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How Northern Ireland Deals With Terror
An Essay by Suzanne Rodgers

audio Listen to Rodger's essay.

In Northern Ireland, terrorism was a fact of life for 30 years. Only in 1998 did the Good Friday Agreement end what people called "the troubles" and bring relative peace.

Oct. 20, 2001 -- It's hard to remember the days before "the troubles" began, harder than for Americans to recall what the headlines were on, say, Sept. 10. You see, unforgettable horrors have a way of making us forget what came before. And yet, that's exactly what we mustn't do.

Before Northern Ireland's 30 years of terrorism began, war meant to us the muddy trenches of the Somme, D-Day and Dunkirk. It meant soldiers slaughtering soldiers and civilians reading the headlines back home. Terrorism changed our definitions, and it changed our lives. Suddenly moms and dads, teachers and students, policeman and postal workers were the targets, too. That was our first adjustment, the first of many.

"Now there's relative peace in Northern Ireland and fear in America. What counsel can I give to the lambs that once offered me release from the tension of living daily with terror? I have no magic wand, no easy answer. I only know that when the people of Northern Ireland faced terrorism, we responded by going on with our daily lives."

Suzanne Rodgers

Terrorism, and the authorities' response to it, made us accept restrictions and precautions which now after three years of relative peace seem unthinkable. At checkpoints on city streets, armed police and soldiers demanded "Where you going? What's your business here? And where's your driving license?" As newspapers reported explosions, shootings and bomb threats, trash cans disappeared from town centers, luggage lockers from railway stations and tourists from areas that badly needed their dollars.

But we who lived in Northern Ireland could not stay away, nor could we let our guard down. Drivers would change direction and detour around any car left with its headlights on. Car bombs were not uncommon.

We didn't see how abnormal our normality was until we traveled outside Northern Ireland. On a holiday in New York City, a place with a reputation for rudeness, I could ask directions from cops without being an object of suspicion. I could check in a purse at a restaurant or a club without it being searched.

Going back to Northern Ireland, to department stores where shopping bags were searched on entry, I longed for the carefree liberty of that innocent America. It seems a long time ago.

Now there's relative peace in Northern Ireland and fear in America. What counsel can I give to the lambs that once offered me release from the tension of living daily with terror? I have no magic wand, no easy answer. I only know that when the people of Northern Ireland faced terrorism, we responded by going on with our daily lives.

Indeed, we resolved to. By going about our business, we told the next generation that normal life was possible and we told the terrorists that however much they killed and maimed they would not grind us down.

Suzanne Rodgers lives in Derry, Northern Ireland.