Globe columnist Rick Salutin found his voice today. His column has suffered of late from a finicky pedantry, but this one needs to be read and taken to heart by those who imagine that "terrorism" is a creed rather than a mode of warfare, and that al-Qaeda is a real organization. In fact, this is a good take-off point to have a go at the current mythos of "terrorism" that slimed our TV screens and our collective consciousness yesterday.
In my last entry I noted that, whatever the mode of killing and destruction, the victims are equally terrorized. Yet we are politically selective, if not outright cynical, in what we deem to be "terrorism." Salutin rightly points out an example that I missed yesterday: the American-financed contra war in Nicaragua. Those "moral equivalents of our Founding Fathers," as Ron Reagan liked to call them, used to throw bombs into daycare centres, but they were on the American side. Hence, they weren’t terrorists, but "freedom fighters." Clear?
Fast-forward to 9/11. The popular discourses around this terrible event were nothing short of bizarre. Anyone who asked the question "why" was thunderingly denounced. Somehow looking for the root causes took away from the Manichaean good-versus-evil frame in which it pleased the US leaders and media to place the act. It was "blaming America" in a time of tragedy and mourning. It was insensitive at best, an indication of un-American sympathy with the terrorists at worst.
And yet everything has a cause, at least in the real world. Denying or obfuscating this reminds me--dare I say this even now?--of the isolation of the Jewish Holocaust from its historical context. There were twelve million victims of death squads and the extermination camps, not six, at least two attempted genocides, not one, and many tens of millions of deaths on top of that, all victims of the war of racial conquest Germany unleashed against the rest of Europe and the world. Yet the Shoah became (and largely remains) an almost metaphysical event rather than a part, albeit a significant one, of the Nazi killing machine.
But such detail clutters up our thinking. We seem to need to see things in black and white in order to make sense of them. So yesterday we heard that "the terrorists" or "these terrorists" are the enemy, as though that enemy held to one shadowy creed, one of hatred for everything we hold dear. We are told time and again that "they hate our freedom," but just perhaps the hatred arises from the liberties the West takes with the rest of the world.
An expert on CNN yesterday admitted that al-Qaeda is no longer an organized command structure—anyone can claim to be a part of it. Its cells are like those of the "leaderless resistance" championed by the American ultra-right in The Turner Diaries. If "we are all Londoners," then there will assuredly be those on the other side of the divide who will reply, "And we are all al-Qaeda." So we had better look at those unfashionable root causes while there’s still time. Yesterday’s "barbaric attack" (and so it was) was one horrific episode in an otherwise peaceful city. But it’s everyday news for people in Afghanistan and Iraq. Who will report on today’s casualties there? Who will bring their wounded images to our TV screens? Who will denounce those barbaric attacks? We had better get it through our heads that there are not three worlds, with the Third World getting the worst of it at a safe distance. If there’s a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s carnage, it’s that there is only one world, and we’re all living in it. There are many sides to every war, and these days there are no boundaries in our little global village. So long as we righteously think we know best, and impose that best by force of sophisticated arms against states we disapprove of and peoples we dispossess, there is no safe place anywhere. For them, or for us.