Imagine this. You meet me, we talk and the conversation turns to killing. (Use your imagination, would you?) I declare that I am opposed to all killing involving knives. “What about kitchen knives used by impressionable teenagers?” you ask. “I told you” I say. “ I’m opposed to ALL killing that involves knives. For me, that is an absolute”.
I expect you’d be impressed with my no-ifs-or-buts approach to the matter. But let’s imagine you have with you an awkward friend, and instead of admiring me for my consistently anti-knife stance, he were to say, awkward git that he is, “What about a knife used by an abused woman on her husband, who treats her like dirt? And by the way - why are you confining your condemnation to knives? What about poison, clubs, guns and bombs?” Faced with that sort of interrogation, my originally admirable stance might well be exposed for the paper tiger it is.
But you don’t have to imagine. The leader of the UUP, Mike Nesbitt, was on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster this morning. He made it clear that he was against that Castlederg march later this month, honouring Tyrone IRA men. He was asked about the banners that appear in some Orange and other loyal orders’ marches, honouring dead loyalist paramilitaries. “I’m opposed to those marches too - I’m opposed to terrorism in whatever form and from whatever source. With me that’s an absolute”. Or words to that effect.
Mmm. Here’s my question, Mike (we’ve left the world of imagination now, by the way): are you opposed to killings by armies - say, the Iraqi army under Sadaam Hussein? And what about your thoughts on George Washington and Nelson Mandela, terrorists in their day? And how about Churchill’s exhortation to the British people that, if called on, they should adopt terrorist tactics?
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”.
It soon becomes clear, as someone tried to explain to George Bush, that ‘terrorism’ is a tactic, not a philosophy. You might as well condemn scalpels or golf clubs or cars, since all three can be used to kill someone. The question is not what tactic is used but whether the cause behind that tactic is supportable. Churchill clearly believed that the invasion of his island home would justify the use of ‘terrorist’ tactics.
So as I say, I wonder what Mike’s views on Churchill are. And Nelson Mandela. And the Parachute regiment in Derry during the early 1970s. And having answered those questions, does he still want to ban that republican march in Castlederg?