A lifetime of terrorism.

The reality of terrorism has been a permanent feature of my life since I can remember.  I vividly recall being dragged from my bed one night as a 4 year old by my mother.  I could hear shouting from outside. My mother sounded nervous and worried and as a result I quickly became terrified.

Terrorists had planted a huge car bomb in the street next to ours and the entire estate was evacuated.  People spent most of the rest of that night in a field while the army defused the device.

We moved from that house several years later to live in a smaller, religiously mixed, private housing estate just opposite Belfast zoo.

I had a normal and happy childhood here and made good friends.  But outside this bubble it was chaos.

I would wait at the same bus stop on the Antrim Road each morning for the bus to take me to school.

During the hunger strikes I knew to take 4 steps backwards when the bus destined for the Christian Brothers school stopped to take passengers on board.

The school pupils would slide open the top windows of the bus and take their best shot. A machine-gun burst of saliva ensued, peppering the ground in front of me.

I was a protestant kid wearing a State school uniform and that made me a target;  I was on the wrong side of their argument.

Let them get on with it, I thought at the time.  I don’t have a problem with any of them.  As days turned into weeks, and without any reaction from me, they stopped.

Behind this bus stop stands a large Victorian-style house.  While I was growing up it belonged to the zoo’s head-gardener.

He was a very friendly man and often allowed me and my friends to cross his driveway to scale a wall and into the zoo without paying.

On one of these occasions I noticed him playing with his young son who was probably about 3 or 4 at the time.

His son was laughing hysterically while chasing his father round the family car with a soapy sponge.

I seem to recall that the boy had incredible blonde hair.  It was a happy scene on a perfect summer’s day.

One morning, several years later, a man dressed as a postman walked up the driveway of that house and knocked on the door.

The boy’s father answered and as he did so the postman reached into his satchel and pulled out a handgun.  He fired one shot into the man’s chest, mortally wounding him.

As the man fell to the floor the gunman reached inside the house and fired several more shots into his body.

I recall every detail of that morning to this day.  I remember what I was eating at the table when I heard the gun going off. I recall the school uniform I was wearing.  If I think for long enough I can hear those shots ringing out.   I recall telling my mother, who was sitting opposite me, that what we heard sounded like gunfire. I remember feeling shocked and completely numbed by the murder.

Each morning that I sat on the low rise wall at the bus stop following the incident, I felt the looming presence of the house behind me and the horror that had occurred there.

Most of all I remember being haunted by the thought of a young, blonde-haired boy standing over the carnage of his father’s body.

What I hadn’t known was that the man was a part-time soldier in the army.   Those that murdered him cared only for that fact about him.

At around the same time a neighbourhood police officer I knew was gunned down in a street less than a mile from my home.

It was reported that he wrestled one of the gunmen to the ground.  It was an instinctive but futile attempt to resist the inevitable; his assailants were up to 4 strong.  As they made their way to their getaway car, they let off a volley of shots into the air in celebration – like cowboys in a Western.

The officer was popular and affable and it was reported that this was the reason he was targeted.  To the mind of the terrorist a nice, friendly police officer didn’t quite fit the narrative of an oppressive British state and therefore he had to go.

In more recent times, a young man became a victim of loyalist terrorists not far from where I lived on the Whitewell Road.

His crime?

He had been wearing a Celtic football top.  In doing so his assailants identified him as their enemy, worthy of assassination.

Just imagine that.  It’s barely possible to come to terms with the type of mentality that it takes to make a murder like that a reality.

Fresh flowers are placed weekly at the spot where he fell, a permanent reminder by those who loved him that they’ll never forget him. The flowers also serve to remind those of us who live here of the sobering relationship between normality and conflict and sadly how closely the 2 have merged in Northern Ireland.

Terrorism.

No matter where in the world it has ever occurred it goes on to this day.  The greatest act of selfishness perpetrated by one human being upon another.

You don’t see things my way, I can’t tolerate you, you’re to blame for how I am feeling so you must die.

That is the dogmatic, selfish language of the terrorist. 

So, today, we commemorate the tenth anniversary of one particularly gross act of terrorism –  the September 11 atrocity on New York City.

We remember those many good people cut down in the prime of life for no other reason than to satisfy the vanity and will of those terrorists who follow a perverse and intolerable interpretation of religion.

I have great respect for America and her people.  I was horrified and disgusted at what was inflicted upon them that day.

Yet, during one of their darkest hours, I watched on TV as ordinary citizens of the US performed acts of heroism, sacrifice and compassion.

Their efforts humbled me and reminded me that terrorists will never, ever win.

So, as I remember the events of 10 years ago I also remember all that has come to pass in my life and those I have lived amongst.

I look back on acts of terrorism perpetrated on my fellow countrymen, and those throughout the world, and feel traumatised to the core for them and because of them.

Life is tough enough without terrorism.  But it is my conviction, born from my experiences and knowledge of Northern Ireland, that ultimately it is destined to fail.  It is those who hold true to love and democracy, not terrorism, who’s destiny is secured.

 

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