Will the failure of the political system lead to a new form of “moderate” terrorism?

Yesterday’s terrorist, the old adage goes, is today’s statesman. From Martin McGuinness to Mandela to Michael Collins to the recently deceased Yithzak Shamir, non-conventional warfare has a long and not necessarily disgraced history. Were the patriots who used guerrilla tactics against the legitimate forces of law and order in the American Colonies terrorists? Of course, the definition of terrorism has become more nuanced, especially since 9/11. A terrorist needs to be two things now: one, attempting to impose a set of values upon a group of people (normally the majority) who don’t want it, and two, not a conventional fighting force attached to a legitimate state.

But what happens when ordinary western citizens inside a recognised legal system of government and laws decide that the system itself cannot be reformed by legal means? Most political systems in the west, to varying degrees, are beginning to bend more to the will of wealth than to the mass of citizens. This isn’t just about political corruption either. Our society is becoming so complex in everything from communications to medicine to banking that it is becoming less possible for citizens to even understand the issues, let alone know how to lobby their public officials in their own interests.

Take Ireland. We have a public sector pay and pension system which is structured in a way as to serve the interests of its members, and I include our political and trades union leaders in this. As a result, we now have the bizarre scenario where EVERY SINGLE PARTY effectively supports, minus some tinkering, that structure. At the moment, if you want to vote against that self-serving system, you can’t.     

Now, it is true that there is nothing in Ireland to stop a group of people running candidates opposed to the status quo, and if they can’t get people to vote for their values that’s their problem. But if, as in the US, a nominally democratic political system (200 breakfast cereals but only 2 political parties? Seriously?), the system is pretty much rigged against outsiders (congressional seats are gerrymandered, for example) and money wins out nearly every time, then don’t be surprised if even moderate people start to turn to a new form of illegal protest targeted specifically against the political system.

Imagine for example a new group emerged in Ireland demanding that a referendum be held proposing that the Dail be reduced to 100 seats. Already there’s a demand that many voters would say “Yeah, we should at least be allowed vote on it”. It’s also a demand that most politicians would vehemently oppose going to the people for fear of it passing.

Supposing that group then actively engaged in actions specifically against government backbench TDs (Opposition backbenchers don’t matter, and agree to almost every demand put to them by any interest group), like breaking into printers and destroying political leaflets before they can be delivered. Or constantly letting down the tyres on TD’s cars EVERY SINGLE TIME they park their car outside of Leinster House, thus disrupting their schedules for the whole day, with LET US VOTE painted on the car so as to clearly communicate the price for ending the campaign. Or breaking into their offices and specifically destroying all their constituency files. Or getting their mobile phone numbers and bombarding them with the demand to such a degree that no one else can get through to them, forcing them to change the number. All the things that make it harder for a TD to do the things that get them elected. Nothing physically threatening, all carefully targeted and systematically repetitive, and all based on the concept of LET US VOTE AND WE WILL STOP DOING THIS.

Am I advocating this? Of course not, it’s illegal. But don’t assume that people will tolerate a political system that puts its own interests first forever. Nor should we assume that the public would automatically oppose such illegal actions against politicians. After all, so it makes the lives of government backbench TDs hell without physically hurting anyone. So what? There would be a clear way out (let the public vote on the aforementioned demand) and if they force the government THEY keep in power to deliver, the problem goes away.

An illegal but very civilised form of terrorism, surely?

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