Heather Hastie on Islamist terrorism versus the IRA

It’s fortunate that, over at Heather’s Homilies, Heather Hastie has posted a substantive piece that you can read instead of looking for one here. Her article, “More delusions about religion,” is a reaction to a letter in an Aussie newspaper that was reposted by George Takei (“Sulu” of Star Trek fame) on his Facebook page.

The letter, by one Chris McColl, decries the ill treatment of Muslims in Australia, saying that the IRA suffered no such opprobrium even though it also committed terrorist attacks. In its argument that Islam is being unfairly treated, it  also exculpates religion:

The current turmoil in the Middle East and beyond has nothing to do with religion, just as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with religion.

The current turmoil has everything to do with greed, inequality and the struggle for power.

It is a direct result of a globalised economy.

If a minority group is economically disadvantaged and/or alienated, some individuals will eventually lash out at society.

This is not a feature of any particular religion, rather a characteristic of human nature.

One can only suppose that Takei, who has a new life as a political activist, approves of these sentiments. As for the statement, “The current turmoil in the Middle East and beyond has nothing to do with religion, just as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with religion,” Heather takes it apart, while at the same time strongly criticizing both the Australian government’s draconian policy toward immigrants from the Middle East and implicating the West’s Middle Eastern policies as part of the problem. Go have a look.


  1. Bob
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I noticed this statement in the piece.”The two sides did not, for example, bomb their opponents churches.” While mostly technically true, machine-gunning of opponents in their churches did happen. http://www.victims.org.uk/darkley.html
    Here is another Heather’s account http://www.victims.org.uk/darkleytestimony.html

    • somer
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 4:58 am | Permalink

      True but the most people killed in an IRA attack/instance of Troubles violence was 35. Sunnis have been blowing up packed Shia mosques, killing hundreds at a time for many years now.

      • somer
        Posted August 8, 2016 at 5:04 am | Permalink

        Sorry, 29 deaths not 35 in Omagh bombing

  2. Posted August 7, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    “If a minority group is economically disadvantaged and/or alienated, some individuals will eventually lash out at society.”

    Unfortunately, the Rushdie affair and many later events show that a proportion of Third World-derived Muslims feel disadvantaged and alienated whenever they are not given every single thing they want and are not allowed to dictate the norms of the society they have moved to. Of course, Western self-bashing like that of McColl and Takei only makes things worse.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, I’m not entirely sure that George Takei does support the sentiments expressed in the letter by McColl. When I first saw the Facebook post it was headed “funny” and that sentiment is more in line with the way Takei has responded to such things in the past. The word “funny” seems to have been removed from his post. Whether this was because of pressure from others or because he changed his mind or some other reason I obviously have no idea.

  3. Dean Booth
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I came across this on Wikipedia yesterday, and thought it relevant to terrorist motivations.

    From the 15th through 18th century, Muslims from Northern Africa captured up to 1.2 million Europeans, as far north as Iceland, to sell into slavery.

    They justified the slave trade with Islam.[6]
    In 1785 when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, they asked him what right he had to take slaves in this way. He replied that the “right” was “founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise”.[7]

    It seems that Muslim terrorism began before colonialism, and perhaps colonialism was caused in part by the terrorism.

    [I hesitated to write this as it seems so right wingish!]

    • bric
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      This negotiation resulted in the Treaty of Tripoli (1797} which contains the infamous article 11:
      As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.


    • TJR
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 5:25 am | Permalink

      Indeed, and it was only the French colonisation of North Africa that brought it to a decisive end. So, if you like, islamic terrorism was ended by colonisation.

      (Earlier US and British raids on major slaving ports had reduced it but not ended it).

    • Pali
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Good old 1700s… Raiding for slaves? How dare you? You are supposed to breed them like we do!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        Reading the Wikipedia page on Atlantic Slave Trade, it seems that Africans were being enslaved by Muslims from the north for centuries before the Atlantic trade started. Arseholes.
        Many of them were sold by neighboring tribes, and many were on-sold to Europeans.
        It seems there’s plenty of blame to go around.


