Woke up this morning to the news that terrorist attacks in London have killed dozens and injured hundreds. Is trying to make some sense out of this just a fool’s errand?
The first feeling that comes to my mind is that taking innocent human lives for any reason—whether it be fear, anger, hatred, or even to address a legitimate grievance—is sick, reprehensible, morally indefensible. There is simply NO WAY to defend terrorism; the slippery slope of justifying killing of others for some “greater goal” is one I don’t feel comfortable endorsing.
Most, if not all, terrorists, and this goes for Al-Qaeda, Timothy McVeigh, John Brown, the IRA, the PLO, the SLA, Hamas, or any other group you’d care to name, act out of some combination of fear, hatred, and a vainglorious sense of mission to destroy some evil or another. It’s hard to say you killed someone out of love, although some wretches claim to be doing just that.
What’s really happening is that terrorists are saying, “your Western-style democracy sucks.” And terrorist attacks point out the true division between representative democracy, as we practice it here, and much of the rest of the world.
Most of us in America don’t really believe in killing people to get what we want; those of us who didn’t vote for George Bush are often driven to furious, nearly apoplectic mania by the continued assault on the people of Iraq and the pathetic justifications of our presence there.
Many of the people who did vote for Bush are suffering from a collective cognitive dissonance, engaged in a constant and futile attempt to pretend that we’re not guilty of terrorism ourselves. Or they’re hyper-religious Christian freaks, just as crazy as the most insane Muslim you’d care to find, who think that God’s only message was that it’s really cool to smite all the bad guys.
We, as a culture, prefer to leave the killing up to our governments, who in Korea, Vietnam, and increasingly in the Mideast, wage war on shadow organizations that can’t be easily defeated.
And terrorists, who don’t necessarily really care about the people they claim to be acting for, love these kinds of situations; many insurgent groups can drum up plenty of support against an attacking country. Why should we think it’s so odd that millions of those in the Mideast would rejoice at the killing of Americans or British citizens? Plenty of Americans don’t seem to have a problem with torturing people we think might be guilty of terrorist acts. We were glad to bomb the shit out of the Japanese at Hiroshima or, even less defensibly (if that's possible), Nagasaki, to help us win the war.
We here in the United States think that God is on our side, that he’s (and it’s always he, isn’t it?) has blessed us, that our self-appointed responsibility as the most powerful and important country in the world gives us license to do whatever we want. And it’s that myopia that gives terrorists power to play the underdog—a role they have mastered perfectly.
What the terrorists are doing is a challenge, not only to the sanctity of life, but also to the entire notion of democracy. And it’s one that bears considering.
When we elect our officials, we give much of our collective power to them, but we ask very little in return. We tolerate being lied to, cheated, swindled, and used by our trusted officials, who use our money and effort to make their friends wealthy. We send our lower-middle-class men and women off to fight battles initiated to protect “our way of life”—cheap oil and high profits for people in the energy business.
As always, then, the terrorists assume that democracy sucks, that the only option is “direct action” intended to force rival governments out of their country. And killing innocent people certainly is a statement of some sort, but it’s one that does nothing to win anyone’s hearts and minds in the country they’re trying to change.
All that happened today in London is that a bunch of innocent people died, painfully and horribly, in an affront to humanity and God, and life got just a little bit harder for Tony Blair. So Blair, and Bush, will wag their fingers at the evil terrorists, go on fighting a stupid and wasteful war that is also an affront to humanity and God, and the cauldron keeps getting hotter.
God help us all.