No, the IRA Isn’t Just Like ISIS

On March 22nd, 2017 a man drove his car into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge in London, and then attacked a police officer inside New Palace Yard. He killed three people and injured more than 50. The perpetrator had converted to Islam during one of his periods in jail, and the attack had much of the classic structure of an ISIS approach—which encourages individuals or small groups to do whatever they can to harm the west.

It seems likely to me that it was ISIS-inspired, but perhaps it wasn’t. Either way, the image above was passed around on social media. It’s quite well done, and definitely produced a smile from me, but the underlying idea is misguided.

The message is that the IRA and ISIS are basically the same, and that when the IRA was blowing things up all throughout England, nobody was targeting young Irish people the way we’re targeting Muslims today. And since they weren’t, there’s clearly a bias based on race.

This is dumb for two main reasons:

Image from Victor Patterson.

  1. Britain absolutely targeted Irish men during the time that the IRA was active. They actively sought out where young Irish groups were meeting, tried to figure out their connections, their ties to radical ideas, harassed them, searched them, etc.
  2. There is an actual fundamental difference between the IRA and ISIS: the IRA wanted independence from Britain in a tiny part of the world, whereas ISIS wants actual world domination.

The ideology danger test

Here’s a great way to tell how dangerous an ideology is: imagine a world where this particular group gets exactly what it wants.

For the IRA, they wanted Ireland to be left alone. They’d be Catholic, England would be Protestant, they’d mind their own business, and life would go on for everyone. The problem—in their minds—was that England was in their city, in their politics, in their churches, and it had to be opposed. It doesn’t justify what they did, but it’s a pretty classic story of struggling for independence from an external force.

ISIS wants to subjugate the entire planet Earth under Sharia Law.

ISIS makes no secret of its ultimate ambition: A global caliphate secured through a global war. To that end it speaks of “remaining and expanding” its existing hold over much of Iraq and Syria. It aims to replace existing, man-made borders, to overcome what it sees as the Shiite “crescent” that has emerged across the Middle East, to take its war — Islam’s war — to Europe and America, and ultimately to lead Muslims toward an apocalyptic battle against the “disbelievers.”

Source: ISIS: What does it really want? –

So, a global battle against the disbelievers in order to subjugate the world under Sharia Law. That’s literally what ISIS is working towards. Quite a bit different from the Irish wanting the English out of one particular part of their country, right?

One wants independence from an oppressing external force, and the other wants world domination that institutionalizes slavery, rape, and dozens of other ancient and horrific practices.


  1. The image above is cute and funny, but it doesn’t represent reality.
  2. Irish men were absolutely targeted by British soldiers and police during the IRA’s time. When over 95% of your attackers have very specific things in common, not applying additional scrutiny to that group constitutes incompetence.
  3. It’s ridiculous to compare the the IRA with ISIS because the IRA just wanted to be left alone in a small part of Ireland, whereas ISIS wants to dominate 7 billion people under Sharia Law.

Don’t accept narratives just because they’re pleasing to your (and my) liberal worldview. Take the time to think about what’s being said.


  1. Just to be clear, banning Muslims en masse from anything is not a solution here, and I fully oppose the Trump administration’s handling of that issue. But applying some measure of additional scrutiny to people who are likely to have these types of views is not racism, it’s common sense—just as it was for young Irish guys while the IRA was active. We have to understand the difference between intelligent adjustment of scrutiny based on who’s attacking us, vs. overt racism. One is smart and logical, the other is ugly and bad.


I do a weekly show called Unsupervised Learning, where I collect the most interesting stories in infosec, technology, and humans, and talk about why they matter. You can subscribe here.


Leave a Reply