        • Pali
          Posted August 8, 2016 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

          Oh, definitely. I just enjoy irony.

  4. Peter Lund
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    > Heather takes it apart, while at the same time strongly criticizing both the Australian government’s draconian policy toward immigrants from the Middle East […]

    That’s dumb of her. That is the single most sensible thing Australia has done, apart from generally having a market economy.

    • Posted August 7, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Well, why are you insulting her? It doesn’t help your point (with which I agree). And it doesn’t conform with the rules on this blog.

    • Posted August 7, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      You will apologize for insulting another reader or I’ll ban you. Ball’s in your court.

      • Peter Lund
        Posted August 7, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Respect for not giving preferential treatment. I really mean that.

        I’m just about to go to bed. Give me about 12 hours to decide whether to apologize or be banned?

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted August 8, 2016 at 5:29 am | Permalink

          That’s a decision you need to sleep on?!

  5. Bernardo
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I honestly have no faith in humanity any more and do not even possess the strength to be mad at this type of thing. They won. SJWs will never change their minds because they are not rational and no sane argument will make them see reality.

    • Bernardo
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      And the worst part is that instead of blaming it on a totalitarian religious ideology of the Middle Ages, they blame it on globalisation! It’s the end times. These people hate globalism and international trade. We’re doomed as a species.

      • Posted August 7, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        No, just Western civilization seems doomed.

        • somer
          Posted August 8, 2016 at 3:48 am | Permalink

          At least the nascent liberal humanist bit of it might be if we don’t come to understand that sometimes we have to be very firm to continue to exist as our present type of society. Liberal humanism being more sensitive and moderated than traditionalist values makes it appear corrupt and imperfect to any authoritarian idealist or traditionalist and makes it vulnerable to being replaced again by a traditionalism or aggressive ideology

      • Historian
        Posted August 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        I am not particularly optimistic by nature, but I am not willing to say that the human species is doomed. The 1930s and early 1940s were a much worse time than now, but the world survived, albeit after extraordinary suffering, death, and destruction. Predicting the future can be fun, but so many prognosticators have been proven wrong. So, let’s not fall into despair. We must continue to work for a better world, even if at the moment things seem gloomy.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    No one has any difficulty asserting that a whole series of wars in the 16th and 17th century were mainly about religion including (but not limited to) the aptly named French Wars of Religion (1562–1598), as were the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries and the 20th century Lebanese Civil War. Phillips and Axelrod’s “Encyclopedia or Wars” lists 123 out its 1763 wars as being motivated by religion.
    Wikipedia reports that “The Encyclopedia of War, edited by Gordon Marte…concludes that 6% of the wars listed in their encyclopedia can be labelled religious wars.” Yes, the Northern Ireland conflicts have a lot of other roots, ethnic and nationalistic, but even there religion is a least part of the conflict.

    But for the past several years, it has become taboo to admit that in any circumstances religion ever causes violence.

    Takei has been a victim of both anti-Japanese bigotry (internment in an American concentration camp in WW2 with his parents) and anti-gay bigotry, and is a witty funny fellow, but I don’t think I’m on board with him here.

    • jay
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      “Takei has been a victim of both anti-Japanese bigotry (internment in an American concentration camp in WW2 with his parents) and anti-gay bigotry,”

      True, but even here the relative scales don’t align. Compare the Japanese interment (no torture, no excutions) to the treatment of Christians, Jews or even the wrong kind of Muslim in ANY Muslim dominated country. Compare the anti gay discrimination in the US or EU to ANY Muslim dominated country.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 7, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink


  7. Posted August 7, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    During the Troubles a man was stopped by someone in a balaclava pointing a gun.

    “Catholic or Protestant?” asked the gunman.

    “Er, atheist. ” came the reply.

    “Yeah but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

    Old joke but only worked because of the Sectarian nature of the Troubles.

