Terror in the therapist's chair


Terrorism is all too real in its deathly intent. It is not a furphy, a mere distraction from the impulses of US imperial expansion. But without understanding broader geo-political imperatives we become mendacious about the world we live in. To paint terrorism, as it is conventionally understood, as the gravest threat facing us is to accept a certain view of the world. Last week I suggested (link here) we join the War on Error – and one of the errors that needs to be addressed is the portrayal of terrorists as subhuman and irrational.

After the London bombings a good many people were horrified by a mindset that could entertain death and destruction for seemingly inscrutable reasons. Rightly so. This wasn’t abstract horror, the kind we all feel about the endless and needless deaths resulting from war somewhere. This was a visceral response, let’s call it repulsion, towards the London bombers: after all, the Leeds lads had it all: football matches, English butties, Yorkshire prettiness, and still they bombed us.

Thanks to Scratch

Thanks to Scratch

Now in a world where borders are internal – in culturally segregated communities – a new question for the twenty-first Century: why does someone become a suicide bomber in the West? Before London the evasive answer was: They envy our freedom, they are humiliated by our success, they resent that they can never be, truly, one of us. They secretly desire to be so. But what of the London bombers, hailing from within?

To deal with what appears to be extreme cases of anomie, experts will now subject us to endless psychological profiles and references to cult indoctrination. Even the cities of the West will be profiled. We may be told that the nature of life in bleak urban-scapes characterised by materialism, racism and rising levels of violence suggests some counter-intuitive answers. It may be that ‘terrorists’ do not so much ‘envy’ us as they feel disappointed with us and the apparent meaningless of our lives. This is a familiar story, one of the West failing to live up to its rhetoric. Some of this may be useful, providing limited insights about why some people are vulnerable to the suggestion that they ought to die for the sake of what they perceive as a higher cause.

It’s all been done before. Armies of social scientists tried to figure out the attraction of communism – what was it that attracted people to deviant forms of political behaviour. Mothers? Toilet training? Exaggerated sense of injustice? It seems even the most trivial social slight can lead people to ghastly deeds.

Let the psychologists of terror write their highly cited papers, let them devise schemes to wean children from terror. Let the doctors of multiculturalism revisit theories of liberal tolerance. But the bombs will still explode, as long as the West refuses to sit in the therapist’s chair, preferring instead to gaze at itself admiringly, while applying billions of dollars of cosmetics. Instead of truth in international politics we have Public Relations as an eyelash job.

Let us put it another way. Who drops bombs knowing that, even if this is not their intent, it will kill thousands of civilians? Who organizes covert operations so that sometimes it is hard to make sense in a world of intelligence/counter-intelligence? Who disavows torture and ships people to states where torture will be applied? The answer is that our governments do. They are also the ones who get to define terrorism, so that killers in uniform possess a form of moral impunity.

The fact is that the London bombings are a norm of militarised global behaviour. That is the world we live in. The difference is that the norm is now not only knocking on our door, the door is being opened from the inside. When we hear reports that ordinary people in the Middle East say things such as ‘now they know what it is like for us’, the crash of the walls of privilege that have separated us from so much suffering is audible.

The association of politics and blood is powerful. It’s the stuff of nationalism; it’s the stuff that fuels revenge killings. As revulsion at the spilling of British blood drives many people back into the misnamed War on Terror, it becomes increasingly necessary to ask of ourselves and others why it is that we do not feel similarly repulsed (really, not abstractly) by the actions of our governments. As we rush towards an Orwellian future of identity cards and lawful incarceration without charge to deal with terrorism, we have to ask what measures are in place to deal with the use of the world’s largest war machines possessed by the flawed democratic states of the west.

The war against terror, in its broadest sense as a war against all forms of indiscriminate violence for political ends, was lost when it went back to church. When the main moral compass consists of good and evil, the powerful politics of demagogy and propaganda take over “ Christian and Islamic. As our leaders call on Muslim leaders to rein in the extremists, to weed out the perverters of the holy word, why do they not ask the same of their own Christian leaders? The answer is that they would be out of a job.

London blood will now be used to advance the security apparatuses that are so implicated in the violence they profess to eradicate. This is not the way forward. The most productive response to terrorism is not to stand behind our leaders in the name of blood. Instead, we need to stand against them in the name of a more just world. One big step in this direction is to recognise the moral bankruptcy of western states just as we recognise the moral bankruptcy of terrorism in all its forms. The alternative is more blood and eyeliner.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.