OCTOBER 12, 1984 is a date that sticks in the memory.
Not quite in the same class of the deaths of Elvis and Princess Diana or 9/11 in terms of ‘where were you when….’ moments – but highly significant in terms of modern British history nevertheless.
The Brighton bombing shocked the nation – didn’t matter whether you were Tory or Labour (I was neither and remain that way), the sheer thought that our British Government could so easily have been taken out in one act of savagery was beyond belief.
When the dust settled, it became clear that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a deeply divisive figure as we all know, and her cabinet had escaped largely unscathed.
Five people, including one Conservative MP, did lose their lives however and 31 people were injured.
Truly shocking. A ‘terrorist’ attack if ever there was one.
Reflecting on that night almost 33 years later, I know one thing the bomb didn’t do: it never really made me think about the Irish republican cause.
I never asked myself ‘why did they do this?’ Maybe, I should have – I don’t know. To be brutally honest, I’ve never tackled the Irish question with anything but the remotest of interest ever since. But that’s just me.
Instead I reacted with the personalised horror I suspect most people did.
‘If this can so nearly happen to some of the leading people in this country, where does that leave me?
‘When and where will the next bomb land? Are we at war? Is it safe to walk the streets?’
I was by no means a fan of Mrs Thatcher but I hated the idea our future was being taken out of our own hands.
What had the future of the British government got to do with the Irish anyway? Well, quite a lot, but that wasn’t the point……
I recall these thoughts because it makes it easier to put ourselves into the minds of ordinary folk in the Middle East.
When Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi were murdered by outside forces did ordinary people jump out of their beds in Iraq and Libya and declare their countries a safer place?
Some did no doubt.
But I suspect far more reacted with much the same disbelief and terror as we did back in 1984.
‘How could anyone do this? Are we next? What does the future hold?’
They were facing the real deal. Not just an isolated bomb, followed by months and months of silence on our land at least. But bombing and destruction daily with seemingly no end in sight.
Do ordinary people in Iraq and Libya respect us today? Are they thankful for our so-called values?
Others, far greater in number I suspect, hate us.
They don’t see us as freedom fighters who went out of their way to help – but terrorists following close in the slipstream of the ‘Great Satan’ United States of America who have changed their lives for ever.
The political motivations behind our actions are as irrelevant to them as my lack of research into the mindset of the IRA.
Instead they look at the disaster caused to their homeland and it’s not difficult to point the finger.
After the Brighton bomb, we launched the usual moral crusade – they will never destroy us, they hate our values, we will defeat them etc etc etc.
Instead years later we got around a negotiating table and hammered out a peace agreement.
Better late than never after all the violence that ensured in the years in-between.
The challenge then was the same as today. The elephant in the room that always goes unnoticed.
We could never tame or destroy the IRA, but we had a responsibility for our own violence.
We still have……..
We don’t have the resources or the ingenuity to sort out every dictator or authoritarian government we randomly identify as our enemy. Especially not when we are in such an unholy mess ourselves!
That remains the unpalatable truth both in the days of Mrs Thatcher and her pale shadow of a successor.