We Are Not Speechless, but Dumb before Terrorism


I had it in mind to offer today a series of many quotations on terrorism. I thought some collection of insightful commentary on the phenomenon might be of momentary worth. What provoked the thought, it may not surprise, was yesterday’s suicide bombing in Bulgaria. The U.S is now confirming its belief, in agreement with Israel’s immediate suspicion, that the attacker was an agent of Hezbollah, under the direction of Iran, in retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program.

What changed my intention was the discovery of how little – almost nothing – of any worth, it seems, has ever been said on the subject. Overwhelmingly, commentary is politically self-serving and rationalizing: how the acts that one’s enemy commits are terrorism, or conversely, how just such assertions as those – with the faith in a people’s moral rectitude and civilizational superiority being reversed (there being, you understand, in this form of political-moral conversion reaction, no non-relativistic basis on which to hold such a belief) – are their own justification for a counter or even originating, terrorism. Because terrorism, according to political analysis, is always caused. What provokes it, in contrast – social, economic, and political conditions – is spontaneously originating, or, at least, originates from some sort of (state or cultural) predatory self-directed ill: greed, the acquisition of material power. Or, to return to the first perspective, the terrorism originates in evil and the response to it is a response to evil.

These are analyses and commentaries not likely to resonate with the opposing figure. They are songs of righteousness we sing to ourselves. The deeper, more scholarly analyses, from what I read, are just that – deeper, more scholarly, yet no more successful in responding to a profound human mystification with what remains a cheap political rationalization, and I name it a rationalization rather than an explanation because social, cultural, and political answers to moral questions can never be anything else.

Not surprisingly, the volume of all the above, post 9/11, increased by several orders of magnitude. Some of what I read was written and spoken by people I otherwise admire, in one or two instances greatly. And almost nothing of what I read did not fail to diminish the speaker, for the reasons above, before the central, agonizing, and unanswerable mystery of what we mostly recognize as terrorism today: the ability, the willingness, the righteous passage to kill purposely, even one, but often large numbers of strangers, randomly and regardless of individual circumstance, who are not direct participants in any offense against the perpetrator – beyond being members of a group the perpetrator identifies as an enemy – and who are not in any way threatening the perpetrators life. Opportunistic and no more, like the fly that flew in, without plan, to your kitchen. To do this, as well, without any reasonable conviction that someday soon – if not tomorrow, then next month or year, surely within two years, or sometime close enough to breathe in like the sea air – this murder, this carnage, this impossible possible act will be raised up by a universal deliverance in something truly accomplished to a moral justification beyond that which more common people can fathom.

On the same front page of The New York Times as the Bulgaria report is the news of last night’s shooting in Colorado.

A gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in the Denver suburbs early Friday morning, killing at least 12 people and wounding 50 others, the local police and federal officials said.

The shooting erupted during midnight showings of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the multiplex in Aurora, Colo., where throngs had gathered, some dressed as characters from the highly anticipated Batman sequel.

For now, authorities have ruled out “terror”-related causes. So we call these different phenomena. Maybe.

When they say that mankind shall be free at last, they mean that mankind shall commit suicide. When they talk of a paradise without right or wrong, they mean the grave. They have but two objects, to destroy first humanity and then themselves. That is why they throw bombs instead of firing pistols. The innocent rank and file are disappointed because the bomb has not killed the king; but the high-priesthood are happy because it has killed somebody.”
― G.K. ChestertonThe Man Who Was Thursday

“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”
― George Orwell1984


*Update: Helpful reader Justquoting, below, informs that the Orwell quotation above is an alteration from the original, with “terrorism,” a word of the moment and decade, actually, in the book, “persecution.” Makes more sense in the context of the novel, though terrorism, I think, would fit nicely in.


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5 thoughts on “We Are Not Speechless, but Dumb before Terrorism

  1. Ah. The real quote is

    “The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”

      1. I’m shocked, shocked to know that a mere commenter would engender a correction from you, Jay. And *gasp* you extended appreciation toward said inferior being for their input.

        You, sir, are no Greenwald.

        Good day! (and good column!)

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