IN THE TIME OF “THE TROUBLES”

For the past few years, the world has looked on with horror and revulsion as Islamic-Fascist terrorist groups  such as ISIS or Al-Qida have beheaded or otherwise murdered thousands of Christians, primarily in the Mid-East. It’s as if such mindless killings sought to deny the very essence of what it means to be a human being. But over a period of centuries, history has also been replete with scenes of Christian slaughtering other Christians, and again using the most gruesome of methods such as beheadings or burning people alive at the stake. Ever since a young priest named Martin Luther became so fed up with what he viewed as rampant corruption in the Vatican and with various church practices that, in 1517, he posted a treatise on on a church door in Germany describing such corrupt practices, have the killings taken place. Luther’s actions, of course, led to the Protestant Reformation, and it didn’t take long after that before Protestants and Catholics were at each other’s throats. In England, alone, the failure of HenryVIII”s  first wife to produce a male heir to the throne led to the British renouncing Catholicism and thousands of deaths in wars between Protestants and Catholics.

But one doesn’t have to go back centuries to find examples of Christians killing other Christians. One only has to go back a mere decade or so to view the spectacle of Christians spilling each others blood. To a time known as “The Troubles” that took place in Northern Ireland from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, when over 3500 Protestant and Catholic lives were lost in an exercise of utter futility. To begin with, it must be noted that Ireland has had a very long history of famines, starvation, suffering, poverty and hardship. This has infused the Irish people with an overwhelming fatalistic view of life in general. So when “The Troubles” began it was just piling on more of the same. But first a little background.

After centuries of conflict, southern Ireland, which is predominantly Catholic, broke away from the United Kingdom, (which consists of Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and became a separate country, officially known as Eire, and which no longer has any formal ties with the U.K. Eire was also highly desirous of having Northern Ireland  break free of British rule and join it in one large Irish Republic. The problem is that a good chunk of the population of Northern Ireland is Protestant, with no desire to join the Catholics that rule Eire. They would rather be united with Protestant England. Further, the Catholics of Northern Ireland have historically been poor, oppressed, and often unemployed; while the Protestants have represented the oppressive British side of the coin consisting of privileged classes with better job opportunities and better wages. A scenario constructed in Hell.

Eire and the Catholics of Northern Ireland were not about to go quietly into that dark night, however, and by the 1960s tempers had reached the boiling point. The situation got totally out of hand. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was formed by oppressed Catholics as a paramilitary organization with the goal of forcing Britain out of Northern Ireland so it could be reunited with Eire. Using typical terrorist tactics against the civilian population such as bombings and random shootings, it set off a wave of Christians killing Christians, as Protestants employed even harsher countermeasures against the Catholic population. The British sent its military into Belfast in an attempt to contain IRA terrorism, which, in turn, led to IRA bombings throughout London. It was called the time of “The Troubles.” Terrorism and murder were carried out by extremists on both sides. People suspected of terrorism were often thrown in jail without a trial and languished there for years. As I’ve said, at least 3500 people died out of a total population of just 1.5 million, during this period of madness.

On a personal note, I made a business trip to London sometime during the 1980s, and was fortunate enough to stay in a hotel room overlooking Hyde Park. On the day I was leaving, I had some time to kill before heading to the airport, so I took one last stroll through the section of Hyde Park that was visible from my hotel balcony. On the way back I passed a park bench and then continued back to my room. I went out onto the balcony for one last look at the park before the taxi arrived. As I stood there gazing, a violent explosion suddenly went off under the very park bench I had walked by less than 5 minutes previously.  Obviously the work of the IRA. When I told the taxi driver about this on my way to the airport, he kept muttering-“fucking IRA.”

Finally, in the late 1990s, fatigue had set in over the senselessness of all the death, destruction and misery that had been inflicted on both sides. Negotiations began taking place between the 2 factions, engineered, in a large part, by U.S. President Bill Clinton. A peace agreement was at last reached in 1998, and was overwhelmingly ratified in a referendum among the populace. Today, that peace agreement is largely holding, but the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast continues unabated. Belfast is a city that is almost strictly segregated between the 2 sides; with huge concrete walls separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Most children go to segregated schools. The old hatreds between Catholics and protestants is still thriving.

As I said earlier, the Irish people have experienced an enormous serving of human suffering throughout their history. Classical Irish writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett have brilliantly chronicled this aspect of the human condition among the Irish populace. And if one ever makes a visit to Belfast, they can view first hand, how “The Troubles” in Ireland just keep rolling on and on. And also view up close, the results of what it looks like when Christians were killing Christians.

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