Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A time for hope

Several times over the past few years I've found myself making reference to the situation in Northern Ireland as a hopeful example, an example of a seemingly intractable conflict turned towards the possibility of peace. For much of the past twelve years the rival parties have been actively engaged in talks and real progress has been made towards a lasting accord. Past histories of mutual grievance have been neither denied or exploited as an excuse to abandon the challenge of forging a durable peace. Past sins, while not forgotten, have been moved beyond, as yesterday's militants have worked to become today's mediators.

This past week saw something of a shadow pass over that hope. A group referring to itself "The Real I.R.A." attacked and murdered two British soldiers and later a policeman and laid claim to the crimes as acts of a renewed war and defiance. This splinter group and others like it had formed in the years since the The Good Friday accords —in reaction to the dreaded possibility of peace. Till now these "bold rebels" had mostly some property damage and a few failed efforts at murder to their credit. These three accomplished murders, for them, count as progress.

But Northern Ireland might still be a better example. And one worth contemplating. The reaction to these murders, that of the political leadership and, more importantly, the people of both supposed sides, has been one of unified disgust. Church leaders both Protestant and Catholic, British MP's and Sinn Fein leaders have all called the crimes out for what they were... crimes. And thousands of every political stripe imaginable have shown up in the streets of Belfast to say the same thing.

That there's something of the distance we've come, and the way we have —that the work won't be undone, that we won't go back, that's the hope.

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