Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Patriots & Citizens

There's something to be said for an international thriller author so well-respected that American administrations have asked them for advice on the topic of national security.

Tom Clancy is just such an author.

Through his novels, Clancy has often directed attention to many of the dark corners of the world.

In Patriot Games -- produced as a movie in 1992 -- Clancy examines Irish Republicanism and the Irish Republican Army.

In Patriot Games, Clancy's chief protagonist, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is taking a working vacation in Russia when he witnesses an assassination attempt on a member of the royal family by IRA terrorists.

Though retired from the CIA, Ryan bolts into action. He seizes a weapon from one of the terrorists and shoots another dead. British police quickly intervene and capture Sean Miller (Sean Bean).

Despite the best efforts of a particularly sleazy British lawyer who blatantly lies in suggesting that Miller was merely a ski-mask wearing bystander who was assaulted by Ryan.

Upon being led out of the courtroom, Miller swears revenge against Ryan. Following a violent rescue from British custody, he travels to the United States to make good on his threat. He targets Ryan's wife and daughter, and very nearly succeeds.

Ryan responds by returning to the CIA to help work the case.

The battle between Ryan and Miller is a confrontation between patriots. But it's by no means a battle between good citizens.

Miller is a patriot, as all the members of the IRA -- and Sinn Fein -- were.

Patriotism is considered by many to be a key element of good citizenship. But patriotism alone doesn't necessarily make good citizenship.

Miller may be a patriot, but he is not a good citizen. By turning to terrorism he has abandoned the tools of the citizen -- democracy and the rule of law. He has given up making his arguments in the course of democratic discourse and has decided to attempt to take what he wants by intimidating the British.

Some of the members of Sinn Fein -- a political party closely linked to the IRA, although often against the better desires of individuals such as Gerry Adams -- were good citizens by virtue of substituting political action for terrorism. Those such as Paddy O'Neil (Richard Harris), who funnelled funds raised under the guise of Sinn Fein to the IRA unequivocally were not.

Jack Ryan, meanwhile, is a good citizen.

Though, by his occupation, he must often engage in acts of violence, he does so firmly within the rule of law, even when those more powerful than him threaten consequences if he does.

Many would argue that the cause of the IRA and Sinn Fein was actually just. As a Canadian of predominantly Irish ancestry, this author admits to feeling some degree of sympathy for the aim of such individuals, even if rejecting the means by which they pursued it.

The tools of citizenship will always remain the best and most just means of pursuing any political end.

Although they are often patriots, terrorists are, by their very definition, not good citizens.

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