    • Red Mann
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      The one I heard when I was in Derry in the late 70s was this:
      A man was walking in Belfast one night and a masked man grabbed him from behind putting a gun to his head.
      “A you Protestant or Catholic?”
      The man thinks “Oh dear Jeysus, if he’s a Catholic and I say I’m a Protestant, he’ll shoot me, but if I say I’m Catholic and he’s a Prod, he’ll still shoot me.”
      Thinking fast he says “I’m Jewish.”
      The gunman says “Sure I’m the luckiest Arab in Belfast” and pulls the trigger.

  8. Posted August 7, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Good to see Heather Hastie getting the recognition she deserves for her thoughtful and well-written blog. If you’re not already, follow her now!

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 5:31 am | Permalink


  9. chris moffatt
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    “The current turmoil has everything to do with religion, greed, religion, inequality, religion and the struggle for power.” There, fixed it.

    If there’s anyone who doesn’t understand that the “troubles” (and note it takes two sides to have a war – the protestant militants were every bit as brutal as the IRA but basically got a criticism-free ride from british army, government and media) were rooted in the events in Ireland of the late seventeenth century and the ubiquitous religious conflicts in Britain and Europe, they need to read some history.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 4:43 am | Permalink

      Actually, there was plenty of criticism of the protestants; in fact, the army was originally sent to Northern Ireland to protect the catholics. Most catholics welcomed that but it did not suit the IRA at all, so they set about fomenting trouble between moderate catholics and the army. Further, some of the outrage against the IRA came about when they attacked targets in England and killed people who had nothing to do with NI. For some obscure reason, they never attacked Scotland, despite that most of the NI protestants were from Scottish stock.

      The whole sorry business dates back to Henry VIII and his rejection of the authority of the pope. Catholic Ireland was seen as a possible base for restoring catholicism in England, particularly from Spain, already aggrieved by Henry’s divorce from his first wife. The stupid introduction of protestantism to Ireland by Thomas Cromwell was supposed to provide some defence against this threat; the consequences are still with us.

  10. jay
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    oh yes, can you ever point to ANY violent uprising that wasn’t “The current turmoil has everything to do with greed, inequality and the struggle for power.”

    Yeah. right.

  11. Posted August 7, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    The role of religion is undeniable. But there are more dominating factors at play here:


    It is quite probable that an odd-job man who now owns villas and sex slaves because of the civil war, believes Allah has favored him for being pious and obeying his orders. We are not going to convince him with reason and logic anyway!

    Moreover, I really doubt most soldiers on both sides of the Syrian conflict go farther than this in their “rational” analyses. Syrians who could use their brains have left the country long ago. Again, the real fight is over the future of the West itself: will it become xenophobic and illiberal or will it embrace the values of liberalism, freedom and enlightenment?

    Also, it is worth noting that with every war in the Middle East (especially the American-initiated ones) Islamists have become more powerful and gained more popularity. This is not shifting the blame to the West or colonialism. It is simply a fact. Assuming everything else remains as it is, war alone can help the worst branches of Islam prevail in the Middle East.

  12. Red Mann
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I spent three years in Derry, NI in the late 70s and I worked with the Saudi Navy in the early 80s. To me religion is more of an excuse or a tool for those who wish to hate and/or do violence, or to feel superior to others. In Derry, it was a convenient, a short cut as it were, to identify you enemy, those you had been raised to hate.
    As Swift pointed out, people want to fight others, to dislike others so badly that they would go to war over which end of an egg to open. Religious belief could easily be replaced by some other tool or excuse.
    “We have always been at war with Eastasia”.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Made my comment over at Heather’s but George just seems incapable of connecting dots or has no depth of understanding these events. Just looking at Northern Ireland, the segregation of Catholics and Protestants should give one a hint. Stop whitewashing George, I’m waterlogged.

  14. madscientist
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Some people really do live in their own delusions. My guess is whoever wrote the original article knows nothing of the Middle East or Ireland. Let’s get a kickstarter campaign up to send the author to Syria or northern Iraq.

