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Róisín handed the joint to Orla, who shook her head. ‘No thanks. Not my thing.’ She waved her glass. ‘Are you a student too?’‘Sure, I am.’‘What you studying?’‘Terrorists. You?’Orla searched Róisín’s face, but it was without guile. ‘Animal husbandry. How do you mean, terrorists?’‘Just that. Terror studies.’‘You’re kidding me. That’s a course?’Róisín laughed, shaking her head. ‘What’s so odd about it? You look like someone just slapped your arse.’‘I suppose it seems strange that someone would want to… well, that. Oh, I don’t know. Don’t we see enough about them every day?’‘This nation was founded on terrorism. If it wasn’t for Michael Collins, Dan Breen and the likes of them there’d be no Ireland. We’d still be a British colony.’
Now we're into dangerous territory. Writing A Decent Bomber, I was well aware that I was going to get caught up with a thriller sub-genre that has emerged over the past decade - evil terrorist (preferably Arab) nicks big explody thing and threatens the free and decent world until our square-jawed steely-eyed hero takes him down. That's no way what this book's about and I would hope most fervently it's a million leagues smarter than that. And, for me as well as most average readers, 'it's about terrorists' is a turnoff. As Orla says, who wants to talk about that?
And yet the idea of a retired terrorist who represents an era when terrorism was 'real' coming up against the bandits and insurgents who inhabit the failed states left in the wake of our attempts at imperialism drew me.
What on earth do I mean by 'real'?
I remember, growing up in the '70s and '80s, how life went on despite the IRA. There was even something of a 'spirit' about it - they're not going to grind us down, matey. But these days, for some reason, whenever some hopeless numb-nut puts a bomb in the heel of his shoe that doesn't quite go off, or finds a liquid explosive combination, we're all made dance around airports in our socks and wave our clear plastic bags in the air. We've never been safer, our governments tell us and yet we have never been so threatened they claim in the next breath.
We're so cowed, we've spent years helping mendacious duty free companies claim back our VAT because we're just, well, compliant in airports. It's for our own good, after all.
Terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s was international, multinational. We had the PLO, the Red Brigades, Baader Meinhof, ETA and lots, lots more. Airline hijackings - and bombings - in the 1960s, '70s and '80s took place all over the world. There were over 40 incidents of terrorism in the air in the 1970s alone. One of them, Abu Nidal bringing down a Gulf Air jet (GF 771 in case you were interested) in 1983 with the loss of all on board, took place in Jebel Ali. Rather close to home! At the same time, on the ground, the world was rocked by waves of terrorist violence.
The IRA's campaigns in Ireland and mainland Britain were relentless and sustained, prosecuted in the face of an overwhelming military and police presence and the focused resource of a fully functioning, technologically advanced first world power. Despite the full machinery of the British security services, the IRA detonated a number of bombs on the British mainland, including the two largest explosions since WWII, the infamous London Docklands bomb and the Manchester bomb.
The Docklands bomb killed two people and did an amazing amount of damage. It weighed over a ton. The Manchester bomb wounded over 200 people and blew out the heart of Manchester, causing over a million pounds' worth of damage. It, too, weighed over a ton. Both were timed bombs packed into vans. The bombers were never apprehended - certainly not in relation to the bombings.
And we're shuffling around in our socks when we fly because of heel bombs.
So I thought the meeting between 'new' terror and 'old' terror might be interesting. You can clearly (and really, really should, you know) find out what happens by clicking here.