Category: terrorism

A reality check

By , 6 July 2007 6:52 pm

I suspect one of the dangers that professional authors face is of living in the worlds they have created. This is probably a particular problem for those deeply immersive, all-embracing worlds that we fantasists love to conjure up. Has J K Rowling ever been in such a tight spot herself that her first reaction was to try to come up with the right spell? One of the things that authors really ought to do, particularly those who do not get out much from behind the keyboard, is keep an eye on the real world and what happens to real people.

There was a salutary lesson for us in Britain last weekend, with three possible terrorist incidents; none of which occurred and two of which degenerated into farce. In one case, the bomb car was towed away by that most mocked British figure, the traffic warden (eat your heart out, Bruce Willis!). In the other the villains raced their jeep at an airport terminal entrance, only to find that it wouldn’t go through the doors. The end result there was one badly burned bomber and a Glaswegian who has become a folk hero for doing what Glaswegians are so frequently condemned for: kicking the heck out of a stranger. The whole affair was so ludicrous that one paper, in a reference to a long remembered series of British farcical films, called it ‘Carry On up the Jihad’!

What has been interesting, though, has been the reaction to the revelation that the bombers were mostly medical people with intelligence and above average education. This leads to the problem of motivation. In secular Britain, the idea that people can have a religious motivation for acts that will lead to their own death and in the case of terrorism, the deaths of others, is beyond all fathoming. We are so much in love with sex, sport and shopping that we cannot imagine a higher motivation. The prosperity of these people: doctors, hospital registrars and the like, has thrown them. Good heavens, these people could even afford to buy a iPhone!

This undercuts the common socio-economic model for terrorism. You know the sort of thing: they had lost everything and so had nothing to lose by death; they had been so badly treated in life, that they decided to mete out death in revenge. Of course, it doesn’t work. By all accounts, they had been treated well by their host country. I even came across one desperate analysis which suggested that their anger might have been fuelled by the manifest monstrosity of the British NHS which takes doctors from poor countries, and gives them a living here and so deprives less developed countries of skilled medical labour. Frankly, anyone who has worked in the Middle East and seen the way that vast armies of Filipinos, Ethiopians and Sri Lankans are dragooned into what is little more than slavery will find that idea quite ludicrous.

You could of course invoke the brainwashing thesis but no one seems terribly happy about that. Maybe people are just going to have to seriously consider the idea that out of genuine religious reasons, men and women might decide that blowing up people was a good thing.

If the wealth of the would-be perpetrators has thrown some commentators so has as their evident intelligence. Many people believe the thesis of the Blessed Dawkins (who one gathers, would be very tempted to declare himself the ‘Messiah of Atheism’ and ‘God’s gift to the Sceptic’ were there not a few logical problems involved), that you have to be really stupid to believe in God. It ain’t so.

But these events in the real world are a reminder to us all, especially writers, that some of the deepest motivation in the human heart come from the very mixed world of religion. For good and bad.

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