    • somer
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      there’s a lot of it in Australia. Rednecks and economic conservatives versus Green voting trendy middle class, well meaning Anglos and Irish/Celtic heritage with an axe to grind.

      • somer
        Posted August 7, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        not sure about sending people to Syria though – I bet they’d still find a way to say its the fault of the west. I wonder what they’d make of over friendly Pakistani bus drivers and their fallen boyfriends.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Comparisons between the IRA and IS seem to be particularly silly and pointless. Both their aims and their tactics were radically different. Generalising widely, the IRA enjoyed a measure of public sympathy for their limited political aims and they realised that atrocities or dead women and children would be counter-productive. Their ‘terror’ campaign was (relatively) focussed and limited. For example, when they planted a bomb, they usually issued a telephone warning. Could you imagine IS doing that?

    IS and its allies on the other hand, seem to relish causing the maximum number of casualties, anywhere, by any means, and the more pointless and sadistic their barbarism is, the more they glory in it. They are completely irrational and insane.


    • Richard Bond
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Of the 3000+ deaths directly attributable to the catholic-protestant mayhem, about 3/5 were caused by the IRA. So much for their vaunted warnings of attacks.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 8, 2016 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        And 2/5 were caused by ..?

        That’s 3000+ deaths over roughly 30 years, 1800 of which are down to the IRA. The NRA has a more impressive score 😉

        My point is not that the IRA were ‘good guys’ (they weren’t), but that their aims and tactics were so different from IS that any comparison is just pointless.


  16. Tamethyst
    Posted August 8, 2016 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    It’s not too long ago Roman Catholic terrorists tried to blow up the English Parliament building at Westminster and we still celebrate their defeat when Guy Fawkes was arrested and executed in 1605.
    Roman Catholics were mistrusted and it became law that anyone of that religion could not become the monarch. The pope sanctioned the Spanish Armada in 1588 a few years before the gunpowder plot so religious terrorism was a fact back then. Roman Catholism is still mistrusted by the majority in Northern Ireland because of these throwbacks. The parallels with Islamic terrorism today and that which happened 400yrs back I think can be plainly seen.

    • somer
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Sorry I don’t see it has anything to do with Roman Catholicism. Islam is a totally different religion

  17. ChrisH
    Posted August 8, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The IRA wasn’t particularly popular in most of the UK, to be honest, and knowing people who grew up in Norn Iron during the troubles… well, they had horror stories.

    As Red Mann says, a big chunk was politics (united Ireland vs UK loyalists) but the whole religious problems there go back to the times of Cromwell or earlier.

    • TJR
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      As noted by others above Sinn Fein/IRA are/were considerably less insanely violent than AQ or ISIS, but they are/were still murderers.

      I talked to a few people from abroad about Norn Irn and all of them had bought the SF/PIRA propaganda version of what was happening. It was almost as though the Prods didn’t exist.

      Going back to the initial point, islamic terrorism is criticised far more heavily than catholic terrorism partly because it genuinely is much more violent, and partly because catholic terrorism was given a relatively easy ride in comparison to most other terrorism.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 8, 2016 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        I’d say that the IRA realised they were fighting a propaganda war and their ‘terror’ campaign was fairly carefully designed to that effect. Sinn Fein had a lot of support e.g. in the USA and they didn’t want to alienate that. So their bombing targets were – mostly – associated with British Army or Ulster Constabulary personnel or often they phoned through warnings. They could have had a hugely greater casualty list if they had wanted but that would have been counter-productive.

        So all this is in stark contrast to IS, any ‘parallels’ are so superficial as to be almost meaningless.


