On Terrorism and Human Life

The War on Terror is sustained by cowardice and greed. It can only be fought with courageous generosity.

March 22. 2016

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On Terrorism and Human Life

The War on Terror is sustained by cowardice and greed. It can only be fought with courageous generosity.

You’ll hear about a terrorist attack faster than ever thanks to technology.  You could get a news alert on your phone, telling you that this city has been hit and this many people are thought to be dead.  You could get a notification on Facebook telling you which of your friends in that city have used the safety check feature, and after the initial rush of comfort, you start to worry about the ones who aren’t as active on Facebook – are they in danger because they haven’t also confirmed that they’re safe?  That city will be trending on Twitter, and you don’t realize straight away what’s happened because at first there isn’t a hashtag with the word ‘attack’ in it, just the name of a city.  And it occurs to you that more and more these days, you’ll see just a city’s name trending and assume that there’s been a terrorist attack, when really it was just about the football.  Except for those other times.

What offends us, what frightens and disgusts us, is the thought of death at the hands of those people

And because you’ve got a world-monitoring device in your pocket that you bought with your hard earned wages, you can keep up to date with all the conjecture and posturing and confused drip-drip of information and lies all day, and talk to all your friends and relatives about it endlessly.  You could be skeptical of the knee-jerks of patriotism, you could be the most open-minded cosmopolitan in the world, but you’re still talking about the loss of human life caused by a terrorist attack, for hours, and then days, after the event.  Even if you are generally above the snarling cowardice of nationalism, the vortex of fear keeps you in the conversation, wondering, will my town be next? Your teeth grind together in anger at what this will mean for minorities, and for refugees, and for your civil liberties, and you know that arguing in defense of any of these things will be a little bit harder than the last time this happened.

It’s too easy to think that because people died, this fear is therefore about human life.  It is true that it’s partly about human life, and it’s partly about loss, but that’s not really what we’re afraid of.  Death is everywhere.  What offends us, what frightens and disgusts us, is the thought of death at the hands of those people.  Who that group includes depends on your politics, but broadly we are more afraid of being murdered by someone who declares enmity to our nation than of simply being murdered.  Why?  Being afraid of dying in a terrorist attack is an inherently nationalistic fear. When people point to the figures about how much more likely you are to die of random gun violence, or being crushed by falling furniture, or killed by a shark, or depression, the intent is usually to calm everyone down about the threat of terrorism by putting the danger of actual loss of life in perspective.

Hating refugees and disparaging Muslims is exactly what the terrorists and the neocons want us to do

Yet for some reason we still tolerate all kinds of offenses on our bodies when they’re only being attacked by the food industry, or the healthcare industry, or the financial services industry, or the police.  David Cameron commands Britain with one hand to fear and hate Muslims, while the other hand is selling off the nation’s treasured National Health Service to his friends and party donors.  Hillary Clinton wants to continue America’s all-out war on civilian Muslim populations abroad and at home in the name of your safety, yet backtracks on her onetime support for single payer healthcare.  The security of our health is being denied us, our rulers are telling us quite clearly that our lives don’t matter, but now we’re told that it’s out of care for human life that we must abuse refugees and destroy our liberties?  This appeal to nationalistic fear, in so many different guises, is the most evil inconsistency of our age.

But instead of having the space to tackle that crime, we still we have to waste our time combating the absurd notion that this is a clash of civilizations.  How interesting that ISIS didn’t retaliate after Francois Hollande’s stupid bombing campaign against Syrian civilians immediately after the Paris attacks, but they retaliate after one of their boys gets caught by law enforcement.  If that doesn’t tell you their priorities, that they couldn’t give a shit about Muslim life, it’s unlikely anything will.  Despite that, and despite the fact that we are showed, repeatedly, that hating refugees and disparaging Muslims in Europe and America is exactly what the terrorists want us to do, we still have vapid trolls like Katie Hopkins saying that this is caused by immigration.  For Hopkins and her ilk, this isn’t about protecting human life.  It isn’t even really about protecting white lives per se, though they are ranked more highly in that poisonous worldview.  Let’s call it what it is: the urge to keep Europe ethnically white.  If that means a few white people die in terrorist attacks, well, their deaths have been useful sacrifices to that cause.

Human life is not worth more concern when it is ended by a foreign enemy rather than by a government systematically forcing the severely disabled to die in abject poverty

And Hopkins would be nowhere without her patrons at the Daily Mail, in case we forget that the ruling class choose their mouthpieces.  Someone like her does not get a column in a widely read international media outlet without the blessing of powerful people, who happen to also support the health-slashing, liberty-curbing habits of the current British government.

The ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative is garbage, and the West is not in a war with Islam, but there is still war.  For that you can thank Tony Blair and George Bush and Francois Hollande, and anyone else who thought that the best way to keep violent Islamism contained was to blow its container to smithereens.  They brought a war upon us, and this is what a war looks like: human life, lost.  In the coming days, they will tell you that your life is precious, and that is why they have to ban the encryption that protects you from cyber-terrorism and fraud.  They’ll tell you that because your life is so important, we’ll need to drop more bombs on Iraqi and Syrian civilians and hope they won’t become politically motivated to take up arms when their lives are needlessly destroyed.

The politicians who are most vocal in telling you that your life is so valuable are also the ones who are most vocal in telling you that you are not entitled to live healthily and with dignity, all the while making the world a more dangerous place in the name of keeping you safe.

The answer to protecting human life is not to racially profile the desperate victims of a war we caused, or those who look a bit like them.  Human life is not worth more concern when it is ended by a foreign enemy rather than by a government systematically forcing the severely disabled to die in abject poverty.  When our nation is attacked and people die, our fear has almost nothing to do with concern for human life, and everything to do with a rising sense of specifically nationalistic fear and loathing that both the jihadists and the neocons want us to have.

The only way to defy these two monsters (in whose mind your life is, in truth, worthless) is to find courage among the endless buzzing of apps and browsers reminding us to afraid, and to nurture a fierce pride in offering their victims safe harbor, in peace and dignity.



Image: Ilias Bartolini

March 22. 2016