LibLink: Paddy Ashdown – We have experienced anarchy like this before. We should not over-react to it

PAddy Ashdown by Liberal DemocratsWriting in the Independent on Sunday yesterday, Paddy Ashdown compared the violence in Paris with earlier events:

You do not have to be a young Muslim living in the 21 century to be subject to radicalisation. It has always, down the ages been possible to persuade young men (and a few – a very few young women) of all faiths and none to the believe that is noble to kill innocent people in pursuit of what they have been persuaded is a great cause.

Perhaps the closest parallel to what we are seeing now is the Anarchist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. All entirely “home grown” and without any kind of formal command structures, they too were a collection of “lone wolves” inspired by texts and prepared to kill and maim to abolish states and replace them with borderless self-governed entities which, leaving aside that they were based on a political idea rather than a religious one, bear a striking similarity to the caliphate model of today.

In pursuit of what they called “the propaganda of the deed”, they too killed and maimed by bomb and gun, large numbers of innocents – as well as an extraordinary number of the most powerful and prominent. On June 2 1919 simultaneous bombs attacks in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Patterson in New Jersey killed a mayor, a state legislator, three judges, two businessmen a policeman and a catholic priest. A year later perhaps the earliest “car bomb” blew up outside Wall Street killing 39 and injuring hundreds more. These were no more than the last lethal splutterings of a spate of anarchist attacks which had been going on for more than 30 years. In 1893 an anarchist bomb in Barcelona’s opera house killed or injured 72. That same year, a hungry, vagabond, socially outcast Frenchman threw a bomb into the French Chamber of Deputies. A year later another Frenchman threw a bomb hidden in a lunch box into a café killing or wounding more than 20 perfectly innocent diners. He died shouting “We who hand out death know how to take it”.

He goes on to say:

But if we are to react as we should, then it is as well to remember that what we face is NOT new. And it is not unique and it is not just Islamic and we have been through this before and we should not panic or over-react. Almost every recent generation has had to respond to these kind of phenomenon.

And almost every recent generation has managed to do so without fundamentally undermining our freedoms or setting our societies at war with themselves.

It is worth recalling that throughout those same bloody anarchist years around the end of the nineteenth century, the long march towards the European ideal of states founded on individual liberty, tolerance and human rights, continued unchecked. Defending the Charlie Hebdo principle means refusing to allow either terrorism or our fear of it to deflect us from that path.

You can read the full article here.

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10 Comments

  • paul barker 12th Jan '15 - 2:26pm

    Great article & an interesting analogy. More recently we had The IRA & we had to learn the same lessons again, every piece of repressive Law helped them.

  • matt (Bristol) 12th Jan '15 - 4:08pm

    It’s a bit long for a banner, but I’d march down the street behind this. Great article, with a clearsighted long perspecative of history, not prescribing a narrow response but stating a clear confidence in a democratic, plural society.

  • Richard Dean 12th Jan '15 - 11:40pm

    Gee, Paddy seems about as far from reality as you can possibly get.

    These confused and misguided people all say is that they want to bring about the very opposite of anarchy – they’re “fighting” to achieve an extreme, harsh, religiously-ordered “Islamic” state – not Islamic at all, of course. And they’ve come to the end of their tether in some way, and been offered a false solution.

    What can drive a person to these acts? One factor is certainly ignorance, the idea that these bombings and so on will change anything in their favour. The “I am Charlie” is a great demonstration of the futility of their actions. One was an orphan, I seem to recall reading, their Middle Eastern immigrant parents either died or abandoned them, so why do they turn against a state that provided substitute parenting? Why do they choose the false solution?

    No, the alienation which must surely be involved, the naivete, the fantasies, they’re not new. Which raises the question: if this has been going on in various guises for so long, why hasn’t the problem already been solved?

  • Tsar Nicolas 13th Jan '15 - 4:45am

    Richard Dean

    “What can drive a person to these acts?”

    How about contact with the security services, who have shown themselves to be quite adept at recruiting moles and patsies?

    The Kouachi brothers had such contacts, as did M. Coulibaby, the alleged shooter in the kosher supermarket. In fact, M Coulibaby had dinner with Little Sarko at the Elysee palace in 2009, and was jailed for a terrorist-inspired incicnmet in 20013 for five years. However, in April 2014 he was not only let out of prison 4 years early but had the ankle bracelet taken off.

  • Richard Dean 13th Jan '15 - 9:10am

    @Tsar Nicolas
    I don’t think the security services are the cause of the problem. They do a very difficult and dangerous job, and they do it generally very well and bravely. Nor do I think that prison has much value in reducing terrorist motivations. But your information about Coulibaby does seem rather strange! Where does it come from? Is it true?

  • Tsar Nicolas 13th Jan '15 - 9:25am
  • My first thought when I saw the headline to this article – “.. We have experienced anarchy like this before. ” – was that this was going to be a piece by Paddy on the state of our Party’s pprepartions for the General Election.

    In fact it contains some sensible observations giving a long view with appropriate references to history which we could all learn from.

    The problem for the party is that very often when Paddy publishes an article or makes a speech it reminds us and the voters that we used to have a party leader who was good at the job.

  • Richard Dean 13th Jan '15 - 9:43am

    **used to be** good at his job … judging from this very poor article.

  • Mark Seaman 13th Jan '15 - 1:16pm

    A good article from Paddy Ashdown. I recommend ‘The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents’, by Alex Butterworth, as a source regarding the Anarchist terrorist actions, and the way in which they were related to attempts to restrict personal freedom by the state.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Jan '15 - 8:57am

    Last I had my usual email from the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks a Rabbi I have the upmost respect for. Rabbi Sacks in his message was stating the obvious, we all have to live together.

    I do feel sad that there is this lack of understanding for my people and the way they live.

    There is much written on the subject of Islam within your columns, and I am sure that you will understand as a former military man how the Jews and others helped the fight for freedom.

    Paddy, we have met in Bath sometime ago when I was a member of your Party, it was at a book signing on the subject of war heroes. I was a member of the faith then, but I never thought just how my feelings would change towards your Party

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