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Terrorism Defined and Exemplified


Don Mullan and James Mullin • 14 March 2004

The web site for the Christian Science Monitor ( provides a very instructive tutorial on terrorism. Strangely enough, it begins with a photo of Irish revolutionary leader, Michael Collins, and this voiceover:

“Can one man be a patriot and a terrorist? Consider Ireland’s Michael Collins. In the fall of 1920, Collins’ band of twelve apostles assassinated 14 British officers in Collins’ effort to win independence. Many say Collins was a patriot, but was he also a terrorist?”

To help people answer this question, the Monitor (CSM) provides a definition of terrorism from Brian Michael Jenkins, author of International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict:

“What sets terrorism apart from other violence is this: terrorism consists of acts carried out in a dramatic way to attract publicity and create an atmosphere of alarm that goes far beyond the actual victims. Indeed, the identity of the victims is often secondary to the terrorists who aim their violence at the people watching. This distinction between the actual victims and a target audience is the hallmark of terrorism and separates it from other modes of armed conflict. Terrorism is theatre.”

Before we apply this definition to Collins and his deadly attack, we need to consider Britain’s violent response to the assassinations. It happened later that same day, November 21st, 1920, and it added greatly to the deaths on “Bloody Sunday”.

Dubliners were uneasy, given the earlier killings by the IRA that day, but they were also determined to continue with ordinary life. Approximately 10,000 spectators gathered in Croke Park for a much anticipated Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tipperary.

Shortly after the start of the game, an airplane flying over the grounds dropped a red flare. Crown forces immediately surrounded the stadium, and a British officer on top of the wall fired a revolver shot. Without warning, auxiliary soldiers began firing their weapons, and a machine gun hastily set up just inside the main entrance opened fire. At first, the crowd thought the soldiers were firing blanks, but then the machine gun fire increased the volume, and people began to fall. The crowd stampeded towards the Railway wall, which was furthest from the gunfire.

Two football players, Michael Hogan and Jim Egan, were shot. A young Wexford man who attempted to whisper an Act of Contrition into the dying Hogan's ear was also shot dead. The casualties included Jeannie Boyle, who had gone to the match with her fiancee and was due to be married five days later, and John Scott, who was fourteen and so mutilated that it was initially thought that he had been savagely bayoneted. The youngest victims were aged 10 and 11.

In an effort to cover up the brutal and indiscriminate killing by Crown forces, British authorities in Dublin Castle issued a misleading press release:

“A number of men came to Dublin on Saturday under the guise of asking to attend a football match between Tipperary and Dublin. But their real intention was to take part in the series of murderous outrages which took place in Dublin that morning. Learning on Saturday that a number of these gunmen were present in Croke Park, the crown forces went to raid the field. It was the original intention that an officer would go to the centre of the field and speaking from a megaphone, invite the assassins to come forward. But on their approach, armed pickets gave warning. Shots were fired to warn the wanted men, who caused a stampede and escaped in the confusion.”

This “explanation” is transparently false. The killing of innocent football fans was blatant retaliation for the assassination of British agents.

If we apply the definition of terrorism offered by Brian Jenkins to the two incidents, it could justifiably be said that both killings were “carried out in a dramatic way to attract publicity and create an atmosphere of alarm that goes far beyond the actual victims.” However, there are differnces.

Collins knew his actions would create fear in the minds of British intelligence agents in Ireland, and alarm in British government ministers in London. On the other hand, the authors of the Croke Park massacre wanted to create alarm, or terror, in the minds of the Irish People.

Jenkins definition further says: “the identity of the victims is often secondary to the terrorists who aim their violence at the people watching.”

Clearly, the identity of Collins’ victims was paramount. He targeted men for who they were, and what they were doing in Ireland. They were professional undercover intelligence agents, or spies, and their kind have been hung or otherwise executed in hundreds of wars, including the American Revolutionary War.

The victims in Croke Park, however, were not selected for who they were or what they had done; their identity was clearly secondary. Therefore, the “hallmark of terrorism” applies to Britain’s murderous rampage at the football match. They fired into a crowd of football fans to inflict collective punishment for Collins’ actions. Moreover, the real target audience for their terrorism was the Irish People.

