels are obvious.
There are three differences, all of them negatives, in my view. One, the IRA did not set out to kill indiscriminately. Two, some of those genuine grievances could be addressed.
This meant that, after the IRA was worn down by decades of attritional military action, a settlement could be reached with the Catholics to give them a greater say in civil society. The Good Friday Agreement 18 years ago.
There is still the odd idiot out there that thinks we can reach agreement with the jihadis/Isis, but I imagine their number is shrinking with each atrocity. As to wearing the jihadis down, I don’t see how, given their nihilistic mindset.
Three, and this is a long way off but the clock is ticking, the jihadis/Isis have potential access to weapons of mass destruction, and will use them.
All this suggests we face decades of terrorist action, along the lines of the IRA struggle but much, much worse. Rather than a bomb here and a murder there, we face decades of events like those in Brussels and Paris, and 7/7. On a regular basis. It is too easy to achieve, given all the above and the seemingly endless supply of jihadis.
What can be done? The jihadis cannot be beaten in a military/security context without an abandonment of their (and our) civil rights – imprisonment without trial for all sympathisers, mass deportations, worse – that is unacceptable today to the majority of the population.
How many civilian deaths will there have to be before this becomes acceptable? And do we even want this to happen?
Have a nice day.