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Anti-war protestors greeting homecoming troops on the streets of Luton are in the wrong place at the wrong time argues Dr David Nicholl – who knows a bit about violent conflict after growing up in Northern Ireland.

The morning school run and my love of the news came back to bite me. I was parking the car when the headlines came over about the tragic murder of a policeman in Northern Ireland. My 8 year old daughter pipes up “Northern Ireland, Daddy, what is happening there?”

I then tell her the story of my own school run and how during the “Troubles”, grandpa’s car was stolen by the IRA for a bank robbery, an uncle is lucky to be alive (a high-ranking army officer who lived in ‘Border country’), photographer Uncle Jeremy was hit by a plastic bullet when they didn’t want any cameramen around.

Nothing out of the ordinary for Northern Ireland but definitely not Hagley, and all before we’ve got to the school gates. “So Daddy, are granny and grandpa alright?” “Yes, they are fine, but I don’t want anything like that to happen in this country”

Yet even as the soldiers and policeman are being mourned, there are disturbing stories outside of Northern Ireland in other conflicts. Are there lessons that can be learned from the Troubles?

My greatest fear, and that is what worried me post 9/11, is that legitimate concerns over human rights are brushed under the carpet and end up fuelling discontent.

In Northern Ireland in the 1960s, the minority Catholic community in Northern Ireland was ostracized and a legitimate civil rights movement was ultimately hijacked by terrorists leading to the Troubles.

Likewise, post 9/11 and the Iraq war has led to a legitimate peace movement challenge the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet in Luton, we had the sight of a crass and insensitive group of anti-war activists protest at the return of troops through Afghanistan. There is a time and a place for protest - and demonstrating next to the return of soldiers into their home town was not it.

These demonstrators do not represent peace activists but are frankly dangerous and will have done nothing but spread hatred, bigotry and racism. Luton in 2009 is a long way from the streets of Derry, Northern Ireland in 1969, but we need to be wary of these lessons from history.

The Stop the War movement needs to watch what company it keeps.



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