  18. somer
    Posted August 8, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I think Australia is trying to preserve its liberal democracy for the longer term rather than being racist, though we can increase the numbers we take by controlled means (e.g. increase the humanitarian program agreed with UNHCR). The problem is whenever we waver – especially under the influence of refugee advocate representation to the legal system – domestic and international – we get a spike in people smuggling. UK and Britain have Europe/ or the chunnell and the Atlantic respectively to moderate their intake. But we are the only UNHCR signatory pretty much in our region (South East Asia).
    We have lots of wonderful Muslims but in the migration program, as opposed to the refugee program we have much more control on the type and number of people who come. We have a duty to take some refugees not great masses of people especially if it is likely to seriously compromise the country. We may be a big country but an arid one with extreme fluctuations of drought, flood and fire and very poor soils in most places. We have a massive migration program of about 150,000 permanent residents per year which has criteria – requiring main applicants have skills of some kind that can be employed in Australia, that they speak english and have some kind of assurance of initial self support (financial, or backer/employer guarantee). We have a larger overseas born population than most OECD countries. Very many of these migrants are Asian but only a relatively small proportion are muslims and those that are are at least reasonably well educated and more likely to be from cities, rather than the fundamentalist rural culture. We have taken 700,000 refugees since the end of WW2 and we are 20 million people. We normally take 13,000 people in humanitarian intake negotiated direct with UNHCR every year, plus in addition we took 15,000 syrians this year.

    54% of refugees in the world now come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia – all countries with huge extremism issues. And Australia has had people claiming asylum from Afghanistan since the early 1990s.

    The Cronulla riots were a disgrace but no one was significantly hurt and for many years now (even the ABC reported on this) non muslims – especially women and uncovered women – have been prevented from using the beach due to intimidation by Lebanese men arriving on the train from Lakemba. This was incidentally confirmed to me by a hairdresser who happened to mention she left Cronulla mainly due to the cost of living there but mentioned her dismay that people simply couldn’t use the beach. Other religions are not both evangelical and their own law with no recognition of secularism. And other religions are not increasing so fast relative to more hardline beliefs.
    A very interesting and comprehensive discussion of this topic is at http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0001/01RP05

    And finally. Moderate beliefs do not compel people to have many children. Liberal humanism is accommodating by nature, and traditionalists, or else authoritarian ideological views, tend to overwhelm liberal humanism over time unless the latter is prepared to periodically take action to prevent this. “Today’s religiously unaffiliated population, by contrast, is heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan,” according to a statement by Pew. Pew predicts that those who change religion will mostly leave Christianity to become agnostics or join other religions, especially Islam. By 2050, Muslims (2.1 percent of population) are expected to outnumber Jews (1.4 percent) in the United States. Islam will grow faster than any other major religion, and at a higher rate than the world population balloons, the survey found. In fact, Muslims are projected to increase by 73 percent between 2010 and 2050, and that by 2050 there are likely to be about equal numbers of Muslims 2.8 billion and Christians 2.9 billion in the world. THE PEW REPORT PREDICTS THAT IN EUROPE, MUSLIMS WILL MAKE UP OVER 10% OF THE POPULATION. Judging from daily reports of the intransigence of Britains 5% muslims, that leaves me disturbed.

    • somer
      Posted August 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      PS the percentage of Muslims in Australia is 2.2% of the population vs 4.8% or UK

  19. Bob
    Posted August 8, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    This http://sluggerotoole.com/2016/08/08/a-quiet-reformer-of-church-practice-and-a-frustrated-man-of-peace-bishop-edward-daly-remembered/ gives some perspective on the complexity of Catholic hierarchy – IRA relationships and the variation depending on the relevant individual.

  20. Peter
    Posted August 8, 2016 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    If a minority group is economically disadvantaged and/or alienated, some individuals will eventually lash out at society.

    If that’s the case, and if as this silly person says “it has nothing to do with religion”, then why aren’t the Australian aborigines blowing up buildings and slashing throats? They’re about as economically disadvantaged and alienated as a group could possibly be.

    • Posted August 9, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      From what I understand, they are overrepresented (relative to population) in prisons, though. Also, the sheer numbers of Muslims (of whatever sort) magnify matters …

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 10, 2016 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        Yes but, without having checked the statistics, I would guess that the overhelming majority of aborigines in jail are there for offences such as theft, or low-level violence frequently involving alcohol, that sort of thing. None of it involving politically motivated terrorism.

        That would be my guess, anyway.


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