The news out of London, a place where I once lived, is grim indeed. I have taken the underground through every station hit by the bombs today. I have waited for the train countless times in those enclosed, dingy, smelly subterranean spaces, never dreaming of being maimed or killed. I can't imagine what it is like to be a target. I didn't do anything. Surely they couldn't be after me.
Hearing of the attacks this morning, seeing some of the casualties on CNN, and listening to Mr. Bush offering condolences to the dead rather than the living, I began to think about terrorism. What is it? And who are these terrorists? It appears that there are tricks of perspective involved. The innocent victims of the blasts, and many more, were certainly terrorized. When foreign battles are suddenly spilling over into our own comfortable neighbourhoods, we are all terrorized. Wars are supposed to happen somewhere else, and be watched on CNN.
I often do try to imagine what it must be like to be on the receiving end of terrorism, that is, to be terrorized. And at this point, I begin to feel anger, and not just at the desperate, murderous individuals who slaughter civilians, who massacre children on their first day of school, who bomb subways at rush hour, but at the damned selectivity of our media and world leaders who use the term "terrorism" so generically and dishonestly.
Because there are so many terrorized people in the world, and I can't tell them apart, the terrified toddlers in Beslan, Iraqis and Afghanis dying by the thousands at the hands of their "liberators," Palestinian olive harvesters shot by Israeli settlers in Nablus, children hunted for sport in Khan Younis, office workers burning alive in the WTC, children dying by the hundreds of thousands in a blockaded Iraq, even, going back a few years, the mental patients bombed by the US in Grenada, and the slum-dwellers levelled with their shacks in Panama.
When we watched the invasion of Iraq, we saw it almost entirely from the invaders' perspective. Only on French TV did we see a little of the other half of the equation, the hospitals filling up with Iraqi civilian casualties, the moans and the blood. We saw and heard about the kids in Beslan, but we're a little hard of hearing, it seems, when it comes to Russia's brutal war of attrition in Chechnya. We see in living colour the results of suicide bombing in Israel, but know so little even now about the Palestinians, their wretched conditions of existence, even the fact that their civilian casualty rate dwarfs that of the Israelis.
People who strap bombs to their chests or take hostages are terrorists. No argument there. But people who drop bombs from airplanes, bulldoze houses, target a children's zoo, devastate entire peoples with the very latest in military hardware, are--what? And yet all the victims are equally terrorized.
Bombs are routine, everyday, in far-off places like Afghanistan and Iraq. But when they start to explode in Britain, or Spain, or the US, so many innocents ask, Why are they coming after us? We didn't do anything.
And maybe, just maybe, that's the problem.