In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.
Do not let the injustice of others lead you into an injustice, says the Koran. Now there is only incoherence. Coverage of the London blasts saturates every newspaper, every television and radio station. The images of chaos and destruction roll in and the words of journalists and politicians pour out. Endlessly, repetitively.
For all the words, nothing is said. What is there to say? For how long can you repeat the obvious that this is a criminal act to be condemned, that innocent people are sacrosanct?
Hours of news coverage pass and the story barely changes. The incessant babble numbs my mind, yet I am compelled to stay tuned. There is something simultaneously aggravating and cathartic about letting the news wash over me in helpless despair.
And so the press release is written and the interview requests flood in. This is all now tragically familiar to me. The words are always the same: we condemn this act in the strongest possible terms; we pray the perpetrators are brought swiftly to justice; our hearts are with the victims and their loved ones.
These words are true. I mean them. But as the dust from the bombings still settles, all the words in the world are empty because those saying them are themselves empty inside.
Stunned, we reach for our own responses, our minds in mayhem as we struggle to make sense of the senseless. And so we babble on. There is nothing more we can do. Thoughts and emotions circulate wildly in an incoherent cyclone, while at the core, there is nothing.
This incoherent chaos is not only terrorism’s legacy, but its purpose. It is not about killing: compared with poverty or even road accidents it claims few lives. Terrorism is a language. The symbolic message is the point, the panic and fear of the aftermath is what matters.
Reason and coherence are products of distinction and discernment rather than crude generalization. But terrorism is about the most sinister of generalizations, where a whole nation, a people, a planet is essentialised and deemed indiscriminately unfit for human existence. There are no people any more. There are only causes.
In this way, terrorism is itself what it begets: the suspension of reason, the annihilation of coherence. And without reason, we become like cattle. My mind numbs further as motivations are attributed to those responsible.
A fight against Crusader countries with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps superficially. I have heard this kind of rhetoric before. Where are the tears of the world for the thousands of slaughtered innocents in Chechnya? Is an Iraqi life not worth an American or British one? We must resist the imperialism of Western godlessness, immorality and consumerism. The cultural hegemony of America and its allies must be fought. They are oppressors. Muslims were also slaughtered in most terrorist attacks since September 11. Most hostages executed in Iraq are Muslims.
I wonder quietly if, in this mental model, their co-religionist executioners are also oppressors who must be fought too. But even in the fringe that advance such arguments, most stop short of advocating terrorism. Some clearly don’t. How often it is that oppression comes from those claiming to be oppressed.
Welcome to the battle inside the Muslim collective consciousness, where one side has the overwhelming majority of hearts and minds, and the other has the weapons.
How absurd is this argument! Can terrorism be the response to perceived Western cultural and imperial hegemony? Terrorism is hegemony. The solution cannot be to replace one hegemony with another.
Yes, I too oppose the war in Iraq. I too have my qualms with aspects of the Western treatment of the Muslim world. I too grieve for the slaughtered innocents of Chechnya. But my morality must never be derived from the transgressions of others. Surely then, terrorism is a frank, violent admission of moral defeat. It wins no hearts.
With every terrorist attack attributed to Muslims over the past four years, I have witnessed a community shifting more and more into outrage at the barbarism done in its name. With every desperate act of terrorism comes an intellectual, rhetorical downfall.
For now, waves of questions keep coming. Analysts talk of “sleeper cells” in Britain and Spain. Do I know of any in Australia? No, and if they exist I’m sure they’d be secret from me. Is it a matter of time before Australia is hit? Intelligence agencies say they know of no imminent attack and as an ordinary Australian citizen, neither do I.
My numbed senses perceive these questions are more incoherent babble. I’m busy thinking that my daughter could have been a victim. She is at the age of repeating all she hears and she has learnt a new word: “Bomb.” Now is for grief.
Lost in a sea of words, one Koranic passage emerges to hit me between the eyes: “Do not let the injustice of others lead you into injustice,” it thunders. Finally, I think. Something coherent.