Responding to terrorism

Andrew Sullivan and I both experienced the IRA terrorism in the UK during the 1970s, and the way the British government responded. Reflecting on the news from Gaza, Andrew writes:

For years, IRA terrorists bombed Britain’s pubs and shops and eventually nearly killed the entire cabinet in the Brighton hotel bombing. Those terrorists lived among the population in both the republic and Ulster? Did Britain bomb Ireland in response? Were republican areas in the north sealed off and pulverized as happened in Gaza? Were British casualties one hundredth of Irish casualties in response?
None of this happened. Margaret Thatcher no less accepted what became known as an “acceptable level of violence” because the alternative would a) have caused domestic outrage and b) made the situation far, far worse and recruited a new army of terror. Again, one has to ask: why is Israel different?

The answer is obvious. The people of Britain knew, intellectually and emotionally, that the Irish were people like themselves. The Irish were not alien, they were not other. Ideas like religion and race inherently divide the world into “us” and “them”, and sustain this lie by defining “them” as intrinsically inferior to “us”. That’s what leads to apartheid, and to what Israel has become.
I know I’ll get into trouble here for including religion in this argument. The problem is, even a gentle, non-violent form of religion has to stand behind the idea that there is a difference between adherence and non-adherence, between those who are “in” and those who are “out”. Otherwise why would membership matter? As a non-religious person, I believe that what’s important is what we do, not which groups we belong to, what passports we carry, or which religions our parents subscribed to.