Richard Ingrams' Week: Terrorism then and now

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Two days after it became a criminal offence to "glorify terrorism", across the sea the Irish will be busy this weekend doing that very thing. The occasion is the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 when a group of men and women who would today be described as terrorists mounted a surprise attack on the British administration in Dublin.

It may seem a far cry from the situation today, but many of those Irish terrorists had a good deal in common with their modern Muslim equivalents. They too had a fervent religious faith and some of their leaders had the same kind of suicidal urges as al-Qa'ida and the hope that they would be martyrs. The British authorities were happy to oblige by executing the leaders of the rebellion.

The greatest poet of the 20th century, W B Yeats, commemorated the terrorists in those famous lines "all is changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born". If you wanted glorification, you couldn't do better than that.

'Alternative history' was called fiction in my day

Tony Blair has publicly stated his belief that the reason this country went to war with Germany in 1939 was to stop Hitler from persecuting the Jews. And if the Prime Minister thinks like that, should we be surprised that the nation as a whole seems confused about what exactly constitutes history?

Searching for a book recently in one of London's biggest and best bookshops, I came across an entirely new department. It was labelled "Alternative History".

Most of the books are devoted to the now familiar themes of the Holy Grail and Knights Templar, Mary Magdalene, Cathars and Freemasons. Their authors are often greedy, desperate men hoping to cash in on the success of The Da Vinci Code. But they are not the only ones. You could say that the recently imprisoned David Irving is an "alternative historian" with his determination to show that Churchill was just as much a villain as Hitler.

A similar type of book, Himmler's War by Martin Allen, was recently published. It came to my attention because it contained the rather startling allegation that my father had assassinated Himmler in 1945 on the orders of Winston Churchill. The book was later shown to be based on clumsily forged documents which had somehow found their way into the official archives. No one has so far explained who did it or why.

The Holy Blood and Holy Grail saga was similarly based on forged documents, the work of a group of French crooks, one of whom concocted a bogus legend about the little church of Rennes-le-Chateau purely to publicise a restaurant he had just opened in the village.

The alarming thing about such revelations is that they seldom manage to demolish the original lies. But it might help if instead of being classified as history or even alternative history they were in future put in the Fiction section where they belong.

* One of the many good things about Old Labour as opposed to New was that there was a healthy suspicion of rich people, or capitalists as the more extreme members of the party liked to call them.

This suspicion was also one of the links between the Labour movement and the Christian church.

It too, at any rate officially, took the view that it was not a good thing to be very rich, as people whose thoughts centred on their wealth and possessions were unlikely to become good candidates for God's kingdom.

It was Blair's great friend and ally Peter Mandelson who announced that such thinking was well and truly obsolete.

New Labour, he told an American audience some years ago, "is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich".

If anyone was intensely relaxed it was the Prime Minister himself, which was more surprising considering that Blair, unlike Mandelson, makes much of his Christian beliefs, as does his Catholic wife Cherie, below.

She in particular seems obsessed with money and wherever possible in getting things like holidays for free. Neither of them felt any embarrassment about being fêted by Silvio Berlusconi, a right-wing multi-millionaire still facing assorted charges of corruption.

The current row about honours again turns the spotlight on Blair's links with filthy rich businessmen and the large sums they have provided for party funds.

More surprising is the news that now they have a part to play in formulating education policy - an idea which would have a lot of Old Labourites turning in their graves but one which Cherie's fellow Catholic Ruth Kelly seems to be intensely relaxed about.