Twenty years later, in an action that was similar in kind, but not in quantity, the Nazis annihilated the Czech town of Lidice in reprisal for an assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich, the Reichsprotektor of Czechoslovakia. The Czech underground targeted Heydrich for assassination because of who he was and what he was doing. However, the individual identity of the unfortunate citizens of Lidice was clearly secondary. The real target audience was the Czech People.

On January 30, 1972, fifty years after the massacre at Croke Park, soldiers from the British Army's 1st Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed and peaceful civilian demonstrators in Derry, Ireland, near the Rossville flats, killing 13 and wounding a number of others. One wounded man later died from illness attributed to that shooting.

The march, which was called to protest internment without trial, was declared "illegal" by British government authorities.

Again, the identity of the 14 murdered civilians was secondary. As Brian Jenkins points out, “Terrorism is theatre”. The real targets for terror were the Irish People living in the occupied six counties, especially those willing to protest and march for their rights. On this second “Bloody Sunday” the British government shot the Northern Irish civil rights movement off the streets.

The worst human rights outrage in the entire “troubles” occurred two years later, in 1974. Loyalist terrorists in the Portadown Ulster Volunteer Force, (UVF) aided by British intelligence agents, carried out murderous street bombings in Dublin and Monaghan. The simultaneous blasts on Parnell Street and Talbot Street in Dublin, killed 26, and the explosion in Monaghan town left six dead. The identity of the victims was secondary, because the real target for terror was the Irish People, especially those living in the Republic of Ireland.

The Christian Science Monitor terrorism tutorial also provides a link to a U.S. State Department page on state-sponsored terrorism. The states so designated are Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan – the “usual suspects”. Britain will never be found there, because the “special relationship” hides a multitude of sins, including terrorist murder.

State-sponsored terrorism is also theatre, and ministers are strolling players, expert at scenery shifting and other stagecraft. Last December, for instance, Britain’s top policeman, Sir John Stevens, delivered a long-delayed report on British government-assisted collusion and murder to Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Stevens’ inquiry had been repeatedly blocked, wrecked by arson, manipulated, and delayed for 14 years. Even then, the government released less than 20 pages of the 3,000-page report to the press and public, and made no comment.

However, speaking a few days later about the Middle East, Prime Minister Blair said, “We condemn totally anybody who is engaged in terrorist activity of any sort at all, wherever in the world.”

The best comment on this statement is Hamlet’s response to the question: “What do you read, my lord?” Hamlet: “Words, words, words.”


Don Mullan is author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth
(Wolfhound, 1997; Merlin, 2002)

James Mullin drafted the first Irish Famine Curriculum






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

19 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Terrorism Defined and Exemplified
Don Mullan and James Mullin


Can Catholics Now Trust the Police?
Sean Mc Manus


Sinn Fein & The Hate: Interview with Martin Cunningham

Anthony McIntyre


Splits and Distortions?
George Young


Cellar Dwellers
Brian Mór


The Blanket, Eamonn McCann and the use of language
Gerry Ruddy


From Paras to the FRU
Kathleen O Halloran


"Expose the Awful Truth"
Carrie Twomey


The Maze
Belfast Exposed


Dublin Public Meeting on Referendum
Residents Against Racism


12 March 2004


Try Not to Forget It
Brian Mór


Time to End the Silence on Stakeknife
Martin Ingram


Confident No More
Mick Hall


Sinn Fein & Democracy Be Damned: Interview with Martin Cunningham

Anthony McIntyre


Bobby Tohill: Pub Brawls and Death Threats
Liam O Ruairc


Ardoyne Suicides
Eamonn McCann

Independence Day
David Vance


The Half Loaf of Good Friday Will Never Satisfy
Liam O Comain


Special Exclusive on Special Relationship
Matthew Kavanah


The Proposed UK-US Extradition Treaty: Concerns
Francis Boyle


The Decolonization of Northern Ireland
Francis Boyle




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