Thursday, July 7, 2005

¿Y ahora quién podrá defendernos?

Like so many people today, I started this morning thinking about terrorism.

Is the goal to terrorize or just to murder? Or is it through murder that we are terrorized? If that is the case, then is it recognition by the terrorists of something innate and primal in all humans that we empathize with their victims?

Are the victims merely symbolic despite the fact that they are human? Or can any of us draw a simple enough line between the human and symbolic? Perhaps the terrorists are forcing us to accept that there exists some tenuous tenet between the human and symbolic.

I talked to my dear, sensitive friend Jihad—the one with the scary and less-than-sensitive-sounding name—on September 12, 2001. He was crying on the phone, angry that these terrorists murdered so many people. He kept arguing that if they wanted to do something symbolic and dramatic, then why didn’t they just attack the World Trade Center on Sunday, when presumably there would have been less people there.

But isn’t that the point? People—individuals—are symbols, like it or not, especially in large numbers: the six million of the Holocaust, the twenty million under Stalin, the sixty million of the Middle Passage (to whom Toni Morrison dedicated Beloved).

Only in literature have I found an example of terrorism for terrorism’s sake: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. The unwilling terrorist has to bomb the Greenwich Observatory for the science and notions of progress it represents. What better act than the destruction of Longitude 0°0’0”, the location that defines time and space around the entire globe, and where East literally (and symbolically!) meets West? But the plan is ruined when one person is accidentally killed.

What better symbolic act than attacking a transit system of a city that relies heavily on its transit system? Of course, laziness could also be a factor: it’s typically the weakest link just by the sheer number of people that have to be processed everyday. But again, it’s also where the people are.

Ultimately, my question is not any of the questions I’ve asked so far, but rather, are not the terrorists themselves humans after all? Is terrorism not just merely an attack on civilization but an inherent part of that civilization itself? The G8 statement claimed that the terrorists are “intent on destroying human life.” But isn’t it merely because of the inherent symbolic nature or value of that life?

My final question: any thoughts?

My final statement: I don’t know.

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