Perhaps because St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, I’ve found myself rereading Edmund Burke and Conor Cruise O’Brien — and drinking Irish whiskey. I first became acquainted with these three sources of stimulation back in 1978. That also was my first brush with terrorism.
I was a young foreign correspondent sent to Northern Ireland to cover the “Troubles,” the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Republicans (Irish nationalists) and Loyalists (those favoring solidarity with the United Kingdom) that broke out in the 1960s and dissipated just before the turn of the century.
I spent many hours in pubs, listening to those on both sides of the divide tell me what they believed, whom they despised, and what acts of violence they would countenance — and in some cases carry out — to achieve their objectives.
In Ireland I also developed the habit of reading the important writers of every country I visit — as well as partaking of local libations. Burke, of course, was a great 18th century Irish author, statesman and political philosopher. An enthusiastic supporter of the American Revolution, he saw early on that the revolution in France was heading into darkness, including “La Terreur” — mass executions of “enemies of the revolution.”
The following year, 1979, I was sent to Iran to cover the Islamic Revolution. I don’t doubt that Burke influenced me. While most journalists regarded the regime that replaced the Shah as progressive, I saw ample evidence that the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers were dangerous fanatics.
Attributed to Burke is the perception that for evil to survive, all that is necessary is for good people to do nothing. Today, I’m afraid, in too many instances, passivity would be an improvement.
Recent examples: basketball star Dennis Rodman visiting with and heaping praises upon North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un, and actor Sean Penn and the Rev. Jesse Jackson attending the funeral of Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez, an ally of the Iranian regime that did indeed turn out to be oppressive at home and the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism abroad, even as it illicitly develops nuclear weapons.